Security through Obscurity doesn’t work anymore


By Christine Barry – Chief Blogger at Barracuda Networks

You’ve probably heard of the old phrase, Security through Obscurity. Many modern SysAdmins are using this concept to protect their assets. If you happen to be one of them or know one of them, then this post is for you.

The concept of Security through Obscurity is twofold:

1. The potential target is so unimportant, so unknown, so trivial, that he is not at risk of attack

2. The potential target – website, server, etc., – is of so little value that it is not worth attacking

This concept held true for many years, until hacking tools became widely accessible and attackers learned how to automate world-wide scans. Malicious hackers no longer perform manual searches for websites or networks; they simply launch scanners against blocks of IP addresses. Anything that has a public facing IP is now at risk of an attack. At this point it doesn’t matter how obscure you think you are; all that matters is that you have a front door that will answer when the scan comes knocking.

Once the scan finds a vulnerability, it reports it to the attacker. At this point your system is identified as a potential target, and what happens next is entirely up to the attacker. Any number of horrible things could happen here.

1. Your system could become compromised for use in a botnet

2. If the attacker is a script-kiddie, he could do something simple just for bragging rights

3. The attacker could ignore you for now and come back to you later

4. Your system could become a spam relay

Of course it’s possible to become a target without having a vulnerability. A reporter with no training was able to download some free tools from the Internet and cracked about 8,000 passwords in a single day. If he can do that as part of an experiment, imagine what all of the hackers and hacker wannabes are able to do. In fact, using nothing but botnets, attackers can hammer away at random WordPress and other CMS sites without ever deciding on a specific target or looking at a site.

Since attacks have become automated, everyone with a public facing IP has become a potential target. There are no obscure systems anymore. And since the rise of the botnet, all systems are potentially valuable to the attacker. Do yourselves a favour and get proactive with your security. Obscurity doesn’t work anymore.

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