Sunday, October 4, 2009

Patrick Swayze- Roadhouse Ramblings

I have always liked the movie Roadhouse. Patrick Swayze is an amazing actor (and has more range than he gets credit for- remember Wong Fu?). Throw in Sam Elliot and I don’t see how you can go wrong. Before you decide that I have taken up blogging about cinema, let me say that in light of the recent passing of Swayze, I think we can learn a few things about information security from Roadhouse. And also, we can learn from the way that hackers have exploited the death of Swayze to spread viruses.

In Roadhouse, Swayze is called in to clean up a bar, and thus a town, ravaged by criminals. These criminals steal from honest people and legitimate businesses to enrich themselves. In information security, we come in and clean up servers and networks ravaged by, well, criminals stealing from honest people and legitimate businesses. Remember the bartender, the distant relative of the main antagonist in the movie, stealing money from the register? He can represent the threat organizations face from their own employees. Swayze threw him out. Swayze cleaned up the bar, and hardened it against attackers. While I don’t claim to look as cool as Swayze while neutralizing threats, we also spend our days identifying and removing threats. More about that in later blogs.

What I want to discuss here is how attackers use news events such as the death of Swayze to spread malicious software. E-mail claiming to contain photos of or links to stories about celebrities will often link to sites that install malicious software. The human element is regularly the weakest part of any security program. Rather than attack your hardened systems, attackers will work to gain the confidence of those who already have access to you your systems: your employees. To be secure, it is important to have a culture of security. Every employee must understand the importance of their role in protecting systems and information. And every employee must be educated as to the threats and techniques used by attackers. All the locks in the world won’t help keep your information safe if your employees open the door every time a sympathetic character comes knocking. Sure, anti-virus and e-mail filtering can help, but employees need to know how to recognize suspicious e-mail, and they need to be educated to never open it.

We have a lot of success exploiting the human element. People have a natural inclination to be helpful, and curiosity is a big part of human nature. There is software and processes that can help combat social engineering, but until all your employees understand the risks, it is difficult to be secure. That is another area where we help our clients. Just like Dalton (Swayze) showed the other bouncers at the bar how to handle problems, we can show you how to educate employees and keep your environment safe.

I don’t want to take the analogy too far, to the point of ridiculousness (if it isn’t too late already), but we have found that sometimes the best way to articulate threats to information security is to use analogies based on the bricks and mortar world. And in the electronic world, much like a roadhouse, there are all types of people, with all types of intentions. The first step in securing your information, or roadhouse, is an assessment. Then, we can get to work on cleaning it up.

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