Undisclosed Flaws Undermine IT Defenses
Users, analysts say companies need to be able to contain surprise attacks
Computerworld - Attacks targeting software vulnerabilities that haven’t been publicly disclosed pose a silent and growing problem for corporate IT. But responses to such threats have been largely misguided because of misconceptions about them, according to some analysts and security vendors.
So-called zero-day exploits are generally defined as attacks that target publicly known but yet to be patched vulnerabilities. The dangers of such attacks are obvious, said Alan Shimel, chief strategy officer at StillSecure, a vendor of network security software in Superior, Colo. But, Shimel said, it’s equally important that companies be prepared to deal with undisclosed vulnerabilities, or “less-than-zero-day” flaws, that are unknown to anybody but attackers.
Typically, such flaws are discovered by security researchers only after they have been successfully exploited by attackers, Shimel said, adding that companies tend to continue relying on patches to address security problems instead of putting multilayered defenses in place. “It’s time to put the emphasis back on the unknown attacks out there,” he said.
Hard to Block
In most cases, blocking such attacks is very hard because of the fact that the vulnerabilities are unknown, said John Sullivan, chief technology officer at Atlas Group Inc., a Kennebunk, Maine-based telecommunications consultancy. “Someday you’re going to miss something, and someone is going to get in using an exploit no one knows about,” Sullivan said.
Therefore, the emphasis has to be on detecting and containing the fallout from any attacks to the greatest extent possible, he added. That requires multiple layers of defenses not just at the network perimeter but behind it as well, according to Sullivan, who recommended the use of security measures such as strong user and device authentication, strict role-based access controls, network segmentation and data encryption.
Robert Bagamery, a system support specialist at a large Canadian utility that he asked not be named, said it’s also a good idea for companies to have a tightly controlled “whitelist” of approved Web sites and Web-based applications for their end users. IT managers should restrict access “to only necessary and dependable sites,” he said.
Gartner Inc. analyst Amrit Williams said much of the confusion about what constitutes a zero-day threat stems from the manner in which some security vendors have used the term when pitching their products. “Whatever nomenclature is used, there is a whole class of basically unknown exploits taking advantage of unknown vulnerabilities,” Williams said.
But the reality is that most organizations “aren’t experiencing pain” from less-than-zero-day attacks, he added. For now, the biggest pain point for IT managers continues to be publicly disclosed flaws for which no patches are available, according to Williams.
One well-known example was the Windows Metafile flaw that Microsoft Corp. disclosed and hurriedly patched early this year. “Most companies don’t know how to deal with situations where patches don’t exist,” Williams said.
Read more about Security in Computerworld's Security Topic Center.
- Best iPhone, iPad Business Apps for 2014
- 14 Tech Conventions You Should Attend in 2014
- 10 Desktop Apps to Power Your Windows PC
- How to Add New Job Skills Without Going Back to School
- Slideshow: 7 security mistakes people make with their mobile device
- iOS vs. Android: Which is more secure?
- 11 sure signs you've been hacked
- The 12 PCI DSS 3.0 requirements addressed by Peer 1 Hosting This handy quick reference outlines the 12 PCI DSS 3.0 requirements, who needs to be compliant and how Alert Logic solutions address the...
- Defense Throughout the Vulnerability Life Cycle This whitepaper provides insight into how to leverage threat and log management technologies to protect your IT assets throughout their vulnerability life cycle.
- Mobile Policy Checklist Here's what to consider when putting together a mobile policy designed to support a highly productive workforce.
- Securing BYOD Mobile computing is becoming so ubiquitous that people no longer bat an eye seeing someone working two devices simultaneously. Individuals and organizations are...
- Live Webcast On-demand webinar: "Mobility Mayhem: Balancing BYOD with Enterprise Security" Check out this on-demand webinar to hear Sophos senior security expert John Shier deep dive into how BYOD impacts your enterprise security strategy...
- Live Webcast Endpoint Backup & Restore: Protect Everyone, Everywhere Arek Sokol from the bleeding-edge IT team at Genentech/Roche explains how he leverages cross-platform enterprise endpoint backup in the public cloud as part...
- Streamline Software Asset Management, Compose a software Management Symphony Keeping track of your organization's software is easy with effective software management solutions from CDW. View the videos in our software solutions channel
- Druva inSync: Endpoint Data Protection & Governance CLICK HERE to watch this video about protecting corporate data on laptops and mobile devices, sponsored by Druva. All Security White Papers | Webcasts