Collaborative Business: Safe Systems Are A Must - InformationWeek

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Collaborative Business: Safe Systems Are A Must

For most of history, security has been about keeping the unwelcome out: gator-filled moats, castle walls, fortressed cities built on mountaintops so advancing attackers could be spotted early and forced to fight uphill; pass phrases whispered at the door; encryption technologies such as the Enigma Machine used in World War II.

The basic concept of security hasn't changed, but the intruders and means of defense have become more complicated in the age of electronic business and Web commerce. Now things are getting even more difficult. The trend toward collaborative business--where companies share information not only with suppliers and customers but also with their suppliers' suppliers and customers' customers--has complicated IT security even further. In a survey conducted by InformationWeek Research this spring, more than 20% of large companies say security problems are a negative consequence of collaborative business.

InformationWeek Research's 2001 Global Information Security Survey sheds new light on the issue. Fourteen percent of respondents say they suspect customers are responsible for system breaches, and 5% point a finger at suppliers. The risks have put businesses in a heightened state of alert when it comes to establishing those all-important business-to-business and business-to-consumer connections. "It's becoming more important that companies prove to all parties that they have some reasonable control over their systems," says Charles Neal, VP of cyberterrorism and incident response with Exodus Communications Inc. Neal says he sees a growing trend toward large and midsize companies' requiring solid security from business partners before they'll even consider connecting to their networks.

John Brennan, CEO of Vanguard Group Inc., says his company sends its technicians to the facilities of vendors it's considering using to check their security levels before sharing data. "We essentially demand the right to send our system professionals to look at [another company's] systems before they will become a vendor for us," he says. Vanguard has more than once turned away potential vendors because their security wasn't up to snuff, Brennan says.

Collaborative business also involves informing others when things go wrong. When it comes to reporting breaches, both customers (16%) and business partners (15%) rank higher than national authorities (12%) as the organizations that companies notify when they've been breached. And 21% of respondents say their security policies take into account partners and suppliers.

American Presidential Lines uses Raytheon's SilentRunner network-analysis tool to monitor its internal systems and keep an eye on business partners that connect to its network. "Suppose we have a business partner that uses a mainframe connection that goes through our firewall, and a packet is dropped. Where did it go? This tool will help me determine that," says Van Nguyen, the shipping company's director of information security.

Nguyen says SilentRunner enables the company's security team to view its network in real time, reconstruct network sessions, and play back events that involve a security problem "just like a surveillance camera in the physical world."

Collaborative business is part opportunity, part risk. Through better security, companies hope to focus on the former and lessen the latter.

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