3 Basic Steps to Avoid Joining a Botnet
It's getting more difficult to keep employees stay safe and free from malicious activity online. But Team Cymru's Steve Santorelli presents a combination of techniques that can make their chances of infection much lower.
By Joan Goodchild , Senior Editor
November 19, 2009 — CSO —
Banging the drum for security awareness never gets old. As much as CSOs try to get folks to bone up on safe practices (both online and in the office), there are always going to be some who need reminding.
Online, the biggest battle these days is against botnets: networks of infected computers which hackers can use -- unbeknownst to the machine's owner -- for online crimes including sending out spam or launching a denial of service attack.
Unfortunately, the black-hat techniques employed to snare users into a botnet web have evolved to a level that makes them often undetectable by even the most sophisticated security products. Combine that with a lack of user knowledge, and the threat of infection becomes very high. (See: Botnets: Why it's Getting Harder to Find and Fight Them).
"The frustrating thing is they can make their chances of getting infected much, much smaller," said Steve Santorelli, who sees how users fall prey to easily avoidable traps every day. Santorelli, director of global outreach with the non-profit security investigations firm Team Cymru, spends his days monitoring malicious online activity, particularly botnets.
Santorelli notes that while just one strategy probably won't cover you, with several tools in the tool box, the rate of infection within an organization significantly drops.
Tip 1: Have work AND home machines regularly updated with patches and antivirus software
The average user doesn't necessarily have a lot of technological knowledge, said Santorelli. They might not realize the importance of working with IT to ensure they are up to date with patching and software upgrades. This problem may be especially prevalent among workers who are exclusively remote.
In fact, a study conducted by security firm Sophos last year found most computer users ignore security updates and turn off their firewalls. Sophos scanned 583 computers for 40 days and found that 81 percent of the machines failed one or more basic security checks. Most machines, 63 percent, were lacking security patches for the operating system, office application and programs like Windows Media Player and Adobe Flash. More than half, 51 percent, had disabled their firewall and another 15 percent had outdated or disabled antivirus and anti-spam software.
Those are exactly the folks that criminals love.
"These people are going to go for the low-hanging fruit and unfortunately there is a lot of it out there," said Santorelli. "There are so many machines without updated AV on it."
If your patching system isn't automated, your users need to be made aware of the risks they are taking by working with unpatched and out-dated security technologies. And while security updates are not the cure-all for malware infection, Santorelli said they certainly serve as a strong deterrent.