In an opinionated, but insightful article on The Inquirer web-site, an author mentions the case of a large financial organization, whose network was compromised by the recent Zotob worm. The article then goes on to discuss the liabilities that financial and health organizations may face when it is discovered that they had such a security breach.
Worm outbreaks as security events
Firstly, it is important to recognize that a worm infection in any corporate network is indeed a security breach: You cannot guarantee which backdoors or trojans are or were running on an infected machine. Thus, any data on that machine may have been accessed by some unauthorized outside party.
This means then that organizations in certain industries, in which regulations apply such as the Sarbanes-Oxley act, may face severe penalties for any such security incident. At the same time, these organizations are burdened with an IT infrastructure, which is prone to be buggy and with exploitable vulnerabilities popping up with either no or only very short advance notice. As we know, the patch-window is shrinking, which gives organizations less and less time to react, and may even be entirely absent in the case of a true zero-day exploit.
Claiming best-practices as defense
One of the key defenses that an organization has against any legal charges is to claim that whichever procedures and systems they had in place are commonly accepted as best-practice in the industry. For example, for the longest time, having firewalls was best-practice, and not much more was agreed upon for network security. These days, we know that firewalls alone are not sufficient, and defense in-depth is needed. For any large corporation, best-practice includes also timely patching and internal firewalls, just to name a few items.
All of these defense mechanisms, however, have a serious drawback: They are based on prior-knowledge. On rules and signatures, which have to be configured or loaded and kept up-to-date. Defending against the unknown, such as a zero-day worm, or a worm which takes advantage of a very recent exploit, is not readily possible with those traditional means of security.
Organizations need to improve their security architectures
I think it is only a matter of time before the various regulatory agencies realize that many organizations in critical industries and sectors are just not doing enough. For example, behavioral based anomaly detection has been around for a while. With truly intelligent solutions, such as those based on neural networks, these systems can rapidly detect outbreaks even of zero-day worms. With the right solution, mitigation signatures can be extracted in real-time, without having to rely on any prior knowledge. With that in place, networks can protect themselves rapidly. See here for more detail on how this can be done.
Anomaly detection is already part of the best-practices
Therefore, anomaly detection is a readily available tool, which is ready for main-stream deployment. The regulatory agencies will soon realize that there is no reason not to have those solutions as part of a best-practices security architecture.
So when will organizations learn that they need to significantly improve their security approach? The article says:
Here is when they'll learn, when someone notices that getting infected violates a whole bunch of laws, and that brings down the legal hammers on them.
It is not necessary to let it come that far. Organizations today already have cost effective and very powerful solutions available in the form of intelligent, neural-network powered behavioral anomaly detection systems. Deploying those in your network will lend a lot of credibility to any claim of following best-practices.