An Engineer`s Primer on Information Security

An Engineer`s Primer on Information Security
An Engineer’s Primer on
Information Security
A White Paper by:
Brent Scott LaReau,
Revised: September 8, 2006
Copyright 2006
by Brent Scott LaReau
Brent Scott LaReau, Consultant
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• The full title of this document plus its copyright date(s), and. . .
• This author’s full name (Brent Scott
LaReau) and his brief or complete contact
About the Author
Brent Scott LaReau has been an independent consultant since 1987.
Information in this document is subject to change without
notice and is distributed on an “as is” basis, without warranty. Although every precaution has been taken in the
preparation of this document, its author shall not have any
liability to any person or entity with respect to any loss or
damage caused or alleged to be caused directly or indirectly
by the information contained in this document.
He provides design and development services in electronics, software, embedded systems and devices, web
and intranet sites, knowledge base construction, technical writing and on-site training/mentoring. He
is proficient in heterogeneous system design, where
diverse components use different programming languages, interfaces, databases, networks and communications protocols.
Brent earned his BSEE at Marquette University, graduating first in his class. His academic awards include
the International Engineering Consortium’s (IEC’s)
William L. Everitt Award, Marquette University’s Top
Scholars in Curriculum Award, and the College of Lake
County’s Outstanding Academic Excellence in Mathematics and Outstanding Scholar Award.
Trademark Information
Trademarked names may appear in this document. Rather
than use a trademark symbol with every occurrence of a
trademarked name, such names are used in an editorial
fashion and to the benefit of the trademark owner, with no
intention of infringement of the trademark.
He is a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM), and American Mensa, Ltd.
1 Introduction and Overview
2 Introduction to Information Security
2.1 Information? Security? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
2.2 Overview . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
2.3 Definition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
2.4 Objectives . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
2.5 Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
2.6 Risk Management . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
2.7 Scope . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
2.8 Security Technology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
2.9 Security Policies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
2.10 Laws and Regulations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
2.11 Security Standards . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
2.12 Implementation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
3 Best Practices
4 Cybercriminals and Their Attack Vehicles
4.1 Cybercrime . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.2 Malware . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Worms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Viruses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Spyware . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Adware . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Ransomware . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Trojans . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Rootkits . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.3 Zero-day Exploits . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.4 Zombies and Botnets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.5 Anti-virus Software . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.6 The Writing on the Wall . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
5 Internet & Network Threats
5.1 Targeting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
5.2 Networking Concepts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
5.3 Diagnostic Software . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
5.4 Vulnerabilities, Exploits & Patches . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
5.5 Port Management . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
5.6 Firewalls . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
5.7 Safe Computing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Good Habits . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Web Page Landmines . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Internet Explorer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
E-mail Landmines . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Outlook . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
PDF Landmines . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Flash Landmines . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Multimedia Landmines . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Passwords and User IDs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
5.7.10 Social Engineering . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
5.8 Threats to Wireless Networks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
6 Non-technological Threats
6.1 Social Engineering . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
6.2 Facility Security . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Property Theft . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
7 Data Leaks, Data Loss & Privacy
7.1 Data Leaks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Meta-data . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
E-mail . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Corporate Networks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Voice-mail . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Web Servers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Equipment Disposal & Repair . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Bluetooth Devices . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Shredding . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Encryption . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
7.2 Data Loss . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Paper Files . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Computers, Cell Phones, PDAs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Media and Memory Sticks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Backup & Restoration . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Storage of Backup Media . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Uninterruptible Power Supplies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
7.3 Privacy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
7.4 Policies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
8 Glossary
Part 1
Introduction and Overview
Finally, engineers know that a company’s end products can contain computers, custom software and sitespecific data. In a classic case of “finger-pointing”,
customers will assume that vendors ”lock down” their
products and that data is backed up automatically,
while vendors will assume that customers will somehow perform these tasks themselves. Legal trends indicate that vendors, and eventually engineers themselves, may soon be liable for security breaches or
enterprise-crippling data loss at customer sites.
Corporations, engineers and nontechnical people alike
rely on globally available digital information having a
definite dollar value. This has spurred cybercriminals1 to use computers and software to steal personal
identities, hold enterprise databases for ransom, and
commit other information-related crimes.
In the U.S. alone, cybercrime costs companies roughly
$67 billion per year, and costs individuals an extra $40
billion. On average, each U.S. wage earner 21 to 65
years old pays cybercriminals about $1500 each year,
directly or indirectly.
This White Paper introduces the field of information security—sometimes abbreviated InfoSec—
which deals with the protection of critical data and the
digital information systems that store such data. Also
introduced are “best practices”in information security,
which are tried-and-true security-related guidelines for
designing, implementing and maintaining any kind of
information system.
Today, cybercriminals use malware such as viruses,
worms and spyware, as well as social engineering (psychological) techniques, to achieve their goals
worldwide. Their primary vector is the Internet. Antivirus software is becoming irrelevant, as new types of
attacks occur long before anti-virus companies can issue updates.
On a more detailed and practical level, this White Paper brings into focus security and privacy issues affecting individuals and corporations. It describes common attacks and their defenses; data leaks and their
prevention; effective individual and corporate policies;
and technological solutions and their shortcomings. A
glossary and a list of references are included.
Even without falling prey to cybercriminals, companies
and individuals can accidentally allow important information to fall into the wrong hands. Consequences of
such data leaks include embarrassment, termination,
blackmail, lawsuits or even financial ruin. Simply emailing a spreadsheet to a customer, or failing to erase
a discarded hard drive, or using a wireless computer at
a coffee shop, can provide someone with enough confidential data to bring down you or your company.
As you read this White Paper, remember—
Praemonitus, praemunitus
(Forewarned is forearmed)
For example, in 2004 The SCO Group submitted a
Microsoft Word document as part of a lawsuit against
DaimlerChrysler and AutoZone. An analysis of that
document’s hidden “meta-data” revealed that SCO’s
lawyers had originally planned to target Bank of America instead. This data leak seriously weakened SCO’s
legal position.
1 Most boldfaced words can be found in the Glossary located
near the end of this White Paper.
Part 2
Introduction to Information Security
Billy Blanks, creator of the Tae Bo physical fitness
method, said that once you have consumed calories you only have two choices: burn them off, or
wear them. In the same vein, once you have stored
information you only have two choices: protect it, or
lose it.
In the past two decades we have increasingly used digital information systems to store all kinds of data: desktop computers, laptop computers, cell phones, PDAs,
MP3 players, web servers, e-mail servers, file servers,
USB memory sticks, CDROMs, DVDs, floppy disks,
tape cartridges, hard drives, network storage devices
and other devices.
Information? Security?
Most people use these devices without blinking, as if
all of these devices cannot corrupt or lose data, and
will last forever, and cannot be lost or stolen, and can
resist any stranger’s attempts to copy stored data, and
can be replaced at any time with another device that
will somehow store the same data automatically.
What types of information do you—or your company—
rely on every day?
• Bids and contracts?
Fortunately, a few people did blink, and consequently
tried to minimize those problems by inventing a new
• Documents and specifications?
• Schematics, bills of materials and CAD drawings?
The field of information security (InfoSec) deals
with the protection of information systems and the
information stored in such systems. It applies equally
well to personal electronic devices, file cabinets, computer centers, web sites, and the home or automobile.
• Software and databases?
• Financial data?
• Addresses and phone numbers?
• Bank accounts?
• E-mail archives?
• Passwords?
The U.S. National Information Systems Security Glossary defines information security as: “The protection
of information systems against unauthorized access to
or modification of information, whether in storage, processing or transit, and against the denial of service to
authorized users or the provision of service to unauthorized users, including those measures necessary to
detect, document, and counter such threats” [14]1
What would happen if such information was lost,
stolen, corrupted, sold, fell into your competitor’s
hands, held for ransom, or put on public display?
All right, then! Let’s talk about preventing those
things from happening.
1 Numbers inside square brackets denote one or more cited
references, which can be found at the end of this White Paper.
the ongoing process of identifying risks and implementing mitigation plans to address them.
Widely accepted objectives of information security [14]
Risks can be managed only if they are known [15,
26]. A discovery process is necessary to identify
information-related risks. Following established guidelines is better than going it alone, for two reasons.
First, a lot of time can be saved by following in someone else’s footsteps. Second, litigation often focuses
on whether industry“best practices”were used, as mentioned in Part 3 .
• Assurance - Confidence that security measures
work as intended to protect an information system. Vulnerability assessments and testing must
be performed to establish a confidence level.
• Availability - Information systems should not
break down when attacked. This requires knowledge of how attacks are performed.
• Confidentiality - Information should be accessible only to authorized parties. Generally, this
requires access controls and encryption (see section 7.1.9).
Information security considerations are commonly, but
incorrectly, thought to apply only to digital data stored
on servers located behind corporate firewalls. In
fact, information security considerations apply to every
piece of information, regardless of encoding, storage
media or physical form.
• Integrity - Confidence that data was not altered
by unauthorized parties, or was not lost due to
equipment malfunction. Tools such as checksum
generators can be used to verify data integrity.
For example, hardcopy of your company’s internal email directory should not become publicly available
through theft or carelessness. Confidential information stored in a PDA should not be readable by a thief
who steals that PDA.
• Accountability - Responsibility and liability issues regarding information systems. Impetus
must come from effective management and legal
While it is obvious that enterprise information systems
must be protected from unauthorized access, it is less
obvious that a company’s for-sale digital products are
also information systems, which customers will rely on
to securely store and process their personal or enterprise data. Legal trends show that vendors who do not
employ information security “best practices” may one
day be liable for security breaches suffered by their
customers [11].
Security Considerations
Five main security considerations exist [14], corresponding to information security objectives mentioned
in section 2.4:
• Vulnerability assessments and testing.
• Education on attack methodology.
• Encryption and access controls.
• Data integrity checks and alarms.
Security Technology
• Responsibility and liability policies.
Information security certainly involves the use of hardware and software technology to establish safeguards
for information:
Risk Management
• Encryption (see section 7.1.9).
It is important to realize that information security is
not about establishing absolute protection for important information, which is impossible. Instead, information security is about risk management, which is
• Integrity checkers.
• Locks and other access controls.
• Alarm systems.
• Vulnerability analyzers.
Security Standards
• Network firewalls.
In the absence of laws we can rely upon numerous industry standards to guide us. Popular standards and
industry “best practices” published by various organizations are shown in Part 3.
• Intrusion detection systems.
Security Policies
Technology alone is insufficient to protect information
systems. Policies for human behavior must also be
established to protect critical information [28], as exemplified by the old military slogan, “Loose Lips Sink
Establishing a formal information security methodology can require a great deal of time, labor and/or expense.
At the corporate level, this requires many departments
to work together. Specialists may be hired on a fulltime or consulting basis, to oversee the design, implementation, management and auditing of the corporation’s top-to-bottom information security strategies.
Such personnel will undoubtedly use industry “best
practices”recommended by various organizations (such
as those shown in Part 3). But be careful when hiring
an outsider to perform security audits and vulnerability
assessments, for who watches the watchmen?
Security policies, which guide human behavior, will become ever more important as cybercriminals increasingly use social engineering techniques to bypass
technological protection methods (see section 5.7.10).
Policies also help us to prevent accidental data leaks
that could bring harm to ourselves, our companies or
employers, or our customers, as discussed in Part 7.
Finally, policies can define an“incident response”strategy, which is essential for any organization that depends on an information system for day-to-day business activities. Incident response strategies should
encompass preparation, identification, containment,
eradication, recovery and follow-up phases.
In contrast to an elaborate and time-consuming formal
methodology, this White Paper condenses “best practices” mentioned in Part 3 to create a simple, “handson” approach that both individuals and corporations
can immediately employ on a day-to-day basis.
The remainder of this document will cover topics related to information security considerations mentioned
in section 2.5. Topics include:
Laws and Regulations
• Best practices.
An increasing number of Federal and state laws and
regulations affect how enterprise information security
must be managed on a day-to-day basis, as well as how
security breaches must be dealt with. Initially, laws
and regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) were enacted to
protect consumers, and others such as Sarbanes-Oxley
Act were created to protect investors.
• Cybercriminals and their attack vehicles.
• Internet and network threats.
• Non-technological threats.
• Data leaks, data loss and privacy.
Currently there are no laws dictating how enterprise information security must be managed. However, information security-specific legislation is expected at any
moment, with the Department of Homeland Security’s
National Strategy for Securing Cyberspace acting as a
Part 3
Best Practices
Industry standard “best practices” are commonly used
during design, development and implementation activities of all kinds. Information security activities involve
the same types of tasks, and therefore benefit from
the use of best practices as well. There is no reason
to “reinvent the wheel”.
