Mitnick: The Human Link's The Weakest - InformationWeek

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Mitnick: The Human Link's The Weakest

Talk about irony. One moment, convicted hacker Kevin Mitnick was being greeted with enthusiastic applause from IT and security professionals who once would have been his targets. A short time later, a lunch Q&A session with Mitnick that was supposed to be by reservation only was opened because of a lack of interest.

Such is a day in the life of Kevin Mitnick, alternately one of the most loved and hated figures in the history of computing.

In a rare appearance, at Giga Information Group's Infrastructure for E-Business conference in Los Angeles, Mitnick told an audience of IT and security professionals that the single biggest risk to corporate networks is the one area that can't be controlled: the human element.

"People are the weakest link," Mitnick said during his closing keynote address. "Somebody can call an unsuspecting employee, and that's it, baby. They got the whole thing."

Mitnick, who can't touch a computer or a connected device until January 2003 as part of the conditions of his probation, cautioned the audience against such pervasive practices as writing passwords on Post-it notes, throwing away unshredded sensitive documents, and trusting unfamiliar voices on the phone.

Emily McAnally, a development director for Severn Trent Systems, a maker of work-management systems for utilities and telcos, says Mitnick's warnings about human error were eye-opening. Severn Trent is preparing to release new software, so vulnerability is high. "He identified a whole host of things that we're going to have to address," McAnally says.

Randy Salzman, VP of business development for security consulting firm Gaurdent Inc., agrees that training employees about security is crucial, but he also says employee awareness is ineffective without strong network security measures.

"You can have the tightest lock-down security, and you're still vulnerable to social engineering," Salzman says. "Just like you have locks on the front door, you still need locks on the doors technologically."

One encouraging thing to consider: Until his probation is up, at least Mitnick isn't a threat.

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