Monday, October 12, 2009

Hosted Solutions – A Hackers Haven

Human beings are lazy by nature. If there is a choice to be made between a complicated technology solution and an easy technology solution, then nine times out of ten people will choose the easy solution. The problem is that the easy solutions are often riddled with hidden risks and those risks can end up costing the consumer more money in damages then what might be saved by using the easy solution.

The advantages of using a managed hosting provider to host your email, website, telephone systems, etc, are clear. When you outsource critical infrastructure components you save money. The savings are quickly realized because you no longer need to spend money running a full scale IT operation. In many cases, you don’t even need to worry about purchasing hardware, software, or even hiring IT staff to support the infrastructure.

What isn’t clear to most people is the serious risk that outsourcing can introduce to their business. In nearly all cases a business will have a radically lower risk and exposure profile if they keep everything in-house. This is true because of the substantial attack surface that hosting providers have when compared to in-house IT environments.

For example, a web-hosting provider might host 1,000 websites across 50 physical servers. If one of those websites contains a single vulnerability and that vulnerability is exploited by a hacker then the hacker will likely take control of the entire server. At that point the hacker will have successfully compromised and taken control of all 50 websites with a single attack.

In non-hosted environments there might be only one Internet facing website as opposed to the 1000 that exist in a hosted environment. As such the attack surface for this example would be 1000 times greater in a hosted environment than it is in a non-hosted environment. In a hosted environment the risks that other customers introduce to the infrastructure also become your risk. In a non-hosted environment you are only impacted by your own risks.

To make matters worse, many people assume that such a risk isn’t significant because they do not use their hosted systems for any critical transactions. They fail to consider the fact that the hacker can modify the contents of the compromised system. These modifications can involve redirecting online banking portal links, credit card form posting links, or even to spread infectious malware. While this is true for any compromised system, the chances of suffering a compromise in a hosted environment are much greater than in a non-hosted environment.