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NOTE: CentOS Enterprise Linux 5 is built from the Red Hat Enterprise Linux source code. Other than logo and name changes CentOS Enterprise Linux 5 is compatible with the equivalent Red Hat version. This document applies equally to both Red Hat and CentOS Enterprise Linux 5.

Chapter 41. Security Overview

Because of the increased reliance on powerful, networked computers to help run businesses and keep track of our personal information, industries have been formed around the practice of network and computer security. Enterprises have solicited the knowledge and skills of security experts to properly audit systems and tailor solutions to fit the operating requirements of the organization. Because most organizations are dynamic in nature, with workers accessing company IT resources locally and remotely, the need for secure computing environments has become more pronounced.

Unfortunately, most organizations (as well as individual users) regard security as an afterthought, a process that is overlooked in favor of increased power, productivity, and budgetary concerns. Proper security implementation is often enacted postmortem — after an unauthorized intrusion has already occurred. Security experts agree that the right measures taken prior to connecting a site to an untrusted network, such as the Internet, is an effective means of thwarting most attempts at intrusion.

41.1. Introduction to Security

41.1.1. What is Computer Security?

Computer security is a general term that covers a wide area of computing and information processing. Industries that depend on computer systems and networks to conduct daily business transactions and access crucial information regard their data as an important part of their overall assets. Several terms and metrics have entered our daily business vocabulary, such as total cost of ownership (TCO) and quality of service (QoS). In these metrics, industries calculate aspects such as data integrity and high-availability as part of their planning and process management costs. In some industries, such as electronic commerce, the availability and trustworthiness of data can be the difference between success and failure.

41.1.1.1. How did Computer Security Come about?

Information security has evolved over the years due to the increasing reliance on public networks not to disclose personal, financial, and other restricted information. There are numerous instances such as the Mitnick and the Vladimir Levin cases that prompted organizations across all industries to rethink the way they handle information transmission and disclosure. The popularity of the Internet was one of the most important developments that prompted an intensified effort in data security.

An ever-growing number of people are using their personal computers to gain access to the resources that the Internet has to offer. From research and information retrieval to electronic mail and commerce transaction, the Internet has been regarded as one of the most important developments of the 20th century.

The Internet and its earlier protocols, however, were developed as a trust-based system. That is, the Internet Protocol was not designed to be secure in itself. There are no approved security standards built into the TCP/IP communications stack, leaving it open to potentially malicious users and processes across the network. Modern developments have made Internet communication more secure, but there are still several incidents that gain national attention and alert us to the fact that nothing is completely safe.

41.1.1.2. Security Today

In February of 2000, a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack was unleashed on several of the most heavily-trafficked sites on the Internet. The attack rendered yahoo.com, cnn.com, amazon.com, fbi.gov, and several other sites completely unreachable to normal users, as it tied up routers for several hours with large-byte ICMP packet transfers, also called a ping flood. The attack was brought on by unknown assailants using specially created, widely available programs that scanned vulnerable network servers, installed client applications called trojans on the servers, and timed an attack with every infected server flooding the victim sites and rendering them unavailable. Many blame the attack on fundamental flaws in the way routers and the protocols used are structured to accept all incoming data, no matter where or for what purpose the packets are sent.

Currently, an estimated 945 million people use or have used the Internet worldwide (Computer Industry Almanac, 2004). At the same time:

  • On any given day, there are approximately 225 major incidences of security breach reported to the CERT Coordination Center at Carnegie Mellon University.[11]

  • In 2003, the number of CERT reported incidences jumped to 137,529 from 82,094 in 2002 and from 52,658 in 2001.[12]

  • The worldwide economic impact of the three most dangerous Internet Viruses of the last three years was estimated at US$13.2 Billion.[13]

Computer security has become a quantifiable and justifiable expense for all IT budgets. Organizations that require data integrity and high availability elicit the skills of system administrators, developers, and engineers to ensure 24x7 reliability of their systems, services, and information. Falling victim to malicious users, processes, or coordinated attacks is a direct threat to the success of the organization.

Unfortunately, system and network security can be a difficult proposition, requiring an intricate knowledge of how an organization regards, uses, manipulates, and transmits its information. Understanding the way an organization (and the people that make up the organization) conducts business is paramount to implementing a proper security plan.

41.1.1.3. Standardizing Security

Enterprises in every industry rely on regulations and rules that are set by standards making bodies such as the American Medical Association (AMA) or the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). The same ideals hold true for information security. Many security consultants and vendors agree upon the standard security model known as CIA, or Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability. This three-tiered model is a generally accepted component to assessing risks of sensitive information and establishing security policy. The following describes the CIA model in further detail:

  • Confidentiality — Sensitive information must be available only to a set of pre-defined individuals. Unauthorized transmission and usage of information should be restricted. For example, confidentiality of information ensures that a customer's personal or financial information is not obtained by an unauthorized individual for malicious purposes such as identity theft or credit fraud.

  • Integrity — Information should not be altered in ways that render it incomplete or incorrect. Unauthorized users should be restricted from the ability to modify or destroy sensitive information.

  • Availability — Information should be accessible to authorized users any time that it is needed. Availability is a warranty that information can be obtained with an agreed-upon frequency and timeliness. This is often measured in terms of percentages and agreed to formally in Service Level Agreements (SLAs) used by network service providers and their enterprise clients.

41.1.2. Security Controls

Computer security is often divided into three distinct master categories, commonly referred to as controls:

  • Physical

  • Technical

  • Administrative

These three broad categories define the main objectives of proper security implementation. Within these controls are sub-categories that further detail the controls and how to implement them.

41.1.2.1. Physical Controls

Physical control is the implementation of security measures in a defined structure used to deter or prevent unauthorized access to sensitive material. Examples of physical controls are:

  • Closed-circuit surveillance cameras

  • Motion or thermal alarm systems

  • Security guards

  • Picture IDs

  • Locked and dead-bolted steel doors

  • Biometrics (includes fingerprint, voice, face, iris, handwriting, and other automated methods used to recognize individuals)

41.1.2.2. Technical Controls

Technical controls use technology as a basis for controlling the access and usage of sensitive data throughout a physical structure and over a network. Technical controls are far-reaching in scope and encompass such technologies as:

  • Encryption

  • Smart cards

  • Network authentication

  • Access control lists (ACLs)

  • File integrity auditing software

41.1.2.3. Administrative Controls

Administrative controls define the human factors of security. It involves all levels of personnel within an organization and determines which users have access to what resources and information by such means as:

  • Training and awareness

  • Disaster preparedness and recovery plans

  • Personnel recruitment and separation strategies

  • Personnel registration and accounting

41.1.3. Conclusion

Now that you have learned about the origins, reasons, and aspects of security, you can determine the appropriate course of action with regard to Red Hat Enterprise Linux. It is important to know what factors and conditions make up security in order to plan and implement a proper strategy. With this information in mind, the process can be formalized and the path becomes clearer as you delve deeper into the specifics of the security process.


 
 
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