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Posts Tagged ‘Cisco Systems’

What Security Vendors Said One Year Ago…

January 10, 2012 2 comments

I did not resist, so after publishing the summary of Security Predictions for 2012, I checked out what security vendors predicted one year ago for 2011. Exactly as I did in my previous post, at the beginning of 2011 I collected the security predictions in a similar post (in Italian). I also published in May an update (in English) since, during the Check Point Experience in Barcelona held in May 2011, the Israeli security firm published its predictions. Even if the latters have been published nearly at the half of 2011, for the sake of completeness, I decided to insert them as well in this year-to-year comparison.

Then, I included Symantec (for which this year I did not find any prediction), McAfee, Trend Micro, Kaspersky, Sophos and Cisco. I included Check Point in a second time and I did not include Fortinet, At that time I missed their five security predictions, which I only discovered later so I decided to provide an addendum for this post including Fortinet as well in order to provide a deeper perspective.

The security predictions for 2011 are summarized in the following chart, which reports what the vendors (with the partial above described exception of Checkpoint) expected for the past year in terms of Information Security trends.

But a strict side-by-side comparison with the 2012 information security predictions (extracted by my previous post) is more helpful and meaningful:

As you may notice mobile threats were on top even among the predictions for 2011. This prediction came easily true most of all for Android which suffered (and keeps on suffering) a huge increase in malware detection samples (even if the overall security risk remains contained). Social Media were on top as well: they have been crucial for the Wind of the Changes blown by the Arab Spring but in the same time Social Media have raised many security concerns for reputation, the so called Social Network Poisoning (who remembers Primoris Era?). Although 2011 was the year of the Anonymous, hacktvism ranked “only” at number 4, behind Advanced Persistent Threats, which however played a crucial role for information security (an APT was deployed for the infamous RSA Breach, but it was not an isolated case).

Also botnets, web threats and application vulnerabilities ranked at the top of Security predictions for last year (and came true). As far as botnets are concerned, fortunately 2011 was a very important year for their shutdown (for instance Hlux/Kelihos, Coreflood, Rustock). In several cases the botnets were taken down thanks to joint operations between private sectors and law enforcement agencies (another prediction came true). On the application side, this prediction came true most of all thanks to the Sony breach, the Liza Moon infection and the huge rate of SQLi based attacks and ASP.NET vulnerabilities. We have also assisted to an hard blow to SSL/TLS and XML Encryption.

But what is more surprising (and amusing) in my opinion is not to emphasize which predictions were correct, but rather to notice  which predictions were dramatically wrong: it looks like that, against the predictions, virtualization threats were snubbed by cybercrookers in 2011 (and nearly do not appear in 2012). But the most amusing fact is that no security vendor (among the ones analyzed) was able to predict the collapse of the Certification Authority model thanks most of all to the Comodo and Diginotar Breaches.

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Browsing Security Predictions for 2012

January 8, 2012 4 comments

Update 01/11/2012: Year-to-Tear comparison with 2011 Security Predictions

The new year has just come, vacations are over, and, as usually happens in this period, information security professionals use to wonder what the new year will bring them from an infosec perspective. The last year has been rich of events, whose echo is still resounding, and as a consequence, if RSA and Sony breach were not enough, the main (and somehow obvious) question is: will 2012 stop this trend or rather bring it to unprecedented levels, or, in other words, which threat vectors will disturb the (already troubled) administrators’ sleep?

Unfortunately my divination skills are not so developed (in that case I would not be here), but security firms can give a crucial help since they started to unveil their security predictions for 2012, at least since the half of December, so putting them together, and analyzing them is quite a straightforward and amusing task. Maybe even more amusing will be, in twelve years, to see if they were correct or not.

The security prediction that I take into consideration included, at my sole discretion (and in rigorous alphabetical order):

•    Cisco;
•    Fortinet;
•    Kaspersky;
•    McAfee;
•    Sophos;
•    Trend Micro;
•    Websense;

That is the only leader vendors for which I found predictions issued with original documents (feel free to indicate if I missed someone and I will be very glad to include them in the chart).

In any case, the landscape is quite heterogeneous since it encompasses security vendors covering different areas: one vendor, McAfee, covering all the areas (network, endpoint and content security), two vendors and one half focused on network and content security (Cisco, Fortinet and partially Sophos thanks to the Astaro acquisition), and two vendors focused essentially on endpoint security (Kaspersky and Trend Micro).

The following table summarizes their predictions:

In order to correctly understand the chart a premise is needed: as you will probably have already noticed, in several cases the predictions reflect the specific security focus for the analyzed vendor. For instance, Websense is focused on DLP, and that is the reason why the adoption of DLP is one of its predictions. Analogously McAfee is investing huge resources for Security on Silicon, and this implies that embedded systems and Malware Moving Beyond OS are present among its predictions. Same speech could be applied for Trend Micro and its Cloud Prediction and so on.

