Magazine article Risk Management

Computers under the Hack Attack

Magazine article Risk Management

Computers under the Hack Attack

Article excerpt

Over the last few years, computer systems have become ubiquitous in corporate America. But in spite of their extraordinary information processing capabilities, today's sophisticated computer systems are increasingly vulnerable to a wide variety of security risks. This is particularly true now that networks have become commonplace, says John, D. R. Spain, manager of information and network security for BellSouth, Telecommunications in Atlanta. Speaking at "Winds of Change," the 12th Annual Atlanta RIMS Educational Conference held in Atlanta on January 25-27, Mr. Spain said that "corporate computers are a lot more vulnerable to would-be abusers today, particularly because there are now more remote users, more people telecommunicating from their homes and because companies have increased access to their computer systems. This situation is opening up a whole new set of security challenges."

One major threat to computer systems comes from "hackers," who are individuals who illegally gain access to a computer system. This threat has been around since the 1950s, when certain people became adept at gaining access to telecommunications networks. One noted hacker was named "Captain Crunch" after the whistle he obtained and used from the cereal of the same name. The whistle was tuned to 2,600 cycles which, when blown over a telephone receiver, created just the right pitch to illicitly access toll-free telephone lines.

Today's abusers of computer systems, however, are much more sophisticated. Besides developing methods to access data in networks, these individuals can also concoct computer codes that are capable of widespread destruction, noted Mr. Spain. The most common destructive code is the computer virus, which can be created and then spread into a network via another program ("engine") or medium that introduces the virus into the system. in and of itself, the virus cannot cause harm to a system; instead, the virus contains a code that causes the actual harm. Other destructive computer codes include the Trojan horse (which is a code that looks harmless but can cause problems once it gets into a system), logic bombs (which typically are the destructive codes embedded in vir-uses) and worms, which are much like viruses but have their own engines.

Although most computer systems install virus protection software, Mr. Spain noted that viruses are on the increase. "In 1986, depending on the source you read, there were only two or six known viruses in the world," he said. …

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