It's not surprising to find unpatched systems being hacked, even if you don’t know how; there are numerous websites, wikis, and YouTube videos that show you step by step how to hack into systems, servers, clients, sites, applications and devices. Not to mention the number of attacks and successful ones we hear about; there are likely many, many more that occur in enterprises that are kept quiet for obvious reasons.
Some of the most recent ones which impact consumers and are generally the most publicized and get a lot of the attention; like Target, then Neiman-Marcus, followed by Michaels, and then the hotel company White Lodging, which manages hotel franchises for chains such as Marriott, Hilton and Starwood.
On the corporate side there are pages and pages of updates from Symantec and McAfee Labs on the most recent threats and vulnerabilities. The security industry has started to name these attacks and vulnerabilities (Heartbleed, Poodle, Shellshock) to raise awareness; similar to how meteorologists name natural disasters. The damage done by these attacks are starting to inch up to the damage done by natural disasters.
Why would someone want to hack your systems?
- Launch attacks against other servers. Thus, consuming your CPU, memory, bandwidth resources and masking their identity.
- Get access to sensitive data, identify theft, credit card
How can it happen?
- The hacker has guessed a password of a user on the server. This may be a email, ftp, or ssh user. In addition they compromise another site/machine and then use the same credentials.
- The hacker has gained access through a security hole in a web application (or its addons/plugins), or the web servers on which these applications run.
- The hacker has gained access to a server that is running an out of date OS or hasn’t been patched.
So where should we direct our energy to solution this problem? Let’s start to focus in on an area that I have a lot of passion around; patching. I recall reading a great write-up by Roger A. Grimes in InfoWorld back in 2013 that still applies today. His finding stated: “If you want to significantly reduce your computer security risk, become a better patcher. Patch all software with critical security patches within one week of the patch’s release — or quicker if there’s an active, wormable exploit in the wild or if you fear an adversary might use it sooner.”
Simple, right? Then why are we not able to keep up with patching our systems? Patches are essential as they typically address two critical problems; one is to fix security vulnerabilities and the other is to fix bugs. In fact, chances are that if a patch exists for an OS or applications its is likely because of an already discovered vulnerability that has been reported by some hacker. Don’t make it any easier than it already is to hack a system, take action and keep your systems patched especially with a publicly known security issue.
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