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Preventing malicious changes in the wiring closet

How do I protect my company's expensive networking equipment in the wiring closet from unauthorized people making malicious or inadvertent changes to the network? We work with very sensitive, real-time information, and cannot afford for our top people to become disconnected from the network because someone pulled the wrong plug.
Unintentional and malicious changes to corporate networks have gotten a significant amount of exposure lately. Corporations are transmitting increasingly valuable information and requiring service levels unexpected by first-generation designers.

There are a number of products in the marketplace that are designed to assist in monitoring the various layers of your network. At this time, the least costly and most widely used software-based solutions are programs such as Tivoli, or HP OpenView. They can be installed and deployed in a relatively short amount of time and will provide very good information at the upper layers of your network.

However, the most significant and overlooked shortfall of these programs is their inability to monitor the physical aspects of your network. For example, they are incapable of reporting changes in the actual patching scheme, and are therefore ineffective in mitigating unintentional or malicious changes executed in the wiring closet. To address these growing concerns, several manufacturers have added intelligence to into the physical layer of the network by combining 'smart patch panels' with active electronics and software. By placing sensors on the patch panels and then attaching these sensors to an interpretive mechanism, the IT professional will be alerted when a patch cord is removed from a port the instant that the change is made.

These systems are ideal for companies that can affix a dollar amount to downtime such as yours, as the system also significantly decreases troubleshooting time by correctly identifying physical alterations. The ideal network architecture would combine a good network management software package like the two mentioned above with a smart patching system in order to maximize the IT manager's visibility into his or her network.

Adding intelligence to the physical layer can further your ability to monitor unauthorized changes because it adds additional levels of security to the network. Cameras can be set up in the wiring closet to take instantaneous pictures of anyone who makes an unauthorized change. These pictures can then be sent to the IT manager so he or she knows exactly who is responsible for the situation.

This was last published in April 2001

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