100 companies. The ISF aims to deliver practical
guidance and solutions to overcome today’s
wide-ranging security challenges. Best practices
are defined in their massive 247-page document,
The Standard of Good Practice for Information
Security. URL:
According to one study, organizations that employed
best practices enjoyed greater success in their information security efforts than those that did not do so [35].
In specific, organizations that employed best practices
saw a decrease in:
The Standard of Good Practice for Information
Security covers:
• Exploitation of operating system vulnerabilities.
• Network security incidents.
• Customer/employee records being compromised.
Enterprise-wide security management.
Critical business applications.
Computer installations.
Systems development.
• International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical
Commission (IEC): ISO is an international
standard-setting body composed of representatives from national standards bodies. Similarly,
IEC is an international standards organization
dealing with electrical, electronic and related
technologies. ISO and IEC often jointly publish standards documents.
ISO/IEC 17799
contains guidelines for best practices in information security. URLs: and
• Alteration of system and application files.
• E-mail system downtime.
• Downtime due to security breaches.
• Financial loss due to security incidents.
Also, litigation often focuses on “due diligence” and
whether best practices were used during product (or
infrastructure) design and development activities. This
is true regardless of whether a lawsuit involves a vendor, a customer, a competitor, an employee or former
employee, or a“script kiddie”who launched a“denial
of service” attack on your web site.
ISO/IEC 17799 deals with:
The following organizations publish industry “best
practices” guidelines for dealing with information security issues:
• Information Security Forum (ISF): A leading
independent and international authority on information security, with members in 50% of Fortune
Security policy.
Organization of information security.
Asset Management.
Human resources security.
Physical and environmental security.
Communications/operations management.
Access control.
Acquisition, development and maintenance.
Information security incident management.
of information security, and it operates the Internet’s early warning system: the Internet Storm
Center. SANS also publishes its own news digest
(NewsBites), a vulnerability digest (@RISK), and
flash security alerts. URL:
10. Business continuity management.
11. Compliance.
• The Computer Security Division (CSD) is one
of eight divisions within the Information Technology Laboratory of the National Institute
of Standards and Technology (NIST). CSD
acts to improve information systems security
by raising awareness, devising techniques, and
developing standards and validation programs.
CSD publishes many general and specific documents relating to information security. For
example, its “800 series” of Special Publications
deals specifically with security guidelines. URL:
Noteworthy documents published by
and its divisions include:
Noteworthy documents published by SANS
Information Technology System Security Plan Development Assistance Guide
This covers:
Information Security Management - SANS Audit
Check List. This summarizes the same 11 subjects as the ISO/IEC 17799 specification (see previous).
Special Publication 800-30:
Risk Management Guide for Information Technology Systems.
Topics include:
Risk management overview.
Risk assessment.
Risk Mitigation.
Evaluation and assessment.
• Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) and IT Governance Institute (ITGI): ISACA is a global organization for
information governance, control, security and
audit professionals. ITGI is a research think
tank that exists to be the leading reference on
IT-enabled business systems governance for the
global business community. Jointly they publish Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology (COBIT), which is a set of best
practices for information management. URLs: and
NIST Special Publication 800-26: Security SelfAssessment Guide for Information Technology
Systems. This covers:
1. Management controls.
2. Operational controls.
3. Technical controls.
• The CERT Coordination Center of Carnegie
Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute studies Internet security vulnerabilities, researches long-term changes in networked systems, and develops information and training
to help improve security. They created the
OCTAVE (Operationally Critical Threat, Asset,
and Vulnerability Evaluation) method for defining essential components of a security risk
evaluation. Using the OCTAVE Method, executives and IT departments can work together to make information-protection decisions
and address information security needs. URL:
Engineering Principles for Information Technology
Security (A Baseline for Achieving Security). This
deals with:
System identification.
Management controls.
Operational controls.
Technical controls.
Security foundation.
Ease of use.
• The SANS Institute was established in 1989 as
a cooperative research and education organization. SANS (an acronym for Sysadmin, Audit,
Network, Security) is now a widely-trusted
worldwide source for information security training
and certification. It maintains more than 1,200
freely available, original papers on various aspects
Part 4
Cybercriminals and Their Attack Vehicles
For thousands of years, security threats consisted of
physical attacks such as break-ins and hold-ups. The
nearly sequential births of computer science and the
Internet have forever changed the way criminals—such
as thieves, con artists and corporate spies—commit
their crimes.
of malware called ransomware to take enterprise information hostage [18], or will destroy or corrupt data
as an act of sabotage or revenge, or will drain funds
from bank accounts.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has reported
that cybercriminals have attacked almost every Fortune 500 company at some time [12].
Recently, cybercriminals are finding it more
profitable—and less risky—to sell their malware
to other cybercriminals, instead of directly mounting
an attack themselves.
For thousands of years people have sought to obtain
physical goods such as food, weapons, jewelry, or more
recently, automobiles. But in recent decades there has
been an explosion of globally available digital information that is increasingly seen to have a definite dollar
Cybercriminals are not always shadowy outsiders who
do their dirty work from afar. Indeed, roughly half
of cybercriminals are (or were) employees of the very
firms from which they steal [1]. Such“inside jobs”cost
U.S. business $400 billion per year, according to the
Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. Of that,
$348 billion can be tied directly to employees who
had been assigned higher-than-average computer access privileges [18].
Hence today, people will pay good money for information, whether such was obtained legally or not. Worse,
companies themselves are now starting to buy stolen
enterprise information from corporate spies [39], and
to hire script kiddies [13] to attack another company’s
web site [22], to gain a competitive edge.
On a more personal level, cybercriminals sell stolen
information such as credit card numbers to unscrupulous individuals who intend to use this information for
personal gain. According to a Federal Trade Survey,
around 9.9 million Americans were victims of identity
theft in 2003. In 2005 at least 55 million Americans
were exposed to potential identity theft [7], and losses
due to Internet fraud in the first four months of 2005
alone totalled $1.5 billion ($800 million more than for
all of 2004).
This new demand for information has spawned cybercriminals, who are commonly but incorrectly known
as hackers. True hackers have a passion for learning
a technology so that they can innovate, regardless of
whether they gain financially or not. Cybercriminals
have a passion only for achieving illegal financial gain
by learning a technology well enough to exploit it.
While hackers may be a nuisance, cybercrime is a severe and costly problem. The US Treasury Department’s Office of Technical Assistance estimated that
cybercriminals reaped $105 billion in 2004—more than
illegal drug sales provided! [18]
A less-personal but more widespread form of criminal
activity is the production of ordinary malware such as
viruses, worms and spyware, which routinely cripple
enterprise information systems, computer-based products, and personal computers alike, forcing victims to
repeatedly perform costly mitigation activities.
After gaining access to a computer, cybercriminals will
steal copies of saleable information, or will use a type
Table 4.1: Malware Attributes
Cybercriminals often use malicious software
(malware) as attack vehicles to break into, or
cripple, computers and other types of information
systems [2, 3]. Today, malware is spread almost
entirely through computer networks, both private and
Internet. Therefore, network security—a subset
of information security—is becoming ever more
How widespread is the malware problem? In June
2006, security firm Sophos identified more than
180,000 different types of malware traversing the Internet, which is 40,000 more than was found in June
2005 [10].
then immediately seek other victim computers on the
Microsoft’s Malicious Software Removal Tool, which is
distributed by Microsoft as part of its critical updates
each month, removed more than 16 million pieces of
malware from 5.7 million Windows computers during
the 15 months prior to June, 2006 [8]. About 3.5
million of those Windows computers also had at least
one “backdoor Trojan” installed—usually of the “botnet”variety—placing such computers under cybercriminals’ direct control.
Additionally, modern worms contain a payload designed to allow cybercriminals to profit from the
worm’s presence inside a computer. For example, a
worm may turn infected computers into zombies as
described in section 4.4.
Worms do not need human help to infect a vulnerable
device. They simply need a network connection to
that device. Hence, simply unplugging or disabling
a device’s network and Internet connections (creating
an air gap) would absolutely prevent worms from ever
infecting that device. Obviously, that would reduce a
device’s usefulness in today’s networked environment.
Common types of malware include worms, viruses,
spyware, adware, ransomware, rootkits and Trojans.
Malware has two basic attributes: self-replication ability, and primary vector type. Self-replication is the
ability of software to make copies of itself; software
can either self-replicate or it can’t. A vector is the
delivery medium used to carry software to its destination; software can be carried by physical media such
as disks, or it can be transmitted over a network such
as the Internet [4].
Worms replicate and propagate extremely quickly. In
2003, the Slammer worm infected every vulnerable
computer in the world within 15 minutes of being released [33].
You should be aware that in 2005-2006 cybercriminals
began to create proof-of-concept worms designed to
find and infect Bluetooth-enabled cell phones that use
Symbian’s embedded operating system. Bluetooth is
a form of wireless network used by mobile devices such
as cell phones and PDAs. Future Bluetooth worms
could infect quite a few types of mobile devices, including automobiles.
Typical attributes of common malware are shown in
table 4.1.
adware, Trojans
and rootkits
spyware, adware
and Trojans
A worm is self-replicating software that can automatically find and penetrate remote computers or information systems on a network, by exploiting a vulnerability known to exist in application software running
on those targets. Once penetration is accomplished,
a worm will permanently install itself in its victim and
A virus is self-replicating software that, when activated, is able to attach copies of itself to other compatible files that are found within reach. A virus becomes
active and replicates itself only when its host file is executed (opened). Hence viruses most often replicate
only with human help. A virus can replicate without
human help only if someone has set up a means for a
computer to automatically execute (open) an infected
file, possibly by using a scheduler program.
• Information about your buying habits.
• Your passwords and account numbers.
• Your bank accounts and balances.
• Your credit card numbers and expiration dates.
• Addresses of web sites you visit.
Aside from self-replication, a virus can be manually
replicated by simply making a copy of its host file.
This can even happen during routine backups, where
infected files are copied from one computer to another.
However, copies are in fact dormant and benign unless
executed (opened).
• Your search engine queries.
Common sources of spyware are spam e-mail attachments, disreputable or hacked-into web sites, disreputable application software, free games, and thirdparty screensavers.
While the primary purpose of a virus is to replicate
itself, some viruses carry a payload designed to cause
damage by deleting or corrupting files. A large number
of viruses carry a payload that is simply annoying. For
example, some viruses display an egotistical or political
message of some kind.
Spyware can enter a computer only when someone
opens infected e-mail attachments, visits infected web
sites, installs infected application software, or installs
infected screensavers. Otherwise spyware would never
enter your computer.
Viruses were once the most important and extensive
type of malware, but worms now have that title because worms are much faster and more effective.
The National Cyber Security Alliance reported that
91% of computers in a studied group had been infected
by spyware. Webroot Software (in association with Internet service provider EarthLink) scanned more than
one million Internet-connected computers and found
an average of 28 spyware programs on each computer
[18]. Some people actually have many hundreds of
spyware programs on their computer.
Spyware is surveillance software that gains entry to a
computer only with human help. Once entry is gained,
spyware will permanently install itself in its new host,
often not only hiding itself but also rigging the computer to automatically re-install itself should someone
remove it. Once installed, spyware will automatically
start running every day as soon as your computer is
powered up.
Adware is closely related to spyware in terms of its
source, technical characteristics, and operation. But
whereas spyware informs someone else about you, adware is designed to inform you about products or services offered by someone else.
Spyware has only one purpose: to collect specific information about you, and then transmit that information to someone who can profit from that information.
For example, in 2005 researchers found evidence of
a massive spyware-base identity theft ring that used
keystroke loggers to obtain personal information [37].
A computer infected by adware may:
• Display“pop-up”advertisements for products, services or pornography.
Collected information can include anything stored on
your hard drive, anything you type on your keyboard,
and anything you view on web pages:
• Hijack your web browser so that you will be exposed to specific online shopping sites.
• Your contact information (name, address, phone
number, etc.).
• Notify disreputable companies of your e-mail address so that they can send you unsolicited mail
(spam) containing all types of offers.
• Your demographic information (age, sex, race,
sexual preference, city, state, income, etc.).
• Attempt to influence your political position.
own [32]. Rootkits are undetectable by many experts
and usually cannot be removed without destroying the
operating system’s capability to function normally.
First seen in 2006, ransomware is designed to take a
victim’s data hostage by encrypting one or more specific types of data files stored on a victim’s computer.
After this is accomplished a ransom demand will be
made known to the victim.
Traditionally, rootkits have been used by cybercriminals to gain unrestricted“super-user”access to remote
computers. But recently, some companies like Sony
have begun to use rootkit technology for Digital Rights
Management purposes to control access to digital data
such as software, music and movies.
Money is usually demanded in exchange for a decryption key with which to restore the victim’s data.
