Security Myths part 2

August 5, 2010

Security Myth #4: A hardware firewall will stop the evil hackers from the internet. They also stop viruses and spam emails.

The Facts: A hardware firewall will filter your traffic based on a set of rules. If properly configured, this will certainly harden your system from certain types of attacks. However, if you want to stop intrusion attempts on your server, you probably want to implement brute force protection or intrusion detection (IDS). Most operating systems nowadays include brute force protection in one form or another (although it may not be turned on by default). If you want an IDS, there are several options available. Here at SoftLayer, we offer McAfee Host Intrusion Protection System (or HIPS for short) for Windows systems. This will offer you some additional protection against intrusion attempts, but it is no substitute for a well patched system with strong passwords. This is especially important to know if you contract with an outside agency to configure your firewall for you. It’s easy to delude yourself into a “set it and forget it” attitude toward security. I can’t tell you how many administrators I’ve talked to that have asked “how did I get hacked? I had a firewall!”

The Side Effects:

  • Having a hardware firewall means an additional step to allow access to ports. Can be time consuming.
  • Having a hardware firewall can potentially mean an additional point of failure.
  • Too many rules can mean degraded performance.

Security Myth #5: I run a Unix/Linux based system, so I can’t get hacked.

The Facts: I have seen a fair share of Unix based systems get hacked, simply because the user is unfamiliar with the OS. Running everything from within a control panel is convenient, but make sure you or one of your administrators is familiar with command line access.

The Side Effects:

  • Running a control panel can cause more security holes

Security Myth #6: I have my Wordpress (or other web application) patched to the latest version, so I should be fine.

The Facts: WordPress is a piece of cake to install. You don’t even need to know how to code in HTML. This means you can install it and have it working properly, and still forget to correct your filesystem permissions. You need to make sure that you read the installation documentation and complete all steps. If you just stop reading once the application starts working, you could potentially forget to correct your permissions and someone could gain access as an administrative user. I ran into a situation one time where a user was utilizing a web interface to manage an online marketplace. I was shocked to find out that the link he sent me allowed me in without the use of a password! Make sure that your application doesn’t use the default password or a blank password.

The Side Effects:

  • Having the latest version is great, but make sure you take a 360 degree look around to make sure nothing is out of place

Security Myth #7: I am getting SPAM messages, but I have a firewall.

The Facts: A firewall does not filter SPAM messages. You might look into the free SpamAssassin software that will filter email for potential SPAM. http://spamassassin.apache.org/