Feeds

Trusted computing a shield against worst attacks?

The case for identifiable devices

Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL

In many cases, however, trusted computing hardware could be overkill.

Even if companies accept that device identification could stymie 84 per cent of the most damaging attacks, that does not necessarily mean that trusted computing is the only way to go, said Seth Schoen, staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who has researched the potential societal effects of trusted computing in the past.

"In some cases, there may be cheaper and simple ways to defend against some of the attacks," he said in an email interview with SecurityFocus. "For example, IP addresses could be used to authenticate some machines - and are probably sufficient under some threat models and policies to make the distinction between 'sanctioned' and 'unsanctioned' machines."

Moreover, Schoen still has questions about the methodology of the report, because the version of the report available online does not provide much detail about the data set. The study found that the industries hardest hit by attacks were government, retail and high-tech, and that 78 per cent of attackers used a home computer to do the deed, but that leaves a lot of questions unanswered, Schoen said.

Companies should ask whether they can reliably distinguish between sanctioned and unsanctioned computers on the network, whether employees working from home on unsanctioned computers would be allowed to access the network, and whether the technology could be deployed pervasively enough to matter.

"We would need to know that the unsanctioned computers were actually necessary to the commission of these crimes, and that the crimes could not have been committed without using the unsanctioned computers," he said. "Here, especially, we have no evidence whatsoever."

The report accounts for most of those questions, said Bill Bosen, founding partner of Trusted Strategies, the firm that researched and created the report.

The analyst trimmed down the data set to only those cases that included information on damages, where the computers used to stage the attack was located, and the relationship of the defendant to the organisation hit. Home computers used by someone unrelated to the company were considered 'unsanctioned' while computers located on the company premises were 'sanctioned', Bosen said.

"We think the margin of error was small. Device authentication would not have stopped all crimes. For example, there were a number of cases were the individual had valid credentials and was on a company machine but overstepped their authorisation."

The study found that an attacker with valid credential could do far more damage than a program that exploited some other flaw to gain control of a system. The average cost of a virus attack to any single company was about $2,400, far lower than the $1.5m caused by attackers armed with a valid username and password, Bosen said.

Perhaps a larger question regarding the report is whether a study funded by a company benefiting from the conclusions should be taken seriously. While the report takes the form of a whitepaper supporting Phoenix Technologies security product, that should not take away from the validity of it, said Suzy Bauter, a spokesperson for the company.

"We originally did the research to make sure that we were going down the right path and make sure that we were solving the right problem," she said. "Sure, it's self serving, but it is what it is. We didn't create the common denominators found by the report."

This article originally appeared in Security Focus.

Copyright © 2006, SecurityFocus

The next step in data security

More from The Register

next story
Israeli spies rebel over mass-snooping on innocent Palestinians
'Disciplinary treatment will be sharp and clear' vow spy-chiefs
Infosec geniuses hack a Canon PRINTER and install DOOM
Internet of Stuff securo-cockups strike yet again
'Speargun' program is fantasy, says cable operator
We just might notice if you cut our cables
Apple Pay is a tidy payday for Apple with 0.15% cut, sources say
Cupertino slurps 15 cents from every $100 purchase
YouTube, Amazon and Yahoo! caught in malvertising mess
Cisco says 'Kyle and Stan' attack is spreading through compromised ad networks
Hackers pop Brazil newspaper to root home routers
Step One: try default passwords. Step Two: Repeat Step One until success
Greater dev access to iOS 8 will put us AT RISK from HACKERS
Knocking holes in Apple's walled garden could backfire, says securo-chap
Microsoft to patch ASP.NET mess even if you don't
We know what's good for you, because we made the mess says Redmond
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.