Small-time ransomware demands as little as $10.99
or as much as a few hundred dollars per computer—
payable through PayPal or Western Union—which increases the likelihood that someone will pay the ransom [18]. Big-time ransomware can immobilize enterprise databases until tens (or hundreds) of thousands
of dollars are paid.
In 1995, new malware spread so slowly that software
companies and anti-virus vendors had sufficient time
to roll out patches and anti-virus updates before that
new malware got out of control.
An interesting aspect of ransomware is that it can’t
propagate by itself. It must be carried as a payload by
an attack vehicle such as a virus or worm.
Zero-day Exploits
Ten years later it took mere hours for cybercriminals
to roll out malware that took advantage of the newly
discovered Windows Metafile vulnerability, but it took
Microsoft nine days to release a patch to fix that vulnerability [18]. As mentioned in section 4.2.1, malware can infect every vulnerable computer in the world
within minutes of being released. As a result, those
cybercriminals were able to wreak havoc around the
globe for the entire nine day time period.
A Trojan is an appealing or seemingly useful software
program, usually free, that actually contains some type
of malware.
A Trojan cannot infect a computer unless someone
deliberately obtains and installs such software. Hence,
a Trojan is a clever way to entice victims to voluntarily
install malware on their computer.
The immediate exploitation of the Windows Metafile
vulnerability was a prime example of a zero-day exploit. Unfortunately, zero-day exploits are becoming
more common as time goes by.
Trojan programs usually fall into the following categories:
• Games and related programs.
• Screensavers.
A zombie is an Internet-connected computer that was
successfully attacked in a manner designed to place
it under the remote control of a cybercriminal. Such
attacks are usually performed automatically by worms
carrying a specific type of payload, although a cybercriminal may choose to accomplish that deed manually. Owners of zombies are usually unaware that their
computers were compromised.
• Anti-virus or anti-spyware programs (ironically).
• Pirated software (“warez”).
• Trendy software for children and teens.
Zombies and Botnets
A single worm can quickly turn a large number of computers into zombies. This will form a botnet, which
is a special-purpose distributed computing farm with
a very high-bandwidth connection to the Internet.
A rootkit is software that hides itself in a computer, obtains administrative privileges and then replaces some normal operating system functions with its
Today, most cybercriminals do not personally use the
botnets they create. Instead, they find it much more
profitable to sell or rent their botnets to other cybercriminals who don’t possess technical skills required to
create botnets themselves. Sadly, some botnet creators are even advertising “first hour free” sales to potential customers.
• Automatic deactivation of detected malware.
• Periodic updates to signature databases and
heuristics engines.
• Widespread availability of free or inexpensive versions.
Botnets are usually put to two primary (and profitable)
uses, although their possibilities are many:
Disadvantages of anti-virus software include:
• Spam e-mail generation. According to estimates, in 2006 between 50% and 75% of all
spam worldwide originated from zombies. Disreputable businesses use zombies or botnets to
produce spam that cannot usually be traced back
to its source.
• Each vendor’s anti-virus software produces
slightly different results. None has “100% coverage” of all known viruses.
• Generally, you cannot install more than one antivirus software package at a time (which would
have increased coverage).
• Distributed Denial Of Service (DDOS) attacks. Disreputable businesses use botnets to
disable a competitor’s web site or e-mail server
in a manner that cannot usually be traced back
to its source [18].
• Today, detected malware can no longer be removed from infected files. Instead, infected files
can only be deleted or quarantined, possibly resulting in data loss, data corruption, or the inability of application software to run.
Everyone faces the risk of having their computer become a member of a botnet. During one investigation,
the U.S. Justice Department found that hundreds of
Department of Defense and U.S. Senate computers
were botnet members, generating spam under outside
control [18].
• It doesn’t protect a computer against all known
types of malware. This is usually deliberate, as
vendors would rather sell you two or more types
of protection software instead of just one. Also,
certain types of malware such as rootkits have
never been (and may never be) detected by antivirus or other protection software.
Anti-virus Software
• Updates to signature databases and heuristics engines always lag hours or days behind the arrival
of new types of malware [18]. The increasing use
of zero-day exploits is making anti-virus and other
protection software irrelevant.
Anti-virus software is hyped by its vendors as a“costeffective” solution to the very large problem of malware. Contrary to what its name implies, most antivirus software is designed to fight several types of malware, not just viruses.
• Updates are usually not free; they often require a
paid yearly subscription.
Anti-virus software uses a malware “signature”
database combined with a heuristics engine to detect
other, similar types of viruses. In practice, heuristics
engines are not as effective as one might think, merely
because vendors would receive too many complaints
about “false positives” if heuristics engines erred on
the side of caution.
• Using anti-virus software gives people a false sense
of security because of marketing hype, blind trust
in technology, and ignorance of anti-virus software
• Anti-virus itself is vulnerable to attack [18]. New
types of malware have been known to silently deactivate or cripple anti-virus and other protection
software, so that the malware can permanently
escape detection.
Advantages of anti-virus software include:
• Detection of thousands of known kinds of malware.
The Writing on the Wall
Side Note: For four years this author has run his
business exclusively on Linux. Results: No licenses,
no patches, no updates, no anti-virus, no fears, no
blue screens, no “pop-up” advertisements, no spyware,
no adware, no worms, no crashes, no downtime, no
Ponder This: What good is protection software such
as anti-virus or anti-spyware software, when their detection signatures and heuristics engines can only be
updated hours or days after new malware has attacked
your computer? Isn’t that like slamming the barn door
after the horse has bolted?
Now, consider these facts (as of July, 2006):
• Microsoft Windows has a 90% market share
• Obviously, the remaining 10% do not run Windows.
• Almost 100% of the roughly 180,000 known types
of malware can only target computers running
Windows. They have no effect on non-Windows
• The number of known types of malware that
target non-Windows operating systems can be
counted on one hand. Security firms estimate
that for each of these, the number of infections
found “in the wild” are in the 0-49 range.
Possible Conclusions:
• Microsoft and/or anti-virus companies will save
us somehow. Or. . .
• We’re doomed. Or. . .
• It’s OK to suffer, since everyone else in the world
is suffering too. Or. . .
• Keep using Windows computers, just don’t store
anything important on them. Or. . .
• Don’t use the Internet at all. Or. . .
• Use two Windows computers instead of one,
where one is used only for Internet access and
the other is protected by an “air gap”. Or. . .
• Stop using Microsoft Windows. Duh!
News Flash: Sophos, a security software vendor that
caters primarily to corporate users of Microsoft Windows, now recommends that home users replace their
Windows PCs with Apple Mac computers [29]. This
is the proverbial “writing on the wall”.
Part 5
Internet & Network Threats
• A computer can obviously execute software that
communicates over the network with another
computer running compatible software. That’s
how you“surf the web”. But you can run an e-mail
program at the same time as a web browser. A
computer prevents communications conflicts between programs by assigning a unique port number to each program. A port number is expressed
as a single decimal number between 1 and 65,535
inclusive, and is analogous to an apartment number within a building. Well-known port numbers
are those traditionally used for a specific function. For example, web server programs normally
use port 80.
The rise of ubiquitous data communications
networks—such as corporate networks, wireless
networks, and the Internet—coincides with the rise
of network-borne attack vehicles and the decline of
simple viruses.
As mentioned in Part 4, cybercriminals and worms use
a network such as the Internet to find vulnerable computers. But exactly how is this accomplished, and what
can be done to stop it?
• A program running on one computer, can communicate with a program running on another computer, only by first establishing a “connection”. It
does so by transmitting a connection request to a
specific port number at the other computer’s IP
address or name. A connection request is received
by a program only if it is actually“listening”on its
assigned port number. For example, web servers
listen on port 80 for connection requests from remote web browsers. When a program is listening
on a port, that port is said to be “open”.
A review of four basic networking concepts, plus an
introduction to three common diagnostic programs, is
required before we can address that question.
Networking Concepts
• Every computer on a network is assigned a unique
network address, commonly called an IP address.
A computer’s IP address is analogous to a building’s street address. IP addresses are commonly
expressed as four decimal numbers, each between
zero and 255 inclusive, separated by a period.
“”is an example of an IP address.
At this point we are on the verge of understanding
how cybercriminals or worms locate computers on a
network. However, a quick look at some common networking tools would add some clarity to our discussion.
• The Domain Name System (DNS) was developed
to allow human-readable computer names (such
as “” or “”) to be specified
instead of IP addresses. DNS “servers” are provided as part of Internet and network infrastructures to translate such names into corresponding
IP addresses. For example, “” might
be translated into “”, from which we
can deduce that the computer serving Google’s
web page has an IP address of “”.
Diagnostic Software
Networking specialists use several types of diagnostic programs to accomplish common network-related
tasks, such as:
• Verifying network connectivity between two computers.
• Determining whether any computer has been assigned a particular IP address or name.
Another diagnostic program called netstat is built into
every computer operating system. It lets you see which
ports are open on your computer, and which network
connections to other computers are established [4].
• Discovering which, if any, ports are open at a specific IP address.
Netstat is not a beginner’s tool, but once you learn
how to use it you can:
• Discover certain types of malware running on your
computer. For example, the so-called Nachi worm
will open port 707 for malicious purposes once the
worm has infected a computer.
One such diagnostic program is built into every computer operating system. That program is called ping
and it’s quite easy to use. You can try it right now :
• Identify potential security risks by identifying
which standard ports are open. For example, port
21 indicates the presence of an FTP server running on that computer, and FTP servers are a
known security risk.
1. In Windows, click Start - Run and then type
cmd into the “Open” textbox. Click OK. A black
command-line window will appear. If this fails,
use another means to bring up an MS-DOS command window.
2. Type ping and then press Enter.
If your computer is set up in the normal manner,
you will see something like this:
Another diagnostic program is called Nmap, which is a
free third-party program (not provided with Windows).
Nmap falls into the port scanner category even though
it performs many other functions [2].
Pinging [] with
32 bytes of data:
Reply from bytes=32
time=71ms TTL=245
A port scanner is an automated means to determine
which ports at an IP address are open. A port scanner
does its job by sending thousands of connection request messages to thousands of port numbers at a target IP address, hoping to receive some replies. When
finished, port scanners will display a list of open ports
if any were found.
From this response we can infer that:
• A DNS server was able to translate “”
into a specific IP address, and. . .
Nmap can also perform a ping sweep. A ping sweep is
an automated means to find computers on a network,
by blindly running the equivalent of a ping command
against every IP address within a given range. When
finished, a ping sweeper will display a list of IP addresses for which ping succeeded.
• The ping program was able to send a request over
the Internet to a remote computer at that IP address, and. . .
• A program at that IP address was listening on the
appropriate port number, and. . .
A ping sweep and a port scan may be combined to
produce a list of open ports for every computer within
a range of IP addresses. This can bring to light some
rather interesting facts. For example, this author once
discovered that 16 computers at a customer’s facility
were infected by the Nachi worm, because port 707
was open on those computers.
• That program sent a response back to our ping
Ping programs accept either a computer name such as
“”or an IP address such as“”.
So you could have typed “ping” instead of “ping”.
If you are interested in Nmap you can visit its web site
Exploits &
Windows used to be famous in network security circles for its wide-open port configuration “out of the
box” [4]. For example, previously to Service Pack 2’s
(SP2’s) arrival, Windows XP Home Edition’s default
configuration opened the “messenger service” port.
That service is traditionally used by corporate system
administrators to send official announcements to employees. But why enable that service in XP’s home
edition? Did Microsoft think that each home contains
multiple PCs supervised by a system administrator?
Now, we can finally address how cybercriminals or
worms find vulnerable computers on a network.
Cybercriminals (or worms) can simply perform a ping
sweep to locate active computers. Then, for each corresponding IP address, they can run a port scan to
locate open ports. Interestingly, cybercriminals can
also use search engines such as Google to discover vulnerable servers [2].
Furthermore, most home computers have Internet access, which means that “average Joe” has all kinds of
ports open on the Internet. So it was easy for disreputable companies to set up automated ping sweeps
and ports scans to find every open messenger service
port on the Internet, so that advertisements could be
sent continuously to every available home computer in
America. Thanks, Microsoft!
If a well-known port number is open, it’s clear that a
specific type of program is running on that computer.
For example, if port 465 is open then one can assume
that a mail server program is running.
Cybercriminals and security experts alike know that
some programs are known to have certain vulnerabilities, which can be exploited in specific ways.
At least Microsoft’s SP2 closed that security hole.
But what about other open ports? You have several
A cybercriminal or worm need simply transmit a specially crafted message to a vulnerable program, to
cause that program to malfunction in a predictable
way, resulting in a highly desired result: external control of that computer [13].
1. Learn about network security so that you can
manage port-related security risks yourself. Advantages: Your port configuration will match your
specific requirements. You won’t be blindly following someone else’s advice for better or worse.
Disadvantages: The learning process is timeconsuming. Your initial security fixes will be delayed until you know what you’re doing.
