New model shows how secure your computer network is

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Washington, July 24 : Hackers targeting confidential data pose the biggest problems for IT managers. Now, computer scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) led by an Indian-origin researcher have developed a new model for helping these managers safeguard valuable information most efficiently,

The new model has explained three paths that an attacker can take to penetrate the network using FTP server, SSH server or database server, which would act as a guide for IT managers in securing their networks by assigning a probable risk of attack.

"We analyze all of the paths that system attackers could penetrate through a network and assign a risk to each component of the system. Decision makers can use our assigned probabilities to make wise decisions and investments to safeguard their network," said computer scientist Anoop Singhal.

Computer networks are made up of components varying from individual computers, to servers and routers. Once inside a network's firewall, for a seemingly mild-mannered purpose as posting an image to a file transfer protocol (FTP) site, a hacker can travel through the network through a variety of routes to hit the jackpot of valuable data.

In fact, the hacker can also break in through software on the computers, especially file-sharing applications that have been blamed for some major data breaches recently.

NIST researchers evaluate each route and assign it a risk based on how challenging it is to the hacker. The paths are determined using a technique called "attack graphs." The researchers at George Mason University have developed a new analysis technique based on attack graphs.

Singhal and his team determine risk by using these attack graphs and NIST's National Vulnerability Database (NVD), which is a government repository that includes a collection of security-related software weaknesses that hackers can exploit. NVD data was collected from software vendors and scores are assigned from most to least insecure by experts.

For example in a simple system there is an attacker on a computer, a firewall, router, an FTP server and a database server. The goal for the attacker is to find the simplest path into the jackpot-the database server.

Attack Graph Analysis determines three potential attack paths. For each path in the graph, the NIST researchers assign an attack probability based on the score in the NVD database.

As it takes multiple steps to reach the goal, the probabilities of each component are multiplied to determine the overall risk. One path takes only three steps. The first step has an 80 percent chance of being hacked, the second, a 90 percent chance. The final step requires great expertise, so there is only a 10 percent probability it can be breached. By multiplying the three probabilities together, that path is pretty secure with a less than 10 percent chance of being hacked.

The research was presented at a conference earlier this month.


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