Computer security

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Computer security (also known as cybersecurity or IT security) is information security as applied to computing devices such as computers and smartphones, as well as computer networks such as private and public networks, including the whole Internet.

The field covers all the processes and mechanisms by which computer-based equipment, information and services are protected from unintended or unauthorized access, change or destruction, and is of growing importance in line with the increasing reliance on computer systems of most societies worldwide.[1]

Vulnerabilities[edit]

To understand the techniques for securing a computer system, it is important to first understand the various types of "attacks" that can be made against it. These threats can typically be classified into one of these seven categories:

Backdoors[edit]

A backdoor in a computer system, a cryptosystem or an algorithm, is a method of bypassing normal authentication, securing remote access to a computer, obtaining access to plaintext, and so on, while attempting to remain undetected. A special form of asymmetric encryption attacks, known as kleptographic attack, resists to be useful to the reverse engineer even after it is detected and analyzed.

The backdoor may take the form of an installed program (e.g., Back Orifice), or could be a modification to an existing program or hardware device. A specific form of backdoor is a rootkit, which replaces system binaries and/or hooks into the function calls of an operating system to hide the presence of other programs, users, services and open ports. It may also fake information about disk and memory usage.

Denial-of-service attack[edit]

Unlike other exploits, denial of service attacks are not used to gain unauthorized access or control of a system. They are instead designed to render it unusable. Attackers can deny service to individual victims, such as by deliberately entering a wrong password enough consecutive times to cause the victim account to be locked, or they may overload the capabilities of a machine or network and block all users at once. These types of attack are, in practice, very hard to prevent, because the behaviour of whole networks needs to be analyzed, not only the behaviour of small pieces of code. Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks are common, where a large number of compromised hosts (commonly referred to as "zombie computers", used as part of a botnet with, for example; a worm, trojan horse, or backdoor exploit to control them) are used to flood a target system with network requests, thus attempting to render it unusable through resource exhaustion. Another technique to exhaust victim resources is through the use of an attack amplifier, where the attacker takes advantage of poorly designed protocols on third-party machines, such as FTP or DNS, in order to instruct these hosts to launch the flood. Some vulnerabilities in applications or operating systems can be exploited to make the computer or application malfunction or crash to create a denial-of-service.

Direct access attacks[edit]

Common consumer devices that can be used to transfer data surreptitiously.

Someone who has gained access to a computer can install different types of devices to compromise security, including operating system modifications, software worms, key loggers, and covert listening devices. The attacker can also easily download large quantities of data onto backup media, for instance CD-R/DVD-R, tape; or portable devices such as keydrives, digital cameras or digital audio players. Another common technique is to boot an operating system contained on a CD-ROM or other bootable media and read the data from the harddrive(s) this way. The only way to defeat this is to encrypt the storage media and store the key separate from the system.

Eavesdropping[edit]

Eavesdropping is the act of surreptitiously listening to a private conversation, typically between hosts on a network. For instance, programs such as Carnivore and NarusInsight have been used by the FBI and NSA to eavesdrop on the systems of internet service providers. Even machines that operate as a closed system (i.e., with no contact to the outside world) can be eavesdropped upon via monitoring the faint electro-magnetic transmissions generated by the hardware such as TEMPEST.

Exploits[edit]

An exploit (from the same word in the French language, meaning "achievement", or "accomplishment") is a piece of software, a chunk of data, or sequence of commands that take advantage of a software "bug" or "glitch" in order to cause unintended or unanticipated behaviour to occur on computer software, hardware, or something electronic (usually computerized). This frequently includes such things as gaining control of a computer system or allowing privilege escalation or a denial of service attack. The term "exploit" generally refers to small programs designed to take advantage of a software flaw that has been discovered, either remote or local. The code from the exploit program is frequently reused in trojan horses and computer viruses. In some cases, a vulnerability can lie in certain programs' processing of a specific file type, such as a non-executable media file. Some security web sites maintain lists of currently known unpatched vulnerabilities found in common programs (see "External links" below).

Indirect attacks[edit]

An indirect attack is an attack launched by a third-party computer. By using someone else's computer to launch an attack, it becomes far more difficult to track down the actual attacker. There have also been cases where attackers took advantage of public anonymizing systems, such as the tor onion router system.

Social engineering and human error[edit]

A computer system is no more secure than the persons responsible for its operation. Malicious individuals have regularly penetrated well-designed, secure computer systems by taking advantage of the carelessness of trusted individuals, or by deliberately deceiving them, for example sending messages that they are the system administrator and asking for passwords. This deception is known as social engineering.

In the world of information technology there are different types of cyber attack–like code injection to a website or utilising malware (malicious software) such as virus, trojans, or similar. Attacks of these kinds are counteracted managing or improving the damaged product. But there is one last type, social engineering, which does not directly affect the computers but instead their users, which are also known as "the weakest link". This type of attack is capable of achieving similar results to other class of cyber attacks, by going around the infrastructure established to resist malicious software; since being more difficult to calculate or prevent, it is many times a more efficient attack vector.

