Q&A: Simon Geach, UK Sales Director, BitDefender

The security of business IT systems has never been so important. Businesses rely more and more on IT to support their activities, and this makes them increasingly vulnerable to threats from hackers, viruses and even their own staff. The impact of a security breach may be far greater than you would expect. The loss of sensitive or critical information may not only affect your competitiveness and cashflow but also damage your reputation―something which may have taken you years to establish and which may be impossible to restore. We spoke to Simon Geach, UK Sales Director, BitDefender, who offered advice and top tips on how to protect and secure computers against the growing range of security threats.

To what degree are businesses liable for the security of their employees on company computers? For example, if an employee is checking their bank details during a lunch break and their account is exposed due to the business not having full security software protection, who is liable?

Most employers have Web usage policies that clearly state the company’s resources can’t be used for personal purposes, which means employees should wait to get home to check this kind of information and the company cannot be held liable for incidents. Some businesses may actively monitor Internet traffic, log keystrokes or perform surveillance on the company’s computers. Employees need to know that the best e-banking practices discourage log-ins from shared computers. Lots of companies also have security awareness programs to highlight the issues that occur from using business computers for personal use. This increases the user’s security awareness and also enables them to make an informed decision.

The speed in which new cyber threats are created today has increased dramatically alongside the proliferation of social networking sites. What should users do to protect themselves?

The vast majority of security incidents occur because the user discloses too much personal information or accepts strangers as friends. To stay safe users should avoid doing anything online that they wouldn’t do offline and not accept invitations they don’t know. An online community is not an abstract notion but a form of human interaction through an electronic medium. Nevertheless, some threats use this familiarity and try to trick users using what appear to be messages from friends to get them to click on links designed to compromise their device. Threats may evade even the most vigilant user and that is why they should ensure they have an extra layer of protection such as an internet security solution. BitDefender has also developed a free application called safego to monitor and block any inappropriate and dangerous content the user may stumble upon while on Facebook.

Managing a large number of desktops and servers requires a considerable commitment in administration staff and expertise. What cost effective solutions can a business put into place to manage this and protect employees?

In order to match the challenges of the business world where system administrators need to cater for large numbers of computers, business users need a solution that at the very least provides the ability to offer a unified management platform to allow remote installation, configuration, control, updating and reporting of all products deployed throughout the network., or the capacity to offer network administrators an overview of all the potential security threats that may have penetrated the network and the ability to respond to them in real time.

What effect do business trends such as outsourcing and increased collaboration with partners have in terms of having a secure network?

Having partners or outsourcing companies located outside of the corporate network usually requires them to ‘pinch’ into the company’s infrastructure. This is usually done via VPN connections, which allow remote users to interact with the network resources as if they were physically located in the company. However, system administrators have no real control over the partners’ computers, which may result in various pieces of malware getting transferred from the partner to the network.

In order to avoid this kind of incident, system administrators may enforce network-level policies to reject any connection request coming from systems that do not meet a certain level of security, such as not running a specific operating system, not having the latest security patches and / or not running an antivirus solution.

What are the best ways to combat the increase in malware and spam?

Deploying tools such as an anti-virus solution and spam filters that provide more immediate protection from new threats. Corporate users should instruct their employees on how to stay away from potentially malicious files and implement policies on how the company’s e-mail and Web resources should be used. Education is also key, users need to be kept informed of best practices without preaching and implying that nothing is safe.

How can computer networks be secured to protect against harmful malware being inadvertently installed from infected devices?

The best way to ensure that no malware gets inside the computer is to install, configure and establish updating policies for an anti-virus or Internet solution. It should also be mandatory for the system administrator to restrict the user’s access to the solution to prevent them from disabling or misconfiguring it. Another option would be the implementation of device control across the network, which would prevent employees using other devices (USB drives) on the company’s computers. Application whitelisting and backlisting also ensures that only approved applications are used on the network, preventing unapproved applications leading to a security compromise. Disabling of auto run is another option.

How can companies best protect against sensitive data being leaked?

There are a number of steps that companies can take when dealing with sensitive data. Limiting access to information on a need-to-know basis ensures that sensitive information is only available to authorised personnel. It can be easily moderated by implementing an appropriate network topology in which different departments reside on different subnets or VLANs. For instance, HR data should not be available to the R&D department. Role-based access control (RBAC) is another option as it restricts system access to authorised users.

As more and more users take their work home, the danger of misplacing sensitive information is greater. Losing a notebook or PDA may turn into a serious issue if it contains sensitive information or if it is configured to gain access to the company’s network. Employers should pay extra attention to equipping such devices with hardware encryption features and / or biometric means of authentication. The implementation of data loss policies (DLP) will also add an extra layer of protection to shield sensitive data. Data loss protection has multiple goals, such as protecting the company from human error or insider negligence, voluntary information leakage or external attacks against the corporate infrastructure.

Should businesses be responsible for educating employees about security at home, regardless of whether they are working from home or not?

Yes, definitely. All business should educate users about good security practices in general as this will then transfer to the home as well as the business environment. By educating employees about the dangers they may get exposed to while surfing the web, employers can easily provide a code of conduct that should be employed regardless of location. We offer users of our business solutions free Internet Security home user licences in order to help our customers provide protection for their employees at home.

Finally, tell us a little about your role at BitDefender and the future goals of the company.

As Sales Director for the UK and Ireland, my interest lies not only in growing BitDefender’s presence and brand in the UK, but also to expand the understanding of how consumers and businesses can better protect themselves from the constantly changing threat landscape. Many people feel that all anti-virus and Internet Security products are much of a muchness but this simply isn’t the case. It’s very important to me to challenge this convention and get people to consider a broader view when it comes to levels of detection and responses to new threats in order to work towards a safer internet for everyone. It is vital that the best protection is put in place for what is fundamentally the most important security solution a business or consumer ever purchases, due to potential damage from malware today.

Christian Harris is editor and publisher of BCW. Christian has over 20 years' publishing experience and in that time has contributed to most major IT magazines and Web sites in the UK. He launched BCW in 2009 as he felt there was a need for honest and personal commentary on a wide range of business computing issues. Christian has a BA (Hons) in Publishing from the London College of Communication.