Find the rogue protocols
San Diego-based startup Akonix Systems Inc is offering companies a way to monitor and regulate employees' use of insecure internet services such as instant messaging, with the launch of its first product, L7, yesterday. The software targets "rogue protocols", defined as those that intentionally avoid network security.
L7 (for "Layer 7", the application layer) will allow IT managers to identify and control use of "rogue protocols" at the level that firewalls may not. Available at the end of the month, the product will initially support popular IM protocols, but "protocol adaptors" for software such as peer-to-peer file sharing will be released over the coming months.
"We expect to release a series of these adaptors as IT departments experience new rogue protocols," said VP or marketing John Gaffney. The company is starting with IM as it is seen as the greatest security risk at present. "IMs meant to be internal are actually going out in clear text over the public internet," he said.
There are many problems companies have with IM and file-sharing applications. Both are increasingly being found to have security holes that in some cases allow attackers to take over target computers and both have been targeted as virus-distribution methods. File-sharing applications are occasionally mis-configured to open up more of a user's hard drive than they intended.
In addition, there are legal reasons why companies may not want to allow their employees free rein on these services. Objectionable content stored in file shares could open the company to liability, while many IM clients do not have features such as logging and archiving of messages, required by law for financial institutions.
When L7 is installed, it reads the company's employee directory, if one exists in a supported standard such as LDAP, and associates access rights with each employee. When employees start using IM or P2P applications, L7 automatically associates their screen name with their network identity, enforces that user's rights, and logs their activities.
The product is available as a standalone application proxy server, or as an extension to a firewall, and will be priced starting at $40 per year per user in 50-user deployments, discounted down to the "single digits" for larger purchases. It is compatible with Check Point Software Technologies Inc's firewall products, Gaffney said.
However, the company may find its market faces the biggest threat from firewall and employee internet management (filtering) software firms. There has been a movement over the last year towards converging EIM and firewalls, and it is possible either type of vendor may look to integrate "rogue protocol" functionality in their software.
Gaffney is not too concerned. "Firewall vendors seem to be looking more that the whole VPN space," he said. "We believe we have a good opportunity here."