No one likes to talk about network security. Some find it overly difficult. Others just don’t care. On Oct. 26th of this year, a series of hackers broke into the Microsoft internal network, tapping company secrets and vital proprietary information. This onslaught has caused an outbreak of concern for those with subpar security systems or no security at all. Believe it or not, some sort of a probe is sent into your business network on a daily or even hourly basis. Some are hacks, some aren’t. Microsoft spokesman Rick Miller states, “There are regular attempts at unauthorized entry into our network all the time.”

Within most businesses, however, most incidents like these go unreported due to the difficulty in tracking the culprits and the embarrassment of admitting vulnerability. Scary isn’t it? You might want to start caring now.

What Can Harm You, and How to Keep it Out

Microsoft declined to give details about how the attacks were carried out, but computer security experts said they believed the hackers used a variant of a known worm called QAZ, which first surfaced in China several months ago. A “worm” is a common type of computer virus that makes copies of itself to send to other machines. Once it has infected a machine, it can perform tasks like destroying data, transmitting files, or letting a hacker enter the computer.

Worms are the newest of hacker tools. Older hacker tool versions still wreak havoc on a typical network administrator. Trojan horse programs, viruses, or direct alias hacks are still prevalent ways for those seeking to break into your business’s network, and for many of you, your business network may contain some pretty secret stuff, such as proposals, drawings, designs, contracts, etc. — not information that you are ready to share with the general public.

Many companies today set up what are known as corporate “firewalls” to prevent access to such information. A firewall will essentially protect networked computers from intentional hostile intrusion that could compromise confidentiality or result in data corruption or denial of service. It may be a hardware device or a software program running on a secure host computer. In either case, it must have at least two network interfaces, one for the network it is intended to protect, and one for the network it is exposed to.

There are two access denial methodologies used by firewalls. A firewall may allow all traffic through unless it meets certain criteria, or it may deny all traffic unless it meets certain criteria. The type of criteria used to determine whether traffic should be allowed through varies from one type of firewall to another. Firewalls may be concerned with the type of traffic, or with source or destination addresses and ports. They may also use complex rule bases that analyze the application data to determine if the traffic should be allowed through. How a firewall determines what traffic to let through depends on which network layer it operates at. Firewalls are only one piece of the puzzle.

OK, I Get It — Now What?

If you’re feeling a little worried right about now, you may want to inquire about the security of your business network and its vulnerability, especially you mom and pop shops out there with your small and susceptible local LAN setups. How do you do that? Well, as compared to the beginning of the column where we talked about the technology aspects, below are some questions you should ask yourself from more of a business perspective to ensure that your network security isn’t being compromised.

  • Does my company have a written or unofficial security policy in place?
  • Does my company actively monitor its networks to ensure compliance with its security policy?
  • Does my company have any security technologies in place?
  • Has my company ever trained its IT personnel in security countermeasures?
  • Does my company currently have an insurance policy to protect against financial costs of a potential security breach?
  • How frequently does my company conduct a thorough audit of its network and systems?
  • Does my company have an emergency disaster recovery system in place?

Getting Hacked at Home

Sounds fun huh? Well, to make matters even worse, the same guy who’s pinging away at your business network is also having his way with your personal PC at home. That’s right, every time you log onto the Internet, you are opening yourself up to be “hacked.”

For those of you who’d like some suggestions on firewall software and tools for home or more ways to tackle business security issues, e-mail me. I’d be happy to help you out. ES