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Why seven-layer security is crucial for networks

  • 01 February, 2006 15:37

<p>By Carrie Higbie, Global Network Applications Market Manager, The Siemon Company</p>
<p>When network security is discussed, people think of viruses, denial of service attacks or other external threats. But truly secure networks are founded on a range of factors working in concert, defined as Enterprise Security Management.</p>
<p>Business and continuity planning address many levels of outages, from natural disasters to unnatural disasters or those deliberately caused.</p>
<p>According to IDC, only 3% of a network and system downtime results from malicious events, which may be launched either internally or externally to an organisation’s network.</p>
<p>CompTIA defines a major security breach as one that results in loss/disclosure of confidential information or interrupted business. In a recent survey they reported that 80% of respondents attributed the breaches to lack of IT security knowledge, lack of training or failure to follow procedures. One in five of the 896 respondents reported that their IT department had no formal security training.</p>
<p>Attacks by malicious code were reported by 68.6% of respondents, followed by network intrusion (39.9%). Browser based attacks were a rising issue with 36.8% reporting. Almost half (49%) of those surveyed have no written security policy. Of companies that do, 7% say that upper management has never reviewed them, while 9% say it is never updated.</p>
<p>The security issues facing network administrators today are complex. With the advent of wireless communications, increased options for retrieving email and other communications advancements comes a whole new array of security concerns. Organisations are realising that security duties cannot be added safely to existing IT roles, but require a team of individuals dedicated to securing the enterprise.</p>
<p>There are several approaches to securing an enterprise. Each comprises a portion of any company’s security plan. Vulnerability management, Risk Management, Survivability and Accountability or chain of responsibility all play key roles with each having two key components internal risk and external risk. Employee sabotage is actually a greater threat to organisations than external attacks. While security it permeates every aspect of a business, in order to be effective it must be addressed in every portion of the enterprise. But responsibility often falls on those without the authority to act properly. The threats must be clearly conveyed and understood by all those in upper management.</p>
<p>Physical Security is often overlooked. The machines that store our data and those with the proper authority to access them are difficult to secure at a physical level. In particular, companies with mobile workforces should view this challenge differently than those without. The new data centres being built today include biometric panels for access, security cameras and/or IP-based video surveillance, access panels requiring a combination of key access combined with biometrics, and in some instances key fobs that maintain changing passwords to a user who is co-ordinated with a server to acknowledge them for access. Whether permitting access or recording access, all of these systems are key components to the physical security of an enterprise. Intelligent patching and a good network monitoring program can also help by maintaining records of ingress and egress.</p>
<p>With the introduction of IP-based video, companies can have a central monitoring location for all sites. Data is compressed and stored on random access disks rather than sequential tapes and cameras can be controlled (PTZ or Pan, Tilt, and Zoom) from a central management station as well. The cameras can be placed anywhere there is a network connection and by utilising the new Power over Ethernet standard, can also be provided power over the network cabling. Communications areas and other intermediate telecommunication rooms should have some form of restricted access.</p>
<p>If not properly secured, any switch or router can be compromised through its console port. Assuring that unscrupulous users do not have access to the console port is just as important as assuring their file level access. The situation can be improved by tight control of IP addresses, the MAC addresses that use each address and other communications layer controls. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways, depending on the equipment manufacturer and available options.</p>
<p>File access and application access are impossible to control without a formal plan in place. As network systems can allow “inheritable” permissions, companies have found that even well-meaning employees have compromised file level security simply by putting documents that should be in a secure folder in a folder where permissions are not known or perceived to be something different than that designed. One of the hardest tasks for a security department is communicating current and potential threats to end users and helping them to become part of the security team rather than a challenge. In particular, where interrelationships between departments and data are factors, it is imperative that these relationships be visited and revisited often to assure that no compromise in security is found.</p>
<p>Patch management is another key to a secure enterprise. As vulnerabilities are exploited, it is imperative that the patches which resolve these are applied to all machines that could be compromised including servers, desktops, routers, switches, etc. Lists of these patches can be found on vendor specific websites or on sites such as www.cert.org.</p>
<p>Crucially, education plays a key role. In the same CompTIA survey, companies with 25% or more of their staff trained on security are 46.3% less likely to suffer a security breach. Education should include end-user awareness training by the security department.</p>
<p>All of the areas discussed have a common element - the physical infrastructure. The cabling medium, either copper, fibre or a combination of both is key to assuring end-to-end effectiveness of any element added to an enterprise. In other areas of the network, the solutions can fail completely unless the proper infrastructure is in place. Intelligent patching monitors all connections within the cross connect field. This allows a network manager to determine where and when a connection was either made or broken. It also allows the network manager to determine faults in real time based on the physical layer.</p>
<p>Proper physical media is a key component. A network’s effectiveness can be undermined by a poorly performing infrastructure system. Each layer of management adds a level of complexity and traffic. If the systems cannot communicate without frequent retransmissions, or even not communicate at all, they have no effect on overall security. Adding to this would be tamper-proof faceplates and hiding or not connecting unused ports from the patch panel to the switch removing ingress points.</p>
<p>In a recent IDC survey, network cabling was the third greatest threat to an enterprise. Much recently introduced legislation demands documentation of all network resources including physical layer documentation for all points of ingress and egress. It is important to know what resides on your network, but equally critical to know where it resides.</p>
<p>Physical security must be addressed at every layer of a network. It must be learned and communicated to all users and enforced.</p>
<p>For more information:
Alana Patton David Frost
The Siemon Company PR Deadlines Pty Ltd
(02) 8977 7500 (02) 4341 5021
Alana_Patton@siemon.com.au</p>

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