The Changing Threats Facing Today's Networks

The days when distributed computing just meant users on different floors sharing the same server are long gone. Thanks to the advent of IP, wireless, and a host of security

July 26, 2005

3 Min Read
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The days when distributed computing just meant users on different floors sharing the same server are long gone. Thanks to the advent of IP, wireless, and a host of security technologies that have expanded the bounds of the enterprise, a distributed corporate network can wrap around the block or around the world. With that expansiveness comes an incredible flexibility that has spawned entirely new business models.

But face it, for all the benefits that accessibility extends to the enterprise, networks are also more vulnerable to outside threats ranging from nuisance Trojans to devastating category 5 viruses. The end result is more stress for system administrators tasked with protecting network resources, guarding data integrity, and ensuring optimal network performance. These incidents can derail company operations for hours or longer, costing businesses time and money. They also can potentially do far worse, robbing companies and government agencies of classified information and threatening the very existence of that business or public sector entity.

Even the most prepared system administrators can be left scrambling when a new attack is launched. In just the last week, incidents ranging from a Worm disguised as an iTunes file spread through instant messages to malicious code spread through e-greetings have threatened network operations and put system administrators on notice. Given the multiple approaches that a virus can take to invade the enterprise now, the network is always under attack. That is enough to make IT staffers reminisce about the days when the most serious threat came from corrupted floppy disks.

What makes this incredibly challenging is the ever-changing nature of the threats. In the last year, security vendor Symantec Corp. reports virus writers have gone from launching brash, high-profile attacks that would incapacitate entire networks to more quiet and focused invasions of specific computers designed to benefit the virus perpetrators financially. Even the most pedestrian of incidents such as phishing expeditions that conspire to steal personal information can put a business at risk when passwords or other employee information are commandeered.

Thus it is absolutely essential that systems administrators not just have the right tools in place to defend against these attacks but also remain informed of the latest incidents. Staying on top of that threat information is critical to system administrators being able to coordinate their defense, inform end users, and, in the case of an outage or theft, restore services and minimize damage.This is just one of the areas I will follow in this column. I am interested in hearing from you about what your own experiences have been with external threats over the course of the last year, and how the nature of those incidents have changed from previous years. How have the changes in those threats altered your plan for protecting your infrastructure? And what is missing from the tools you use to defend the enterprise? In short, what are the systems management issues keep you up at night and what tools you do you rely most heavily on and which are more trouble than they are worth?

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