November 28, 2006

When you review your IT security architecture, you probably don't consider your organization's physical security. But that can be a lethal oversight.

"In order to truly achieve 'defense in depth,' we have to think physical security as well as information security. The best [logical] security can't prohibit a physical theft of a server if the computer room is not adequately protected," says Steve Delahunty, senior associate with Booz Allen Hamilton.

More often than not, the people who do IT security and the people who do physical security in large organizations don't work with one another. Many small- to mid-sized enterprise IT security groups may overlook physical issues altogether. It's not until a building break-in occurs that the two may even meet at all.

"It's always somebody else's fault when there's a break-in in the building," says Steve Stasiukonis, vice president and founder of Secure Network Technologies, regarding IT security blaming facilities management and vice versa. But IT security should be on the same team as the facilities management group, he says.

In many organizations, physical security is often focused more on protecting copiers, printers, and fax machines from theft -- not servers or computer equipment, Stasiukonis says.

"A lot of companies are allocating surveillance technology in the wrong places," he says, and not where intruders are more likely to gain access, such as the cargo landing where smokers take their breaks, or on the cafeteria patio.

Leaving physical access to chance in these areas makes it that much easier for an attacker to simply walk in and make a network attack or other breach.

"A lot of attacks become much easier because of physical security weaknesses," says Sean Kelly, technology consultant for Consilium1, who does penetration testing for clients. "It makes things a lot easier if you can walk in the door. And you don't have to be a technical person to perform these breaches -- it opens the door to a wider pool of data thieves."

Social engineering is way too easy a ploy to get a foot in the door, experts say. Stasiukonis, who stages social engineering exploits for his clients to audit their security, recently duped employees at a credit union client's facility, posing as a copier repairman stopping by to "clean" the copier machine.

"I busted into a credit union last week, wearing one of those copier company t-shirts," Stasiukonis says. "So I jacked in and grabbed the password and log-ins in clear text and then [used them] to break in from the outside, too."

Getting the IT and physical security teams together is crucial to thwarting social engineering attacks like these. But it's not easy to teach employees who to trust and who not to trust.

"Social engineering is a huge issue no matter what level of organization you're in," Consilium1's Kelly says. "Security awareness training needs to stress more on auditing and procedures to identify people you're giving information to, and for questioning people without badges."