The main target is to convince the user by means of psychological ways to disclose his or her personal information such as passwords, card numbers, etc. by, for example, impersonating the services company or the bank.[2]

Vulnerable areas[edit]

Computer security is critical in almost any technology-driven industry which operates on computer systems. The issues of computer based systems and addressing their countless vulnerabilities are an integral part of maintaining an operational industry.[3]

Aviation[edit]

The aviation industry is especially important when analyzing computer security because the involved risks include human life, expensive equipment, cargo, and transportation infrastructure. Security can be compromised by hardware and software malpractice, human error, and faulty operating environments. Threats that exploit computer vulnerabilities can stem from sabotage, espionage, industrial competition, terrorist attack, mechanical malfunction, and human error.[4]

The consequences of a successful deliberate or inadvertent misuse of a computer system in the aviation industry range from loss of confidentiality to loss of system integrity, which may lead to more serious concerns such as exfiltration (data theft or loss), network and air traffic control outages, which in turn can lead to airport closures, loss of aircraft, loss of passenger life. Military systems that control munitions can pose an even greater risk.

A proper attack does not need to be very high tech or well funded; for a power outage at an airport alone can cause repercussions worldwide.[5] One of the easiest and, arguably, the most difficult to trace security vulnerabilities is achievable by transmitting unauthorized communications over specific radio frequencies. These transmissions may spoof air traffic controllers or simply disrupt communications altogether. These incidents are very common, having altered flight courses of commercial aircraft and caused panic and confusion in the past.[citation needed] Controlling aircraft over oceans is especially dangerous because radar surveillance only extends 175 to 225 miles offshore. Beyond the radar's sight controllers must rely on periodic radio communications with a third party.

Lightning, power fluctuations, surges, brownouts, blown fuses, and various other power outages instantly disable all computer systems, since they are dependent on an electrical source. Other accidental and intentional faults have caused significant disruption of safety critical systems throughout the last few decades and dependence on reliable communication and electrical power only jeopardizes computer safety.[citation needed]

Financial cost of security breaches[edit]

Serious financial damage has been caused by security breaches, but because there is no standard model for estimating the cost of an incident, the only data available is that which is made public by the organizations involved. “Several computer security consulting firms produce estimates of total worldwide losses attributable to virus and worm attacks and to hostile digital acts in general. The 2003 loss estimates by these firms range from $13 billion (worms and viruses only) to $226 billion (for all forms of covert attacks). The reliability of these estimates is often challenged; the underlying methodology is basically anecdotal.”[6]

Insecurities in operating systems have led to a massive black market[citation needed] for rogue software. An attacker can use a security hole to install software that tricks the user into buying a product. At that point, an affiliate program pays the affiliate responsible for generating that installation about $30. The software is sold for between $50 and $75 per license.[7]

Reasons[edit]

There are many similarities (yet many fundamental differences) between computer and physical security. Just like real-world security, the motivations for breaches of computer security vary between attackers, sometimes called hackers or crackers. Some are thrill-seekers or vandals (the kind often responsible for defacing web sites); similarly, some web site defacements are done to make political statements. However, some attackers are highly skilled and motivated with the goal of compromising computers for financial gain or espionage.[citation needed] An example of the latter is Markus Hess (more diligent than skilled), who spied for the KGB and was ultimately caught because of the efforts of Clifford Stoll, who wrote a memoir, The Cuckoo's Egg, about his experiences.

For those seeking to prevent security breaches, the first step is usually to attempt to identify what might motivate an attack on the system, how much the continued operation and information security of the system are worth, and who might be motivated to breach it. The precautions required for a home personal computer are very different for those of banks' Internet banking systems, and different again for a classified military network. Other computer security writers suggest that, since an attacker using a network need know nothing about you or what you have on your computer, attacker motivation is inherently impossible to determine beyond guessing. If true, blocking all possible attacks is the only plausible action to take.

Computer protection[edit]

There are numerous ways to protect computers, including utilizing security-aware design techniques, building on secure operating systems and installing hardware devices designed to protect the computer systems.

Security and systems design[edit]

Although there are many aspects to take into consideration when designing a computer system, security can prove to be very important. According to Symantec, in 2010, 94 percent of organizations polled expect to implement security improvements to their computer systems, with 42 percent claiming cyber security as their top risk.[8]

At the same time, many organizations are improving security and many types of cyber criminals are finding ways to continue their activities. Almost every type of cyber attack is on the rise. In 2009 respondents to the CSI Computer Crime and Security Survey admitted that malware infections, denial-of-service attacks, password sniffing, and web site defacements were significantly higher than in the previous two years.[9]

Security measures[edit]

A state of computer "security" is the conceptual ideal, attained by the use of the three processes: threat prevention, detection, and response. These processes are based on various policies and system components, which include the following:

  • User account access controls and cryptography can protect systems files and data, respectively.
  • Firewalls are by far the most common prevention systems from a network security perspective as they can (if properly configured) shield access to internal network services, and block certain kinds of attacks through packet filtering. Firewalls can be both hardware- or software-based.
  • Intrusion Detection Systems (IDSs) are designed to detect network attacks in progress and assist in post-attack forensics, while audit trails and logs serve a similar function for individual systems.
  • "Response" is necessarily defined by the assessed security requirements of an individual system and may cover the range from simple upgrade of protections to notification of legal authorities, counter-attacks, and the like. In some special cases, a complete destruction of the compromised system is favored, as it may happen that not all the compromised resources are detected.

