Symantec fingers organized crime

A conversation with a Symantec exec yields special insight into the attack methods used by sophisticated cyberthieves

Next to keeping the lights on, security is job one, but it has become absurdly complicated for most enterprises. Recently I interviewed Francis deSouza, the new senior vice president of Symantec's Enterprise Security Group, in an effort to demystify the latest threats and security technologies -- and, more importantly, to ask where he thought enterprise security pros should focus their efforts.

The response from deSouza was unequivocal: repelling attacks by organized crime. The interview covered a number of topics, but deSouza's account of how well-funded attackers get the jump on enterprise defenses is as instructive as it is frightening, so I've edited things to concentrate on that angle. We began the conversation by discussing the ever-widening scope of responsibilities security professionals now must undertake.

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Eric Knorr: Enterprise security has become mind-numbingly complex, from security event management to access control to data leak prevention. How are customers managing to wrap their arms around all this?

Francis deSouza: We're hearing that anyone in security feels like they have more to deal with today than they ever have before.

The first thing they're saying is that they have more viruses to deal with than ever before -- the meat and potatoes of the security world. Our research bears that out. In 2008, we put out more anti-virus signatures than we did in the previous 17 years of our existence.

The second thing that security professionals are saying is that they have more threats to deal with that are not viruses. They're concerned about people inside their environment that are stealing information. They're concerned about botnets; they're concerned about phishing attacks.

They're also saying that the surface area they have to protect continues to grow exponentially. They have more people to manage, because today, it's not just your employees, but increasingly, contractors, suppliers, and even customers that have access to your network, because that's the way we do business today. So there are more people that you have to manage. And there are more devices -- not just PCs and laptops, but increasingly smartphones, iPhones, iPods, that plug into a network.

There's also more information. So it's not unusual for most companies to see a doubling of the amount of information on their network every two years. And then you throw in SaaS, cloud computing, server virtualization, and desktop virtualization, and the infrastructure complexity continues to grow.

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