Part I: Protect Your Data and Your Company From an Internal or External “Hack-Attack”

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Part 1 of a 2-part series

First, let me start with the bad news: There is no absolute way to prevent an internal or external hack-attack. With that said, there are some things that you can do that will make it so difficult to pull off a hack-attack, that the perpetrator will most likely want to go somewhere else and try their attack.

Now, there is an old saying, “cleanliness is next to Godliness.” I am sure you have all heard that line at some time in your life. This saying holds true in the security world. If your network is in total shambles (DAT files not updated, Service Packs are so far behind your need an abacus to determine how many versions behind you are, etc.) and your Intrusion Detection System (IDS) is monitored by humans only during business hours, then you have a “dirty” network that needs to either be cleaned, or as my mom used to tell me…let’s just burn your room and start over, it will be easier that way. If your network/server room looks as if a spaghetti factory has blown up, get it cleaned up by rewiring it using tags on each line so you know where each of the cables is assigned.

The first thing you need to understand in preparing to get your network in top form is to not only determine what is wrong with it, but to also be open to criticism from experts. Put away the ego (one of the top reasons why networks are in shambles to begin with) so that you can listen and learn from your internal experts or external consultants – you hired them, now listen to them.

In Part 1, we’ll look at network discovery issues, vulnerability assessments, and discuss ways to fix some of these challenges.

Network Discovery

Before you can determine what’s wrong with your network, you must first know what your network looks like. You will want to conduct a thorough network discovery since you are going to need to know not only what devices are on your network, but also where they are. Please don’t think that you are going to run a piece of software that will show you everything. If you have a wireless or dial-up modem hanging off of your network and the power button is off, you may never discover it. You may need to do a physical inspection of your entire facility…look up in the ceiling…those pesky tiles can support the weight of a modem and even an old sandwich from 4 years ago. I personally use an iPaq handheld device that is capable of “sniffing” out these modems, even when they are turned off. Now that you have a true and correct picture of your network, you will need to conduct a vulnerability assessment to determine what areas are weak and are in need of attention.

Vulnerability Assessment

To ensure that there are no “cover-ups” by your staff, it is recommended that you have an outside consulting firm come in and conduct the assessment for you. Depending on the size of your organization, the fee’s for this could be $15k to $30k or more. The final report to be delivered should be comprehensive in nature. Be sure to ask for sample reports prior to awarding a contract or project to anyone. There are areas that must be looked at closely. Make sure whoever you assign the project to gives you a list of the services they are going to run. My only word of caution here is that you do not allow a penetration attack be made against your Primary Domain Controller (PDC). Once the assessment is completed, make sure that you not only address the issues, but fix the issues.

Fixing The Issues

When you do get the final report, there are going to be a lot of errors that need to be fixed. Don’t worry; the “bark” of the report is much worse than the “bite”. Depending on how bad your network was when the assessment was conducted, you may have a few pages of issues to as much as a thousand pages of issues – one assessment we did a few years back yielded almost 7,000 pages (a government agency…need I say more). When you are reading your final report, one of the first questions you need to ask yourself is, “Where do I begin”? Not to worry, your security staff/consultants should prioritize what needs to be done and at what point in the project does it need to be done. The point at which a certain task is completed is very important since everything has a logical order of semblance to it…you wouldn’t put the seats in a car before you laid down the carpet. Your staff and/or consultants should know this and be able to build out a project plan with a scope of work, keeping you (the stakeholder) in the loop at all times. Never be afraid to ask questions or challenge something if you feel it isn’t the right thing to do or you don’t understand why something is or isn’t being done.

To save time and money, you have to look at all of the different compliance issues you have to deal with (NERC, EPA, OSHA etc) and cross-walk your efforts to all of these compliance requirements. Doing this will ultimately save yourself time and money by not overlapping efforts.

Next time, we’ll look at testing, maintaining, and some other important issues that merit your attention.

James Holler is founder of Abidance Consulting.

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