Today, computer security comprises mainly "preventive" measures, like firewalls or an exit procedure. A firewall can be defined as a way of filtering network data between a host or a network and another network, such as the Internet, and can be implemented as software running on the machine, hooking into the network stack (or, in the case of most UNIX-based operating systems such as Linux, built into the operating system kernel) to provide real time filtering and blocking. Another implementation is a so-called physical firewall which consists of a separate machine filtering network traffic. Firewalls are common amongst machines that are permanently connected to the Internet.

However, relatively few organisations maintain computer systems with effective detection systems, and fewer still have organised response mechanisms in place. As result, as Reuters points out: “Companies for the first time report they are losing more through electronic theft of data than physical stealing of assets”.[10] The primary obstacle to effective eradication of cyber crime could be traced to excessive reliance on firewalls and other automated "detection" systems. Yet it is basic evidence gathering by using packet capture appliances that puts criminals behind bars.

Difficulty with response[edit]

Responding forcefully to attempted security breaches (in the manner that one would for attempted physical security breaches) is often very difficult for a variety of reasons:

  • Identifying attackers is difficult, as they are often in a different jurisdiction to the systems they attempt to breach, and operate through proxies, temporary anonymous dial-up accounts, wireless connections, and other anonymising procedures which make backtracing difficult and are often located in yet another jurisdiction. If they successfully breach security, they are often able to delete logs to cover their tracks.
  • The sheer number of attempted attacks is so large that organisations cannot spend time pursuing each attacker (a typical home user with a permanent (e.g., cable modem) connection will be attacked at least several times per day, so more attractive targets could be presumed to see many more). Note however, that most of the sheer bulk of these attacks are made by automated vulnerability scanners and computer worms.
  • Law enforcement officers are often unfamiliar with information technology, and so lack the skills and interest in pursuing attackers. There are also budgetary constraints. It has been argued that the high cost of technology, such as DNA testing, and improved forensics mean less money for other kinds of law enforcement, so the overall rate of criminals not getting dealt with goes up as the cost of the technology increases. In addition, the identification of attackers across a network may require logs from various points in the network and in many countries, the release of these records to law enforcement (with the exception of being voluntarily surrendered by a network administrator or a system administrator) requires a search warrant and, depending on the circumstances, the legal proceedings required can be drawn out to the point where the records are either regularly destroyed, or the information is no longer relevant.

Reducing vulnerabilities[edit]

Computer code is regarded by some as a form of mathematics. It is theoretically possible to prove the correctness of certain classes of computer programs, though the feasibility of actually achieving this in large-scale practical systems is regarded as small by some with practical experience in the industry; see Bruce Schneier et al.

It is also possible to protect messages in transit (i.e., communications) by means of cryptography. One method of encryption—the one-time pad—is unbreakable when correctly used. This method was used by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, though flaws in their implementation allowed some cryptanalysis; see the Venona project. The method uses a matching pair of key-codes, securely distributed, which are used once-and-only-once to encode and decode a single message. For transmitted computer encryption this method is difficult to use properly (securely), and highly inconvenient as well. Other methods of encryption, while breakable in theory, are often virtually impossible to directly break by any means publicly known today. Breaking them requires some non-cryptographic input, such as a stolen key, stolen plaintext (at either end of the transmission), or some other extra cryptanalytic information.

Social engineering and direct computer access (physical) attacks can only be prevented by non-computer means, which can be difficult to enforce, relative to the sensitivity of the information. Even in a highly disciplined environment, such as in military organizations, social engineering attacks can still be difficult to foresee and prevent.

In practice, only a small fraction of computer program code is mathematically proven, or even goes through comprehensive information technology audits or inexpensive but extremely valuable computer security audits, so it is usually possible for a determined hacker to read, copy, alter or destroy data in well secured computers, albeit at the cost of great time and resources. Few attackers would audit applications for vulnerabilities just to attack a single specific system. It is possible to reduce an attacker's chances by keeping systems up to date, using a security scanner or/and hiring competent people responsible for security. The effects of data loss/damage can be reduced by careful backing up and insurance.

Security by design[edit]

Main article: Secure by design

Security by design, or alternately secure by design, means that the software has been designed from the ground up to be secure. In this case, security is considered as a main feature.

Some of the techniques in this approach include:

  • The principle of least privilege, where each part of the system has only the privileges that are needed for its function. That way even if an attacker gains access to that part, they have only limited access to the whole system.
  • Automated theorem proving to prove the correctness of crucial software subsystems.
  • Code reviews and unit testing, approaches to make modules more secure where formal correctness proofs are not possible.
  • Defense in depth, where the design is such that more than one subsystem needs to be violated to compromise the integrity of the system and the information it holds.
  • Default secure settings, and design to "fail secure" rather than "fail insecure" (see fail-safe for the equivalent in safety engineering). Ideally, a secure system should require a deliberate, conscious, knowledgeable and free decision on the part of legitimate authorities in order to make it insecure.
  • Audit trails tracking system activity, so that when a security breach occurs, the mechanism and extent of the breach can be determined. Storing audit trails remotely, where they can only be appended to, can keep intruders from covering their tracks.
  • Full disclosure of all vulnerabilities, to ensure that the "window of vulnerability" is kept as short as possible when bugs are discovered.

