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.
- Enable secure remote access to 3D data without sacrificing visual perfomance Design and manufacturing companies must adapt quickly to the demands of an increasingly global and competitive economy. To speed time to market for...
- Virtually Delivered High Performance 3D Graphics "A picture is worth a thousand words." That old phrase is as true today as it ever was. Pictures (i.e., those with heavy...
- Best Practices for Securing Hadoop Historically, Apache Hadoop has provided limited security capabilities. To protect sensitive data being stored and analyzed in Hadoop, security architects should use a...
- Top Tips for Securing Big Data Environments: Why Big Data Doesn't Have to Mean Big Security Challenges Organizations must come to terms with the security challenges they introduce. As big data environments ingest more data, organizations will face significant risks...
- What should I look for in a Next Generation Firewall? SANS Provides Guidance With so many vendors claiming to have a Next Generation Firewall (NGFW), it can be difficult to tell what makes each one different....
- Responding to New SSL Cybersecurity Threat The featured Gartner research examines current strategies to address new SSL cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities. All Security White Papers | Webcasts
Our new bimonthly Internet of Things newsletter helps you keep pace with the rapidly evolving technologies, trends and developments related to the IoT. Subscribe now and stay up to date!