If you want to use digital technology safely and fearlessly you need some serious security. This is true whether you are protecting your home network or that of a major corporation. Layer upon layer of security is being be combined to build the strongest defense possible. Firewalls, anti-virus software, sandboxed operations, multi-factor user identification, and more are being used. But, like the castles of old, there is always a weak point that the barbarians can exploit to breach the defenses.
Today, the barbarians are the hackers. They work tirelessly to find the weakness in defenses. Television shows and movies show the hackers, good and bad, whipping through code and effortlessly breaking through electronic defenses to get the information or access they need. And it can happen that way.
However, the sophisticated attacks of stage and screen take lots of money and resources. So the digital barbarians often target the weakest link of all, us! Social engineering is what this method is called and it gets users to make a mistake that gives away information or allows malicious code to be installed. We’ve all been recipients of such attacks whether we know it or not.
Examples of these are the bogus emails that look like they came from your bank. Click the link and there goes your security. Or the now famous letters where millions of dollars or Euros have been acquired and all you need to do to share in the bounty is give up personal information. The end result is often financial loss but it can also be an infected computer.
IBM just banned the use of USB sticks on their networks. Why? Because those tiny pieces of solid-state wizardry are hazardous to IBM system security. Let’s look at how this innocent device could topple the strongest of digital defenses. It all goes back to social engineering. You want to bring in your latest baby or pet photos to share with colleagues at work. Pop your USB stick into your home PC, load them on, and carry it to your work PC. What you don’t realize is your personal PC is infected and you have downloaded the “disease” onto the USB stick.
When you plug in your infected USB stick, your work device becomes infected. You have brought the enemy past all the defenses to the heart of the fortress. Trojan Horse anyone? That lesson from history is why some classes of virus and malware are called Trojans. Share those pictures and the virus spreads. IBM recognized the weakness and is banning all personal USB stick use on IBM networks.
The Hacker News article cites a variety of issues that IBM may face in response. Commenters opine that it is an uneducated reaction to a problem but it strikes me as a good move on IBM’s part, especially with the impending implementation of stricter EU penalties for data breaches. And the lesson is clear for all of us as well, we need to routinely scan our devices for viruses and other “goodies” that may have been contracted online. This includes USB sticks.
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