Seybold's Take: Protect yourself from cyber attacks

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Andrew Seybold

How fast can you disconnect your network from the Internet? How many touch points are there between your network and the Internet? In light of all of the new cyber attacks, you might want to consider reviewing how your network is connected to the Internet and in how many places. Firewalls, diligence of your IT staff, and other security measures are helpful in fighting off attacks on your own network but this is a serious "game" with hackers trying to outsmart every new level of protection thrown up against them.

There is not much you can do to protect against your website being hacked, just ask PBS and CBS, but there are many things you can do to protect your business network. However, nothing is foolproof, as can be seen by recent attacks on some defense contractors, the federal government, and other successful hacks recently reported. No matter how good you think your defenses are, there are hackers out there that eventually will find a way into your network if they think you have information of value to them, that can be sold to others, or simply to prove they can get past your best defenses.

This is a daily cat and mouse game. Sometimes you are the cat and at other times you are the mouse. At some point you may have to ward off a denial of service attack, the Internet itself might be attacked, or hackers might come after you and your company's data. In extreme cases it would be prudent to be able to isolate your network from the public Internet so that at least your internal network is secure with no outside connections. Unfortunately, my experience has shown that many companies as well as government agencies, utilities, and others have added multiple Internet connections to their systems. Many of these have been set up because they have offices around the United States and/or around the world and need multiple points of access, but their internal networks are tied together, or worse, they are tied together using the Internet.

We all should learn from the wireless network providers. They have connections to the Internet so their customers can traverse the wireless network, wired back-end, and connect; they also have the ability to quickly disconnect their own network from the Internet in times of extreme emergency. I liken this to a big knife switch mounted on the wall of the Network Operations Center (NOC). When the switch is closed there is access between the internal network and the Internet, but when it is open, the internal network will be totally disconnected from the Internet and will continue to function. For a commercial wireless operator, this type of disconnect would prevent any access to or from the Internet and it would also prevent text messages, email, and other communications from being delivered to and from the network from outside. HOWEVER, their own voice, text, and communications would stay up and running and their customers would at least be able to communicate with others by voice.

If you use the public Internet for transport and/or if you have multiple connections to and from your network to the Internet, you are at risk. Perhaps it is time to review your use of the Internet and find out how quickly you can disconnect your company network from the Internet to ensure that your internal network will continue to work and that during an attack your data will remain safe. Keeping a single, standalone PC connected to the Internet to monitor activity would provide the ability to determine what is going on without risking intrusion into your own network.

I have become acutely aware of the problems of trusting the Internet in my work with the public safety community. However, in many cases, they too are vulnerable and they too rely on the Internet for cross communications between agencies. The Internet is an unmanaged network of networks, available to all around the world. It is not a mission-critical grade network and frankly I don't see any way it can ever become what many people believe it is a communications pipe that will always be there, will always be functional, and will never let us down. Our old friend Murphy lives on the Internet and at some point will make his presence known when we least expect it and when it will do the most damage to our company.

The Internet is a wonderful, self-healing, self-directing network. It has changed the way we do business and has brought opportunity to those who never had it before. In recent times, the social network sites that reside on the Internet have been partially responsible for changing the world for the better. It is a tool we all use daily. We count on it and we trust it. But there are people somewhere in the world who are either hired by governments trolling for information, who are looking for ways to make lots of money by stealing and reselling data, or who are merely trying to prove they are smarter than those who build devices and software to protect our systems.

The Internet is a wonderful invention but we all need to understand the risks associated with its use and of counting on it being there for us all of the time. We need contingency plans; plans that hopefully we will never have to implement but that should be in place just as we have plans to evacuate our building in the case of a fire or other disaster. Just as we keep water and non-perishable food at the ready in case of severe weather or other disasters, we need to have plans to instantly and completely cut the Internet out of our lives and be able to sustain our own operations until it is, once again, safe to reconnect and get our lives back to normal.

Andrew M. Seybold is an authority on technology and trends shaping the world of wireless mobility. A respected analyst, consultant, commentator, author and active participant in industry trade organizations, his views have influenced strategies and shaped initiatives for telecom, mobile computing and wireless industry leaders worldwide. www.andrewseybold.com.