Staying Clear Of The Dark Side

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There are deep and disturbing sides to the Internet where businesses should fear to tread, if they want to keep themselves safe. So called ‘dark’ search engines, for example, certainly need to be approached with extreme caution.

Take Shodan, a search engine that navigates the Internet's back channels. It's akin to a ‘dark’ Google, helping hackers to find out the servers, webcams, printers, routers, systems, networks etc… that are vulnerable to tampering.

Shodan has been designed to help users track down certain types of software and hardware, determine which applications are most popular, identify anonymous FTP servers, or investigate new vulnerabilities and what hosts they could infect. All good stuff and useful to know. But Shodan also serves as a window into millions of unsecured online connections; and you definitely wouldn’t want those connections to be yours. It’s similar to a bank opening up for business in the morning and leaving the safe ajar by the front door – an open invitation to enter the inner workings of your organisation and see what riches are there to be had.

Shodan, it seems, runs non-stop, collecting data from hundreds of millions of connected devices and services each month. Through a simple search, a user can identify a number of systems that either have no security measures in place or generic passwords that can be hacked easily, leaving unwary organisations open to hazardous attacks.

There are accounts of one independent security penetration tester confirming that, amongst a number of unsecured systems he located using Shodan, were: a carwash that could be turned on and off remotely; an ice hockey rink in Denmark that could be defrosted with a click of a mouse; and a traffic control system for an unnamed city that could be put in ‘test mode’ with one command entry. But that is by no means the worst. Cybersecurity researchers are also said to have located command and control systems for nuclear power plants and a particle-accelerating cyclotron, using Shodan. Even allowing for apocryphal stories and a degree of hyperbole, that has to be worrying.

The biggest security flaw, argues Shodan’s creator John Matherly, is that many of these susceptible systems should not even be connected to the web. “Of course, there’s no security on these things. They don’t belong on the Internet in the first place,” he says. Many systems can now be controlled by computer, so IT departments hook them up to a server, instantly making systems and devices available to anyone with an Internet connection. It’s all part of that great unknown sometimes referred to as ‘The Invisible Web’ – the area of the WWW that isn’t indexed by the search engines. And it’s a high-risk place to be, if you don’t have the right protections in force.

Indeed, tightly targeted cyber-espionage attacks, designed to steal intellectual property, are hitting the manufacturing sector and small businesses with ever greater venom, warns Symantec’s latest ‘Webiste Security Threat Report’, with the latter, highly vulnerable, organisations the target of 31% of such attacks – a threefold increase on 2011. Targeted attacks overall have seen a massive 42% surge during 2012, compared to the previous year.

It’s also worth noting that in many cases protecting yourself, your company and your intellectual property online is not difficult, as long as you start with solid foundations such as securing your websites, intranets, extranets etc… with the latest encryption technologies from Symantec.

Using Symantec SSL is a cost-effective security measure for websites; when SSL is deployed site wide in a persistent manner it helps to protect the entire user experience from start to finish, making it safer to search, share and shop online. This encrypts all information shared between the website and a user (including any cookies exchanged), protecting the data from unauthorised viewing, tampering or use. The Online Trust Alliance is one leading organisation calling for websites to adopt the use of persistent SSL on websites (which is also known as ‘Always-On SSL’), with some of the world’s most successful names having successfully implemented it, including Google, Twitter and Facebook.

You might also want to look at Symantec Validation and ID Protection Service when shoring up your defences. This is a powerful cloud-based authentication service that enables enterprises to secure access to networks and applications, while keeping out malicious, unauthorised intruders. A unified solution providing both two-factor and risk-based tokenless authentication, VIP is based on open standards and can integrate readily into your enterprise applications.

With solutions such as these firmly in place, you should have the foundations in place be able to make light of even the Internet’s darkest places but don’t stop there. And as a colleague of mine writes here….”As we near the 2-year anniversary of Stuxnet, it is high time to check where your own organisation stands. While doing so could be relatively quick (particularly using such databases), dealing with the damage would take much longer so we strongly recommend the former course of action. “

There is no time like the present to review what you do and take the appropriate steps to ensure your organisation is protected both now and in the future.

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