Net Vigilance

Security sentinels help you outflank the bad guys

Like any megalopolis, the internet hosts a diverse crime world — every day, there are countless acts of thievery, fraud, breaking and entering, and plain old juvenile mischief.

The small-town days of the Net, when you might have left your virtual front door unlocked, are long since gone. Today, "hactivism," the sport of vandalizing Web sites to promote a political cause, has become a catchphrase among security experts. Denial-of-service attacks are a daily occurrence, and e-mail-borne virus epidemics make the evening news.

But the most publicized incidents are only the tip of the iceberg: In the last 12 months, 64 percent of organizations have experienced unauthorized use of computer systems, according to the spring 2001 survey by the Computer Security Institute and the FBI. Most security experts think attacks and intrusions are going to get worse. "A year ago, we were living in fear of devastating attacks that could bring us down," said Phil London, president and CEO of Mazu Networks, which sells a networking device to mitigate attacks. "Now were saying, This is happening right now. "

To counter the growing threats, corporations are bulking up their data security war chests. A recent Gartner report said businesses today dedicate an average 0.4 percent of their annual revenue to security initiatives — a figure expected to increase tenfold by 2011, when security expenditures will account for 4 percent of annual revenue.

E-businesses understand they must dedicate significant resources to securing their networks, or face the unfortunate consequences. And its no longer enough to just seal up the holes; you need someone standing watch 24/7 just in case they begin to leak — or in case someone tries to punch a hole through the wall. Vigilant I-managers cannot afford to do less.

Now, a new breed of security intelligence professionals is helping businesses cope in an era of chronic threats. Security intelligence firms such as AtomicTangerine, iDefense and Vigilinx work with customers to identify not only the internal vulnerabilities of their networks, but also the external risks they wouldnt have known they were running until it was too late. These companies have security pros working around the clock, combing chat boards, message groups, hacker Web sites, political Web pages and a host of other places, looking for evidence that an attack is being prepared against a certain company.

"When you think about it like medieval times, inside the castle you had protection around the crown jewels, and then you had a layer of security around the drawbridge and in the moat," said Karen Worstell, president and CEO of AtomicTangerine. "Theres now a service thats out there scanning the woods for infidels, finding out, Who are the Huns coming your way? "

Security intelligence services are different from managed security services, which take operational responsibility for securing a customers Web site or a network — and not every corporation is comfortable with that. Rather, security intelligence services feed information to a companys in-house security personnel, who take action when necessary.

Such services are already popular among political targets, such as government-affiliated banks or public cause organizations. And intelligence is expected to be one of the fastest-growing sectors of the security industry: A new report from The Yankee Group projects the market for security intelligence services to explode from $3 million in 2000 to $300 million by 2005.