Loose lips and other risks

Although the fundamentals of using good passwords and the latest anti-virussoftware remain critical to good security, new risks involving rank-and-fileemployees have emerged. To be most effective, a security-awareness programshould address the following risk areas:

* Social engineering. This new buzzword refers to nontechnical effortsto obtain passwords, computer setups and any other information that canclear the way for a hacker to tap into a system. Among the possibilities:a caller posing as a member of the security team calling an employee, feigninga security problem and directly asking for that user's log-in information.

* Passwords. Although they're part of the fundamentals, passwords areunder siege by hackers, thanks to the proliferation of software programsthat can easily break poorly constructed passwords. The most dangerous isthe dictionary attack, which can crack passwords built on words and names(both native and foreign). A hacker can easily break a password using theword "apple," for example, even if numbers and characters are incorporated,such as apple1 or apple$.

* Insider threats. The Computer Security Institute, an association ofinformation security professionals based in San Francisco, estimates thatup to 80 percent of computer attacks come from insiders. Employees mustnot only learn to recognize potential threats from outsiders, but they alsomust be trained not to automatically answer probing questions from fellowworkers.

* Ethical computing. Employees often get into trouble by performinginappropriate computer tasks and accessing inappropriate Web sites. Trainingprograms need to address issues such as when and under what circumstancesan employee can use a government computer for personal use, what types ofshareware and other programs are permissible, and which Web sites are off-limits.

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