Ex-Antiterrorism Czar Offers Cybersecurity Tips

In an Internet presentation sponsored by RSA Security last week, Clarke sounded the alarm on some possible threats, but also unveiled a list of 10 steps, or checkpoints, to help secure IT installations.

Clarke, now chairman of Good Harbor Consulting, advocates a broad approach to IT security, employing what he terms "a holistic view of risk."

Clarke noted that the broad area of IT security is growing has traditionally been slighted by top management in large corporations. He said management--including CEOs, board directors, CIOs, CFOs, HR heads, and internal auditors--should meet regularly to discuss security issues. "This whole group needs to get together once a month," he suggested.

Security issues are rapidly growing in importance to enterprises, he said, noting that not only do top executives have to pay attention to legislation like Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA, but there is much pending legislation--on both the national and state levels--that could benefit from input from informed IT managers and from involved top management. "This [can be] about showing the Congress that you don't need to be regulated, because you're doing it yourself," he said.

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He ticked off a list of proposed legislation that could become law. The SEC is considering supporting legislation that would require an IT-security readiness statement to be filed with the SEC annually. The FCC is examining regulations that would require ISPs to beef-up their security. Also under consideration, he noted, is legislation aimed at improving security at chemical and electric-power plants.

Clarke listed 10 steps for enterprises to follow:

1. Establish automatic monitoring of compliance and auditing capabilities of networks. "Every day you can see if you're secure," he said.

2. Acquire a patch-management system and service. Noting that 50 or 60 patches are issued each week by software providers, Clarke called patching "the number one headache of CIOs."

3. Set up an identity-access-management system, preferably a two-factor password-ID system. He noted that, today, "almost any password can be broken" by programs easily available on the Internet.

4. Data should be encrypted in sensitive areas. He said proposed California legislation calls for many IT organizations to encrypt data.

5. Participate in an early-warning system, preferably with an organization with a set of detect sensors.

6. Establish rigorous security-oriented service-level agreements (SLAs) with ISPs. Clarke indicated that the FCC is considering making this provision mandatory for certain IT users.

7. Institute an IT security-awareness program, a sort of catch-all program that would educate staff on widespread security aspects of their networks.

8. Software should be systematically tested--and not just Microsoft software. He noted that buffer-overflow problems have been cited for years, but little has been done to correct the problem. He said there is a need for "software products that test software."

9. Secure the physical part the IT organization to make sure that intruders can't just walk in and violate security.

10. Address "the road-warrior problem," as illustrated by network users logging in from remote locations, who unknowingly have infected software, typically on laptops.

Clarke also addressed the possible security threat posed by the offshore outsourcing of IT operations. "I don't think it's a problem," Clarke said. "Some Indian companies do a better job than U. S. companies."

For more security news, see CRN's Security News Center.

This story courtesy of TechWeb.