Some trends for this year are clearly emphasized: easily predictable Hactivism appears on 6 of the 7 vendors, as mobile (with different connotations) does. Social Media is on the spot as well as are SCADA, Embedded Systems and, quite surprisingly in my opinion, cloud. I would have expected a greater impact for APTs, but for a complete and more accurate analysis one should consider them together with threats targeting embedded systems or ICS. Even because according to several security firms, for instance Kasperky, APT Stuxnet-like will be used for tailored campaigns, whilst more “general purpose malware”, including botnets will be used for massive campaigns (this item is summarized as Mass Targeted Campaigns).

 

Some “old acquaintances” will be with us in 2012: consumerization, at least according to Sophos and Trend Micro (even if consumerization is strictly connected, if not overlapped with mobile) and, if the Comodo and Diginotar affaires were not enough, Rogue Certificates, according to McAfee. Instead some “new entries” are absolutely interesting, such as the threats related to NFC (even if in this case I would have expected a greater impact) or related to Virtual Currency. Besides let us hope that the prediction to adopt DNSSEC be more than a prediction but a consolidated practice.

The most conservative security firm? In my opinion Cisco. The most “visionary”? Maybe Fortinet, I found the “Crime as a Service (CaaS)” absolutely awesome, and most of all not so visionary, since there are already some (even if clumsy) attempts.

In any case with this plenty of Cyber Nightmares is not a surprise the fact the Enterprise security market is going to reach $23 billion worldwide in 2012 with a 8.7% growth year-on-year.

The China Cyber Attacks Syndrome

November 11, 2011 5 comments

A week ago, the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive published a report to Congress concerning the use of cyber espionage to attempt to gain business and industrial secrets from US companies. Easily predictable, the results present a frightening picture!

With no surprise it turned out that the biggest dangers and perpetrators of cyber-espionage operations against American business are China and Russia.

  • Chinese actors are the world’s most active and persistent perpetrators of economic espionage. US private sector firms and cybersecurity specialists have reported an onslaught of computer network intrusions that have originated in China, but the Intelligence Community cannot confirm who was responsible.
  • Russia’s intelligence services are conducting a range of activities to collect economic information and technology from US targets.
  • Some US allies and partners use their broad access to US institutions to acquire sensitive US economic and technology information, primarily through aggressive elicitation and other human intelligence tactics. Some of these states have advanced cyber capabilities.

Unfortunately the predictions for the near future are not encouraging: the authors of the report judge that the governments of China and Russia will remain aggressive and capable collectors of sensitive US economic information and technologies, particularly in cyberspace.

This is mainly due to three factors: a technological shift with a growing number of devices connected to the Internet (according to a Cisco Systems study, the number of devices connected to the Internet is expected to increase from about 12.5 billion in 2010 to 25 billion in 2015). An economical shift driven by the Cloud Paradigm which requires the information to be ubiquitous and always available and, last but not least, a cultural shift which bring users to a growing use of social media for personal and professional use with a dangerous overlapping.

With these considerations in mind I decided to concentrate on a single table all the attacks with cyber espionage implications reported in 2011 for which China was directly or indirectly (or allegedly) considered responsible. The details (and links) of each single attack can be found on my 2011 Cyber Attacks Timeline Master Index (of course the list does not include the infamous Operation Aurora and the attack to G20 during the French Leadership since these events occurred during 2010).

U.S., Canada, Japan and Korea are among the countries hit by the Cyber Attacks from Far East. The most known attack is for sure the one perpetrated against RSA, whose wake affected several U.S. Contractors. Moreover the same attack was not an isolated episode, but the tip of an iceberg hiding 760 affected organizations worldwide.

Shady Rat and the IMF attack were other noticeable events as also the breach reported against the Cyworld the Korean Social Networks in which 37 million users were affected.

A frightening scenario that also generated some resounding fake attacks during 2011 (do you remember the Renault affair?)

A new cold (cyber)war at the gates?

Top Security Challenges for 2011: Check Point’s Perspective

May 16, 2011 1 comment

At the last Check Point Experience in Barcelona, the Israeli-based company unleashed its own Top Security Challenges for 2011.

In a certain sense one might say that it could be quite easy for Checkpoint to make predictions at this point of the year considered that we are in the middle of 2011 (and truthful predictions should already come true), but this is not my point of interest. My point of interest is the fact that, in my prevision evaluation of security predictions for 2011 (we were in December 2010), I was a little bit disappointed for the fact that it had not been possible to compare Check Point, a landmark in Network Security, with the other vendors since at that time it did not release any prediction for the current year. The perspective of this vendor, focused on network security, is a really interesting complement to the landscape (that is unifying endpoint, network and cloud security), since Check Point is considered the pioneer of modern firewall, as well as inventor of the stateful inspection technology, the foundation of network protection.

