Cisco playing network defense

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

PG&E uses Cisco PIX firewalls, Clean Access NAC appliances, VPN concentrators and Firewall Service Modules on the Catalyst 6500 LAN switches, as well as the "latest and greatest" security features on Cisco switches and routers, Nielsen says.

"It's more than just deciding if you have the right certificate or the right credentials; it's more important that we find out if there's a watermark on the PC, if this is a PG&E person," Nielsen says.

An announcement last week by Cisco and Intel might help. Intel enhanced its vPro processor technology with a Cisco-certified "embedded trust agent" that offers Cisco customers the ability to manage systems without lowering the security on IEEE 802.1x networks and Cisco SDN products.

Nielsen says PG&E hasn't been briefed yet on Cisco's road map for that. But where SDN currently fits is in spots where PG&E is installing new Cisco infrastructure.

"Where we've had problems is where we have legacy systems," Nielsen says. "If a company buys into the Cisco solution and they buy all of the pieces, it works great; but you've got to have all of the pieces there. You can't do clean access NAC on a Catalyst 1900 switch that was built six or 10 years ago; it just doesn't work."

Nielsen notes that this issue is industrywide, not Cisco-specific.

Customer, analyst wish lists

PG&E would like to see Cisco take SDN into the realm of virtualization, especially with intrusion detection.

"That's huge for us because it allows us to focus our alarms on traffic that's specific to that segment," Nielsen says. "Currently, you have a lot of false alarms reporting" due to breaches on other segments.

But for now, IronPort and its messaging security technology are the basis of SDN 3.0. There's still much more to fill out, Current Analysis analyst Dunlap says.

"I'd like to also know how Cisco's going to combat threats through security technology aside from e-mail security -- things like IPS, behavioral technology, risk assessment," she says. "How they're going to be competing with McAfee, Symantec and others."

Phil Hochmuth, a network security analyst with The Yankee Group, says Cisco's emphasis on Web 2.0, collaboration and the "human network" will bring added risk as well as reward.

"The next step for SDN is to deal with Web 2.0 in the enterprise, beyond the network-centric stuff Cisco's done well for a long time," he says.

Platon urges SDN watchers to stay tuned.

"I don't think we're by any means done yet," he says. "The security issues are accelerating and the criminalization of the global network unfortunately is going to also accelerate. We're going to need to have better tools to enforce policy, better tools to understand that this is a safe connection request to accept."

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