The IT worst case scenario survival guide
- 15 February, 2006 15:56
How do you keep a project from spiraling into unfathomable depths?
1. Be vendor agnostic. Hiring an integrator with a vested interest or one whose expertise is limited to a single vendor's products is a recipe for disaster, Kondrach says. Any proprietary solution can limit options later.
2. Know thy software. Understand the difference between a software feature and a new product category. Don't try to use one system to do the work of five different applications.
3. Don't bury your mistakes. Admitting failure early is one the best things you can do. "Don't euphemize a project that's failing as 'making progress' or 'iterative development'," says Kondrach. "It's better to acknowledge that your initial design decisions are not workable."
4. Know when to give up. "Don't throw good money after bad," says Patrick Gray, president of consulting firm Prevoyance Group. "It's painful, but it's still better to waste $100 million than $200 million."
Scenario 3: The hacker from hell
Last year, the Web site of a large financial services firm was hacked. Acting quickly, the company took down its primary site and brought a duplicate one online with virtually no service hiccups. But what the firm didn't know was that the attacker had planted malicious code on the site months earlier -- enough time for his backdoor to be propagated into all the site's backup sets. So when the second site came online, the hacker continued accessing user accounts. The firm had to go completely offline for several hours while it identified and fixed the problem.
By relying on a single application or platform for core business functions, you create a single point of failure, says John Pironti, principal security consultant for Unisys. In this case, the same flawed code was used in the firm's primary and backup Web sites -- which the hacker happily exploited.
How do you keep hackers from finding your Achilles' heel?
1. Diversify platforms. Enterprises need to put their core business functions on multiple platforms and keep data synchronized among them. So, for example, if the Windows platform is compromised, the organization can fire up the Linux implementation and operate with minimal interruption.
2. Check your backups. Organizations should verify their code before they back it up or restore it, says Pironti. The easiest way is to create a hash from compiled code before it's put into production, then do the same thing before each backup. If the hashes aren't identical, the code has been tampered with -- and the organization will discover it within hours, not months.
3. Audit processes. Most organizations need to do a better job of logging system activities and correlating them into events. By establishing a range of what "normal" transactions look like, organizations can more easily detect and respond to anomalous behaviour.
4. Plan for small disasters. Most enterprises have their own worst-case-scenario guidebook on how to handle huge disasters but don't have a clue what to do if just part of their system -- such as a Web site -- breaks down. They need a plan for every part of the puzzle, Pironti says.
5. Think business, not IT. Organizations should approach security and continuity with the idea of doing whatever it takes to keep the business going -- even if that means reverting to pen and paper, Pironti says. "If institutions looked at things from the perspective of business processes and not technology, they would develop much better vulnerability management plans," he says.
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