Malicious traffic present on 100 percent of sampled networks, Cisco analysis finds

Assume a compromise

Every single one of a sample of large multinational firms investigated by Cisco for its latest Security Report showed signs of malicious traffic on their networks, the networking company has revealed.

Up to that bombshell, Cisco's 2014 analysis (actually a look back at 2013) is mainly a list of trends that have been well covered by rival reports, including by security firm Sourcefire, acquired last summer by Cisco to bolster its security mojo.

There is less spam but the small percentage of malicious spam has remained constant, Java made up a horrifying but not surprising 91 percent of "indicators of compromise" (thank you Sourcefire), while Cisco's own Intellishield alert service recorded its highest total ever since monitoring began in May 2000.

On the ugly sideshow that is Java, the trouble is overwhelmingly caused by older versions of the Runtime (version 6 and unpatched 7) and the marked tendency of organisations to run them at the same time. This problem isn't going away although there are hints that Java-oriented malware has peaked.

Meanwhile, attacks are getting more targeted and well-funded. Who knew?

Read past the obvious pull-outs and interesting details start to emerge, such as the ease with which large firms have been compromised, mostly through vulnerabilities at PC and server level.

Cisco found that of a sample 30 large firms it studied, 100 percent had traffic going to DNS locations pointing at websites hosting malware while 96 percent had traffic going to compromised servers, 88 percent to suspicious FTP servers, while 79 percent had PCs tunnelling connections using VPNs; porn turned up on half of the networks.

The clues were apparently so numerous you wonder why the firms didn't suspect something was up. Cisco even detected traffic going to military sites inside firms with no connection to that industry and to countries with which the US has no economic ties (presumably Iran, Cuba or North Korea).

The issue is now so big in these firms that the recommendation is to simply assume some degree of compromise unless shown otherwise.

As for password security, forget it. Cisco said it discovered a password database containing 8.9 million passwords and username combinations that could be used by criminals as a sort of lookup reference for common logins.

This neatly illustrates the weakness of the whole password ideology at enterprise level. Even when an individual uses a secure combination the chances are that plenty of their co-workers don't, or do but not the degree necessary to keep out hackers indefinitely. It only takes one compromise in the wrong account to get behind a firm's defences.

Elsewhere, there is also uncomfortable news for Android which has now turned into the Windows of the mobile world, attracting 99 percent of all detected malware for the segment. These are overwhelmingly distributed using third-party markets so some of the platform's popularity is being driven by risky user behaviour.

Ironically, the one vulnerability that Cisco didn't mention in its 2014 Security Report was the one that might cause it the most damage; incursion by the NSA. The latest Snowden revelation is that the US spy organisation might have found back door vulnerabilities in the equipment of major vendors, including Cisco.

Although this hasn't been confirmed, it was serious enough that its senior security officer John Stewart felt obliged to write a blog within hours expressing his concern at the story. None of this plays well with Cisco's customers. Make his a double.

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