Security architecture[edit]

The Open Security Architecture organization defines IT security architecture as "the design artifacts that describe how the security controls (security countermeasures) are positioned, and how they relate to the overall information technology architecture. These controls serve the purpose to maintain the system's quality attributes: confidentiality, integrity, availability, accountability and assurance services".[11]

Techopedia defines security architecture as "a unified security design that addresses the necessities and potential risks involved in a certain scenario or environment. It also specifies when and where to apply security controls. The design process is generally reproducible." The key attributes of security architecture are:[12]

  • the relationship of different components and how they depend on each other.
  • the determination of controls based on risk assessment, good practice, finances, and legal matters.
  • the standardization of controls.

Hardware protection mechanisms[edit]

While hardware may be a source of insecurity, such as with microchip vulnerabilities maliciously introduced during the manufacturing process,[13][14] hardware-based or assisted computer security also offers an alternative to software-only computer security. Using devices and methods such as dongles, trusted platform modules, intrusion-aware cases, drive locks, disabling USB ports, and mobile-enabled access may be considered more secure due to the physical access (or sophisticated backdoor access) required in order to be compromised. Each of these is covered in more detail below.

  • USB dongles are typically used in software licensing schemes to unlock software capabilities,[15] but they can also be seen as a way to prevent unauthorized access to a computer or other device's software. The dongle, or key, essentially creates a secure encrypted tunnel between the software application and the key. The principle is that an encryption scheme on the dongle, such as Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) provides a stronger measure of security, since it is harder to hack and replicate the dongle than to simply copy the native software to another machine and use it. Another security application for dongles is to use them for accessing web-based content such as cloud software or Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).[16] In addition, a USB dongle can be configured to lock or unlock a computer.[17]
  • Trusted platform modules (TPMs) secure devices by integrating cryptographic capabilities onto access devices, through the use of microprocessors, or so-called computers-on-a-chip. TPMs used in conjunction with server-side software offer a way to detect and authenticate hardware devices, preventing unauthorized network and data access.[18]
  • Computer case intrusion detection refers to a push-button switch which is triggered when a computer case is opened. The firmware or BIOS is programmed to show an alert to the operator when the computer is booted up the next time.
  • Drive locks are essentially software tools to encrypt hard drives, making them inaccessible to thieves.[19] Tools exist specifically for encrypting external drives as well.[20]
  • Disabling USB ports is a security option for preventing unauthorized and malicious access to an otherwise secure computer. Infected USB dongles connected to a network from a computer inside the firewall are considered by Network World as the most common hardware threat facing computer networks.[21]
  • Mobile-enabled access devices are growing in popularity due to the ubiquitous nature of cell phones. Built-in capabilities such as Bluetooth, the newer Bluetooth low energy (LE), Near field communication (NFC) on non-iOS devices and biometric validation such as thumb print readers, as well as QR code reader software designed for mobile devices, offer new, secure ways for mobile phones to connect to access control systems. These control systems provide computer security and can also be used for controlling access to secure buildings.[22]

Secure operating systems[edit]

One use of the term "computer security" refers to technology that is used to implement secure operating systems. Much of this technology is based on science developed in the 1980s and used to produce what may be some of the most impenetrable operating systems ever. Though still valid, the technology is in limited use today, primarily because it imposes some changes to system management and also because it is not widely understood. Such ultra-strong secure operating systems are based on operating system kernel technology that can guarantee that certain security policies are absolutely enforced in an operating environment. An example of such a Computer security policy is the Bell-LaPadula model. The strategy is based on a coupling of special microprocessor hardware features, often involving the memory management unit, to a special correctly implemented operating system kernel. This forms the foundation for a secure operating system which, if certain critical parts are designed and implemented correctly, can ensure the absolute impossibility of penetration by hostile elements. This capability is enabled because the configuration not only imposes a security policy, but in theory completely protects itself from corruption. Ordinary operating systems, on the other hand, lack the features that assure this maximal level of security. The design methodology to produce such secure systems is precise, deterministic and logical.

Systems designed with such methodology represent the state of the art[clarification needed] of computer security although products using such security are not widely known. In sharp contrast to most kinds of software, they meet specifications with verifiable certainty comparable to specifications for size, weight and power. Secure operating systems designed this way are used primarily to protect national security information, military secrets, and the data of international financial institutions. These are very powerful security tools and very few secure operating systems have been certified at the highest level (Orange Book A-1) to operate over the range of "Top Secret" to "unclassified" (including Honeywell SCOMP, USAF SACDIN, NSA Blacker and Boeing MLS LAN). The assurance of security depends not only on the soundness of the design strategy, but also on the assurance of correctness of the implementation, and therefore there are degrees of security strength defined for COMPUSEC. The Common Criteria quantifies security strength of products in terms of two components, security functionality and assurance level (such as EAL levels), and these are specified in a Protection Profile for requirements and a Security Target for product descriptions. None of these ultra-high assurance secure general purpose operating systems have been produced for decades or certified under Common Criteria.

