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10/28/2004

IBM launches new security index

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — With an eye toward making its customers’ computer systems safer, IBM this week launched a new product based out of its Gunbarrel facility.

IBM’s Global Business Security Index will be a monthly, half-page report designed to update organizations on the latest viruses making the rounds on the Web and alerting them to any potential vulnerability in their networks.

According to the company, network attacks jumped 55 percent from July to August. On average, IBM officials say its network-monitoring devices detect about 100 million suspected or actual attacks against their customers every month.

Most of those are fended off by existing security measures, but it only takes one, such as last year’s Slammer virus, to wreak havoc.

Slammer hit computers in January 2003 and, according to Wired Magazine, traveled the globe in a matter of minutes. The damage it caused eventually cost more than $1 billion to clean up.

The flaw exploited by Slammer was known well in advance of the day the virus actually hit, according to David Mackey, director of IBM’s Security Intelligence Services.

“That hole had been known for almost six months prior,” said Mackey, a former Army intelligence officer. “It was a wake-up call for a lot of our customers.”

Mackey said the goals of putting out the index are two-fold: tactical and strategic.

In terms of the tactical angle, Mackey said the objective is to help organizations prevent another attack like Slammer. Along with the monthly index, the company will also provide daily reports.

From a strategic angle, the index is meant to be read by decision-makers in the company — to get them to look at security from a strategic level.

“A lot of our financial customers are concerned that their names are being sullied because of these ‘phishing’ attacks,” said Mackey, explaining that phishing is when spam e-mails are sent out in an attempt to lure victims into disclosing their bank account or credit card numbers.

“They are getting more and more pervasive and more and more clever,” Mackey said.

The Global Business Security Index is part of a package of services IBM is calling the Security Threats and Attacks Trends, or STAT report. It will sell to customers for approximately $10,000, Mackey said. The reports are designed to be customized according to various industries.

“I think there are two incredible factors here,” Mackey said. “First, the sophistication, and second, the sheer volume.”

According to Nathan Hemingway, senior network engineer with Aardvark IT Solutions, the number of that company’s customers hit by worm viruses has been increasing dramatically in the past few years.

“Years ago, viruses came from me to you,” Hemingway said. “But with worms, it goes from me to you and then you proliferate it to everybody else.”

Wray Smith, Aardvark’s president, said that other companies offer services similar to IBM’s new index, notably California-based Symantec, which makes the Norton brand of antivirus software. But Smith does see value in IBM’s new offering, particularly the daily reports.

“What you need to know is what came out this morning that you need to do something about today,” he said.

Smith also said he thinks the fact that IBM’s reports are geared to both engineering and boardroom types can be valuable. Agreeing with Mackey, Smith said companies really do need to think about security from a strategic point of view.

“I think people are willing to pay because they’re well-informed enough to where they understand the risk,” Smith said.

Of the 4,700 employees at IBM’s Gunbarrel facility, approximately 3,600 are employed in the company’s global services division, a segment that has grown to make up half of Big Blue’s overall business.

Within global services is the company’s security intelligence services division, headquartered in Gunbarrel, which will produce the STAT reports, according to IBM spokesman Dan Willis.

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.