Sep 13 2011

Security Begins at the Desktop

Here are four ways to secure your systems at one of the network's most vulnerable locations: the end user's device.

Cyberattacks on federal systems are increasing at an exponential rate. From 2006 to 2009, agencies reported that the number of security incidents grew more than 400 percent. According to government reports, many of these security breaches were introduced at the user level.

Along with an increase in attacks, there has also been an increase in the quantity and type of data stored on government networks. Given the number of staff members with varying security levels who require access to networks, agencies have had to redouble efforts to protect data and systems. Yet securing the desktop, a major access point to the network, is often overlooked.

Following are some simple and effective ways to protect desktops — ensuring that they do not become gateways for unauthorized access to the agency network.

Tip 1: Limit Use of USB Devices.

Photo: Paul Eekhoff/Getty Images

Although it's common practice in the defense and intelligence communities to limit the use of flash drives and other devices that utilize USB ports, many civilian agencies do not do this. Flash drives open organizations to data theft, and an infected USB device can introduce viruses. If it's necessary to use flash drives, it's best to select a secure drive with on-board antivirus software.

Tip 2: Maintain Your Antivirus Software.

Typically, antivirus software is already installed on PCs when they arrive from the factory. This is often the first line of defense against viruses attempting to gain access via individual client devices. Whether scanning e-mail attachments or preventing intrusions from infected websites, antivirus software should not be ignored. Many users, however, disable their antivirus software or do not update it. These actions render the software ineffective or obsolete.

Scheduling automatic updates and maintaining the software are both necessary for it to remain effective and serve as a defense against the barrage of viruses that attack government networks every day. 

Tip 3: Restrict Users' Administrative Privileges.

Most malware that enters a desktop, and ultimately the network, comes from users who have downloaded infected software or applications. Restricting the ability of staff to automatically download software or applications reduces vulnerabilities at the desktop and limits the ways in which malware can access an organization's systems.

Tip 4: Use a Secure KVM.

Secure KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) switches let users access both secure and nonsecure networks through a single set of peripherals. By keeping various networks isolated from one another, secure KVM switching devices eliminate potential data breaches.

Authorized workers can then access secure data with neither the threat of introducing harmful data to the secure network nor any risk of accidentally copying or transferring classified data to systems outside the secure network. Additionally, many secure KVM switches can lock down USB devices, allowing only authorized devices — such as keyboards, mice and Common Access Card readers — to connect to the network.

Threats are on the rise, with government data and systems as prime targets for hostile foreign governments, terrorists and cybercriminals. The threat posed to federal systems must be addressed using a variety of security solutions; but don't overlook the desktop, which represents one of the most vulnerable access points in any organization's infrastructure.