It’s That Time Again.

A large balloon hangs over West London, pointing the way to this year’s Infosec Show and with it the hanging promise or perhaps more accurately, the faint hope of better information security in 2004 than was available a year earlier.

Last year, when I wrote a long and detailed eGov monitor and Computer Weekly sponsored ‘Special Report’ on information security to coincide with the Infosec show, I was reminded of the final scene of Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’, and the chorus singing, “Always look on the bright side of life”. After all and like the movie, it was a year of few choices, “Crucifixion or stoning”? Blaster or Sobig and sadly, a great deal more besides.

This year doesn’t promise to be any better in the information security space and the industry appears almost frantic in its search for new ideas and new technologies to plug the gaps which continue to appear, week in and week out.

In the last six months, Microsoft’s constant patching process has improved, almost out of recognition but the broader vulnerability problem among the population remains a serious cause for concern. While larger businesses have invested significantly in every aspect of network security, the evidence of the most recent surveys from the DTI and others, suggests that smaller SMB and consumer customers continue to ignore the risks and the messages and take inadequate content security measures.

However investment alone doesn’t offer a silver bullet in the fight against computer crime. This year’s 2004 DTI survey expresses real concern that businesses without the right monitoring and intrusion prevention processes in place may be operating under a false level of comfort, in that scanning and hacking activity may not be detected until it is too late to react. While seventy-two per cent of businesses expressed confidence in their technical processes and ability to prevent or detect security breaches, the research speculates that on the evidence, such confidence might be misplaced

While many IT professionals believe that Linux is more secure than Windows, encouraging them to consider introducing the Linux OS when they might not have done in the past, the true picture of what works best and what doesn’t remains complicated. The platform diversity suggestion offered by Gartner in October of last year has yet to find any popular following and more effort appears to be concentrated on ‘hardening’ existing environments than introducing new ones. After collecting a year's worth of vulnerability data, Forrester Research has concluded that both Windows and four key Linux distributions can be deployed securely with key metrics that include responsiveness to vulnerabilities, the severity of vulnerabilities, and efficiency in fixing flaws

Risk and the part it plays in the wider information security picture is where the real action appears to be this year. The challenge of ‘Embedding security and designing-out’ risk has emphasised the critical importance of perimeter security as a first line of defense against attack in a much wider, distributed security model, which embraces client, server and the extended network.

‘Put not your faith in boxes’ but 2004 is also the year that many companies finally realised that a managed firewall is where security starts and not where it ends. This year and having finished a short tour with Gartner analyst, Dr Gordon Frank, there’s an emphasis a more complete security approach, one that includes a firewall but embraces , anti-virus, security policy and many different solutions capable of integrating dynamically with network directories and authentication servers and know as Intrusion Prevention Systems.

Finally, one of the best security tools I’ve seen in 2004 so far is a book from Microsoft, titled “Protect yourself online”. My own recommendation for a peaceful year ahead is for the company to make it available to anyone who wants it at cost. It might even knock Harry Potter off the bestseller list but if it in anyway helps better secure the wide-open consumer broadband and SMB sector, then the rest of us in business will feel the benefits.


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