That’s why it is critically important for vendors to discover and immediately fix vulnerabilities in their software.
2. Have a computer geek close them for you. Advantages: You will get expert help in short order.
Disadvantages: You must blindly trust that geek,
for better or worse.
And, that’s why it is critically important for you to
apply security updates to all of your software the very
instant these become available.
3. Install a firewall. Advantages: You will be protected in short order. Later, you can“tweak”your
firewall to match your specific requirements. Disadvantages: At least initially, you must blindly
trust your firewall vendor’s default configuration,
for better or worse. Some firewalls are themselves
vulnerable to attacks by cybercriminals or their
Port Management
Imagine this dialog:
Patient: “It hurts for hours every time someone kicks me in the shins. What can I do
about it? ”
Doctor: “Stop letting people kick you in the
A firewall is a software or hardware means to block
certain types of network traffic while allowing other
types to pass. Therefore, a firewall can place a large
If open ports will expose vulnerabilities, why keep them
obstacle in the path of cybercriminals and worms [2, 3,
4]. Interestingly, the recent increase in firewall usage
has caused many cybercriminals to shift their focus to
social engineering techniques (see section 5.7.10).
Disadvantages of a hardware firewall include:
• It costs $50-200.
• An extra piece of equipment must be maintained.
Two types of firewalls exist: Hardware, and software.
You can use both at the same time to get the best of
both worlds, which is precisely what this author recommends.
• It introduces an extra point of failure.
• It cannot be configured to disallow specific software programs from obtaining network (or Internet) access.
• It will not notify you when a new type of software
program running on your computer attempts to
obtain an outbound connection to a remote computer. Many types of malware will try to “phone
home”, and you don’t want them to do that.
Hardware Firewalls
A hardware firewall is a piece of electronic equipment
designed to block common types of network threats.
Hence you must connect it in-line between a “dirty”
network (such the Internet) and your computer, so that
all network (or Internet) communications must pass
through the firewall.
Software Firewalls
A software firewall is a program designed to block common types of network threats. You must install this
program on every computer connected to a network
(or the Internet).
The best hardware firewalls employ Network Address
Translation (NAT) and Stateful Packet Inspection
(SPI), which prevent unsolicited external network or Internet traffic—such as attack probes generated by cybercriminals or worms—from ever reaching your computer.
The best software firewalls employ Stateful Packet Inspection (SPI), which provides additional protection
against attacks mounted by cybercriminals or worms.
Advantages of a software firewall include:
Firewall using both NAT and SPI are not that expensive ($100 & up). Do yourself a favor and insist on
both NAT and SPI when purchasing a hardware firewall.
• No hardware failure can occur.
Advantages of a hardware firewall include:
• Some are available free of charge (within the
terms of their license).
• No extra equipment is required.
• It can be configured to disallow specific software
programs from obtaining network (or Internet) access.
• One device can protect an entire private network.
• It provides a central “control panel”. All computers behind the firewall will receive the same type
of protection.
• It will notify you when a new type of software
program running on your computer attempts to
obtain an outbound connection to a remote computer.
• It is less vulnerable to attack than software firewalls.
Disadvantages of a software firewall include:
• It usually has a built-in Internet sharing feature, automatically providing Internet access to
all computers behind the firewall.
• It is vulnerable to attack, just like any other software. As of April 2005, almost 80 vulnerabilities had been discovered in defensive (firewall and
anti-virus) software products sold by Symantec,
F-Secure, CheckPoint Software Technologies, and
• It can usually be configured to block certain
communications protocols, IP addresses, web site
URLs, web page keywords, etc.
Anti-virus software, firewalls and other technological
protection methods are strong and important links in
your chain of protection. However, your computing
habits are chain links, too, and if they are weak then
your chain will break.
• If you have more than one computer you may have
to pay additional license fees.
• You must manually ensure that every firewall is
set up the same (there is no central “control
You can tremendously strengthen your chain of protection by establishing safe computing habits [3, 31].
• If you use an Apple Mac and a Windows PC, you
must buy and learn two entirely different types of
software firewalls.
Safe Computing
Good Habits
Safe computing habits include:
1. Use strong user ID / password combinations (see
section 5.7.9).
So far we have been focusing on how cybercriminals or
malware invisibly attempt to get into your computer,
and what defenses you can mount to keep them out.
2. Shred every printed page before throwing it out
(see section 7.1.8).
But what if you unwittingly invite them into your computer?
3. Guard mobile electronic devices (such as PDAs
and laptops) as if they were your wallet or purse.
Don’t store PINs and passwords in these devices.
See section 6.3.
This is more common than you may think. First, consider this fictional story:
4. Use a safe web browser such as Firefox to surf the
web (see section 5.7.3).
To keep out criminals you have fortified your
property by erecting a barbed-wire fence with
a locked gate. Every day you unlock that
gate and cross the road to fetch your newspaper and your mail. One day, you pause to
read a startling front-page story before returning home, where you discover that your
wallet is no longer on the kitchen table!
5. Use a safe e-mail client such as Thunderbird to
send and receive e-mail (see section 5.7.5).
6. Put a firewall on your Internet connection (see
section 5.6).
7. Turn off your computer when you’re not using it,
especially if your computer has a continuous connection to the Internet. Configure your computer
to blank its screen and lock itself after a few minutes of inactivity (requiring a password to restore
normal operation).
Now, consider this analogous but true story:
To keep out cybercriminals you have fortified
your computer by installing anti-virus software and a firewall. Every day you check your
e-mail and surf the web to read top news stories. One day, you receive a startling e-mail
message from your bank, stating that your
account will be suspended unless you verify
your account information. You click the email’s web page link and fill out their form.
Later, you discover that your bank account
is empty!
10. Use a Mac or a Linux PC when using the Internet
(see section 4.6). Update every software program
you own the instant an update is available (see
section 5.4).
Remember, a weak link in a chain will cause that chain
to break.
11. Never click on any web page link you find in any
e-mail. Instead, type the web page address (URL)
into your browser yourself. See section 5.7.10.
8. Encrypt confidential data stored in your computer or on external media such as disks or USB
memory sticks, as described in section 7.1.9 [3, 4].
Use a strong password (see section 5.7.9).
9. Destroy old disks and tapes so that no one can
read their contents (see section 7.1.6).
12. Avoid online accounts if you can. Otherwise, try
to minimize the amount of personal information
you provide to web sites. Lie if you must provide
extra information that seems to have no bearing
on your account. Absolutely avoid “secret questions” (a.k.a. “security questions”). See section
which one can easily create “a rich browsing experience” when surfing the web.
Simply put, Microsoft’s ActiveX technology is a programming interface between Internet Explorer and
your computer’s resources (disk drives, memory, files,
sound cards, etc.). So, through the miracle of ActiveX,
when you use Internet Explorer to view a web page containing a suitable program, that program can reach
deep into your computer and do all sorts of things
[2, 18]. It can even reboot your computer!
13. Obtain a credit card with an extremely low credit
limit, which you will use only for online shopping.
Fraudulent charges will be much easier to spot
that way. Make sure you never use a debit card
for online purchases.
One software engineer was so aghast at the power of
ActiveX that he created an informative web page titled
“ActiveX: Or how to put nuclear bombs in web pages”
[27]. Obviously Microsoft was unhappy about that,
and threatened legal action against the engineer—for
simply telling the truth.
14. Disable all “macros” in office document-related
programs (such as Microsoft Office). Configure
those programs to also warn you if a macro is
present in a document. Macros can be put to
bad uses as well as good uses.
Among other things, ActiveX can allow a disreputable
web site to engage in a “drive-by download attack”,
in which malware is quietly installed whenever a user
visits that site.
15. Never open e-mail attachments unless you absolutely have to. Never open any attachment directly by clicking on it (see section 5.7.4).
16. Occasionally check your computer and web
browser security levels by running free online tests
offered by computer security firms [3]. For example, PC Flank Ltd. ( offers six on-line tests: Quick Test, Advanced Port
Scanner, Stealth Test, Browser Test, Trojans Test
and Exploits Test.
The good news is that (as of July 2006), ActiveX only
works with Internet Explorer. All other browsers—
Firefox, Netscape, Opera and others—are, perhaps deliberately, incompatible with ActiveX. Therefore, no
other browser permits web page programs to reach so
deeply into your computer.
This author recommends against using Internet Explorer for that reason (see section 5.7.3).
Web Page Landmines
People use search engines such as Google and Yahoo!
every day. Unfortunately, people mistakenly assume
that search engines will find only quality web sites run
by reputable individuals or companies.
Java, not to be confused with JavaScript, is a generalpurpose, standalone programming language invented
by Sun Microsystems.
In reality, search engines don’t filter search results to
weed out web sites created by cybercriminals.
Java normally has nothing to do with web browsing.
However, all modern web browsers contain a built-in
interface to whatever Java run-time environment is installed on the computer. That interface allows Java
programs to be embedded into web pages, introducing
two additional security risks.
Even so, you may wonder what harm there could possibly be in simply viewing a web page. After all, it’s not
as if viewing a web page could force malicious software
down your computer’s throat, right?
First, it’s possible that a flaw in Java’s run-time environment may be discovered and exploited. Fortunately, its run-time environment has suffered few
known vulnerabilities, but new exploits are being seen
on all fronts every year.
ActiveX: A Nuclear Bomb
According to Microsoft, ActiveX is one of many “exciting and powerful features of Internet Explorer”, with
Windows Update web site. And that is why you can’t
perform updates using any other browser.
Second, Java can permit a disreputable web site to
launch a “drive-by download attack” in an effort to
install malware whenever a user visits that site.
Think about it: Why would you want to stumble
across using the same
web browser that Microsoft uses to update Windows?
Non-malicious Java programs are found in very few
web pages, so this author recommends that you change
your web browser’s configuration settings to disable
Java. If you have occasional need to visit a reputable,
Java-enhanced web site, simply re-enable Java long
enough to view that web content. Then disable it
You can close that huge gap in your security fence
quite simply:
1. Obtain and install the Firefox web browser by visiting, downloading Firefox, and
installing it according to Mozilla’s instructions.
2. Set up Windows’ Internet Options as follows:
Before discussing Jscript it is necessary to briefly mention its cousin, JavaScript. In 1995, Netscape Communications invented JavaScript to enable simple programs to be embedded in web pages. Later, JavaScript
was adopted as an international standard. JavaScript
was designed with the user’s security in mind from the
very beginning.
(a) Put only into Windows’
“Trusted Sites” zone.
(b) Disable every feature in all other zones (“Internet”, “Local Intranet”, “Restricted”, etc.).
You may have to ask a computer geek for
help with this [3].
3. Never use IE again, except to obtain software
updates directly from Microsoft’s web site (which
is why step“2a”is included in the procedure shown
Jscript is Microsoft’s version of JavaScript. That
means it does not follow the actual international standard. Due to Microsoft’s “embrace and extend” philosophy, Jscript offers many more powerful capabilities
than does JavaScript.
4. Use only Firefox when you surf the web [4].
While this extra power may allow one to have “a
rich browsing experience” it also allows one to have a
greater risk when surfing the web, because more power
generally equates to more security risks and vulnerabilities. Therefore this author believes the use of Jscript
is another reason to avoid using Internet Explorer (see
section 5.7.3).
E-mail Landmines
E-mail messages and attachments carry a huge amount
of malware right through defensive systems such as
firewalls and anti-virus software (as if spam weren’t
enough to deal with) [2].
Never click on any attachment to open it—save it to
disk instead. Why? Because various techniques allow
cybercriminals to mask part of an attachment’s name,
so recipients cannot easily determine an attached file’s
true name or type. For example, you might think an
attached file’s name is “CoworkersNaked.bmp” when
its name is actually “CoworkersNaked.bmp.exe”. You
wouldn’t want to click on the latter!
Internet Explorer
Internet Explorer (IE) is one of of two missing sections
of chain-link security fence surrounding your computer,
big enough for a Mack truck [4]. That’s why some
people call it “Internet Exploder”.
IE is Microsoft Windows’ native web browser, and, like
many Microsoft software products, it is tightly integrated with Windows itself.
After the attached file is saved, do not find that file
on your hard drive and then click on it! That would
be the same as clicking on the attachment, and you
don’t want to do that.
So tightly integrated, in fact, that IE allows web sites
to have full access to—and control of—Windows itself. That is why you can update Windows (and other
Microsoft products) by using IE to visit Microsoft’s
Instead, simply open the application program designed
to handle that type of file, and use the application’s
“File - Open” dialog to find and open that file. Image
programs that will open“BMP”files will refuse to open
“EXE” files, thereby saving you from inadvertently executing malware.
Macromedia’s Flash (SWF) file format allows movies
to be embedded into web pages. This requires Macromedia’s Flash Player “plug-in” software to be downloaded and installed, which almost everyone has already done.
