HP OpenVMS Guide to System Security > Chapter 1 Understanding System Security

Types of Computer Security Problems

  Table of Contents



On any system there can be two types of users: authorized and unauthorized. Any person authorized to use the computer system has the right to access the system and its resources according to the authorization criteria set up by the site security administrator. Usage criteria may include the time of day, types of logins, use of different resources like printers and terminals, and so on. Unauthorized users have no right to use the system at all or only at a given time of day, or they have no right to use certain system resources.

On a computer system, security breaches usually result from one of four types of actions:

  • User irresponsibility refers to situations where the user purposely or accidentally causes some noticeable damage. One example would be a user who is authorized to access certain files making a copy of a key file to sell.

    There is little that an operating system can do to protect sites from this source of security failure. The problem frequently lies in application design deficiencies or inconsistent use of available controls by users and the security administrator. Sometimes the failure to enforce adequate environmental security unwittingly encourages this type of security problem.

    Even the best security system will fail if implemented inconsistently. This, along with the failure to motivate your users to observe good security practices, will make your system vulnerable to security failures caused by user irresponsibility. Chapter 3 “Using the System Responsibly” discusses what users can do to help maintain system security.

  • User probing refers to situations where a user exploits insufficiently protected parts of the system. Some users consider gaining access to a forbidden system area as an intellectual challenge, playing a game of user versus system. Although intentions may be harmless, theft of services is a crime. Users with more serious intent may seek confidential information, attempt embezzlement, or even destroy data by probing. Always treat user probing seriously.

    The system provides many security features to combat user probing. Based on security needs, the security administrator implements features on either a temporary or permanent basis. See Chapter 4 “Protecting Data” for information on protecting data and resources with protection codes and access control lists.

  • User penetration refers to situations where the user breaks through security controls to gain access to the system. While the system has security features that make penetration extremely difficult, it is impossible to make any operating system completely impenetrable.

    A user who succeeds in penetrating a system is both skilled and malicious. Thus, penetration is the most serious and potentially dangerous type of security breach. With proper implementation of the OpenVMS security features, however, it is also the rarest security breach, requiring unusual skills and perseverance.

  • Social engineering refers to situations in which an intruder gains access to a system not by technical means, but by deceiving users, operators, or administrators. Potential intruders may impersonate authorized users over the phone. Potential intruders may request information that gains them access to the system, such as telephone numbers or passwords, or they may request an unwitting operator to perform some action that compromises the security of the system.

    As the technical security features of operating systems have strengthened in recent years, social engineering has been a factor in a growing percentage of security incidents. Operator training, administrative procedures, and user awareness are all critical factors to ensure that access is not inadvertently granted to unauthorized persons.

The following chapters explain how to avoid these problems: