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2.2.5 Insufficient Resources and Misplaced Priorities (#5)

In many organizations, management simply will not approve sufficient resources to allow SysAdmins to provide good security. Good security does not happen by accident. It takes many elements to achieve a truly comprehensive security solution. Education, design, proper implementation, user training, maintenance, and continual vigilance all are required for an organization's system to be secure. When security is not supported (i.e., funded) by an organization, it is frequently limited to what a SysAdmin is willing to do on his own time. Yet, if he is unwilling to spend the time, he certainly will be blamed for any violations. This deadly sin puts the SysAdmin in the middle of problems that are not his direct responsibility. In other words, management will not allow him to make the changes necessary for good security and good business.

This may not be a "technical" problem, but I have found it to be the cause of break-ins at numerous organizations. Sadly, most of my clients come to me only after they have suffered a major, expensive break-in. I would much rather help people maintain good security than to do a painful and expensive repair.

A lack of resources commonly is due to misplaced priorities. "We have not been broken into and the media exaggerates every danger well beyond the true risk." This is a common belief of those whose organizations have not been broken into. I have deliberately peppered this book with accounts of break-ins in the hope that they may make an impression on management somewhere. Consider making a present to your boss of Bruce Schneier's excellent book, Secrets and Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World. Secrets and Lies is aimed at management and makes a good companion to this book. Some of the examples are the same as in this book, as both books were written at about the same time and they show common fallacies.

On a number of occasions, I have warned clients about major security problems only to have them decide that security was not as important as getting that next release out or making nonsecurity computer improvements. Later, they learn the sad reality—recovering from a security breach commonly costs ten times as much as having implemented security before the break-in would have cost—and they then must spend the money to implement the security. This "ten times the cost" figure represents only the direct cost. It does not account for lost market opportunities, for delayed products, for loss of customers who heard about the security breach and went elsewhere, and for costs to customers and employees who simply could not access your site and e-mail during recovery. It does not account for lost investors or for other consequences of bad publicity, and it most certainly does not account for the damage done to an IT professional's career.

What can be done to resolve insufficient resources and misplaced priorities? Spend an hour or two a week working on security as a skunk works8 project. Demonstrate a Linux firewall, Web server, or VPN. Show how easy it is to update Linux software when patches come in, to use SSH and GPG, to crack most passwords, or attack a Wi-Fi wireless network. Do scans of your network from your home system (using nmap with the -O flag) to show how open your network is. Install Snort and Portsentry outside of your firewall (if any) to show how much your network is attacked.

Talk with your colleagues to find accounts of problems and relay them to your management. Have a good consultant, or other trusted outside source, do a security audit of your company and recommend improvements. Never give up. Never surrender.9 Giving up leads to procrastination and results in compromised systems. That is the dark side of The Force. Finger pointing is a popular game after a major problem.

Misplaced priorities also can mean using Microsoft because "We are a Microsoft shop," disregarding that it may not have sufficient security for servers accessible from the Internet.

A Microsoft Corp. Vice Presidenta recently told a U.S. federal court that sharing information on vulnerabilities with competitors could damage national security and even threaten the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan. He later acknowledged that some Microsoft code was so flawed it could not be disclosed safely.

The amazing statements and candid admissions were some of Jim Allchin's testimony during his two days in court before Judge Kollar-Kotelly, who is hearing the case in which nine states and the District of Columbia are seeking stricter penalties for Microsoft's illegal antitrust behavior.

Allchin, group vice president for platforms at Microsoft, was the last executive to defend the Redmond, Washington, software developer. As did company Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates in his own testimony, Allchin highlighted security problems that could result from technical information disclosure requirements sought by the nonsettling states.

"It is no exaggeration to say that the national security is also implicated by the efforts of hackers to break into computing networks," Allchin testified. "Computers, including many running Windows operating systems, are used throughout the United States Department of Defense and by the armed forces of the United States in Afghanistan and elsewhere."

Is this the software that you want to trust your organization's mission and your job to?

A study done for the U.S. military headquarters by the Mitre Corporation in May of 2002 recommended expanded use of open-source computing because it was less vulnerable to cyber attacks and was far cheaper. Linux is in use by military and intelligence agencies in the U.S., Canada, Germany, France, Spain, England, China, and Singapore. The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) even offers its own secure Linux version that is C2-compliant at


Finland, China, Peru, the Philippines, South Korea, Mexico, Germany, and the city of Redmond, Washington, are other governments that find Linux meets their needs best. Unlike most commercial software, the code in open-source software benefits from continual scrutiny and improvements made by a large community of programmers dedicated to making it the best that it can be rather than "pushing it out the door" as quickly and cheaply as possible. Furthermore, it is free.b

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