The 10 dumbest mistakes network managers make

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When you look at the worst corporate security breaches, it's clear that network managers keep making the same mistakes over and over again, and that many of these mistakes are easy to avoid.

In 2008, Verizon Business analyzed 90 security breaches that represented 285 million compromised records. Most of these headline-grabbing incidents involved organized crime finding an unprotected opening into a network and using it to steal credit card data, Social Security numbers or other personally identifiable information.

[ See also: 10 woeful tales of data gone missing ]

What's astonishing is how often these security breaches were the result of network managers forgetting to take obvious steps to secure their systems, particularly non-critical servers.

"We're just not doing the basics," says Peter Tippett, vice president of innovation and technology at Verizon Business, who has been auditing security breaches for 18 years.

Tippett helped us put together a list of the simplest steps that a network manager can take to eliminate the majority of security breaches. Not to follow the items on this list would be, quite simply, stupid.

1. Not changing the default passwords on all network devices.

Tippett says it's "unbelievable" how often corporations have a server, switch, router or network appliance with the default password -- usually "password" or "admin" -- still enabled. Most CIOs think this problem could never happen to them, but Tippett sees it every day.

To avoid this problem, you need to run a vulnerability scanner against every device on your network with an IP address, not just the critical or Internet-facing systems, Tippett says. Then you need to change the default passwords that you find to something else. More than half of all the records that were compromised last year were the result of using a default password on a network device, according to the Verizon Business study.

2. Sharing a password across multiple network devices.

IT departments often use the same password across multiple servers, and several people know the password. It might be a good password -- a complicated string of numbers and letters -- but once it's shared among several systems, these systems are all at risk.

For example, one of the people who knows the password could switch companies and reuse the password at his new company. Or an outsourcer who handles a non-critical system such as a data center cooling system could use the same password on all of the systems it operates for all of its customers. In either case, if the password is discovered by a hacker, the hacker can get into many servers and wreak more damage.

Tippett says IT departments need a process -- automated or manual -- to make sure that server passwords are not shared among multiple systems, are changed regularly and are kept secure. He says it's as simple as keeping the current server passwords written down on cards that are kept in a lockbox controlled by one person.

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