CASE STUDY 4

NETWORK SECURITY

NETWORK SECURITY

This case study should provide the specific actions you can take to improve the security of your network. Before going into specifics, however, you should understand the following basic concepts that are essential to any security system:

Know your enemy

This case study refers to attackers or intruders. Consider who might want to circumvent your security measures and identify their motivations. Determine what they might want to do and the damage that they could cause to your network. Security measures can never make it impossible for a user to perform unauthorized tasks with a computer system. They can only make it harder. The goal is to make sure the network security controls are beyond the attacker’s ability or motivation.

Count the cost

Security measures almost always reduce convenience, especially for sophisticated users. Security can delay work and create expensive administrative and educational overhead. It can use significant computing resources and require dedicated hardware. When you design your security measures, understand their costs and weigh those costs against the potential benefits. To do that, you must understand the costs of the measures themselves and the costs and likelihoods of security breaches. If you incur security costs out of proportion to the actual dangers, you have done yourself a disservice.

Identify your assumptions

Every security system has underlying assumptions. For example, you might assume that your network is not tapped, or that attackers know less than you do, that they are using standard software, or that a locked room is safe. Be sure to examine and justify your assumptions. Any hidden assumption is a potential security hole.

Control your secrets

Most security is based on secrets. Passwords and encryption keys, for example, are secrets. Too often, though, the secrets are not really all that secret. The most important part of keeping secrets is knowing the areas you need to protect. What knowledge would enable someone to circumvent your system? You should jealously guard that knowledge and assume that everything else is known to your adversaries. The more secrets you have, the harder it will be to keep all of them. Security systems should be designed so that only a limited number of secrets need to be kept.

Know your weaknesses

Every security system has vulnerabilities. You should understand your system’s weak points and know how they could be exploited. You should also know the areas that present the largest danger and prevent access to them immediately. Understanding the weak points is the first step toward turning them into secure areas.

Limit the scope of access

You should create appropriate barriers inside your system so that if intruders access one part of the system, they do not automatically have access to the rest of the system. The security of a system is only as good as the weakest security level of any single host in the system.

Remember physical security

Physical access to a computer (or a router) usually gives a sufficiently sophisticated user total control over that computer. Physical access to a network link usually allows a person to tap that link, jam it, or inject traffic into it. It makes no sense to install complicated software security measures when access to the hardware is not controlled.

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