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Beware The Risk Of The Vulnerable Corporate Desktop

Posted February 10, 2012    Peter McCalister

Anyone who has spent any time at all in the cyber-security space knows that hackers and creators of malware don’t rest for an instant. The harder the IT security world works to stay ahead of the cyber-criminals (or, more accurately, to keep pace or catch up to them), the faster increasingly sophisticated attacks burst into corporate networks, infecting servers and endpoints and running IT teams ragged as they chase the threats and remediate the resultant carnage.

Why, with all the efforts IT organizations put forth to stop these external threats, do these attacks continue to rampage corporate infrastructures? Even if a company is spared the uncomfortable action of publicly acknowledging the loss of sensitive data through a breach, IT managers routinely sweat the close calls, the bullets dodged, the inevitable dalayed another day.

It’s no surprise that many of these attacks prey on the desktop, where a single mistake in user behavior can bring upon a malicious attack in an instant. Laptops turned to botnet hosts. Trojan horses transported stealthily to corporate servers, poised to steal customer data. Viruses and worms launched and spreading through networks like wildfire. So IT teams (over 99% of them) religiously deploy anti-virus software and keep it updated. And that stops a lot of attacks – but not nearly all of them, or the worst of them.

Perhaps that’s why more and more IT organizations are coming to a critical realization: that these attacks, while external in nature, often are brought on by internal people – often completely unknown to them. Just a single mistake in user behavior is all it takes.

When it comes to protecting employees from making such mistakes (preventing good people from doing bad things, you might say), it pays to consider a programmatic approach: adopt a least privilege strategy, granting users only standard rights but permitting elevation of privileges as required to enable them to do their jobs effectively. When you combine such privilege management with fine-grained application control (whitelisting), you add yet another layer of protection. After all, cyber-criminals are pros at getting people to do things they shouldn’t. What better defense is there than removing the opportunity to take a risky action in the first place?

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