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Corporate UK is failing to configure and manage its firewalls and VPN services properly. Just like more publicised Web server vulnerabilities, issues with security software are frequently left unaddressed - months after a problem comes to light.

The Fifth Annual NTA Monitor Security Audit found that risks present on corporate firewalls tested by NTA have risen by almost a fifth (or 17 per cent) since 2000. The report was published last month but a breakdown looking specifically at firewall/VPN problems, published today, sheds fresh light on an important - but neglected - area of security.

Almost a third (31 per cent) of companies tested by NTA Monitor as part of its Regular Monitor security testing service during 2002 left their networks wide open to attack by either installing firewall VPNs in their default configuration or by failing to follow best practice security principles.

NTA Monitor found that the most common errors related to basic mistakes in firewall management and the configuration of VPN services, the permitted VPNs to be located and profiled.

"It is a key security principle to keep your firewall and remote connections hidden from unauthorised users - if a firewall can't be detected then it can't be hacked," said Roy Hills, technical director, NTA Monitor.

By polling the services offered on standard proprietary ports an attacker can identify the type of firewall VPN installed and occasionally the version number. Having identified the firewall, a cracker can target it for known exploits or maintain a record of its profile to run against new threats.

NTA Monitor advises corporates, where possible, to prevent unauthorised access by keeping firewalls and remote connections hidden to all but authorised IP addresses. It also recommends that corporates avoid allowing access to sequential IP (predictable) address ranges.

Last September, NTA Monitor discovered a flaw in CheckPoint's VPN implementation of IKE aggressive mode, enabling unlimited password attempts against accounts for remote VPN clients.

In tests performed on corporate sites between the start of February and May 20, NTA Monitor found the vuln present in 58 per cent of sites using this software - more than six months after the flaw was widely reported.

"This underlines the fact that corporates are failing to make best practice configuration changes or to apply relevant security patches," Hills concludes.

NTA Monitor has issued a Good Practice Guide to securing a firewall/VPN which can be found here. ®

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