Unfortunately, Macromedia has occasionally reported
some rather serious security risks due to software bugs
within their Flash Player software. Cybercriminals can
literally take over a computer by exploiting those vulnerabilities.
Outlook and Outlook Express are Microsoft’s e-mail
clients for enterprises and home (or small businesses)
users, respectively. Here we will simply call them both
“Outlook” since they share the same roots.
Outlook also happens to be the other missing section
of chain-link fence [4]. It is is tightly integrated with
Windows and IE, and so it suffers from many of the
same vulnerabilities as they do.
Worse, the Flash Player plug-in cannot be disabled and
is difficult to remove once installed. But this author
strongly recommends that you search Adobe’s web site
( to learn how to remove the Flash Player
(or just its browser plug-in component).
You can close that huge gap in your security fence
quite simply:
1. Obtain and install the Thunderbird e-mail client
by visiting, downloading Thunderbird, and installing it according to Mozilla’s
Multimedia Landmines
In 2004, RealNetworks reported a serious vulnerability
in its RealPlayer software, which is used to play music
and video files. If a specially crafted music or movie file
is played it can cause that player software to malfunction in a predictable way, resulting in a highly desired
result: external control of that computer.
2. Never use Outlook again. Yes, really!
3. Use only Thunderbird for e-mail [4].
Flash Landmines
Unfortunately, flaws have been found in almost every
media player software available, at one time or another.
You should think twice about using your computer to
listen to music or watch a movie.
PDF Landmines
Adobe’s Portable Document Format (PDF) file format
is ubiquitous on the World Wide Web. However, most
people don’t realize that, for years now, JavaScript
programs can be embedded into PDF files.
More importantly, you should never play any media
file you receive in an e-mail (even if it’s from someone
you know), because a cybercriminal could have created it! Burying a rootkit in a funny video would be
an excellent example of social engineering (see section
Adobe has occasionally reported vulnerabilities in its
version of JavaScript, which cybercriminals were able
to exploit to give PDF files a virus-like behavior when
they are opened with Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.
Few PDF files contain any JavaScript code. Therefore, this author recommends that you change your
Acrobat Reader’s configuration settings to disable
JavaScript. If you have a legitimate need to view
a trusted, JavaScript-enhanced PDF file, simply reenable JavaScript long enough to view that one document. Then disable it again.
Passwords and User IDs
People obviously know that their user ID and password
are supposed to guard their account from unauthorized
access, but most people fail to understand five critical
1. Someone may actually try to get into their account.
Weak User IDs and Passwords
A user ID or password is weak when it can be easily
guessed by someone, or easily computed by passwordcracking software.
2. Their user ID is just as important as their password.
3. Most user IDs and passwords are weak (easy to
guess or compute).
Before we learn about what makes a user ID or password strong, let’s stop to consider why most people
have weak user IDs and passwords, so that we can
learn what not to do.
4. “Security questions” are a curse.
5. Cybercriminals have all the time in the world.
People have weak user IDs for two main reasons:
• A user ID was assigned to them when its account
was established. Very interesting, because people
don’t realize that in many cases an“assigned”user
ID is simply a recommended or default user ID. If
so, they could have overridden that default when
the account was established.
Let’s discuss these concepts one by one.
Online Break-ins
• They chose their own user ID when its account
was established, but they followed the common
but foolish practice of basing their user ID on their
The Gartner Group has reported that $2.4 billion had
been robbed from Internet-accessible bank accounts
between June 2003 and May 2004 [18]. Newer statistics are probably higher because of the trend towards
ubiquitous online banking.
In either case, people usually end up with a weak user
ID such as“jsmith”, which even a six-year old child can
Therefore, we can conclude that cybercriminals do, in
fact, break into password-protected accounts.
User IDs
When a user ID is weak, the password is all that
protects that account, and so the password absolutely must be strong. A better solution would be to
strengthen your user ID if possible. Some accounts let
you change both user ID and password at any time.
Most people think every account is protected by its
password. This is false! In fact, it is the combination
of user ID and password that protects an account.
Similarly, there are seven main reasons that people
choose weak passwords:
To increase your account’s security you must learn to
regard a user ID and a password as being the same kind
of thing. They are both the same sort of combination
• They don’t understand how some passwords are
stronger than others.
• They think their password is so clever that no
one could possibly guess it, such as “GR8-ONE”,
“SteveRocks”, “kennwort” (which is German for
“password”), or simply “z”.
Common sense tells us to secure a door with two locks
instead of just one. We know that our security suffers when one of those locks is missing or is extremely
cheap. Similarly, we should realize that every account
should be secured with both user ID and password,
instead of just the user ID. We should know that our
security suffers when the password is missing, or when
the user ID or password is weak.
• They want a password that’s easy to remember,
like “grapefruit”.
• They desire a password that represents something
(or someone) meaningful to them, like “69mustang” or “angeleyes”.
• They think they don’t need a password, so they
just leave it blank.
dictionary attack strategy, where passwords are generated based on common words found in the dictionary
[4]. Or, a “brute-force” method can be used, in which
every possible combination of characters is tried, one
by one.
• A default password was provided to them, and
they think it’s good enough.
• They don’t realize that cybercriminals use social
engineering techniques and automated passwordcracking software to discover user IDs and passwords.
Password-cracking software is surprisingly effective,
but only because most people use weak passwords!
That last reason is key, for it directly addresses all of
the other reasons.
The Curse of the Secret Question
Cybercriminals commonly use three different methods
to obtain illegal access to someone’s account. First, a
cybercriminal will check to see if the account’s password is either blank (missing) or is set to a wellknown default value (which can be discovered via some
In recent years, online accounts have sported a new
“feature”designed to help you log on should you forget
your password. This is usually based on a“secret question” (a.k.a. “security question”), which you are asked
to define when setting up your account.
Second, a cybercriminal may use a targeted attack
based on social engineering. Here, a cybercriminal will
assemble dossiers by collecting odd tidbits of personal
information. When a sufficient amount is collected,
the cybercriminal will have found his next “mark”(victim) [30].
For example, you might be asked to select one of four
“secret questions” (such as “What was your first pet’s
name?”). Then, you will be asked to provide an answer
to that question (such as “Wolfie”).
This is a really stupid idea! Here’s why:
For example, if someone whose online nickname is
“Jeb69” posts a message on a web site complaining
about the First National Bank of Briar Patch, it’s
likely that ”Jeb” has an account there. Some extra
Googling may bring to light that this same person’s
e-mail address is [email protected], that he has a
German Shepherd named “Lilly”, and that he owns a
’69 Harley Sportster motorcycle. As a result, a cybercriminal would target Jeb Smith’s bank account, using
passwords based on his dog or bike. Perhaps the cybercriminal would try to find and answer the account’s
“secret question”, as discussed later.
1. It creates a “back door” that deliberately circumvents your password.
2. It offers only a very limited set of simple questions,
each of which can only have a very limited set of
simple answers.
3. Cybercriminals can use a targeted attack to obtain (or guess) answers to those simple questions.
In some cases, the “cybercriminal”is actually someone
relatively close to the victim, such as a neighborhood
teen, an estranged brother, or a coworker. In that case
the cybercriminal is able to more easily collect personal
information about the victim. Regardless of how they
are done, targeted attacks are surprisingly effective.
4. The answer to a secret question never changes,
which means the“back door”will continue to work
even if you change your password.
The solution is to deactivate the “back door” [36]. To
do this, select any “secret question” at random, and
then answer that question by simply hitting a bunch
of keys at random to generate something like ”awropuqwpegjhvkl”. If you should ever forget your password,
simply contact tech support personnel and provide sufficient credentials to allow them to reset your password.
Third, a cybercriminal may use easily available but
sophisticated password-cracking software to generate
lists of likely passwords. Some password-cracking software permits “hints” to be specified, which could be
“Jeb”, “Smith”, “Lilly”, “German”, “Shepard”, “1969”,
“69”, “Harley” and “Sportster” for the previous example. Other password-cracking software simply uses a
Time is on Their Side, Not Yours
Since strong passwords can’t be easily remembered,
you will want to write these down and store that list so
that it cannot be found by untrusted persons. For example, you could store the list in an unmarked manila
folder within a locked file cabinet in your locked office. A cybercriminal is unlikely to travel to your state
(or even your country), break into your home and find
your password list before draining your bank account.
When setting up an account we usually have only a few
seconds in which to choose a new user ID or password.
But cybercriminals face no time limit at all when trying
to break into an account. They can keep trying for
hours if they wish.
That is why we must be prepared to select strong user
IDs and passwords ahead of time. We cannot wait to
ponder such things until a new account setup screen
is staring us in the face. If we do, we will likely pick
weak user IDs or passwords.
Social Engineering
Social engineering is a relatively new attack method.
It is designed to bypass technological security measures (such as firewalls and anti-virus software) by using human psychology to trick people into letting a
cybercriminal gain access to computers or information
systems [2, 4].
When we pick a strong user ID and password, cybercriminals will likely give up after a while and move on
to the next person’s account. There’s far more profit
to be made by plucking many“low-hanging fruit” than
by focusing on one difficult target.
Social engineering techniques are most often used in
connection with the Internet, but such techniques can
also be used in many other ways (see section 6.1).
Internet-related social engineering techniques such as
phishing appeal to basic human instincts such as curiosity and fear.
Strong User IDs and Passwords
Now that we have examined weak user IDs and passwords, let’s see how to create strong ones [3, 17]. A
user ID or password is strong if it:
1. Contains no common word(s) in any major language in the world, and
Phishing is a social engineering technique involving
the use of fake but seemingly authentic e-mail or instant messages to obtain someone’s confidential information, such as credit card numbers or passwords [3].
2. Uses both uppercase and lowercase letters, and
3. Includes numeric digits, and
In June 2004 The Gartner Group estimated that 1.98
million adults in America had suffered losses from
phishing scams [18]. As of July, 2006, more than
40 million phishing scams were being attempted every week.
4. Has punctuation characters such as “!”, and
5. Contains at least eight (preferably 10) characters
in length, and
6. Is seemingly too difficult to remember, and
Phishing usually relies on e-mail address spoofing,
which is the creation of a false “From:” address for
an e-mail. As a joke, this author once sent his wife a
“threatening”e-mail message that was apparently from
Bill Gates at Microsoft. Unfortunately, she was quite
shaken because she had believed the message was genuine!
7. Is not used for any other account, and
8. Is changed frequently.
Here are some examples of strong user IDs or passwords (no kidding!):
Phishing also makes extensive use of e-mail messages
that are coded in HTML (HyperText Markup Language), which allows logos, web page links and other
features to be incorporated into a message.
• @^[email protected]
• f~4fj*wCrK
The tricky thing about HTML-based web page links
is that the link’s URL doesn’t have to match the
link’s human-readable text.
Therefore, it’s easy
to create a link saying “” or
“Bank of America”that actually points to“” instead. That is why you should never
click on any link in any e-mail message!
Threats to Wireless Networks
Wireless access points (WAPs) create a cable-free
“bridge”between conventional wired networks and mobile devices such as laptop computers. WAPs have
been deployed worldwide by corporations, libraries,
stores, schools and homeowners alike.
A classic example of a phishing attempt is an e-mail
message that is carefully constructed to mimic what
a bank would normally send to its customers. This
message might inform the recipient that his account
would be suspended if he didn’t confirm certain critical
facts (such as his Social Security Number, his bank
account number, online banking password, etc.). A
link to a fake “bank” website is usually provided so
that gullible recipients can fill out a form to provide
cybercriminals with all the information needed to drain
the recipient’s bank account.
According to a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
security presentation in 2005, about 70% of the millions of WAPs in the U.S. are completely unprotected
against random access by strangers [18].
If protected at all, most WAPs use an encryption
method known as Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP).
Unfortunately, WEP can be cracked in minutes using
software that is freely available on the Internet [2, 18].
This was demonstrated by the FBI when they penetrated a wireless network in three minutes during their
presentation. It should also be mentioned that many
people enable WEP but don’t change the default password provided by their WAP’s manufacturer!
A less-obvious example of a phishing attempt would
be an e-mail supposedly from CNN or another news
agency, containing a copy of an actual or fictitious
news story with a web site link so that you can ”Read
More”. People will click on that link without even
questioning why they would ever receive an e-mail from
CNN, and a few seconds later “”
will begin to load malware into their computer.
In 2003, WEP was superseded by Wi-fi Protected Access (WPA or WPA2), which is thought to offer superior security. Everyone should use WPA instead of
WEP [3]. However, new attacks are being invented
daily, so one cannot simply set up WPA and then forget about it [13].
You may think it unnecessary to bother with WEP
or WPA, because after all, how would a cybercriminal
even know where to find your WAP? Surely that would
be like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack!
