Exec Talks about Growing Security Pressures

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The IT department is dealing with many more security issues than theywere five years ago or even a year ago. As both networks and attacksgrow in complexity, it takes more time, skill and energy to protect acompany's information and its very viability.

Ken Xie, president and CEO of Fortinet Inc., a Sunnyvale, Calif.-basednetwork security company, says IT administrators and security officersare under a lot more pressure than ever before. Expanding perimeters,leaky hand-helds and virulent viruses are just part of the expanding jobthey're dealing with today.

Here Xie talks with Datamation about one of the toughest jobs inIT and what administrators can do to make it a little easier.

Q:How much more difficult is a CIO's or IT administrator's job nowthan it was five years ago? What has changed?

In today's business environment, CIOs and IT administrators face manynew challenges that were either not present or not as extensive fiveyears ago. Following the dot-com bust of the late '90s and early 2000s,IT budgets and staffs became the focus of drastic cuts in mostorganizations. IT spending has yet to return to pre-bust levels. As aresult, CIOs and IT administrators are being forced to do more with less-- from integrating new technologies with legacy systems to extendingsupport for mobile workers with limited infrastructure investment.

This challenge has been exacerbated by the increasingly mobile nature ofbusiness across industries and by the growing demand for ubiquitousaccess to information from any device and any location.

Another major change is that today's CIOs and IT administrators arefacing new and increasingly virulent security threats and newregulations from the government.

Q: Many employees work remotely every day or spend many days workingon the road, carrying laptops, cell phones and PDAs. How much moredifficult does this make it to secure a network?

There is no doubt the increasing number of remote workers and the mobiledevices they rely on are creating new security challenges. If the properprecautions are not taken, it is possible for a single device to act asa point of compromise for an entire network. Threats can include mobiledevices that do not have strong user authentication systems and fallinto the hands of unauthorized users, providing avenues for access tocompany networks and sensitive company information.

Another security threat that is not widely recognized is thevulnerability of wireless devices and wireless networks to content-basedthreats like viruses and worms. Many users do not understand that whenthey connect to a wireless access point, they join a community of usersfrom whom they have little protection. A user could easily pick up avirus or worm during a wireless work session at their local Starbucksand transmit that virus throughout their network upon returning to theoffice.

We often joke that your morning coffee could end up costing youremployer upwards of a $100,000.

Q:Because of the abundance of mobile workers and mobiletechnologies, along with strings of business partners, consultants andconnected clients, can anyone really know where the network begins andends now?

The disappearing perimeter is something we talk with customers aboutevery day. The virtual enterprise brings businesses a whole spectrum ofcost and productivity savings. It helps companies tap into new sets ofhuman resources. It makes small businesses look like global companies,and enables global companies to deploy resources to even the smallestregions of the world. This is why there is no longer a single point ofcompromise, and why the IT security industry, as a whole, has beenpreaching a layered, multi-faceted approach to security for severalyears.

It starts at the endpoint, be it a desktop or laptop computer, connectedto a wired network or wirelessly. You must then place the properbarriers at the edge of the corporate network, or the gateway. This isprobably the place where the strongest and best performance security isrequired. This is the point where people either get in, or are kept out.

Once inside the gateway, or firewall, it's important to segmentbusiness. Security should be taken down to the departmental level,segmenting off portions of the company so attacks can be quarantined.To all of this, you must add strict but applicable security policies,and end-user education.

Continue on to hear what Xie has to say about Linux security, the dangers of spam and users who keep downloading viruses....

Q: A lot of administrators want to move to Linux because they thinkit's more secure than Windows? How dangerous can life be on the Linuxplatform?

I think it's probably too early to tell.

It is certainly true today that the most damaging attacks have afflictedWindows-based systems and that, by comparison, Linux has been relativelyimmune. However, there are real questions as to the true reasons for theapparent safety of Linux.

The first and most important issue is prevalence. Just as in biologicalsystems, dense populations are most conducive to the spread ofcontagions. And in contrast, more dispersed populations are more immuneto rampant, fast-spreading attacks. Thus Linux, with its more sparseinstalled base -- and absence from the desktop -- will be inherentlymore secure than Windows, as long as Windows maintains such a dominantshare of installations.

Another potential characteristic in favor of Linux is the degree towhich Microsoft is viewed as a more ''deserving'' target of attackcompared with Linux. In addition, some believe that Linux code, becauseit is open, is more heavily scrutinized and therefore benefits from thesecurity expertise of thousands of developers, while others say that itis far easier to find security flaws by exercising object code ratherthan by analyzing source code.

These factors are all extremely complex, so it will be interesting tosee how the security posture of Linux evolves as it becomes morewidespread.

Q: Worm after worm continues to hit the Internet. Users are stillclicking on attachments and downloading damaging viruses. How can westop the cycle?

Social engineering has always been one of the greatest challenges tosecurity. Those who wish to do harm always seem to play upon naturalhuman curiosity and weakness.

This will always be a problem. While user education is important, we arefirm believers that the only truly effective way to stop these threatsis to do so before they have the opportunity to reach end users. Byimplementing effective security solutions at the network gateway andpreventing attacks from ever reaching users, companies can take greatstrides to protect themselves against these threats.

Q: A lot of people still think of spam as a nuisance. How big of asecurity risk has spam become?

Spam has become a real security issue as the lines between spam activityand malware have become blurred. We believe that, in addition to usingintelligent filtering and content analysis technologies to reduce theamount of undetected spam, it will be necessary to raise the ''cost'' ofsending spam to the point where the return is no longer attractive inorder to truly curtail the practice. There are, of course, manyparameters to the notion of ''cost'', so it should be possible to make abig dent in spam activity without necessarily charging for email.

Q: What do you see coming down the road in terms of securitytechnology?

The key challenges -- and opportunities -- will be to deliver securitytechnologies that are enablers of all of the new and excitingapplications that have only started to show their promise, such as voiceand video, instant messaging, real-time collaboration, e-commerce, andmore. The individual piece parts -- encryption algorithms,authentication systems, and the like will continue to improve. But thereal benefits will come when security becomes embedded with, andultimately as ubiquitous and invisible as the network itself.

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