In USA parlance, the term High Assurance usually suggests the system has the right security functions that are implemented robustly enough to protect DoD and DoE classified information. Medium assurance suggests it can protect less valuable information, such as income tax information. Secure operating systems designed to meet medium robustness levels of security functionality and assurance have seen wider use within both government and commercial markets. Medium robust systems may provide the same security functions as high assurance secure operating systems but do so at a lower assurance level (such as Common Criteria levels EAL4 or EAL5). Lower levels mean we can be less certain that the security functions are implemented flawlessly, and therefore less dependable. These systems are found in use on web servers, guards, database servers, and management hosts and are used not only to protect the data stored on these systems but also to provide a high level of protection for network connections and routing services.

Secure coding[edit]

Main article: Secure coding

If the operating environment is not based on a secure operating system capable of maintaining a domain for its own execution, and capable of protecting application code from malicious subversion, and capable of protecting the system from subverted code, then high degrees of security are understandably not possible. While such secure operating systems are possible and have been implemented, most commercial systems fall in a 'low security' category because they rely on features not supported by secure operating systems (like portability, and others). In low security operating environments, applications must be relied on to participate in their own protection. There are 'best effort' secure coding practices that can be followed to make an application more resistant to malicious subversion.

In commercial environments, the majority of software subversion vulnerabilities result from a few known kinds of coding defects. Common software defects include buffer overflows, format string vulnerabilities, integer overflow, and code/command injection. These defects can be used to cause the target system to execute putative data. However, the "data" contain executable instructions, allowing the attacker to gain control of the processor.

Some common languages such as C and C++ are vulnerable to all of these defects (see Seacord, "Secure Coding in C and C++").[23] Other languages, such as Java, are more resistant to some of these defects, but are still prone to code/command injection and other software defects which facilitate subversion.

Another bad coding practice occurs when an object is deleted during normal operation yet the program neglects to update any of the associated memory pointers, potentially causing system instability when that location is referenced again. This is called dangling pointer, and the first known exploit for this particular problem was presented in July 2007. Before this publication the problem was known but considered to be academic and not practically exploitable.[24]

Unfortunately, there is no theoretical model of "secure coding" practices, nor is one practically achievable, insofar as the code (ideally, read-only) and data (generally read/write) generally tends to have some form of defect.

Capabilities and access control lists[edit]

Within computer systems, two security models capable of enforcing privilege separation are access control lists (ACLs) and capability-based security. Using ACLs to confine programs has been proven to be insecure in many situations, such as if the host computer can be tricked into indirectly allowing restricted file access, an issue known as the confused deputy problem. It has also been shown that the promise of ACLs of giving access to an object to only one person can never be guaranteed in practice. Both of these problems are resolved by capabilities. This does not mean practical flaws exist in all ACL-based systems, but only that the designers of certain utilities must take responsibility to ensure that they do not introduce flaws.[citation needed]

Capabilities have been mostly restricted to research operating systems, while commercial OSs still use ACLs. Capabilities can, however, also be implemented at the language level, leading to a style of programming that is essentially a refinement of standard object-oriented design. An open source project in the area is the E language.

The most secure computers are those not connected to the Internet and shielded from any interference. In the real world, the most secure systems are operating systems where security is not an add-on.

Hacking back[edit]

There has been a significant debate regarding the legality of hacking back against digital attackers (who attempt to or successfully breach an individual's, entity's, or nation's computer). The arguments for such counter-attacks are based on notions of equity, active defense, vigilantism, and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The arguments against the practice are primarily based on the legal definitions of "intrusion" and "unauthorized access", as defined by the CFAA. As of October 2012, the debate is ongoing.[25]

Notable computer security breaches[edit]

Some illustrative examples of different types of computer security breaches are given below.

Robert Morris and the first computer worm[edit]

Main article: Morris worm

In 1988, only 60,000 computers were connected to the Internet, and most were mainframes, minicomputers and professional workstations. On November 2, 1988, many started to slow down, because they were running a malicious code that demanded processor time and that spread itself to other computers - the first internet "computer worm".[26] The software was traced back to 23 year old Cornell University graduate student Robert Tappan Morris, Jr. who said 'he wanted to count how many machines were connected to the Internet'.[26]

Rome Laboratory[edit]

In 1994, over a hundred intrusions were made by unidentified crackers into the Rome Laboratory, the US Air Force's main command and research facility. Using trojan horses, hackers were able to obtain unrestricted access to Rome's networking systems and remove traces of their activities. The intruders were able to obtain classified files, such as air tasking order systems data and furthermore able to penetrate connected networks of National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Goddard Space Flight Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, some Defense contractors, and other private sector organizations, by posing as a trusted Rome center user.[27]

TJX loses 45.7 customer credit card details[edit]

In early 2007, American apparel and home goods company TJX announced that it was the victim of an unauthorized computer systems intrusion[28] and that the hackers had accessed a system that stored data on credit card, debit card, check, and merchandise return transactions.[29]

Stuxnet attack[edit]

The computer worm known as Stuxnet reportedly ruined almost one-fifth of Iran's nuclear centrifuges[30] by disrupting industrial programmable logic controllers (PLCs) in a targeted attack generally believed to have been launched by Israel and the United States[31][32][33][34] although neither has publicly acknowledged this.