Other Trickery
You can directly answer that question by clicking
on the “Web Maps” link on’s home page
To demonstrate the effectiveness of social engineering
techniques, some bank security auditors placed 20 USB
memory sticks at random locations in a bank’s parking lot, as if someone had lost them. Within hours,
bank personnel had used bank computers to execute
completely unfamiliar software stored in 15 of those
There, you easily “zoom in” to see your city or your
neighborhood. Each colored dot on the map represents
a WAP; green indicates an unprotected WAP, while red
represents one that uses WEP or WPA encryption. It’s
possible that you may even see your own WAP.
Fortunately, the software was not dangerous, but had
cybercriminals planted those devices instead, all sorts
of malware would have been installed behind the
bank’s firewall. This would have been a really bad
thing because firewalls generally allow outbound traffic, so it is possible that the malware would have been
able to “phone home” (to the bank’s severe disadvantage).
So much for your “needle in the haystack” theory!
In case you’re curious (or even enraged) at this point,
all of the WAPs in’s database were discovered
by people who engage in a hobby called wardriving [2].
Part 6
Non-technological Threats
Ask any elder about what financial or business troubles
he or she faced earlier in life, and you will hear nothing about losses due to online account break-ins, or
contract penalties due to hard drive crashes. Instead,
you will hear about property theft and con-men, which
are still problems today. The more things change, the
more they stay the same!
• Pretending to be a janitor, maintenance man, coffee machine repairman, landscaper, city code inspector, flower deliverer, or exterminator, to gain
entry to a facility. Once inside, a cybercriminal
can attempt to gain access to important company
• Wearing a fake ID badge, possibly fashioned after
an actual sample that was photographed through
a telephoto lens. Many employees will open a
door for a “fellow employee”whose ID badge fails
to scan correctly.
Social Engineering
As mentioned in section 5.7.10, social engineering is
the use of human psychology to trick people into exposing vulnerabilities. While the term “social engineering” is new, the techniques themselves are quite
ancient. Every con man throughout history has used
social engineering techniques.
Facility Security
Many business facilities are wide open to intruders.
For some reason, no one seems to know or care about
things like:
The problem with social engineering is that criminals
such as con artists know all about this technique, but
honest people do not! Fortunately, some books and
web sites on social engineering are available, which
may shock you but at least will educate you [5, 30, 39].
• Rear doors propped open for ventilation, or for
smokers’ convenience.
• Front doors unguarded by receptionists who are
often away from their desk.
Social engineering techniques used by corporate spies
and other criminals include:
• Exterior door mechanisms that are prone to being
“jimmied”because they are in such poor condition.
• Pretending to be a woman by using a voice
changer during telephone calls. Male targets
will more often provide critical information to a
woman than to a man, especially if she appears
to be flirting with him.
• Out-opening doors with no latch guards. A screwdriver or ice pick is all it takes to open such doors.
• Shipping bays that are wide open most of the time
(day or night).
• Sending a letter to obtain information. For some
reason, people trust the written word and let down
their guard. Some con artists mail out fake sweepstakes forms (etc.) to obtain personal information
such as mothers’ maiden names and Social Security Numbers!
• Automatic door closers that take 10 seconds to
cycle. It is easy to walk in after someone else has
unlocked the door.
• Keys left in unlocked company vehicles, possibly
with facility keys on the same keyring.
Since information is stored everywhere—on disks, in
notebooks, and on paper—it is not hard for a corporate spy or common thief to grab some important
information and run out the door [39].
Property Theft
Thieves and corporate spies rely on poor facility security and employees’ unfamiliarity with social engineering techniques, to steal loads of equipment, prototypes
or files from businesses [38]. Examples:
• Many laptop computers, video projectors and
even purses or wallets are stolen from offices and
conference rooms near unsecured doors, because
thieves can simply walk in and grab these during
• Thieves almost always dress to blend in with their
victims, and sometimes even take lunch with them
before stealing something.
• Some thieves enter a building and then hide inside
until after employees leave.
Security experts recommend:
• Hiding purses, wallets, USB memory sticks, PDAs
and other valuables every time you step away from
your office.
• Using a security cable on each computer (whether
desktop or laptop), and on other equipment such
as video projectors.
• Informing a manager when a “stranger” is found
inside or outside the building.
• Not holding the door open for someone unfamiliar
to you, even if they sport a badge.
• Watching automatic doors close so that no one
can sneak in.
Part 7
Data Leaks, Data Loss & Privacy
You should stop distributing Microsoft Office documents via e-mail and web sites—immediately—unless
you “scrub” those documents using a reputable thirdparty tool.
computer hardware information, e-mail headers and/or
web server information [6, 20, 21].
In 2003 the British government published a Microsoft
Word document which was supposedly their dossier
on Iraq’s security and intelligence services. Dr. Glen
Rangwala of Cambridge University dissected that file
and discovered much of its text was plagiarized directly
from a U.S researcher on Iraq. Worse, the document’s
revision history identified its last ten authors plus their
edits and commentary [19].
Data Leaks
Enterprises and individuals can inadvertently allow important information to fall into the wrong hands. For
example, an employee can e-mail a spreadsheet file
to a customer, not knowing that the spreadsheet contains hidden information such as profit margins or even
derogatory statements about that customer.
While it is true that later versions of Microsoft Office
programs can be configured to not save personal data
in document files, only a fool would trust that feature
to scrub documents completely clean.
Many third-party tools are available to remove metadata [21]. These include:
Or, company personnel can store proprietary documents and photographs in a“hidden”corner of a company’s web server, not knowing that Google and other
search engines might easily find such items and make
them publicly visible in search results [2].
• iScrub by Esquire Innovations
• ezClean by Kraft Kennedy & Lesser
Finally, it is a sad fact that competing companies
sometimes hire cybercriminals to steal or discover information so that a competitive advantage can be
gained [5, 39].
• Metadata Assistant by Payne Group
• Doc Scrubber by Javacool Software LLC
Such “data leaks” have consequences such as embarrassment, termination, blackmail, lawsuits or even financial ruin.
• Out-of-Sight by SoftWise
• Workshare Protect by Workshare
• Metadata Scrubber by BEC Legal Systems
Microsoft Word documents (.DOC files) contain a
wealth of hidden meta-data including deleted text,
employee names and computer user IDs, text from
other (unrelated) documents, company information,
computer filename and pathname, local printer names,
Note: This author has evaluated none of these tools
and can offer no recommendations for or against any
of these.
active for years, long after IT staff has upgraded to a
modern Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection.
In 2002, Internet security journalist Brian McWilliams
decided to try “hacking into” Saddam Hussein’s email account on the official Iraqi government web
site. McWilliams succeeded, simply by using the word
“press” for both user ID and password! [25] Once “in”,
McWilliams saw many e-mail messages from businessmen and corporate executives who wanted to do business in Iraq.
The good news is that a simple security audit can be
performed to determine if any network access is available in public areas of the company.
From this lesson we should learn to secure every email account with strong user IDs and passwords (see
section 5.7.9). But e-mail-related data leaks can occur
in other, more insidious ways.
During Hewlett Packard’s merger with Compaq in
2002, an intruder obtained access to the HP CEO’s
voice-mail account and leaked voice-mail messages to
the press [24].
For example, e-mail messages and their attachments
are often forwarded and re-forwarded to third parties
without much thought, which can create quite a sizable data leak. This can be mitigated two ways:
Voice-mail accounts are usually protected by simple
user-defined numeric access codes. New accounts are
usually set up with well-known default codes that any
cybercriminal can find via Google. When phone system administrators reset someone’s access code, it is
usually set to the same default.
• Mandatory encryption for attached files, as described in section 7.1.9 [3, 4].
Unfortunately, people generally fall into the same sort
of traps when choosing a voice-mail access code, as
they do when choosing a computer account user ID or
password (see section 5.7.9).
• E-mail forwarding policies set and enforced by
In short, you should not leave the default access code in
place; you should not choose your birth year or another
personal datum as your code; you should not choose
stupid codes like “123”; and you should not choose a
code based on any physical pattern of button presses
on a keypad (like “159” or “258”). Believe it or not,
some books and web sites list every possible pattern
of telephone button presses, so a cybercriminal doesn’t
even have to invent these himself!
Many companies have a web-based e-mail portal set
up so that employees can check their mail from home
or while on the road. Such e-mail servers should be
configured to require strong passwords, and to lock an
account if three or more incorrect login attempts are
Corporate Networks
Your phone system administrator should configure your
phone system to lock an account if three or more incorrect access codes are entered.
Company personnel are not so stupid as to install network jacks in their parking lots. But many do install
jacks in publicly-accessible conference rooms, lobbies,
cafeterias and libraries. Or, they install wireless access
points in or near those areas (see section 5.8). Outsiders can simply plug right into the corporate network.
Even if no network jacks or wireless access points are
accessible, cybercriminals may still find a “back door”
or alternate way in. For example, sometimes an oldfashioned analog modem will be installed on a server so
that Information Technology (IT) staff members can
establish a remote administrative connection via telephone line. Such modem connections are often left
Web Servers
Most businesses and many individuals have a web site,
which of course is stored as individual files on a web
server computer. Since a file is just a file, it is possible
to store a large number of files—and many different
kinds of files—on a web server. In fact, some companies use their web server as a sort of file server for
their employees’ convenience.
This begs the following questions:
1. What files are currently stored on your web
Equipment Disposal & Repair
Tons of electronic equipment and data storage media are sold, donated or put into the trash every day.
Therefore,“tons”of stored data are also being sold, donated or put into the trash every day, causing a massive
data leak.
2. Which files are currently required?
3. Which files are obsolete (dead wood)?
4. Which files are not related to any web page?
For example, an Ohio couple had taken their computer to Best Buy to have its hard drive replaced.
The company assured them that the old hard drive
would be physically destroyed. Almost a year later,
the couple received a phone call from a Chicago man
who had bought that same “destroyed” hard drive at
a flea market. The Chicago man had found the couple’s phone number (as well as Social Security numbers, bank statements and investment records) stored
on the hard drive, but was conscientious enough to
notify its original owners [9].
5. Which files are confidential?
6. Which files are publicly visible?
Most employees (including company web design staff)
don’t really know the correct answer to most, or even
all, of these questions. Worse, they don’t even have
the ability to find out. And even worse, they think that
none of these questions is important because, after all,
their web site “works the way it’s supposed to”.
As a result, from many web servers spring a great number of data leaks.
It is important to find and destroy all stored data before
taking a device in for repair, or before disposing of
anything. However, that is easier said than done:
If you or your company have a web site, here’s an
experiment that you can try right now :
1. Open your web browser and bring up Google’s
main page (
• We often delegate to, or rely on, other people who
may not know or care about information security.
The Ohio couple fell into this category.
2. Suppose your web site’s URL is “”.
Into Google’s search text box, simply type
“” (with no double-quotes and no
• It’s hard to locate where data is stored in modern
devices. Do you know where your cell phone’s
address book is physically stored? Have you ever
removed the cover from your computer, let alone
replaced a hard drive?
You will see every page and file that Google has found
on your web server. It’s possible that you will find
some stuff that shouldn’t really be there, such as:
• Simple erasure (deleting or even reformatting)
doesn’t actually destroy data [34]. Simple software tools are often all that’s needed to recover
• Confidential spreadsheet files.
• Obsolete web pages.
• Customer databases.
• Dead hard drives do tell tales. Drives that will no
longer “boot up” a computer are usually totally
readable by plugging them into another computer
as a“slave”drive. Even drives that are unreadable
as slaves can be sent to a data recovery service.
• Half-finished web pages still being worked on by
your web designer.
• Internal PowerPoint presentations
month’s sales meetings.
• Destroying a data storage device—such as a
CDROM disk or hard drive—is physically messy
and potentially dangerous.
• Proprietary documentation intended for Field Service personnel.
• “Private” web pages meant for some specific use.
The moral of this story is: Never put sensitive data on
a web server!
The bottom line is that data destruction must be a
part of everyone’s information security plan.
Bluetooth Devices
Shredding services: This is a way to “farm out”your
shredding chores to a third party. For security reasons this author does not recommend outsourcing
basic security tasks such as shredding.
Did you know that malicious passers-by can plant a
virus on, or obtain confidential data from, your Bluetooth-enabled phone or PDA? It takes only 15 seconds
for someone to locate and copy your phone’s address
book via Bluetooth.
Note that most (if not all) shredders are able to destroy
credit cards as well as paper. Some will also destroy
CDROMs and DVDs.
One security auditor visited Britain’s House of Parliament, where he had the opportunity (which he didn’t
take) to use Bluetooth to obtain the address books
and calendars of several prominent politicians. His report resulted in a mandate that all Bluetooth devices
be turned off in the House of Parliament.
