Administrators: Here's advice for hooking network worms

Shawn P. McCarthy

Instead of vacationing this month, network administrators are coping with worm infestations'now the most common way that PCs are attacked.

After last month's Code Red worm tried to coordinate service-denial attacks against the White House Web site, all government Web managers have reason to be alarmed. Any time a new security vulnerability for a popular piece of Web software is announced, you can be sure a worm will appear within a few days to exploit the hole.

That means you need to stay ahead of the curve. Learn about security holes at the same time hackers do by signing up for the BugTraq newsletter at Once you hear about a new hole, you can be among the first to plug it'with any luck, before the next worm comes slithering through the Net.

In the meantime, run security assessment programs such as that of OneSecure Inc. of Denver, which looks for more than 500 known vulnerabilities on your network. Learn more at

It's possible that your best bet for dealing with hackers is to hire one to be on your side. That doesn't mean to go out looking for antisocial teenagers, but it's good to have someone on staff to monitor security alerts and perhaps do a little fiddling on the side. There are even companies that sell such services.

Feds for several years have been going on the offensive trying to get hackers to sign up. At last month's Def Con hacker convention in Las Vegas, a panel of federal employees pitched the idea of ethical hacking and government employment to youngsters. The response was mostly positive, and business cards were reportedly distributed.
In addition to watching for worms, government networks are under pressure to help stamp out peer-to-peer file trading services for illegal music files, software or copyrighted text.

It's easy for any user on your network to fire up a peer-to-peer client such as the BearShare Gnutella client or iMesh. In fact, your employees could be swapping such files right now, innocently but illegally, over your network.

Should you worry? Some watchdog consultants, for example mediaForce Inc. at and Copyright.Net, have contracted with copyright holders and music publishers to seek out versions of copyrighted works online, then find who's offering them.

It could be extremely embarrassing for a government agency to get caught transmitting pirated music or software over taxpayer-funded connections. Set a policy about such sharing and inform all employees of it.

And keep an eye out for Morpheus, one of the newest peer-to-peer file swapping technologies, which has taken the Internet by storm. It jumped from a total unknown to one of the most asked-for terms on search portals within a few weeks.

Morpheus is often used to search for pirated materials, but it can also be set up to interface with third-party digital rights management applications, so there's a chance it could have legitimate uses on your network. Learn more about it at

Shawn P. McCarthy designs products for a Web search engine provider. E-mail him at [email protected].

About the Author

Shawn McCarthy, a former writer for GCN, is senior analyst and program manager for government IT opportunities at IDC.


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