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If one server in a DMZ network gets attacked from outside, will the other servers be corrupted?

An attack to a DMZ server is a big security risk. But does it necessarily mean that other servers are infected? Network security expert Mike Chapple weighs in.

I need to create five servers in a DMZ network. But if one server gets attacked from outside of the network, will the other servers automatically be corrupted? How can the others be protected if one of them is compromised?
The question you're asking is quite a common one and is a good illustration of why security professionals embrace the "defense-in-depth" philosophy.

You're insightful to point out that the compromise of a single server within a DMZ places all of the other devices...

in that DMZ at risk. However, it's important to point out that the compromise of one system does not necessarily mean that other servers will "automatically" become compromised. When an attacker gains access to a single server, that system does provide a possible foothold in your network. Relying upon the trust relationships between your DMZ's servers, the hacker can then leverage that foothold to gain access to other systems.

How can the enterprise be protected from this risk? By using security controls other than the network firewall that segments the DMZ. For example, deploy host firewall software on each server within the DMZ, restricting inbound traffic to that which is necessary to meet business requirements. These rules should even apply to outside servers that have been collocated in the DMZ. Similarly, implement all of the other system hardening best practices: ensure that systems are patched properly, practice good account management and deploy antivirus and intrusion detection software on the network.

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This was last published in March 2008

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