Cybersecurity risks seen in taking work home

Oct. 19, 2009 at 7:15 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 19 (UPI) -- Government officials who mix business and pleasure at home risk compromising cybersecurity as viruses picked up on entertainment sites can easily infiltrate secure workplace environments, a Pentagon official warned.

The warning comes amid nationwide observance of National Cybersecurity Awareness month proclaimed by President Barack Obama.

Obama's proclamation has triggered copycat measures by governments abroad that are alarmed by the rise in cybercrime aimed at government and financial computer systems worldwide.

Pentagon officials stress that no matter what computer is being used, those using it need to take cybersecurity into account. The Defense Department is one of the largest computer users in the world.

Navy Capt. Sandra Jamshidi, director of the department's Information Assurance Program, said that if everyone did their part for cybersecurity, it would "filter out the low-level hacker type of attacks" and enable security experts to concentrate on professional hackers who pose a greater threat and "do the most harm to us."

She specifically referred to people who use gambling, music-sharing or adult sites at home to beware of risks from malicious code infiltrating their computers and then ending up in workplaces.

Everyone needs to take precautions, but computer users often inadvertently carry viruses back and forth between home and work computers, the captain said.

Users of home systems need to have firewalls, anti-spyware and anti-virus programs up and running, and they need to constantly update the defenses, Jamshidi said.

She said users have a better chance of detecting something unusual on their computers and understanding what is normal for the computer and the software they use. "If we raise awareness of what could happen, then maybe we're raising the awareness of detection," she said.

Computer users need to understand that nothing remains static in cyberspace. "The threats change, the software changes, the sophistication of the threat changes," she said. "We also change the way we defend. It's a persistent threat, and (hackers) will look for other ways to attack. If you had computer defenses that worked two years ago, they won't work today."

She likened the Internet to a large city, overall a safe area but safest on the main street. "But any city has dark streets and back alleys," she said. "If you are going to be out in the riskier parts of the Internet, then you have to have better defenses on your computer," she said. Better yet, she added, stay out of those parts of town.

Obama in his proclamation called the digital infrastructure a strategic national asset. "Protecting this infrastructure is a national security priority, and in the process, we will ensure that these networks are comprehensive, trustworthy and resilient," he said.

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