The New Maginot Line

I sat at home watching the progress of the London power-cut last week and rather wondered if it was really as simple as the cleaner pulling the big red plug at the control centre. Strangely enough, the day before, I had just finished writing a scenario for next year’s eCrime Congress, which was uncannily similar in its results but involved a software problem instead. Like many others, I also wondered when the lights went out all over New York, just as W32.Blaster was making the rounds. You see, two years ago, I started writing a book, after a friend in the security services told me how worried the Americans were about their rather flaky power system and that they had run a potential terrorist scenario which involved a conventional or virtual attack on the North-eastern power grid in the middle of the very cold New York winter.

- Blaster's Author

My cybercrime novel never went beyond thirty action-packed pages, as the hero, based loosely on myself, was not surprisingly dumped by the feisty but fabulous Italian heroine in the first chapter. The idea however, remains valid and illustrates the strength of the ‘Single point of failure’ argument, where large and complex systems environments quite frequently rely on a controller connected to the very same big red plug that the cleaner might or might not have pulled last week.

And now the good news, if you can call it that. According to the InformationWeek 2003 Global Information Security Survey of 2,500 business-technology and security professionals, the 12 months ending in July, saw virus, worm, and Trojan-horse attacks hit 45% of the sites surveyed, down dramatically from 66% in the same period two years ago.

If you happen to be living in South America, then security is still very much a train smash but Europe and America are faring rather better, although one might ask if it could be much worse. Of course, the survey predates Blaster, Nachi and Sobig-F, last month and so the spin might look rather different of August’s tidal wave of business interruption was factored in.

With Computer Weekly’s special report on eCrime appearing later this month, it’s worth noting, that according to the latest report from Internet security testing specialist NTA Monitor, the financial sector now has the worst record for Internet security, with over 90% of financial organizations showing basic flaws in their security.

NTA Monitor reveals that that firewall performance among financial organizations is declining and as many as 46% of organizations tested displayed problems in this area, with 38% revealing medium-level risks which could lead to disruption in service or permit unauthorized access if incorrectly configured.

So, on the one hand, institutions are ‘beefing-up’ security as a response to recent problems but on the other, there’s some evidence to suggest that the response is only as good as the configuration of the organizations most powerful defensive asset and there’s a danger perhaps of a kind of ‘Maginot Line’ complacency creeping in to the corporate psyche that will be swiftly upset by attacks that have yet to materialise.

W32.Blaster was written by an inept, teenage couch potato who may have caused as much as £500 million dollars of damage and might even have contributed to the largest power blackout in US history. So what happens if someone with a real grudge and a Master’s in computing tries his hand at the same thing? Makes you wonder doesn’t it.


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