Cisco playing network defense

Its Self-Defending Network strategy moves forward via IronPort buyout, customer demands

Cisco's 6-year-old Self-Defending Network strategy for securing converged networks remains a work in progress: Acquisitions and internal developments are moving it forward even as customers push Cisco to go above and beyond its initial plans.

Cisco spends US$400 million annually -- roughly 10 percent of its total R&D budget -- on security. The company's aim with SDN is to integrate security into all aspects of a converged data, voice and video network with a focus on secure connectivity, threat defense, and trust and identity management.

In June, Cisco provided its most recent update on SDN after its acquisition of IronPort Systems, a privately held developer of e-mail and Web security products. Cisco said IronPort ushered in Version 3.0 of SDN (Version 1.0 involved Cisco's recognition that security is more than point products, like firewalls, VPN concentrators and intrusion-detection systems; Version 2.0 comprised building those capabilities into Cisco products.)

Cisco plans to port IronPort's SenderBase reputation services onto Cisco Adaptive Security Appliance firewalls by the first half of 2008. Cisco also plans to port SenderBase to other key security or routing platforms, such as the Integrated Services Routers and Mitigation Analysis and Response System. Integration with Cisco and third-party network admission control (NAC) products also is expected.

"If they can now get e-mail security, Web security -- basically all the secure messaging technologies -- into that mix they've got a bigger story," says Charlotte Dunlap, senior analyst of enterprise security at Current Analysis.

Dunlap is keeping an eye on how Cisco might take advantage of an existing relationship between IronPort and Vontu, a developer of software that analyzes content and authorizes user access at endpoints to protect against data leakage.

"I'd really like to hear their data-leakage story," says Dunlap, who compares Cisco's purchase of IronPort to Secure Computing's acquisition of CipherTrust last year. "IronPort does not offer the level of depth that the data-leakage prevention providers do."

Cisco intends to maintain IronPort's ties to Vontu and exploit the relationship for inclusion in the SDN architecture, according to Jeff Platon, vice president of security marketing at Cisco.

"I think of that as a part of the solution but I do see a variety of other parts of the portfolio that are also being enhanced to be able to participate in a more comprehensive data-leakage solution," Platon says. "It's a tough problem -- you can't just rely on one methodology."

An earlier Cisco buyout, that of FineGround in May 2005, also fits into the plan.

Pieces of the FineGround technology have found their way into the Application Control Engine blade for Cisco Catalyst 6500 switches, Platon says. ACE is a key component of SDN's data-center security component, in which application connection requests to server farms are inspected for legitimacy and outbound content authorization, and filtered for malware.

Beyond SDN 3.0, Cisco plans to build greater collaboration among network-, content- and application-layer services, Platon says. Reputation services also will broaden to include end users, perhaps through what Platon calls a global passport service yet to be created by a public- or private-sector enterprise.

"You're going to have to have some way to determine who someone is with some semblance of accuracy," Platon says. "Reputation on a user basis is one of the possibilities that I think has a great amount of likelihood to come to pass."

That hits home with Pacific Gas & Electric, which is undergoing a business transformation whereby it is constructing centralized resource management centers. PG&E is relying on Cisco for desktop-to-core connectivity, process and security requirements, says Paul Nielsen, lead supervisor of LAN/WAN services at the utility.

"At those centers, where we've deployed the majority of their products, is where to build a self-defending network," Nielsen says.

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Jim Duffy

Network World
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