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Mistakes People Make that Lead to Security Breaches

Updated September 10, 2005

Technological holes account for a great number of the successful break-ins, but people do their share, as well. Here are the SANS Institute's lists of silly things people do that enable attackers to succeed.

The Five Worst Security Mistakes End Users Make
  1. Failing to install anti-virus, keep its signatures up to date, and apply it to all files.
  2. Opening unsolicited e-mail attachments without verifying their source and checking their content first, or executing games or screen savers or other programs from untrusted sources.
  3. Failing to install security patches-especially for Microsoft Office, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Netscape.
  4. Not making and testing backups.
  5. Being connected to more than one network such as wireless and a physical Ethernet or using a modem while connected through a local area network.
The Seven Worst Security Mistakes Senior Executives Make
  1. Assigning untrained people to maintain security and providing neither the training nor the time to make it possible to learn and do the job.
  2. Failing to understand the relationship of information security to the business problem-they understand physical security but do not see the consequences of poor information security.
  3. Failing to deal with the operational aspects of security: making a few fixes and then not allowing the follow through necessary to ensure the problems stay fixed
  4. Relying primarily on a firewall.
  5. Failing to realize how much money their information and organizational reputations are worth.
  6. Authorizing reactive, short-term fixes so problems re-emerge rapidly.
  7. Pretending the problem will go away if they ignore it.
The Ten Worst Security Mistakes Information Technology People Make
  1. Connecting systems to the Internet before hardening them.
  2. Connecting test systems to the Internet with default accounts/passwords
  3. Failing to update systems when security holes are found.
  4. Using telnet and other unencrypted protocols for managing systems, routers, firewalls, and PKI.
  5. Giving users passwords over the phone or changing user passwords in response to telephone or personal requests when the requester is not authenticated.
  6. Failing to maintain and test backups.
  7. Running unnecessary services, especially ftpd, telnetd, finger, rpc, mail, rservices
  8. Implementing firewalls with rules that don't stop malicious or dangerous traffic-incoming or outgoing.
  9. Failing to implement or update virus detection software
  10. Failing to educate users on what to look for and what to do when they see a potential security problem.
And a bonus, number 11: Allowing untrained, uncertified people to take responsibility for securing important systems.