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Security threats growing increasingly malicious

Microsoft executive Mike Nash and a panel of security experts zone in on where IT professionals need to direct their attention to protect enterprise systems.

Security experts worry about the increasingly international nature of computer virus attacks, and the fact that there is no global police force that can effectively catch the new wave of virus and worm writers, which tend to be criminals, not kids.

In the past year, spyware and technologies used in phishing schemes have joined viruses and Trojans as major problems, said Mike Nash, corporate vice president of Microsoft's security and technology business unit.

Virus and worm writers are moving from being an annoyance to becoming increasingly malicious, added Mike Cherry, an

They are moving from simple things like tracking Web site usage to [logging] keystrokes and loading software that is damaging to customers' systems.

Mike Cherry, analyst,

Directions on Microsoft

analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash.-based consulting firm. Cherry was a panelist for Microsoft's Monthly Security Update briefing on Tuesday.

"They are moving from simple things like tracking Web site usage to [logging] keystrokes and loading software that is damaging to customers' systems," he said.

Worldwide effort is needed

Cherry said even though the FBI and other law enforcement agencies are getting involved, the industry is also dealing with countries where there isn't an adequate police force.

"We need an international effort," he said. "We need some sort of mechanism to shut down these sites as soon as we know where they are coming from."

Cherry and Stephen Friedl, a software consultant from Tustin, Calif., offered some tips on locking down enterprise systems. Friedl said companies need a good firewall on the outside of their network. He also said deploying XP SP2 will help, as will limiting the types of attachments allowed and providing user education.

Cherry suggested having some sort of spyware of malware protection software, and to keep it up to date. Also, users have to be more suspicious about what's coming into their inboxes. "A lot of these attacks are social-engineering based," he said. "If someone is offering you something, you should be skeptical."

A multi-layered approach to security

Some IT executives are fighting back by hiring staff members to focus on nothing but security. Robert Taylor, CIO for Georgia's Fulton County government, said he has set up a security office, but he's also created a multi-tiered approach that includes security for desktops,

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servers and perimeters.

Taylor is responsible for about 42 agencies within the county. He said his IT department has built stronger password protection and encryption. The county government is also using Microsoft's Systems Management Server to push out its patches, and it is currently testing Windows XP Service Pack 2.

His advice to colleagues? "Just because you do something today doesn't mean it will stay the same," Taylor said. "It's a changing environment. Do what you can to address as many of the security problems as they come up."

Nash said that roughly 20 million copies of XP SP2 have already been installed since its release in August. Most of the downloads have been by consumers and small businesses, although enterprises are also starting to begin their rollouts, he said.

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