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Security vs. Usability
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If you really wanted to secure your server, you d probably bury it in six feet of concrete and make sure that a network cable gets nowhere near it. Then, even the best hackers won t be able to get to it (unless, perhaps, they do part-time masonry work). However, this causes another problem: No one who should be able to get information from the machine can do so. On the other end of the spectrum, you could forget security entirely. The most usable system design is probably one where all data resides in an organized collection that is accessible to all users. Preventing unauthorized access to data will always include a tradeoff between security and convenience. If policies are too strict, legitimate users (the vast majority of people in your company) will find it difficult to get their jobs done. With this in mind, the main goal of security should be to give users only the appropriate permissions for performing business-related tasks. So, what is the problem with having a very secure system Well, if policies are considered too restrictive, users will find a way to circumvent them. For example, an administrative assistant may choose never to log out of his machine at night so that all of the login information is stored. This causes other security problems, however, since any user could simply walk up to the machine and gain the same access. In some cases, technology might be the cure. Several products are available for synchronizing passwords between disparate systems. A major design goal for the Windows NT and Windows 2000 operating systems was to support the use of a single sign-on. However, in working with other systems, it s not quite that easy. Decreasing productivity and encouraging users to find security holes are real problems that must be faced. Keep in mind that these are authorized users who are trying to do their jobs. I once did some consulting work for an organization whose IT support was almost nonexistent. In talking with users, however, I found that their systems were configured quite well for what they were doing and I asked who was responsible for managing the systems. When they responded that they all took care of their own machines, I checked the security permissions and found that all of their users were members of the Administrators group and that any user (including the Guest account) had permissions on all files. Certainly, this is a very usable system, but that is also its problem. Unauthorized users will also find this type of setup quite usable, only for their own purposes.
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Developing the Data Protection Plan
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Make Rules and Enforce Them
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IT professionals often view security as a technical problem that has a technical solution. We provide firewalls, implement complex authentication mechanisms, and keep security databases updated. The best of these practices, however, will not protect your network from someone who finds a password taped to the side of a monitor or under a keyboard. Many security analysts agree that managing security is at least as dependent on policy as it is on technology. Let s look at some general policies: w Educate users. The importance of securing network resources can hardly be overstated. Make sure your users realize that a password can give any network user access to their e-mail, applications, and locally stored data. The best data protection plans are useless if people aren t aware of them. Make users understand why they need to protect information. Just as Human Resources departments in larger organizations go to great lengths to teach employees about the importance of cultural diversity and intellectual property, IT departments need to teach employees that protecting the company s most valuable asset information should be placed high on the priority list. Hold end users responsible. The ultimate responsibility for protecting passwords and other company resources lies in the hands of the users themselves. Be sure that employees are aware of this and know that it is up to them to protect company data. Give users only necessary permissions. Just as you wouldn t grant Administrator access to a novice user, be sure that all personnel have permissions to view and modify only the information they require. Review security permissions. It s easy for systems administrators to make slight mistakes that may give users inappropriate permissions. Be sure to frequently review access to particularly sensitive information and make changes as necessary. Assign only one user per account. Often, network environments use one Administrator account, and several people know the password. Even as a consultant, I am often greeted at the door with the Administrator password for a server. Perform external security audits. External consultants can be called on to perform a security evaluation. This can help ensure that security settings are appropriate and that no single user has too much control over the system. Enable auditing. Modern network operating systems allow you to make a note of every time specific resources are accessed. You can extend this to physical resources: Take note of when servers and other computers are physically accessed and what changes are made. As important as recording the information is reviewing the data collected.
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