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NetScreen Technologies is to integrate intrusion protection technology into its range of hardware firewalls this winter as part of its plans to provide more robust defences against application-level attacks.

Firewalls were traditionally designed to guard against network-level attacks - such as IP spoofing and port/network scans - but as more sophisticated application-layer attacks, such as worms and exploits of known software vulnerabilities, have become increasingly common a need has arisen to rejig corporate defences.

For larger offices, a standalone intrusion detection/intrusion protection (IDP) appliance in addition to a firewall might be the way to go, but an alternative approach is to integrate intrusion protection and firewall technology onto the same platform.

That's the approach NetScreen has taken with its Deep Inspection technology, which features a sub-set of the blocking mechanisms found in its standalone IDP appliances, and will be delivered through a upgrade of the firm's firewall/VPN software, Screen OS version 5, in November. The software upgarde will be available across NetScreen's firewall product range in December.

According to NetScreen, Deep Inspection can provide protection against more than 250 application-level attacks and protocol deviations to key Web services, such as email, file transfer and Web browsing. The functionality is enabled through "deep inspection" into traffic for the following protocols: HTTP, SMTP, IMPA, POP, FTP and DNS, with additional protocol support planned in future releases. Periodic updates provide protection against new types of attacks.

Robert Ma, a Senior Director of Product Marketing and Management at NetScreen, explained that because Deep Inspection looks deeper into traffic there is a trade off which means users looking to maximise performance should still consider deploying separate IDP and firewall appliances. For example, NetScreen's low-end 5GT firewall runs at 75Mbps normally but at only 18Mbps with Deep Inspection technology activated, according to preliminary figures.

In H1 2004, NetScreen's plans to boost the performance of the technology across its product range with hardware acceleration.

Largely because of current performance and functionality limitations, NetScreen is positioning its Deep Inspection as most appropriate for regional and branch offices, instead of central sites.

NetScreen's arch-rival, Check Point, is going down a similar route. Then there’s a growing band of all-in-one appliance vendors who are targeting the same branch office and mid-size businesses as NetScreen is targeting with its Deep Inspection. NetScreen's Ma urged users to look at the functionality when making choices between competitive products in this segment.

In a related announcement (also today), NetScreen said it plans to make its technology easier to manage. NetScreen Security Manager 2004, due in December, is designed to simplify the management of firewall deployments and make it more straightforward to delegate specific management roles around an organisation. ®

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