Once you have got a shredder or a shredding service,
it’s important to define a shredding policy. What gets
shredded and what doesn’t? This author simply recommends shredding everything that isn’t public knowledge.
As cell phones become smarter and begin to converge
with PDAs, malware such as worms and spyware will
begin to spread via Bluetooth and other mobile communications media. As of July 2006 there were only a
few known cell phone viruses, and these were still rare.
They were transmitted via Bluetooth and only infected
smart phones running Symbian’s operating system.
Encryption is the reversible process of using a password as the basis for translating information into an
undecipherable form to ensure secrecy. The reverse
process is known as decryption.
You may want to examine your own phone. Is it a
smart phone? Do you even need a smart phone? Does
it have Bluetooth capability? Do you even need that
feature? Can you permanently disable Bluetooth? Can
you turn on Bluetooth only when you need to use an
accessory such as a wireless headset? Do you need to
store confidential information in your phone at all?
Some encryption methods are inherently weak, meaning that cryptographers can eventually perform decryption without knowing the password. Other encryption
methods are strong, which is desirable.
The easiest, cheapest universally available way to encrypt a data file is to simply put that file into a
password-protected “zip” file. Well-known programs
such as PKZIP, WinZip and others are readily available
and fully compatible with the “zip” file standard.
It’s true that many “zip” file password cracking programs are widely available, but they all use techniques
such as the dictionary attack and others described in
section 5.7.9. Therefore, you absolutely need to use a
strong password when encrypting a file.
When Iranians stormed the U.S. Embassy in 1979, embassy officers shredded everything they could, but Iranians managed to reassemble and publish 70 volumes
of those documents [23].
Many people don’t bother shredding at all, causing a
great data leak. Three basic types of shredders exist:
Data Loss
Strip-cut: These inexpensive and fast shredders offer a lot more security than not shredding at all.
However, the U.S. Embassy had used strip-cut
shredders, which did not stop the Iranians for
We can be our own best enemy when it comes to information security, for we constantly trust that our
critical paper files and data storage devices will always
be there for us.
Cross-cut, diamond-cut or oval-cut: These offer
superior security compared to the strip-cut type,
but are significantly slower and more expensive.
But what would happen if some (or all) of your paper
files or data storage devices were lost, stolen, damaged,
corrupted, burned, or flooded? Would your projects
fail? Would your job be in jeopardy? Would customers
tolerate the consequences? Would your business survive?
with legal and 11x17 originals. You may have to
use a color copier for some items.
Let’s take a look at some important considerations for
preserving your data.
Once you have“backed up”your paper copies, you will
need to carefully consider how and where to store those
backups. This is covered in section 7.2.5.
Paper Files
Before the digital era, people used to “back up” all
paper hardcopy on film (usually using microfilm or
microfiche formats). An enormous number of pages
could be stored in each roll or fiche. Duplicate copies
could be stored off-site to protect intellectual property
and legal evidence in case of a fire or flood.
Computers, Cell Phones, PDAs
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to “back up” data
stored in some cell phones or PDAs. You will need
to figure out the best way to do this, based on your
specific phone or PDA.
Cell phones and PDAs are often misplaced because
they are so small. You should always stand ready to
lose any data they contain, unless you find a way to
perform backups.
Today, people use a lot of paper but act like it’s no
longer important. They seem to forget that a legal
“paper trail” may still be required to demonstrate“due
diligence”in a court of law. They forget that specifications, reports and contracts are still signed, stamped
and annotated.
In contrast, it’s fairly unlikely that you will misplace
your laptop computer, but the rise in popularity of
laptop computers have made them a likely target for
thieves. Also, let’s face it: laptop computers aren’t
built to withstand much abuse despite their mobile
nature. Basically, you need to be always ready to“lose”
your laptop computer, by constantly back up its data
(see section 7.2.4).
They may back up their data but fail to“back up”their
There are three fairly inexpensive and quick ways to
“back up” your paper copies:
But, more importantly, you need to ensure that if a
thief takes your laptop or PDA, he will not have access
to your data. You absolutely need to encrypt your
personal, proprietary or confidential data as discussed
in section 7.1.9 [3, 4].
• Invest in an old-fashioned photographic copy
stand, plus a suitable low- to mid-priced digital
camera. Mount the camera on the copy stand
and take a“snapshot”of each printed page. Back
up the digital photo files as you would normally
back up any other files. Snapping a photo of a
document is quick and easy, plus it captures a
full-color image of any document regardless of its
size. This is the author’s preferred way to back
up paper copies.
Thieves need to work fast to avoid getting caught,
so they won’t waste much time trying to crack your
encrypted files. They will more likely take a quick look
around to see if any valuable unencrypted information
can be copied off for future use (and possibly sold for
identity theft purposes).
• Buy a scanner for your computer, and use it to
scan each document to a file. Back up these
files as you would normally back up any other
files. Unfortunately, scanning a document can be
a painfully slow process even if you use a sheet-fed
scanner (which can jam), and you will be unable
to scan anything much larger than a letter-sized
It is a mistake to believe that you need not encrypt
files if your computer requires a log-in password to
“boot up”. To the contrary, it’s quite easy to boot a
computer using a separate operating system—usually
DOS or Linux—stored on a floppy disk, CDROM or
USB key. This completely bypasses your normal log-in
and gives one complete access to your computer’s hard
• Use a copier to create paper copies. This can
be painfully slow, and it creates many pounds of
paper. You may have trouble with oversized documents, although many copiers seem to work well
Once you have backed up your phone, PDA or laptop,
you will need to decide how and where to store your
backup media (see section 7.2.5).
Media and Memory Sticks
Three main backup methods exist:
We tend to consider floppies, CDROMs, DVDs,
portable hard drives and USB “memory sticks” as various sorts of backup devices, but in fact they often
contain original copies of files that are not backed up
anywhere else. It’s important to manage all those files
on all those media and memory devices. Fortunately,
files on these devices can be copied quite easily using
one of the backup methods described in section 7.2.4.
• Bare-metal backups create a so-called “image”
file, which is perfect bit-for-bit copy of an entire
hard drive. Later, the image can be written onto
a new or existing hard drive, which can then be
installed in a computer to restore normal operation. An image contains everything your original hard drive contained: boot sector(s), partition table(s), operating system(s), application
software and user-created data files. A bare-metal
backup can consume hours. Some bare-metal
backup software allow individual files to be recovered from the backup, while others require a
complete restoration of the entire hard drive just
to gain access to a single file.
Small devices and disks can be misplaced, lost or
stolen, so you need to ensure that if someone finds
or steals these, he will not have access to your data.
You absolutely need to encrypt your personal, proprietary or confidential data as described in section 7.1.9
[3, 4].
• User-file backups record only user-produced data
files such as documents and pictures. Operating system and application software files won’t be
backed up. If you have only a few user files then a
backup could take just a few minutes. But most
people accumulate tons of user files, so backups
can take hours. Individual files can usually be restored from a user-file backup. However, if your
hard drive fails or becomes corrupted, you will
have to completely re-install the operating system and all application software from scratch, and
then apply all patches and updates, before you
can restore your user-file backup. This can take
hours, and after it is done your computer will likely
operate differently than you were accustomed to.
Once you have backed up your media and memory
sticks, you will need to think about how and where to
store your backups. This is covered in section 7.2.5.
Backup & Restoration
Everyone might agree that religiously backing up data
is important, but in reality this task is often overlooked
in today’s fast-moving world. Establishing a solid computer backup method and a backup schedule is actually
harder than it sounds [3, 16]. Difficulties include:
• Incremental backups record only those files that
have changed since the last full backup, which
means that this type of backup must be used in
combination with a full (bare-metal or user-file)
backup. Incremental backups are generally very
• Most hard disks hold more data than will fit on
common backup media.
• Backing up a large amount of data can take many
Once you have backed up your digital data, you will
need a plan for how and where you will store your
backups. This is covered in section 7.2.5.
• Many backup methods don’t verify that data was
written correctly.
• Backups require supervision so that problems can
be corrected.
A critical but often-overlooked part of the backup and
restoration process is the backup validation process.
Some people back up data all the time, but have never
had to actually restore it. It is quite a shock to discover that all of your backups are useless, because
something was wrong with your methodology or implementation. Validating a backup process can be quite
time-consuming but it absolutely must be done before
it’s too late.
• Validating a backup is difficult and timeconsuming.
• Reusable backup media can eventually become
• Management of backup media is not trivial.
Finally, we should mention that the backup and
restoration process plays a vital role when you buy new
equipment such as computers or memory sticks, for it
provides an easy and familiar way to transplant data
from old devices to new ones.
An Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) is a piece of
electrical equipment designed to continuously supply
120VAC to a load, even during a power failure. Most,
if not all, UPS units also contain transient suppressors
and power filters to reduce power line noise. Some
UPS units will also auto-correct for voltage sags or
Backups also play a vital role when you need to send in
your computer for repair. Most people don’t know that
computer warranties usually cover only hardware, not
software. If software is covered, it will clearly be only
software included with the original purchase. Many
vendors would rather replace than repair, which means
that you have only a slim chance of getting your original computer or hard drive back. At that point you
would have lost a lot of data and created a massive
data leak at the same time (see section 7.1.6).
Uninterruptible Power Supplies
All UPS units contain one or more lead-acid gel cell
batteries and a power inverter circuit that produces
a crude approximation of a sine wave during power
outages. Otherwise, normal“wall”power flows through
the UPS to the load, charging the UPS’s batteries at
the same time. UPS units will normally run for 20-60
minutes at full load.
UPS units are commonly connected to computers and
related equipment so that computers can stay running
during a power failure. Most UPS units can, via a
separate cable, send battery status data to a computer
connected to the UPS. This allows for an orderly but
automatic shutdown of that computer should the UPS
batteries become exhausted during a power failure.
Storage of Backup Media
An amazing number of people store their backups right
next to their computer. What if upon arriving at their
office one day they find a burnt-out shell instead of a
To preserve your data, you should strongly consider
buying one or more UPS units for your computers and
related equipment.
It’s extremely important to store backup copies at a
secure off-site location that is unlikely to be affected
by the same disaster as might affect your home, office
or business.
Here are some important points to consider when buying and using UPS units:
If no off-site storage facility is available, you should
strongly consider buying fire-resistant storage units,
such as those made by companies like Sentry Group
( Some are fairly inexpensive (under $100). You should place these storage units far from your office in a location that is unlikely to be flooded, so that it is less likely that your
backup would be destroyed along with your computer
and other devices.
• Each unit is designed to carry a maximum load,
usually expressed in Volt-Amperes (VA). You
should not buy a UPS that would operate close
to its limit. It is best to have some headroom.
• Two or more UPS units may be more practical
and cost-effective than one big unit.
• You should connect most, if not all, of your computer peripherals to a UPS too. This includes networking equipment, analog phone line modems,
DSL and cable modems, scanners, small ink-jet
printers, speakers, PDA cradles, etc.
You may want to purchase some of these storage units
for off-site storage purposes as well.
While fire-resistant storage units are primarily designed
to protect paper documents during a typical fire, disk
media and small electronic devices can survive too if
these are inserted into flattened, zipper-sealed, airtight
heavy-duty plastic bags. This prevents damage from
high humidity levels found inside fire-resistant storage
units during a fire. Flattening the bags allows for considerable air expansion due to higher than normal temperatures, while still maintaining an airtight seal.
• Never connect a laser printer to a UPS unit. A
laser printer’s fuser draws way more current than
any UPS can provide.
• A separate UPS unit can be used to provide power
to various office equipment other than computers,
such as cordless phone base stations, cell phone
chargers, clocks, radios, telephone answering machines, and small FAX machines.
• Batteries in brand-new UPS units typically last
two or three years, but even brand-name replacement batteries seldom last more than 18 months.
Worse, UPS battery-condition indicators simply
cannot be trusted. It is a good practice to run a
full-load power-failure test on each UPS every six
months to determine its run time. You can use
one or more light bulbs as a load if you wish.
• Put extraneous paperwork into drawers before you
leave your office to take lunch, attend a meeting
or leave for home. This is called a “clean desk”
• Turn off computers and other electronic devices
at night.
• Lock your office, drawers and/or file cabinets
when you leave the office.
• If you are really crazy about continuous power,
you can consider buying a gasoline- or natural gaspowered generator to power your UPS during an
extended power failure.
• Make sure your online (web) accounts do not automatically log you in when you visit. Configure
them to require you to enter a user ID and password every time.
• Don’t leave your password list under your keyboard or in an unlocked drawer.
• And no exceptions for executive management!
Privacy is a small but important part of information
security. There is no reason to accidentally share personal, confidential or business data with those who
really don’t need to know [3, 4, 5]. Doing so can
increase your risk of identity theft, jealous acts, intellectual property theft, fraud, and so on.
