Security industry fails to protect business customers

Hackers and viruses are still a threat to companies online


At the RSA Conference, security vendors pitched their next generation of security products, promising to protect customers from security threats in the cloud and on mobile devices. But what went largely unsaid was that the industry has failed to protect paying customers from some of today's most pernicious threats.

The big news at the show had to do with the takedown of the Mariposa botnet, a massive network of hacked computers that has infected half of the Fortune 100 companies. So-called advanced persistent threat (APT) attacks, such as the one that compromised Google systems in early December, were another hot topic.

Both Mariposa and the Google attacks illustrate the same thing, however. Despite billions of dollars in security spending, it's still surprisingly hard to keep corporate networks safe.

That's because for these advanced attacks to work, the bad guys need to find only one vulnerability in order to sneak their malicious software onto the target network. Once they get a foothold, they can break into other computers, steal data, and then move it offshore. The good guys have to be perfect, or at least very quick about spotting intrusions, to keep APT threats at bay.

Traditional security products are simply not much help against APT attacks, said Alex Stamos, a partner with Isec Partners, one of the companies investigating the APT attacks. "All of the victims we've worked with had perfectly installed antivirus," he said. "They all had intrusion detection systems and several had web proxies scan content."

The problem is that the bad guys can buy this technology too, and test and re-test their attacks until they slip through. "Anybody can download and try every single antivirus engine against their malware before they ship it," Stamos said.

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