Sunday, December 14, 2014

Security attacks and countermeasures

Cyber security is rapidly becoming a significant issue in the C-suite as well as the population at large. The results of Dell’s Global Technology Adoption Index(GTAI) [1] show that security is a top concern for most of the 2000 global small and medium businesses surveyed. The outcomes further noted that such concerns create barriers to the adoption of critical technologies that drive value and growth:  mobility, cloud and big data. In fact, many businesses are unprepared to address their potential security issues.

In addition, several large data breaches have raised the awareness of cyber security in the consciousness of the general population. For example, the Target security breach in December, 2013 resulted in hackers accessing 40 million credit card records of customers from every store [2]. The Open Security Foundation’s (OSF) data loss database [3] contains information on data security breaches, including recent and large incidents. For example, recent breaches include 3.65 million records stolen from the United States Postal Service on November 10th and 2.7 million stolen from HSBC Bank A.S. on November 12th, both of this year.

Cyber attacks are on the increase, with six of the top 10 largest incidents occurring in 2013 (402M) and 2014 (469M to date) [1]. A diverse set of industries is targeted. A mid-year breach report from Risk Based Security and the OSF [4] cited that 59% of reported attacks were in the business sector, followed by 16.1% from the government. Other reports show a data breach focus on the Finance & Insurance and Manufacturing industries (IBM [5]), and the Electronics Manufacturing and Agriculture and Mining industries (Cisco [6]).

The majority of these attacks are due to hacking, fraud and social engineering. For example, in the first half of 2014, 84.6% of cyber security incidents were due to external hacking, with an increased percentage of events exposing passwords, user names and email [4]. The resulting breaches occur primarily through malware, including Trojan horses, adware, worms, viruses and downloaders [6]. Moreover, the overwhelming majority (95%) of security events evaluated by IBM include human error as a contributing factor [5].


Let’s examine these primary sources of data breaches and high-level methodologies for minimizing such events. Malware is malicious software created for egregious objectives. It is designed to disrupt IT and other computer operational environments and to gain access to sensitive data, such as personal records. Access is precipitated through various communication methodologies, such as email and instant message (IM) attachments, endpoints in an IT environment, applications and other vulnerabilities within such infrastructures as discovered by the attacker. Malware is intended to be quiet and hidden as it enters environments and is executed. There is a plethora of various types of existing malware; however, Presented in Table 1 is a summary of the most active and effective malware [6] today.

Deceptive code hidden inside software that appears to be safe
Advertising-supported software that can collect user information when executed (also known as spyware)
Standalone software that replicates functional copies by exploiting vulnerabilities in targeted systems
Code that can corrupt or remove files, spread to other computers (e.g., via email) and attaches itself into files and other programs
Software that downloads executable malicious code without the users knowledge or consent

Figure 1. Most Active Malware Today.

Social engineering is a methodology that enables a perpetrator to persuade or induce an individual to provide sensitive information or access to the unauthorized perpetrator. The attacker is typically able to do this by exploiting the fact that most people want to be helpful and avoid confrontation. By leveraging social media, face-to-face contact, telecommunications and other communication mechanisms, attackers are able to obtain information and access, either piecemeal or holistically, that permits their access to data, networks and other infrastructure.


The best protection against malware includes anti-malware and Internet security software. Such software can find and remove the overwhelming majority of the known malware prevalent today. Lists of the best antivirus and Internet security software, according to [7][8], are included in Table1 and Table 2, respectively, below:

Webroot Secure Anywhere Antivirus (2015)
Norton AntiVirus (2014)
Kaspersky AntiVirus (2015)
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus (2015)
F-Secure Anti-Virus 2014

Table 2. Top Antivirus Software [7].

Bitdefender Total Security (2014)
Norton Internet Security (2014)
Webroot SecureAnywhere Internet Security (2014)
Kaspersky Internet Security (2014)
McAfee Internet Security (2014)

Table 2. Top Internet Security Software [8].

It is important that you keep your anti-malware and Internet security current, as new malware is introduced on a regular basis.

In addition, regular education is crucial for minimizing the impact of social engineering related attacks. The knowledge of how attackers can aggregate bits of information into a comprehensive collection of sensitive information is important in preventing individuals from sharing such information or providing access to friendly people.

Finally, it is paramount that users remain diligent regarding their passwords. The data shows that the majority of information obtained by attacks relates to sensitive personal information, including passwords. Also, programs that crack passwords or obtain them from other sources are readily available. Various lists of what to do, and not do, regarding passwords are readily available and is not included here. However, while it is difficult to remember all passwords for all of the authentication and access entry points used by an individual, one rule of thumb can be helpful. Make your passwords long, include digits and symbols, and use the first letter of a phrase you are most likely to remember. For example, from a line in the poem “Phenomenal Women” by Maya Angelou, who died this year, “I’m a woman Phenomenally, Phenomenal woman, That’s me”, one can create the password, “Iawp,pwtmMA14”. This includes the first letter of the words in this line, the poet’s initials and the year of death.

Moving forward, cyber attacks will be more prevalent, even as infrastructure growth, including network bandwidth, applications, mobile devices and other endpoints become more prolific. It is important to always be mindful of your activities, and know that education, due diligence and the relevant anti-malware and Internet security software can address the majority of security threats.

1.    Global Technology Adoption Index, Dell, November 4, 2014
2.    Riley, Michal,, “Missed Alarms and 40 Million Credit Card Numbers:  How Target Blew It”, Bloomberg Business Week,, March 13, 2014.
3.    Open Security Foundation, DataLossDB ,
4.    Risk Based Security, OSF, Data Breach QuickView:  Data Breach Trends during the First Half of 2014, July, 2014
5.    IBM Security Services 2014 Cyber Security Intelligence Index, June, 2014
6.    The Cisco 2014 Annual Security Report, Cisco, 2014
7.    Rubenking, Neil J., “The Best Antivirus for 2014”,, October 14, 2014
8.    Rubenking, Neil J., “Best Security Suites for 2014”,, April 23, 2014

(This post was written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. To learn more about tech news and analysis visit Tech Page One. Dell sponsored this article, but the opinions are our own and don’t necessarily represent Dell’s positions or strategies.)

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