Opinion: Beware of company insiders

They could be your biggest security risk...
Written by Simon Moores, Contributor

They could be your biggest security risk...

These days most businesses know they need to protect their networks from outside attacks. But, says Simon Moores, few are paying attention to a threat a bit closer to home.

When the news of last week's £220 million attempted robbery of Sumitomo Mitsui bank first broke, I was by coincidence on my way to the office of our National Hi-tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) at a secret address, behind a Chinese laundry in London's Docklands.

I was there to discuss the programme for next month's eCrime Congress but it wasn't long before those of us around the table started commenting on the remarkable similarity between the Sumitomo attempt and the first workshop scenario for the congress.

Meanwhile in the world of television, news speculation was rife as journalists attempted to tease out the true details of the case, which haven't been released for operational reasons, with a firm 'No comment' from the NHTCU.

Elsewhere security companies were busy leaping on the bandwagon, offering TV interviews and alarmist ammunition to the press. My favourite was from Mi2G, which swiftly reported: "The global economic damage from all types of digital risk including overt and covert digital attacks, malware incidence, phishing scams, DDoS and spam is estimated to lie between $470bn and $578bn for 2004, more than double the damage calculated for 2003."

The Sumitomo example serves as a salutary lesson to any organisation and not just banks, that investing in perimeter defence against internet threats while necessary and sensible does little or nothing to mitigate the equal risk presented by an informed and technically capable insider.

Contrary to what the internet security industry, now worth over $20bn a year, might argue, Sumitomo looks very much like an old crime - raiding the company cashbox - significantly enhanced and assisted by new technology, in this case a keylogger.

A company may attempt to protect itself by taking careful references and have processes that minimise the risk of fraud but it happens all the time. In my local paper, a woman has just been convicted of stealing £10,000 from her employer. She had opportunity and ability because she worked in the accounts department and wrote out the cheques. As she stole £10,000, she escaped jail but six-figure embezzlement cases in the City happen regularly and one wonders if the Sumitomo fraudster would have been caught if he or she had simply attempted to steal £1m and not £240m.

In the eCrime Congress scenario, a criminal gang infiltrates a legitimate IT contractor tasked with upgrading the company's systems from Windows NT to Windows 2000. They install keylogging software on ostensibly secure systems and then wait for an opportunity to transfer large sums of money to a series of waiting accounts in countries where fraud and online criminal legislation is at its weakest.

In fundamental terms, the company in the example has outsourced both its migration and its risk to a third party, which doesn't need to hack through the perimeter firewall because it is already inside and carrying all the necessary credentials to 'own' the organisation.

While it is topical to go a little overboard when discussing the corporate risk presented by hackers and identity theft, organisations of every size need to grasp the message that while technology acts as a business enabler, it also enables crooked employees to rob a company blind more easily than at any time in human history.

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