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3 Metrics To Gauge Security Spending

3 Metrics To Gauge Security Spending
3 Metrics To Gauge Security Spending,1540,2062956,00.asp 

By Paul A. Strassmann
November 22, 2006

The idea that the Internet could fail never crossed my mind until Oct. 
21, 2002. As acting CIO of NASA, I was informed that a computer at the 
Ames Research Center in California, operating as one of 13 global 
Internet domain name root-name serversthe master address controls for 
the entire Internetwas rejecting incoming traffic from California to as 
far west as India.

A globally coordinated distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack was 
aiming to overwhelm the processing capacity of each root-name server. We 
had to start throttling down incoming traffic before we ceased to 

The attack volume did not exceed 50 to 100 megabits per second per root 
server, yet the impact was devastating. Failing servers handed over 
traffic to their peers. The workload on the survivors rose sharply and 
led to "cascading" failures. Nine of the 13 root servers were out of 
commission in a few minutes. The hidden attacker, after two hours, 
retreated after gathering sufficient intelligence about the weaknesses 
of our defenses.

This "information warfare" probe was the first known simultaneous attack 
on every root server.

The incoming flood of messages was traced as coming primarily from South 
Korea, but there was no way to track the perpetrators. On the Internet, 
assaults can be executed by proxy machines, triggered from anywhere. At 
that point, I stopped trusting the Internet as a safe information 

In January 2003, my apprehensions were confirmed again when the rapidly 
spreading Slammer worm started clogging the Internet. It was propagating 
worldwide by capturing the operating systems on infected 
computersrunning the widely used Microsoft SQL Server 2000 as well as 
the Microsoft Desktop Engine 2000and turning them into "zombie" 
generators of messages that replicated the worm. This worm was small, 
only 376 bytes, but clever in its self-propagating habits. As traffic 
surged, worms took over much of the Internet's traffic and jammed 
network switches, which then re-routed transmissions to less congested 
paths. In this way, the traffic queues could be built up and spread 
worldwide in a few minutes so that many messages could not be delivered.

And the Slammer isn't the only attempt to damage Internet 
communications; as of this writing, my library of known intruders 
contains 72,838 viruses, worms and other malware.

As designed, the Internet does not ensure the integrity of the data 
(e.g., e-mail messages) that traverses it. There's no way to be sure, 
for example, that a service provider between point A and point B has not 
tampered with data. It's also easy to disguise the source of an attack 
because of the Internet's decentralized architecture.

The prospect of imposing an all-encompassing security discipline on the 
global Internet is zero. The best an organization can do is carve out a 
securely managed intranet, sufficiently isolated from the public 
Internet with every affordable protective measure. Even then, attackers 
will find ways to circumvent the defenses.

So how, then, do you figure out a return on your security investments? 
While many CIOs say it is difficult to measure the value of investments 
in computer security, I believe it is possible to gauge whether your 
organization's approach is on target. I recommend looking at three 

The ratios are:

* Compare information security spending vs. total I.T. spending. If 
  security spending exceeds 10%, your business architecture is probably 
  poorly designed to cope with attackers.

* Examine the value of lost employee time vs. your investment in 
  information security. If the cost of your security investment is 200% 
  or more of the value of employee downtime, you may be spending too 
  much on security.

* Measure what impact cyberattacks are having on employee productivity.  
  If you are experiencing a loss of 1% or more in productivity, review 
  how you are protecting your information. For instance, examine the 
  location of your firewalls to determine whether centralization of 
  defensive barriers would give you greater protection.

The goal of total security is not achievable in complex systems that 
have millions of hardware and software vulnerability points. The 
defenders will have to monitor the frequency and losses from intrusions 
to balance the costs of protection against potential damages.

Paul A. Strassmann is a former technology executive at Xerox, Nasa and 
Kraft. He can be reached at paul(at)

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