Best practices for stopping malware and other threats

Think malware is just targeted at consumers? Think again. According to RSA, cybercriminals are increasingly targeting corporate computers with in the hopes of profiting from sensitive information. Symantec provides a list of best practices for stopping malware and other threats on your network.

According to the RSA 2011 Cybercrime Trends Report, cybercriminals are shifting from using malware to target consumer desktops to targeting employees in the enterprise. Factors such as employee mobility, the use of social sites and user-driven IT are contributing to the increasing exposure of corporate networks to malware. RSA points out that Trojans, advanced persistent threats and other types of attacks have the potential to lead to a data breach and to compromise sensitive data.

Quiz: Do you know IT security?

I turned to our security friends at Symantec to get a checklist of best practices for stopping malware and other threats. Observation of these tips will go a long way toward keeping the malware out of your network.

* Keep browser plug-ins patched. Attacks have moved to the browser and the plug-in applications that make the browser so much more useful. It's critical that attackers not be able to use Microsoft Internet Explorer or Adobe Reader/Acrobat/Flash vulnerabilities to get onto a system. Use each vendor's auto update or software distribution tools to install patches as soon as they become available.

* Block P2P usage. The simplest method for distributing malware is hidden inside files to be shared on peer-to-peer (P2P) networks. Create and enforce a no-P2P policy, including home usage of a company machine. Enforce the policy at the gateway and/or desktop, for example, by blocking the main executable file of an unwanted application.

* Turn off Windows AutoRun (AutoPlay). Stop Conficker, Downadup and other network based worms from jumping from USB keys and network drives without changing company polices on Open Shares. Get specific details on this tip from Symantec and from Microsoft.

* Turn on enhanced security in Adobe Reader. Protect your machines from attacks hidden in PDF files by hardening Adobe Reader. Learn more about using the enhanced security settings available in Reader.

* Limit the use of network shares (mapped drives). Worms love to spread via networked drives. Unless there is a strong business requirement, close mapped drives. If possible limit permissions to read-only rather than read-write.

* Review mail security and gateway blocking effectiveness. Catching threats before they get to the desktop can be done with effective mail and Web security scanning. Check that you have a mail security solution which updates frequently to detect the latest bad sender IPs, spam and malware threats at the mail gateway. Consider implementing a Web security solution that will protect your organization against Web 2.0 threats, including malicious URLs and malware.

* Review your security content distribution schedule. Antivirus signatures are released multiple times a day and IPS content roughly on a weekly basis or as needed. If possible, take advantage of these updates or at least update machines that are frequently infected.

* Protect smartphones and other mobile devices. According to RSA, the top cybercrime trend for 2011 is mobile malware and the exploitation of mobile phones to commit fraud. It seems that every employee with a smartphone or tablet PC wants to access the network to get to company e-mail or other applications. Remember that these devices can introduce malware into your network just as easily as an unprotected PC can. For tips on safeguarding these types of mobile devices, see How to manage consumer devices on your network and Lock down your mobile handheld devices for ultimate security.

* Use tools that go beyond antivirus. While there's still a role for antivirus products, they aren't as effective as they used to be, largely because the threats have evolved to circumvent antivirus software. Many threats today are Web based. A tool like the Intrusion Prevention System (IPS) in Symantec Endpoint Protection stops threats before they can infiltrate a machine. For example, IPS stops vulnerability exploits, drive-by downloads and fake antivirus installation.

* Change your tool's default settings. Get the most out of your chosen tool by improving its default settings. Only a few setting changes can make a big improvement to your security. (Get tips on optimizing Symantec Endpoint Protection.)

* Implement application control rules to block specific threats. Tools such as Symantec Endpoint Protection's application and device control can be used to stop a specific file, block P2P network use or protect critical files and registry entries.

* Educate users. Most malware attacks use social engineering. Education can be highly effective in stopping them. Your users don't need to be security experts. Asking them to follow these four rules can help keep them protected:

• Only click through to trusted sources when conducting searches, especially on topics with high attention.

• Never update "media player," "codec," or "Flash" when promoted by a site hosting videos or not affiliated with that application.

• Do not use P2P applications on business machines and be cautious on home machines as well.

• Do not click on links or attachments in spam e-mail or in e-mail messages from sources you don't know or trust.

* Educate yourself. Here are some additional resources from Symantec to keep you up-to-date on the latest security threats: knowledge base articles, Security Response blogs, Symantec Connect, and the Internet Security Threat Report. Featured postings to these sources include

Overview of Misleading Applications 

P2P Blocking 

SEO Poisoning 

Essential Solutions researches the practical value of information technology, and how it can make individual workers and entire organizations more productive. Essential Solutions offers consulting services to computer industry and corporate clients to help define and fulfill the potential of IT.

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