Site Security in a Post 9/11 World

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Cyber attacks: the real threat?

While there is always the threat of disaster, natural or man-made, to the physical infrastructure of your facility, perhaps the most likely threat will be through some form of cyber attack to PCs, networks and even mobile devices. The majority of these attacks are reportedly originating from countries such as China, Russia, Iran and North Korea to name a few. The rates of attacks have escalated dramatically over the past three years. While many of the attacks occurring in the United States are targeting federal, state and local governments, banks and other large corporations, the reality is that any device connected to the Internet are vulnerable. Cyber security has become a big enough problem that new positions or even whole departments have been created to deal with the situation.

Radio facilities might be particularly vulnerable as they tend to utilize network(s) to handle different functions (i.e. back office, traffic, news, sales and streaming) within the same facility. While they may utilize different servers to perform specific functions, it is important they are isolated with appropriately configured firewalls. I would be careful to assume that because particular functions operate on a local or corporate-wide intranet, that there is no chance of attack. Consider that any desktop PC that could access to one of these private networks, either directly or through a VPN becomes an opportunity to infect that private network if, for example, it is also connected to the Internet. The fact is that the same PC doesn't need to have access to the Internet; it could get infected through the exchange of an infected thumb drive. Anti-virus programs do a great job to stop most potential infections, but not necessarily all of them. Keeping the programs virus library up to date certainly is good practice, but does not guarantee something will not slip through.

One client, a large municipality, recently experienced an attack that was the result of a few employees responding to an email, requiring them to change their password. The link sent them to a rogue site, which looked official. Although it was an innocent (and rookie) mistake, it cause their servers to send about 300,000 spam emails per day and took about two weeks to contain. While this is just one example, there are hundreds of different types of attacks occurring each day around the world. It is not hard to find stories and statistics on the Internet. Some examples include energy company BP who says it suffers 50,000 attempts of cyber intrusion a day; the Pentagon reports getting 10 million attempts a day; the National Nuclear Security Administration, an arm of the Energy Department, records 10 million hacks a day; and the United Kingdom reports 120,000 cyber incidents a day.

It is a different world, and as a station engineer/manager, you need to be aware, not only of the steps needed to ensure the physical security of the property, but to the vulnerabilities of your network infrastructure.

McNamara is president of McNamara Associates, Cape Coral, FL.

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