Faulty Firewalls Take the Heat

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2002-10-21 Print this article Print

Firewalls or "Fire Logs"?

Firewalls or "Fire Logs"? The latter is the unkind nickname for firewalls so poorly configured that "they might as well not be there," as shared by Bob Dacey, director for information security issues at the U.S. General Accounting Office, during the annual Control and Audit of Information Technology Conference Oct. 8 in Washington.

Dacey reviewed the results of his audit of federal agencies IT security posture. Program management and access control were the two worst areas, with all agencies having "significant weaknesses" in these areas, he said. "When people move from one area to another, they get new access rights but dont lose their old ones; their rights accumulate," he said, in describing a common pattern leading to serious vulnerabilities.

In general, according to Dacey, too many users have too many privileges. "Once were in, its easy to get around," he said, describing the results of his own agencys "white hat" attacks on other federal systems. "Once we have a user ID, were usually able to get administrator privileges."

Dacey also cited the increasing sophistication of formerly "dumb" peripherals. "We find printers that have IP addresses," he said. These devices can turn out to be points of network entry. But no amount of technical scrutiny can protect systems that are badly configured or incompetently managed, he said. "On one system, virtually every user had access to an unencrypted file of passwords—including the administrator password," he said.

Its up to departmental managers, as well as IT managers, to educate users so that such glaring oversights dont arise.

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at salesforce.com, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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