Industrial sabotage - new technology makes it easier?

Most network managers believe they run a greater risk of internal sabotage than from external attacks and agree blind trust of network administrators elevates that risk.

This follows the guilty verdict of a network manager in the US accused of setting a software time bomb which cost his former employer - Omega Engineering - $US12 million in damages and caused 80 workers to be laid off. Network managers who spoke to Computerworld said it could easily happen in Australia.

But while the trend towards hiring more contract employees heightens the need to keep a closer eye on staff, IT professionals believe the effort of monitoring and preventing insider attacks on company networks is too time consuming.

A network manager from a state government department told Computerworld it was becoming easier to damage the network from within, saying "I could do it, and depending what network you were on, it couldn't be traced back."

"If I set a [software] time bomb, it would be hard to chase up. If someone stumbled on it, they would know.

But if I named it an operating systems file, it would make it more difficult," he added.

Proof of the identity of would-be saboteurs would also be hard to confirm, he added, saying any saboteur "would set [the time bomb] on someone else's computer".

The key issue in preventing network sabotage according to network managers is time - a disappearing commodity.

"You would have to check logs and keystrokes, which would take too long," the network manager said.

Other network managers believe security measures in place are insufficient to protect systems and data from ‘insider' attacks. A systems administrator from Email Cooking Products told Computerworld "it wouldn't matter how security concious you are, a disgruntled employee can create a fuss".

Most users interviewed also believe complexity of software allows activities to go undetected.

"We are getting to the point where you can't cover or check everything," the Email systems administrator said.

"If someone wanted to do something, it would be easy for them to hide in the systems and, because of system complexity, it is highly unlikely that someone is going to check in depth."

Jason Wu, network and office systems team leader at UUNet, echoed this sentiment by adding "because technology is more complex, if a hacker sets a [software] time bomb, it is harder to detect now".

However, a network manager from a manufacturing company argued that better security and backup systems make it harder now for attacks to have a serious impact.

"Even if someone did something like that these days, it is easier to bring the system back up," he said. The network manager added an ‘insider' could do anything given time, saying "if someone is disgruntled and wants to cause harm, there is nothing that can stop them".

While network managers interviewed by Computerworld said a close watch should be kept on contractors and ‘lower level' network administrators, they agreed this level of monitoring did not extend up the food chain.

A systems administrator for Email Cooking Products said trust in their top-ranking employees is an issue companies have to deal with. "There is no way round it - you have to trust people in these positions."

Insurance also plays a big part in minimising risk in trusting employees, said the government department network manager: "Contractors are a worry. I took out a $5 million insurance policy when I started here - it's a prerequisite to cover yourself."

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