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Sourcefire touts 'smart' network defence

Improved vulnerability detection technology

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Sourcefire, the company founded by the creator of the open source Snort intrusion detection system, has added improved vulnerability detection technology to help customers bolster their security defences.

The real time network analysis offered by its Sourcefire 3D system can place security events in context and thereby help reduce the frequency on false alarms by up to 90 per cent, Sourcefire claims. Users can use the technology to enforce policies based on the correlation of detected threat with network vulnerability and asset data. Sourcefire said its Real-time Network Awareness (RNA) Sensors score over vulnerability scanners because they provide constant feedback through passive detection of network activity rather than the snap shot offered by the "potentially disruptive" scanner approach.

False alarms - such as alerts about Nimda-style attacks launched against Linux server farms - have been the Achilles heel of intrusion detection systems, the network equivalent of burglar alarms. In response the industry has moved towards intrusion prevention systems (IPS) which automatically block a subset of well-understood attacks.

Martin Roesch, founder and CTO of Sourcefire and creator of Snort, said that intrusion prevention and firewall technologies would converge. Firewalls alone can't deal with problems like Nimda-style worms spreading across internal networks and stand-alone intrusion prevention technology fails to defend against anything other than well-known attacks, Roesch argued. "Intrusion prevention is a partial solution because the technology is purely signature based or, in the case of defending against DDoS attacks, rate based. Use of the technology can also creates a bottleneck on the network," Roesch told El Reg. He contrasted the intrusion prevention technology with Sourcefire 3D's learn, block and correct approach. "Users could put our sensors inline if they wanted to. We can deliver intrusion prevention by other means," he said.

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. That much is common ground between Sourcefire and intrusion prevention systems (IPS) vendors.

Leading IPS vendors, such as Top Layer, argue that rather than loading extra application-aware intelligence into firewalls better performance can be obtained by using standalone intrusion detection and prevention, such as its Attack Mitigator IPS 5500. It would argue its hardware-based technology is superior at automatically blocking attacks.

Sourcefire 3D, released in the US earlier this quarter, is available in Europe from today (28 October). System prices start at approximately $40,000. ®

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Don't put app protection on your firewall, Mr Jones (in praise of standalone IPS appliances)

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