Global surveillance disclosures[edit]

In early 2013, thousands of thousands of classified documents[35] were disclosed by NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Called the "most significant leak in U.S. history"[36] it also revealed for the first time the massive breaches of computer security by the NSA, including deliberately inserting a backdoor in a NIST standard for encryption[37] and tapping the links between Google's data centres.[38]

Legal issues and global regulation[edit]

Conflict of laws in cyberspace[39] has become a major cause of concern for computer security community. Some of the main challenges and complaints about the antivirus industry are the lack of global web regulations, a global base of common rules to judge, and eventually punish, cyber crimes and cyber criminals. There is no global cyber law[40] and cyber security treaty[41] that can be invoked for enforcing global cyber security issues.

International legal issues of cyber attacks[42] are really tricky and complicated in nature.[43] For instance, even if an antivirus firm locates the cyber criminal behind the creation of a particular virus or piece of malware or again one form of cyber attack, often the local authorities cannot take action due to lack of laws under which to prosecute.[44][45] This is mainly caused by the fact that many countries have their own regulations regarding cyber crimes. Authorship attribution for cyber crimes and cyber attacks has become a major problem for international law enforcement agencies.[46]

"[Computer viruses] switch from one country to another, from one jurisdiction to another — moving around the world, using the fact that we don't have the capability to globally police operations like this. So the Internet is as if someone [had] given free plane tickets to all the online criminals of the world."[44] (Mikko Hyppönen) Use of dynamic DNS, fast flux and bullet proof servers have added own complexities to this situation.[47]

Businesses are eager to expand to less developed countries due to the low cost of labor, says White et al. (2012). However, these countries are the ones with the least amount of Internet safety measures, and the Internet Service Providers are not so focused on implementing those safety measures (2010). Instead, they are putting their main focus on expanding their business, which exposes them to an increase in criminal activity.[48]

In response to the growing problem of cyber crime, the European Commission established the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3).[49] The EC3 effectively opened on 1 January 2013 and will be the focal point in the EU's fight against cyber crime, contributing to faster reaction to online crimes. It will support member states and the EU's institutions in building an operational and analytical capacity for investigations, as well as cooperation with international partners.[50]

Computer security policies[edit]

Country-specific computer security policies are discussed below.

United States[edit]

Cybersecurity Act of 2010[edit]

On July 1, 2009, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced the "Cybersecurity Act of 2009 - S. 773"[51] in the Senate; the bill, co-written with Senators Evan Bayh (D-IN), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Bill Nelson (D-FL), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), was referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which approved a revised version of the same bill (the "Cybersecurity Act of 2010") on March 24, 2010.[52] The bill seeks to increase collaboration between the public and the private sector on cybersecurity issues, especially those private entities that own infrastructures that are critical to national security interests (the bill quotes John Brennan, the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism: "our nation’s security and economic prosperity depend on the security, stability, and integrity of communications and information infrastructure that are largely privately owned and globally operated" and talks about the country's response to a "cyber-Katrina"),[53] increase public awareness on cybersecurity issues, and foster and fund cybersecurity research. Some of the most controversial parts of the bill include Paragraph 315, which grants the President the right to "order the limitation or shutdown of Internet traffic to and from any compromised Federal Government or United States critical infrastructure information system or network."[53] The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an international non-profit digital rights advocacy and legal organization based in the United States, characterized the bill as promoting a "potentially dangerous approach that favors the dramatic over the sober response".[54]

International Cybercrime Reporting and Cooperation Act[edit]

On March 25, 2010, Representative Yvette Clarke (D-NY) introduced the "International Cybercrime Reporting and Cooperation Act - H.R.4962"[55] in the House of Representatives; the bill, co-sponsored by seven other representatives (among whom only one Republican), was referred to three House committees.[56] The bill seeks to make sure that the administration keeps Congress informed on information infrastructure, cybercrime, and end-user protection worldwide. It also "directs the President to give priority for assistance to improve legal, judicial, and enforcement capabilities with respect to cybercrime to countries with low information and communications technology levels of development or utilization in their critical infrastructure, telecommunications systems, and financial industries"[56] as well as to develop an action plan and an annual compliance assessment for countries of "cyber concern".[56]

Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010[edit]

On June 19, 2010, United States Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) introduced a bill called "Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010 - S.3480"[57] which he co-wrote with Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Senator Thomas Carper (D-DE). If signed into law, this controversial bill, which the American media dubbed the "Kill switch bill", would grant the President emergency powers over the Internet. However, all three co-authors of the bill issued a statement claiming that instead, the bill "[narrowed] existing broad Presidential authority to take over telecommunications networks".[58]

White House proposes cybersecurity legislation[edit]

On May 12, 2011, the White House sent Congress a proposed cybersecurity law designed to force companies to do more to fend off cyberattacks, a threat that has been reinforced by recent reports about vulnerabilities in systems used in power and water utilities.[59]

Executive order 13636 Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity was signed February 12, 2013.

