Bug Watch: Each week vnunet.com asks an expert from the IT security world to give their views on recent virus and security issues, with advice, warnings and information on the latest threats.
Following last month's Microsoft hack, Matt Tomlinson, business development director at MIS Corporate Defence Solutions, outlines what this most recent high profile breach has highlighted, and with whom the responsibility lies to cover IT security vulnerabilities present in Microsoft's software.
The hot topic over the last couple of weeks has been the Microsoft hack - it seems everyone has a point of view on the 'M' word. At the end of October it was discovered that a Trojan QAZ ran rampant through Microsoft's system for up to three months, before insiders detected that internal passwords were being sent remotely to an IP address in St Petersburg.
QAZ first appeared in the East six months ago. It's a virus that accesses a system through an unidentified email, then 'worms' throughout a network. Although there had been little publicity, QAZ was well known in the security world. Soon after its identification by IT security experts, patches were developed. Microsoft itself issued warnings to customers about the virus. The question, then, is how did a virus known to it crack the largest IT company in the world?
Unlike so many affected by the rise of cyber crime, who have decided to keep quiet about any attacks, Microsoft announced this breach itself. This action in itself surely demonstrates that Microsoft is taking a mature approach by admitting, "Yes, we have problems, although we thought we were secure. Now we need to eliminate them."
In its defence, a huge task force would have been needed to cover all Microsoft's systems serving its thousands of employees, to find and patch all vulnerabilities to stop QAZ entering. There can be no doubt that Microsoft believed it was safe, and as a financial giant in the IT world, IT security would not have been overlooked. This illustrates that everyone is open to attack and can be successfully accessed if the correct proactive security is not in place.
Technology and the internet are growing daily at rates no one 20 years ago could have predicted. And as technology develops, so do the holes. In many instances Microsoft software is blamed when a breach happens, and although there is no denying that there are flaws, its rivals suffer from similar attacks. With Microsoft dominating the market, problems in other software products are obviously going to be less prevalent.
Microsoft admits to the vulnerabilities in its software, and tries to address them and provide advice for its customers. Therefore, both the holes and the solutions are well documented. For example, those found in Microsoft IIS 4.0 and 5.0, used by various hackers/crackers to access sites ranging from local government to theme parks, could have been prevented if users had read their handbook advising them to change the default password when loading the software onto their system.
A further demonstration of Microsoft's attempts to improve security happened this week when it announced the security features in Office 10, which address previous concerns users held regarding Outlook.
There can be no argument that there are problems, but instead of pointing the finger at who is to blame, people need to accept that there are vulnerabilities with technology and implement procedures that reduce the risk of exposure. It is unrealistic to believe that software applications like those made by Microsoft, will and should be secure. As soon as companies realise that securing a system is their responsibility, an environment will be established in which poor IT security will be unacceptable.
Ultimately it is up to businesses to place the correct procedures in place to protect their systems. Securing a system to optimum levels needs more thought than just installing a piece of software, then believing that all is covered. Monitoring a system, and backing this with expert knowledge, is surely the route to take for successful IT security.
Next edition: 24 November
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