Side note: Privacy addicts can learn a lot by looking into the field of digital forensics (a.k.a. computer
forensics), which deals with ways to learn all about
someone’s computer or online activities. Practitioners
in this field are often employed by prosecutors to obtain
vital evidence by “digging into” someone’s hard drive.
Forensics investigators know that everyone produces a
continuous, invisible, detailed and accurate electronic
“paper trail” while using a computer to create documents, play games, surf the web. . .
Some simple tactics and a few accessories can help
prevent accidental sharing of information:
• Password-protect all electronic devices (PDAs,
computers, memory sticks, etc.).
• Don’t leave opened mail or paychecks lying
• Don’t face your PC’s display screen towards windows or doorways.
One can best address data leaks, data loss and privacy
issues by taking the time to write—and then enforce—
specific information security policies.
• Use a password-protected screensaver that kicks
in within a few minutes of inactivity.
Before writing these you will want to review Parts 2
and 3 of this White Paper. Several organizations mentioned in Part 3 offer useful security checklists that can
supplement your policies.
• Shred all unwanted junk mail or statements relating to financial matters, to reduce risk of identity
• Install a privacy filter on your computer display to
prevent passers-by from seeing your screen.
• Hide all computer backup media.
• Don’t mount whiteboards, drafting tables or prototypes so that they face doorways or windows.
• Encrypt files and e-mail attachments.
• Close office blinds, shades, curtains or drapes at
Part 8
Air Gap: A term used in the network security field,
referring to the absolute isolation of one or more
computers from any kind of external network
(whether private or Internet, wireless or wired).
Worms and other network-borne malware require
some sort of network connection to propagate;
they cannot cross an air gap.
Denial of Service: A type of attack on a remote
computer, usually characterized by a massive
flood of network traffic aimed at that computer,
which causes that computer to virtually cease network operations. This can be disastrous for businesses that rely on online shopping for much of
their revenue.
Anti-virus: Originally, a type of software designed to
locate and deactivate computer viruses. Today,
“anti-virus” software typically recognizes several
types of malware, not just viruses.
Dictionary Attack: One of several automated or
semi-automated password-cracking methods
based on the use of word dictionaries for popular
languages such as English or Spanish.
example, the password “maverick1975” would fall
prey to a dictionary attack.
Attack: An attempt to gain unauthorized access to an
information system. Sometimes an attack vehicle is employed during the attempt.
Distributed Denial Of Service: A Denial of Service attack simultaneously mounted by many
computers on the Internet (usually members of
a botnet).
Attack Vehicle: A technological or other means to
gain access to an information system. Commonly,
malware such as worms and spyware are used
as attack vehicles.
Data Leak: An unauthorized or accidental disclosure
of important information to a third party. A data
leak can occur when a confidential document is
stored on a public web server (which Google might
find), or when incriminating meta-data is allowed
to remain hidden inside a document (which special tools can extract).
Bluetooth: A form of wireless network used by mobile
devices such as cell phones, PDAs, laptop computers and even automobiles.
Botnet: An organized collection of zombie computers, possibly including thousands or tens of thousands of zombies.
Encryption: The reversible process of using a password as the basis for translating information into
an undecipherable form to ensure secrecy. The
reverse process is known as decryption. Some
encryption methods are inherently weak, meaning that cryptographers can eventually perform
decryption without knowing the password. Other
encryption methods are strong, which is desirable.
Corporate Spy: A person hired by one company to
provide inside information and/or to steal intellectual property from another company.
Cybercriminal: A person who commits a crime using
computers and (usually) a network such as the
Decryption: The process of using a password as the
basis for translating secret information from an
undecipherable form to its original, normal form.
Decryption is the reverse of encryption.
Firewall: A software or hardware means to block certain types of network traffic while allowing other
types to pass.
Hacker: A person with a passionate interest in learning and modifying the technical aspects of various
things, typically electronic, mechanical, computer
or software devices. “White Hat”hackers are those
who find, report and possibly solve flaws and security vulnerabilities in products such as software.
“Black Hats” find and exploit flaws and security
vulnerabilities to boost their ego, and/or to engage in criminal activities for profit or for revenge.
Network Security: A subset of Information Security that deals specifically with securing private
networks and/or Internet access.
Identity Theft: The criminal act of obtaining a victim’s personal information so that purchases,
transactions or other fraudulent actions can be accomplished in the victim’s name (and at his risk).
Phishing: A social engineering technique that uses
spam e-mail messages to dupe unsuspecting victims into providing cybercriminals with passwords, account information, etc.
Information System: Any type of system designed to
store and process digital information. Includes
desktop and notebook computers, smart phones,
network storage devices, servers, etc. It also includes various digital products sold to end users
Ransomware: A form of malware designed to take
a victim’s data hostage by encrypting every common type of data file stored on a victim’s computer. After this is accomplished a ransom demand will be made known to the victim. Money
is usually demanded in exchange for a decryption
key with which to restore the victim’s data.
Packet Sniffer: A network security software tool
that reveals many low-level details of communications transmissions in wired or wireless networks.
A packet sniffer allows one to see the exact contents of messages sent over a network.
Information Security (InfoSec): The U.S. National
Information Systems Security Glossary’s definition
is: “The protection of information systems against
unauthorized access to or modification of information, whether in storage, processing or transit,
and against the denial of service to authorized
users or the provision of service to unauthorized
users, including those measures necessary to detect, document, and counter such threats”. Risk
management is the foundation on which information security rests.
Risk Management: The ongoing process of identifying risks and implementing mitigation plans to
address them.
Rootkit: Malware that hides itself in a computer, obtains administrative privileges and then replaces
some normal operating system functions with its
own. Rootkits are undetectable by many experts
and usually cannot be removed without destroying the operating system’s ability to function normally. Rootkits have been traditionally used by
cybercriminals to gain remote “super-user” access to a computer, but recently some companies
like Sony have begun to use rootkits for Digital
Rights Management purposes to control people’s
access to digital data such as software, music and
InfoSec: An abbreviation for Information Security.
Keystroke Logger: Malware, usually of the spyware
type, that logs every pressed key and then forwards that log to a cybercriminal. Keystroke
loggers help cybercriminals discover vast amounts
of personal information, such as user IDs, passwords, account numbers, etc.
Malware: Malicious software such as worms,
viruses, spyware, ransomware, Trojans or
Social Engineering: A new attack method designed
to bypass technological security measures by using human psychology to trick people into letting
a cybercriminal gain access to information systems. Phishing is an example of a social engineering technique.
Meta-data: Data that describes other data. Examples of meta-data include a disk file’s time stamp,
a JPEG file’s image resolution, and a document’s
author. Verbose meta-data is often hidden inside
disk files, allowing anyone with meta-data extraction tools to easily discover facts that the file’s
creator might consider highly confidential. See
data leak.
Script Kiddie: A disparaging term for inexperienced
hackers or budding cybercriminals who use
other people’s software to break into computers
or to launch “denial of service” attacks on web
servers. Most script kiddies haven’t a clue about
how such software works, and have no ability to
write their own. Script kiddies usually launch their
attacks on remote computers via the Internet.
Zombie: An Internet-connected computer that was
successfully attacked in a manner designed to
place it under the remote control of a cybercriminal. Owners of zombies are usually unaware
that their computers were compromised. Zombies
commonly become members of a botnet.
Spyware: A form of malware that, with human assistance, gains entry to a computer through e-mail,
web sites or application software. Therefore, spyware cannot infect a computer unless someone
surfs the web, opens an e-mail attachment or installs application software.
Trojan: A free and appealing (or potentially useful)
software program that actually contains malware.
Trojan software was named after the legendary
Trojan Horse of Greek mythology. A Trojan cannot infect a computer unless someone deliberately
obtains and installs such software.
Virus: A form of self-replicating malware that, when
activated, is able to attach copies of itself to
nearby executable computer files. A virus becomes active only when its host file is executed
(most often by humans). Hence viruses usually
spread only with human help.
Wardriving: A hobby that involves driving around in a
car with a Global Positioning System (GPS) unit
and a wireless laptop, looking for wireless access
points. Wardrivers usually feed their findings into
massive online public databases of wireless access
points (such as Your personal and/or
corporate wireless access point locations can most
likely be found in such databases. Yes, really.
Wireless Access Point: A piece of network equipment that forms a bridge between a normal, wired
network (such as a private network or the Internet) and laptop computers, PDAs or other mobile
Worm: A form of self-replicating malware that is
able to automatically penetrate a remote computer on a network, by exploiting a vulnerability
found within that computer’s network-aware software. Once penetration is accomplished a worm
will permanently install itself in its victim, and
then immediately attempt to find other victims
on the network. Worms do not need human help
to propagate. Worms move fast; in 2003 the
Slammer worm infected every vulnerable Internetconnected computer in the world within 15 minutes.
Zero-day Exploit: The exploit of a newly discovered
security vulnerability within hours after the discovery of that vulnerability. The term “zero-day”
refers to the practical inability of software vendors to provide security updates (patches) quickly
enough to prevent a vulnerability from being exploited.
[1] 2005 CSI/FBI Computer Crime and Security Survey (Computer Security Institute and Federal Bureau of
Investigation); Gordon, Loeb, Lucyshyn and Richardson.
[2] Hacking Exposed Fifth Edition: Network Security Secrets & Solutions; McClure, Scambray and Kurtz.
[3] Geeks On Call Security and Privacy: 5-Minute Fixes; Geeks On Call.
[4] Computer Security for the Home and Small Office; Thomas Greene.
[5] The Art of Intrusion; Mitnick and Simon.
[6] Information Leakage Caused by Hidden Data in Published Documents (IEEE Security & Privacy magazine);
Simon Byers.
[7] The Year of Breaches (“News Track” item); Communications of the ACM.
[8] The Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool: Progress Made, Trends Observed (June 2006); Rapid
Response Team, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide.
[9] Ohio Couple’s “Destroyed” Hard Drive Purchased in Chicago (plus similar news titles); WLWT-TV reporter
Tom Sussi et al.
[10] Security Company Recommends Macs ( id=01100000AFT3)
[11] Data losses may spark lawsuits (eWEEK Magazine June 12, 2006); Matt Hines.
[12] The Simple Economics of Cybercrimes (IEEE Security & Privacy magazine); Nir Kshetri.
[13] Learning from Information Security History (IEEE Security & Privacy magazine); Dragos Ruiu.
[14] Information Security ( security); Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
[15] An Introduction to Information Risk Assessment (SANS Institute); Vishal Visintine.
[16] GIAC Enterprises - Data Backup Security Policies and Procedures (SANS Institute); Martin A. Reymer.
[17] Password Management: Awareness and Training (SANS Institute); Neil Witek.
[18] Security Absurdity (; Noam Eppel.
[19] Microsoft Word Bytes Tony Blair in the Butt
(; Richard M. Smith.
[20] Hidden Text Shows SCO Prepped Lawsuit Against BofA
( 3-5170073.html); Stephen Shankland and Scott Ard.
[21] Hidden Data in Electronic Documents (SANS Institute); Deborah Kernan.
[22] FBI busts alleged DDoS Mafia (; Kevin Poulsen.
[23] 20 Years after the Hostages:
Declassified Documents on Iran and the United States
(˜nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB21/); The National Security Archive of The George
Washington University (edited by Malcolm Byrne).
[24] H-P CEO’s merger comments surface
(; The Washington Times.
[25] Internet security journalist hacks Saddam’s e-mail
(; The Associated Press.
[26] Risk Management Guide for Information Systems (Special Publication 800-30); National Institute of Standards and Technology.
[27] ActiveX: Or how to put nuclear bombs in web pages (; Fred
[28] The Many Facets of an Information Security Program (SANS Institute); Robert L Behm, Jr.
[29] Sophos Security Report reveals Trojan domination in first half of 2006; Malware statistics suggest it is time
for home users to switch to Macs
(; Sophos Plc.
[30] The Complete Social Engineering FAQ! (; Unknown.
[31] Safe Personal Computing ( personal c.html); Bruce
[32] Rootkits, Part 1 of 3: The Growing Threat; McAfee, Inc.
[33] Inside the Slammer Worm (IEEE Security & Privacy magazine); Moore, Paxson, Savage, Shannon, Staniford
and Weaver.
[34] Remembrance of Data Passed: A Study of Disk Sanitization Practices (IEEE Security & Privacy magazine);
Garfinkel and Shelat.
[35] The State of Information Security 2004: Best Practices (CIO Magazine); Ware.
[36] The Curse of the Secret Question
( curse of th.html); Bruce Schneier.
[37] Spyware Researchers Discover ID Theft Ring
(,1895,1845248,00.asp); Ryan Naraine.
[38] Computer theft in businesses becoming a growth industry (The Associated Press)
(; Mark Niesse.
[39] Confessions of a corporate spy (Computerworld magazine)
(,10801,100252,00.html); Gary Anthers.
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