Germany[edit]

Berlin starts National Cyber Defense Initiative[edit]

On June 16, 2011, the German Minister for Home Affairs, officially opened the new German NCAZ (National Center for Cyber Defense) Nationales Cyber-Abwehrzentrum, which is located in Bonn. The NCAZ closely cooperates with BSI (Federal Office for Information Security) Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik, BKA (Federal Police Organisation) Bundeskriminalamt (Deutschland), BND (Federal Intelligence Service) Bundesnachrichtendienst, MAD (Military Intelligence Service) Amt für den Militärischen Abschirmdienst and other national organisations in Germany taking care of national security aspects. According to the Minister the primary task of the new organisation founded on February 23, 2011, is to detect and prevent attacks against the national infrastructure and mentioned incidents like Stuxnet.

South Korea[edit]

Following cyberattacks in the first half of 2013, whereby government, news-media, television station, and bank websites were compromised, the national government committed to the training of 5,000 new cybersecurity experts by 2017. The South Korean government blamed its northern counterpart on these attacks, as well as incidents that occurred in 2009, 2011, and 2012, but Pyongyang denies the accusations.[60]

Seoul, March 7, 2011 - South Korean police have contacted 35 countries to ask for cooperation in tracing the origin of a massive cyber attack on the Web sites of key government and financial institutions, amid a nationwide cyber security alert issued against further threats. The Web sites of about 30 key South Korean government agencies and financial institutions came under a so-called distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack for two days from Friday, with about 50,000 "zombie" computers infected with a virus seeking simultaneous access to selected sites and swamping them with traffic. As soon as the copies of overseas servers are obtained, the cyber investigation unit will analyse the data to track down the origin of the attacks made from countries, including the United States, Russia, Italy and Israel, the NPA noted.[61]

In late September 2013, a computer-security competition jointly sponsored by the defense ministry and the National Intelligence Service was announced. The winners will be announced on September 29, 2013 and will share a total prize pool of 80 million won (US$74,000).[60]

India[edit]

India has no specific law for dealing with cyber security related issues.[62] Some provisions for cyber security have been incorporated into rules framed under the Information Technology Act 2000 but they are grossly insufficient. Further, the National Cyber Security Policy 2013 has remained ineffective and non-implementable until now.[63] The cyber security trends and developments in India 2013 have listed the shortcomings of Indian cyber security policy in general and Indian cyber security initiatives in particular.[64] Indian cyber security policy has also failed to protect civil liberties of Indians including privacy rights.[65] Civil liberties protection in cyberspace has been blatantly ignored by Indian government and e-surveillance projects have been kept intact by the Narendra Modi government.[66] As a result Indian cyber security efforts are inadequate and not up to the mark. There is also no legal obligation for cyber security breach disclosures in India as well.[67]

However, the Indian Companies Act 2013 has introduced cyber law[68] and cyber security obligations[69] on the part of Indian directors. Cyber security obligations for e-commerce business in India have also been recognised lately.[70]

The cyber security job market[edit]

Cyber Security is a fast-growing[71] field of IT concerned with reducing organizations' risk of hack or data breach. Commercial, government and non-governmental all employ cybersecurity professional, but the use of the term "cybersecurity" is government job descriptions is more prevalent than in non-government job descriptions, in part due to government "cybersecurity" initiatives (as opposed to corporation's "IT security" initiatives) and the establishment of government institutions like the US Cyber Command and the UK Defence Cyber Operations Group.[72]

Typical cybersecurity job titles and descriptions include:[73]

Security Analyst
Analyzes and assesses vulnerabilities in the infrastructure (software, hardware, networks), investigates available tools and countermeasures to remedy the detected vulnerabilities, and recommends solutions and best practices. Analyzes and assesses damage to the data/infrastructure as a result of security incidents, examines available recovery tools and processes, and recommends solutions. Tests for compliance with security policies and procedures. May assist in the creation, implementation, and/or management of security solutions.
Security Engineer
Performs security monitoring, security and data/logs analysis, and forensic analysis, to detect security incidents, and mounts incident response. Investigates and utilizes new technologies and processes to enhance security capabilities and implement improvements. May also review code or perform other security engineering methodologies.
Security Architect
Designs a security system or major components of a security system, and may head a security design team building a new security system.
Security Administrator
Installs and manages organization-wide security systems. May also take on some of the tasks of a security analyst in smaller organizations.
Chief Information Security Officer
A high-level management position responsible for the entire information security division/staff. The position may include hands-on technical work.
Security Consultant/Specialist
Broad titles that encompass any one or all of the other roles/titles, tasked with protecting computers, networks, software, data, and/or information systems against viruses, worms, spyware, malware, intrusion detection, unauthorized access, denial-of-service attacks, and an ever increasing list of attacks by hackers acting as individuals or as part of organized crime or foreign governments.

Student programs are also available to people interested in beginning a career in cybersecurity.[74][75]

Terminology[edit]

The following terms used with regards to engineering secure systems are explained below.

