March Madness Expected to Threaten Network Security

Security analysts say hackers might target sports sites.

March Madness may be a great time for college basketball fans, but it can be a nightmare for enterprises when it comes to network security.

Earlier in 2007, Super Bowl fans logging on to the Dolphins Stadium site faced an unwelcome surprise—malicious code embedded in the header on the front page that when downloaded initiated a keylogging program.

Researchers at Websense are warning enterprises to expect more of the same, while other security specialists urged companies to be mindful of the Web surfing habits of their employees.

"Using current events as a means of deception in order to get people to visit a Web site, in itself, is not anything new," said Dan Hubbard, vice president of security research at San Diego-based Websense.

"What is compelling here is the potential for another Super Bowl incident, where attackers combine a special event with a compromise. In that case there is no need for the deception lure."

In July 2006, hackers setup a fictitious Web site with a Trojan horse that resembled an official FIFA World Cup site. Using fans interest in soccer player Zinedine Zidanes infamous head butt of an opponent, the site installed malicious code without user intervention.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more about companies struggle to preserve employee productivity during March Madness.

The two incidents highlight a growing and potentially dangerous trend for sports fans and their employers alike—an estimate by the research firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas found the average time spent by the American worker on college hoops sites during the workday is 13.5 minutes.

"In general, the increased use of the Web as an infection vector is leading attackers to use a multitude of tactics to attack," Hubbard said. "Unlike previously they are increasingly compromising known sites, using Web 2.0 user control content flaws, and search engines to get their code distributed in conjunction to e-mail or IM with a lure."

Other security specialists werent quite ready to label attacks on sporting sites during major sporting events a trend, but they said many hackers will target whatever opportunities they feel exist.

"I havent heard of this trend specifically, but I can say this: Attackers will go after the money," said Forrester Research analyst Natalie Lambert. "It is the same reason we see lots of spam over the holidays—users are more susceptible to click on links during the holiday; hence, there is more money to be made my spammers and phishers. So, it would not surprise me that attackers will go after sport sites during major sporting events. If more people will be visiting the site that normally, attackers will have seen more juice from their labor."

She said companies should have anti-malware protection, a personal firewall and host IPS from security vendors such as McAfee, Symantec or Sophos. Also, businesses should deploy Web content filtering either on the client or in the network to prevent employees from gaining access to these sites during business hours, she added.

However, Web content filtering may not be a popular move among employees. In fact, even businesses with Web surfing policies often dont crack down on extracurricular Internet activity by employees for the sake of workplace morale, said Andrew Storms, director of information technology at San Francisco-based nCircle Network Security.

"The bigger issue of course is what to do with the larger scope of Web site hosted attack vectors," he said. "Weve seen a multitude of these kinds of vulnerabilities in both Internet Explorer and Firefox. Bottom line here, policies are great but lack in action. They are required and are an important part of a companys overall security plan, but when it comes down to fighting off the bad guys, a policy in this case is the least reliable defense mechanism."

Businesses need to keep their security defenses up-to-date, he said.

"Most of these kinds of attacks typically take advantage of well-known vulnerabilities," Storms said. "Its not very often we see a zero day exploit implemented into an attack vector like that of the Dolphin Stadium Web site hack. To that point, patching is key."

Check out eWEEK.coms Security Center for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at eWEEKs Security Watch blog.