Exposing the Future of Internet Security

Guest Commentary: Worried about the Internet? You ain't seen nothing yet, says Symantec CTO Robert Clyde. Flash Worms, polymorphism and other threats will make even strong servers crumble. Be prepared or be gone!

There is an old adage that implies that one can look to the future by examining the past. While I dont have a crystal ball for peering into the future of Internet security, I do have a rich history of data today that may hold some of the answers as to what well see tomorrow.

When I think about the future of Internet security, I cant help but be influenced and have my opinions shaped by the Internet Security Threat Report released last month by Symantec. The report - an analysis of more than 30 terabytes of attack data gathered in real-time from the worlds most extensive network of intrusion detections systems (IDSs) and firewalls - provides the Internet community with a deeper understanding of how Internet threats are evolving over time.

Two themes discussed throughout the report speak volumes about the current Internet security landscape and may provide a glimpse of what will emerge on the horizon.

  • First of all, the discovery rate for new IT product vulnerabilities accelerated substantially over the past year. In fact, the total number of new, documented vulnerabilities in 2002 was 81.5% higher than in 2001.
  • Second, blended threats have intensified and continue to evolve in many ways, posing the greatest risk to the Internet community. Three blended threats (namely Klez, Bugbear, and Opaserv) were the source of 80 percent of malicious code submissions to Symantec Security Response over the previous six months.

These blended threats are a problem now, and will certainly become a bigger problem in the future. Blended threats utilize multiple methods and techniques to spread rapidly across the Internet and cause widespread damage (denial-of-service attacks, hacking attacks, etc.)

A review of the major blended threats from the past several years reveals an interesting trend: all of them targeted known vulnerabilities. And some of these had been well documented for six months or more before the threat was created. Today numerous known vulnerabilities present targets for the next generation of major blended threat attacks.

Evidence suggests that the future of Internet security will present itself on four fronts:

  1. attackers
  2. threats
  3. platforms
  4. solutions

Turn the page, and well look at each of these in turn.