  • Access authorization restricts access to a computer to group of users through the use of authentication systems. These systems can protect either the whole computer – such as through an interactive login screen – or individual services, such as an FTP server. There are many methods for identifying and authenticating users, such as passwords, identification cards, and, more recently, smart cards and biometric systems.
  • Anti-virus software consists of computer programs that attempt to identify, thwart and eliminate computer viruses and other malicious software (malware).
  • Applications with known security flaws should not be run. Either leave it turned off until it can be patched or otherwise fixed, or delete it and replace it with some other application. Publicly known flaws are the main entry used by worms to automatically break into a system and then spread to other systems connected to it. The security website Secunia provides a search tool for unpatched known flaws in popular products.
  • Authentication techniques can be used to ensure that communication end-points are who they say they are.
  • Automated theorem proving and other verification tools can enable critical algorithms and code used in secure systems to be mathematically proven to meet their specifications.
  • Backups are a way of securing information; they are another copy of all the important computer files kept in another location. These files are kept on hard disks, CD-Rs, CD-RWs, tapes and more recently on the cloud. Suggested locations for backups are a fireproof, waterproof, and heat proof safe, or in a separate, offsite location than that in which the original files are contained. Some individuals and companies also keep their backups in safe deposit boxes inside bank vaults. There is also a fourth option, which involves using one of the file hosting services that backs up files over the Internet for both business and individuals, known as the cloud.
    • Backups are also important for reasons other than security. Natural disasters, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, or tornadoes, may strike the building where the computer is located. The building can be on fire, or an explosion may occur. There needs to be a recent backup at an alternate secure location, in case of such kind of disaster. Further, it is recommended that the alternate location be placed where the same disaster would not affect both locations. Examples of alternate disaster recovery sites being compromised by the same disaster that affected the primary site include having had a primary site in World Trade Center I and the recovery site in 7 World Trade Center, both of which were destroyed in the 9/11 attack, and having one's primary site and recovery site in the same coastal region, which leads to both being vulnerable to hurricane damage (for example, primary site in New Orleans and recovery site in Jefferson Parish, both of which were hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005). The backup media should be moved between the geographic sites in a secure manner, in order to prevent them from being stolen.
  • Capability and access control list techniques can be used to ensure privilege separation and mandatory access control. This section discusses their use.
  • Chain of trust techniques can be used to attempt to ensure that all software loaded has been certified as authentic by the system's designers.
  • Confidentiality is the nondisclosure of information except to another authorized person.[76]
  • Cryptographic techniques can be used to defend data in transit between systems, reducing the probability that data exchanged between systems can be intercepted or modified.
  • Data integrity is the accuracy and consistency of stored data, indicated by an absence of any alteration in data between two updates of a data record.[77]
Cryptographic techniques involve transforming information, scrambling it so it becomes unreadable during transmission. The intended recipient can unscramble the message; ideally, eavesdroppers cannot.
  • Encryption is used to protect the message from the eyes of others. Cryptographically secure ciphers are designed to make any practical attempt of breaking infeasible. Symmetric-key ciphers are suitable for bulk encryption using shared keys, and public-key encryption using digital certificates can provide a practical solution for the problem of securely communicating when no key is shared in advance.
  • Endpoint security software helps networks to prevent exfiltration (data theft) and virus infection at network entry points made vulnerable by the prevalence of potentially infected portable computing devices, such as laptops and mobile devices, and external storage devices, such as USB drives.[78]
  • Firewalls are an important method for control and security on the Internet and other networks. A network firewall can be a communications processor, typically a router, or a dedicated server, along with firewall software. A firewall serves as a gatekeeper system that protects a company's intranets and other computer networks from intrusion by providing a filter and safe transfer point for access to and from the Internet and other networks. It screens all network traffic for proper passwords or other security codes and only allows authorized transmission in and out of the network. Firewalls can deter, but not completely prevent, unauthorized access (hacking) into computer networks; they can also provide some protection from online intrusion.
  • Honey pots are computers that are either intentionally or unintentionally left vulnerable to attack by crackers. They can be used to catch crackers or fix vulnerabilities.
  • Intrusion-detection systems can scan a network for people that are on the network but who should not be there or are doing things that they should not be doing, for example trying a lot of passwords to gain access to the network.
  • A microkernel is the near-minimum amount of software that can provide the mechanisms to implement an operating system. It is used solely to provide very low-level, very precisely defined machine code upon which an operating system can be developed. A simple example is the early '90s GEMSOS (Gemini Computers), which provided extremely low-level machine code, such as "segment" management, atop which an operating system could be built. The theory (in the case of "segments") was that—rather than have the operating system itself worry about mandatory access separation by means of military-style labeling—it is safer if a low-level, independently scrutinized module can be charged solely with the management of individually labeled segments, be they memory "segments" or file system "segments" or executable text "segments." If software below the visibility of the operating system is (as in this case) charged with labeling, there is no theoretically viable means for a clever hacker to subvert the labeling scheme, since the operating system per se does not provide mechanisms for interfering with labeling: the operating system is, essentially, a client (an "application," arguably) atop the microkernel and, as such, subject to its restrictions.
  • Pinging The ping application can be used by potential crackers to find if an IP address is reachable. If a cracker finds a computer, they can try a port scan to detect and attack services on that computer.
  • Social engineering awareness keeps employees aware of the dangers of social engineering and/or having a policy in place to prevent social engineering can reduce successful breaches of the network and servers.

Scholars in the field[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Lists of currently known unpatched vulnerabilities[edit]