Don't Kill the Messenger: Blaming IE for Attacks is Dangerous

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A Brave New World

More than demonstrating why organizations and users around the world should abandon Internet Explorer, the attacks in China represent a dangerous evolution in attack strategy.

Blaming IE is a shortsighted and dangerous security strategy

Andrew Storms, Director of Security Operations for nCircle, told me "This breach really brings home a lot of the things the security community has been talking to itself about for the last 18 months or more. We keep saying that security has to involve the entire enterprise, it can't be the responsibility of the IT department and be effective. Those crazy security guys can't save everyone anymore, not even with every high tech security tool in the world."

"What makes this attack unique is the targeted nature and the fact that Google--a tech giant--came out and discussed this breach. I think corporations now realize that Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) that target core intellectual property are no longer just relegated to the realm of the Government," said Kurtz.

New Attacks Require New Defenses

nCircle's Storms believes that one "lesson from this breach is that antivirus software really is dead. For quite a while it's been the least effective tool in the IT enterprise security toolset because it's only effective against known malware. It only takes one piece of customized malware to infiltrate your network."

In my e-mails with Kurtz he wasn't as bold about declaring the death of antivirus tools, but he did suggest a new approach as well. "There are technologies like whitelisting--McAfee Application Control, that would have prevented successful exploitation of this zero day and many others--without signatures. Companies really need to start augmenting their blacklisting with whitelisting protection technologies."

Organizations that adopt Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 can leverage similar whitelisting controls by using AppLocker to restrict the applications that are allowed to run, and blocking all others.

Another security strategy is to ensure that data is stored in an encrypted state. Just because an attacker is successful in gaining access to a server or PC doesn't have to mean the attacker can also breach the data it contains.

Microsoft provides BitLocker encryption for the Ultimate and Enterprise editions of Windows Vista and Windows 7 (as well as on Windows Server 2008). There are solutions out there like Zecurion's Zserver Storage that provide protection for a wider variety of platforms.

Google has also embraced encryption in the wake of the attacks. Users have had the option of using the more secure, encrypted HTTPS protocol, but now Google has changed it to the default and made encryption an opt-out, rather than opt-in security control.

The main thing to keep in mind is that these attacks go beyond Internet Explorer and that simply switching browsers is not an adequate defense. Kurtz sums it up on his blog "The world has changed. Everyone's threat model now needs to be adapted to the new reality of these advanced persistent threats. In addition to worrying about Eastern European cybercriminals trying to siphon off credit card databases, you have to focus on protecting all of your core intellectual property, private non-financial customer information and anything else of intangible value."

Tony Bradley tweets as @Tony_BradleyPCW , and can be contacted at his Facebook page .

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