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‘Want to be more secure? Don’t be stupid’ redux

SANS Institute violently agrees

Protecting against web application threats using SSL

The SANS Institute has endorsed the idea that Internet security is partly an IQ test, acknowledging Australia’s Defense Signals Directorate for its work on how best to defend systems.

The DSD’s advice was that most attacks on most networks could be defeated with just four key strategies – patching applications and always using the latest version of an application; keeping operating systems patched; keeping admin rights under strict control (and forbidding the use of administrative accounts for e-mail and browsing); and whitelisting applications.

Since El Reg suffered some negative comment for reducing this to the line “don’t be stupid”, it should be admitted that a minimal amount of diligence – say, the very minimum that should be required for someone administering security to actually keep their job – is required to implement these strategies.

The DSD had originally noted that while other strategies are needed to complete the picture, the “big four” took care of the largest number of attack strategies.

The SANS Institute agrees, and anointed the DSD as the winner of the 2011 US National Cybersecurity Innovation Award.

“Although these controls will not stop the most sophisticated attackers, they do stop the targeted attackers with medium and low sophistication, the ones that cause the greatest amount of information loss,” runs the SANS Institute’s press release.

The DSD research team, led by Steve McLeod and Chris Brookes, carried out the DSD work, which involved analyzing logs of attacks on Australian government military and civilian systems. Their analysis focused on what countermeasures would have stopped infections from spreading, and yielded the 35 strategies detailed here.

If anyone considered The Register’s original assessment too harsh, here’s how SANS Institute research director Alan Paller put it: “"Auditors who are not checking for these four being fully implemented should refund their salaries because they are looking at the wrong things."

“The cost of implementing these four controls is a tiny fraction of the cost of implementing the average US federal government agency cybersecurity program,” says the SANS Institute.

It is also probably cheaper than the latest security magic bullet, the notion of building a second parallel Internet as advocated by the FBI’s Shawn Henry.

Former Defence Department Secretary Dr Ian Watt, appointed to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in August, was also congratulated by the SANS Institute for enforcing the security approach advocated by the DSD, for all Cabinet-level systems. ®

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