Slaying Security Dragons
Security vulnerabilities higher ed must face
J'e St Sauver is the director
of User Services and Network
Applications at the University
of Oregon Computing Center,
where he and his staff are
of UO’s large
as well as PCs,
is a senior technical advisor
for the Messaging Anti-Abuse
Working Group, and also co-chairs the
Educause Security Effective Practices
Working Group. He is a member
of the Internet2 (I2) SALSA working
group, the I2 End-to-End Performance
Initiative (E2Epi) Technical
Advisory Group, and the
I2 Abilene Network Technical
Advisory Committee. St Sauver
frequently speaks and writes
on computing and networkingrelated
topics. Here, he gives
CT his own take on the 10 most
vulnerable areas for IT security
in higher education.
Want to be considered for Campus Technology’s Top 10? Send your countdown and a brief background/bio summary to firstname.lastname@example.org
Passwords: Are we really continuing to use passwords alone, in 2006?
- There are other options like hardware crypto tokens. Some say they’re too costly.
- We create, distribute, and reset passwords just to see them lost, forgotten, or compromised.
- There’s a lot of denial about the scope of password-related security problems.
What about non-encrypted traffic?
- We still have unencrypted legacy protocols like FTP (file transfer protocol)
running in the clear, including over wireless networks.
- And no, WEP (wired equivalent privacy) d'es not constitute “encryption” for wireless nets!
Look at backups—or the lack thereof.
- Poll a dozen people: When did they last back up their laptop or desktop?
- It’s a good bet that the few who could give you an answer aren’t doing a full backup or storing their backups securely.
Outdated, impossible-to-secure systems are still on the wire.
- Versions of Windows earlier than XP aren’t safe to expose to the Internet.
- Few institutions have effective hardware and software asset tracking in place, so you probably don’t even know where these ancient systems lie.
Watch persistent, long-term vulnerabilities in mainstream applications.
- Check www.secunia.com for the mainstream applications used on campus.
- Given the known vulnerabilities you may (be horrified to) uncover, you’ll want to make your software recommendations very clear to users.
Is malware not detected by mainstream antivirus/antispyware software?
- Signature-based antivirus software is not keeping up with malware’s pace.
- Heads up! Be ready for rootkits that hide malware from detection and eradication efforts.
Deal with denial of service attacks.
Face the insider threat.
- Do you have personnel processes that can avoid risky hires in the first place?
And controls to detect potential insider abuses?
Monitor IT security threats on non-enterprise networks (e.g., SCADA systems).
- Don’t forget systems that control the physical plant or building access, or do process control for instrumentation and other dedicated services.
- They’re often not as disconnected from the Internet as you might think.
Beware of overreaction—or underreaction—to IT security threats.
- With a constant stream of new threats, it’s easy to fall into a siege mentality, resulting in absurd proposals such as “Install another layer of firewalls!”
- A better response would be more IT security staff in the trenches.