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Corporate organisations are beginning to address major security flaws within their networks at the same time as failing to address medium or lower risk issues.

Security testing firm NTA Monitor found a third of the 600 corporate networks it tested last year had ten or more security flaws.

These companies are exposed to "considerable risk of malicious attack", NTA Monitor believes, even though firms are beginning to get on top of the most serious security risks.

NTA Monitor found that high risk vulnerabilities had decreased from 19 per cent in 2001 to six per cent last year.

The company defines a high-risk vulnerabilities as flaws serious enough to allow a cracker to "access and take control of computer systems".

But medium profile vulnerabilities (which permit either disruption for external users or unauthorised access for internal users) were found in 73 per cent of tests and low profile vulnerabilities were found in every test NTA Monitor conducted.

"A third of companies we examined were guilty of bad security housekeeping, with unacceptably high levels of basic flaws found," said Roy Hills, technical director, NTA Monitor. "Although corporates are clearly prioritising security vulnerabilities and addressing high profile issues this is at the expense of a much larger number of lower profile vulnerabilities which are being ignored."

"The net result is that corporate networks remain exposed to external attack," he added.

Kevin Foster, marketing director at NTA Monitor, told us that the survey presenta a mixed picture of corporate progress in making systems more secure. High risk vulnerabilities are down even though the number of flaws NTA Monitor discovers is actually increasing.

"It seems that companies don't have the time to address medium risk vulnerabilities and seem to have accepted the presence of lower risk flaws on their network," Foster told us.

Overall server related vulnerabilities were the only area to show a systematic fall in security issues during the five years of the NTA Monitor Security Audit.

Server vulnerabilities were spotted in 73 per cent of security audits last year, down from 86 per cent in 2001 and 88 per cent in 2000.

NTA Monitor believes this reflects the increased level of management attention given to Web sites.

Router, firewall and visible systems, the other key three areas of security testing examined by NTA Monitor, have all remained at an unreasonably high number of identified vulnerabilities over the last two years. According to NTA Monitor this is because these systems are typically installed using a standardised configuration, biased more towards functionality and up time than security.

This was a particular problem where services had been configured by ISPs using a standard template.

Another major cause of vulnerabilities in these areas was that companies neglected to remove development environments or configurations, unwittingly exposing systems that were not intended to be visible.

NTA Monitor's Fifth Annual Security Audit, published at the beginning of this week's Infosecurity show, examined data from over 600 Regular Monitor network perimeter security tests carried out by the company during 2002. ®

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