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1.5 Who Are Your Enemies?

  1. Crackers and Hackers7

    Frequently, crackers regard the companies or agencies whose computers they break into as evil or simply unimportant. Sometimes their actions are benign (in that they do not damage or publish confidential data or cause Denial of Service) but do cost time and money for SysAdmins to lock them out. Sometimes their goal is to cause as much damage as possible. Their attacks occur essentially randomly but gravitate towards "big name" sites, typically large well-known companies and government agencies. They are very hard to catch.

    Sometimes they will connect in through a laptop connected to a pay phone. Other times they will come in through a compromised system from a second compromised system or even via a long string of compromised systems. Sophisticated attacks use long chains of compromised systems, making it difficult or impossible to trace and catch the crackers. Crackers have periodically posted customer credit card numbers, purloined from compromised systems, for years. However, in late 1999 there were a number of cases where crackers obtained large numbers of stolen credit cards from merchants such as Pacific Telephone and an airline and demanded millions of dollars to not post the card numbers. No money was paid and valid card numbers were posted by the crackers. Clearly, the motive was greed and theft.

    Some will break into systems to have a "base of operations" from which to attack other systems. Their goal is not to be detected on these base systems; unless the SysAdmin is especially vigilant, they could be "in" for months or years. They may use these systems to have an untraceable account or they may use them later in a massive Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attack against another computer. Techniques for reliably detecting even these "quiet crackers" will be covered in depth.

  2. Disgruntled current employees

    These attacks, too, are hard to predict, but proper auditing can both catch them and reduce the likelihood of attack due to fear of being caught. Frequent backups done and stored in such a way that no one person can cause them to be lost or invalid is strongly recommended.

    Certainly, if an action such as a poor review, reprimand, or unpleasant assignment is about to be given to an employee with access to important data or hardware, it would be prudent to make system backups, possibly alter door access codes, etc.

  3. Disgruntled former employees

    These attacks can be predicted somewhat by assuming that the first thing a fired employee might do is try to harm the system. Most SysAdmins have had the sad job of being asked to disable someone's computer access while he was in with the boss or Human Resources being fired. Naturally anyone who might unknowingly give this employee access should be informed of the termination. This includes vendors who have access codes and other employees.

    This brings to mind the tragic case of an airline employee in California who was fired but nobody bothered to tell the other employees or the security personnel. The public is not aware that, as a "courtesy," airline employees were not required to pass through the metal detectors. (After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, this is no longer the case.) This now-fired employee took advantage of this to bring a gun on a flight and shot the flight crew to death. The jet crashed and no one survived. Security is serious business.

  4. Competitors

    Your competitors will try to get your product designs, customer lists, future plans, etc. This information is usually used to steal your designs and customers, but sometimes embarrassing information is made public.

    While not strictly your competitors, headhunters will do almost anything to get the names and phone numbers of your employees so that they may hire them away. Some companies post their employee names and numbers on their Web sites. It is recommended to not do this to prevent their being targets of "raids." You may want to post the names and numbers of a few employees who interact with people outside of the company.

  5. Spies

    Despite the fall of the Soviet Union, there is plenty of spying going on throughout the world. Some of it is one country spying on another. There is an abundance of activity where one country spies on other countries' industries to gain illicit advantage. There is no shortage of industrial spying.

  6. Criminals

    While crackers are usually not motivated by money, the criminal element may be, breaking into computers for the sole purpose of theft, extortion, and other criminally profitable ventures. Organized crime may be involved.

  7. Extremists and terrorists

    Some individuals and some well-funded, well-organized organizations on what they consider to be a moral or religious crusade may try to intrude into your system. These are not just maniacs from the other side of the globe. There are many groups whose members in the past have done criminal acts either against computers or even against physical objects. These include various anti-government types, "activists," those against big business or certain industries, political extremists, pro-this, and anti-that. If one is the SysAdmin at a company or agency that may be a target of an extremist group, one needs to take precautions. Almost no one is immune.

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