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3 Tales of Systems Architecture Dilemmas

By Joan Goodchild, CSO
May 13, 2009 04:10 PM ET

CSO - There is an old saying that "a problem shared is a problem halved." In security, shared information can be elusive as risk professionals keep their cards close to their chest. But today's challenging business environment puts a premium on finding practical solutions to the tasks every CSO faces.

Hence "Problem Solved," a CSOonline series of mini-case studies demonstrating how one company handled a particular problem. In this first installment, we hear from three IT professionals about three different challenges with systems architecture.

Web interfaces and default passwords: A bad combination

How many of your critical systems and applications have a web interface? According to Phil Dolbow, a principal with CyberDefenses Inc., almost everything has a web interface these days. But despite their prevalence and potential for damage in the event of a breach, many organizations fail to change the default login credential when the system is installed. Dolbow's Texas-based consultancy specializes in information assurance and other facets of IT security, and does the majority of its work with the federal government, primarily the military. Here he outlines a common scenario involving web interfaces that he sees in many client shops, and shares his suggestion for how to solve the problem.

I have seen it all. For the most part the problems I see are ones that you might guess, such as user training, or lack thereof, misconfigured systems, lack of funding for security. One of the biggies that I see often is easy to find, easy to fix, and potentially devastating: Web interfaces.

When performing assessments we always scan for open web interfaces. These days, almost everything has a web interface; Storage Area Networks, Uninterruptible Power Supply systems (UPS), printers, alarm systems, phones, backup systems, servers, the list goes on. Potentially severe issues arise when these web interfaces are enabled with the default credentials in place.

Here are a couple of examples of a problem that I have seen many times: Company X has no experience with storage area networks, but due to ever expanding need for disk space, they buy one. Since they have no one that understands the intricacies of SANs, and the vendor insists on performing the install anyway, the vendor installs the system. Typically, vendors leave it to the customer to set user IDs and passwords on the systems that the install. The customer rarely follows up with that, and the result is a mission critical device with default factory credentials. I have seen this exact scenario played out many times on very critical systems. A malicious person could destroy LUNs, erase data, and cause all kinds of problems.

The same scenario applies to uninterruptible power supply systems. Not long ago we were assessing a large government entity that has spared no expense on IT security they had one of the most secure systems I have ever seen. A few months prior to our assessment, they had a contractor replace all of their UPS systems, including the ones that ran all of their critical servers in their main computer facility. The contractor had connected these UPS systems to the network so that they could be remotely administered and monitored. I have a screenshot on the report to the customer showing us logged into the web interface (with admin rights using the out-of-the-box credentials) and the mouse cursor hovering over the SHUTDOWN button. That got their attention.

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