Protecting the end-user

Sometimes security means protecting end-users from themselves

The recent OS X-specific Mac Trojan ignited many hot conversations on various security mailing lists last week. Supposedly, the excitement regarding the Trojan is that it is the first time profit-seeking criminals have paid attention to the OS X platform, versus script kiddies and the hobbyists. Personally, I don't know what the big deal is; Mac-based computers have been host to all the normal types of malware for more than two decades, albeit not as frequently as Microsoft Windows PCs.

Macs, PCs, and users

When I first started fighting malware writers more than 20 years ago, the only place you could find a PC virus was on a Mac. The first PC virus, Elk Cloner, was written for a Mac. Then DOS became more popular, so the virus writers started writing viruses for DOS. Next, Windows took over, and it's been the primary target of hackers ever since. Linux has its fair share of malware, and as OS X gains market share, malware writers are taking notice. I seriously doubt that the recent Trojan is the first malware attack against OS X by professional criminals.

The recent Mac Trojan waits for a user to visit a Web site promising, er, interesting video content. When the end-user visits the site, it prompts the user to download a needed QuickTime codec, which is really a Trojan program. If the user accepts the download and supplies their root password to install the bogus program, they get owned. The mail list conversations are all over the place, including the normal Mac-is-better-than-Windows-no-it's-not flame wars. How boring.

The one thread I found most interesting was whether or not malware that required end-user interaction and the root password could be counted as an exploit. Several very bright minds said something along the lines of, "If the computer is completely secure, but the end-user stupidly installs this obvious, malicious, crap piece of software, then it's the user's fault, not mine. It's not a security problem!"

Since I've documented that 86 percent of all (Windows) malware requires client-side interaction today, I'm not in that camp. Are we supposed to ignore the largest threat to our computer systems simply because our end-users disregard everything we tell them? Can I let my company get exploited over and over again, but tell my boss my hands are clean and I'm a success because I "secured" their computer systems?

The IM invasion

Most computer environments have an obligation to respond to threats that are caused by end-users unknowingly installing insecure software or using it in an insecure way. An example of this was when instant messaging began to take over the world. I personally didn't see the need or value of IM in my environment. "Heck, e-mail does everything IM can do, and with an audit trail," I said. But my opinion didn't matter.

One by one, end-users began to install instant messaging. I'd uninstall it on one user's workstation only to find it installed on the two PCs beside them. I was fighting a losing battle. I decided to block the IM network port to prevent the clients from connecting to the outside hosting channel servers, and the IM clients morphed to bypass the firewall settings. I went to complain to the company CEO, only to have him request that I install it on his computer. I didn't want to support IM, but eventually I learned that my job is not to decide what end-users or management should be running, but to secure as best as I can what they want to run.

The IM invasion (as I called it) was replaced with a p-to-p push, then music downloads (full of malware), and unauthorized USB keys ("Hey, what are those things?"). Then a major vendor, spending tens of millions of dollars on radio and magazine ads, convinced my end-users that they could not live without GoToMyPC. No need to get the IT staff involved. Firewalls are no problem. Right.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Roger A. Grimes

InfoWorld
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?