According to John Vecchi, head of product marketing for Check Point, the following areas will be on the radars and agendas of CISOs worldwide

  • Virtualization and the cloud: according to him, the challenges associated with this trend include lack of skills in the security team, cost of new solutions and regulatory issues. To these challenges I would also add fragmentation of Cloud Environments which need powerful tools to normalize, securize and manage such environments. As a matter of fact we are experiencing the proliferation of Hypervisors, operating systems, services and application that must forcefully coexist each other on the same environment;
  • IT consumerization: Tablets and Smartphones are becoming inseparable companions of Organizations and Enterprises, but, although they are breaking the line between personal and professional life, they have not been natively conceived for a professional usage, and this paves the way to new threats that need to be faced. According to the Israeli company 30% of enterprises are implementing tablet computers and by 2013, we will see a 100% increase in smartphone usage. Meanwhile, according to Juniper Networks, Android Malware increases 4 times faster…
  • Consolidation and complexity in security. According to Check Point there is a huge trend to converge and unify information security technologies. This challenge is not a surprise: the company is well known among security professionals for the completeness of its management framework and the consolidation (of vendors and technologies) is a well consolidated trend in market, vendors and technologies;
  • Web 2.0 and social media: this is another consolidated trend whose last (and more relevant) example is the affair of Primoris Era and the consequent risks of social espionage or social (media) engineering which can have a devastating impact for the Enterprises. But this is not the only risks: due to their six degrees of separations: social networks are a powerful (and reliable) mean to spread infections. In my opinion, this challenge is strictly related to IT consumerisation (as mobile technologies, social media is an example of consumer technologies which rapidly spread into Enterprise), and Enterprises are generally not prepared to face similar threats, which are increasingly pushing the users to cross the boundaries which separate personal and professional usage of their working tools. In both cases, in my opinion, the possible countermeasures are similar: not only technology but (most of all) education for users who should be made aware of risks deriving from crossing that line: would you ever store the last financial plan in the same computer when your son chats, surfs the web or share his life on Facebook? Why should you do on the same phone or tablet where you share your life (without considering the fact that data are continuously sent to Apple, Google and so on…).
  • Data security and data loss: according to Check Point, $7.2m is the average cost of a data breach in 2011. USBs and laptops, corporate email and web mail are the largest sources of data ,loss. Agreeable security challenge, but too easy after the affair of Wikileaks.
  • Threat landscape: according to Check Point, this can be broken down into two motives: Crime and profit, and Cyber-warfare and hacktivists. The biggest recent threats include stuxnet, operation aurora (belonging to the second category), and zeus zbot (belonging to the first). These are the so called Advanced Persistent Threats that are increasingly used not as “exercises of style” but as real weapons for fighting wars on the virtual battlefields or stealing money.

The last predictions have little to deal with security (in the sense that they are general concepts) but are worthwhile to be mentioned as well:

  • Governance, risk and compliance: according to Check Point Governance and compliance has the greatest influence on the information security programme for 60% of companies. In my opinion this challenge goes in the same direction of consolidation and complexity in security which need unified management whose role, definitively is just to enforce the policy (at least this is my model);

  • Cost-saving IT and Green IT: the latter two are strictly joined (and in a certain sense also joined with Cloud and virtualization). IT has always been considered an enabler: but probably in the current complicated situation it is not enough and IT must also support the enterprise to control costs (and moreover in this scenario information security must be a business process).

After analyzing Check Point’s Top Threats I enjoyed in comparing them with the available predictions of other vendors. Of course I had to do some assumptions, that is: I mapped the “Threat Landscape” to Advanced Persistent Threat, “IT Consumerization to Mobile”, and “Data Security and Data Loss” to Removable Media.

The results are represented in the following table:

Checkpoint confirms the mobile as the Top Threat for 2011 (as done, in total, by 6 of the 7 examined vendors, the only excluded, Kaspersky, simply put the mobile as a top threat for 2010). Similarly, Advanced Persistent Threats gained the preference of 5 vendors of the 7 examined, including Check Point, as Social Media did. Curiously, as far as Cloud and Virtualization are concerned, Checkpoint’s Top Challenge is similar to the one provided by Symantec (and Trend Micro): I would have expected more vendors addressing the Cloud and Virtualization as a key concern for the 2011 (and the examples of Epsilon, Amazon and Sony are particularly meaningful of the level of attention deserved by this technology).

On Facing the 2011 Top Security Challenges, particolarly meaningful for Check Point is the role played by the unified management technologies. This is not surprising since, on one hand, vendors and technologies are converging and consolidating themselves in few vendors with a multi-domain porfolio (the ast firm in order of example is Sophos with the acquistion of Astaro); on the other hand Check Point management technologies are considered the state-of-the-art for a unified management framework.

TCP Split Handshake: Why Cisco ASA is not susceptible

May 12, 2011 6 comments

As I told yesterday, I was not very satisfied with the updated NSS remediation guide concerning the TCP Split Handshake issue, published after the second round of testing on Cisco and Fortinet devices.

In particular, in case of Cisco, in my opinion the report was poor on details, considering Cisco’s ACL approach suboptimal and definitively coming to the discouraging conclusion that:

Our original results are unchanged, and ultimately Cisco did offer some mitigation steps.

This is clearly in contrast with what stated in the official Cisco post, which declares Cisco ASA firewall not susceptible to the issue, even if, in my opinion, the most disappointing aspect of the story consists in the fact that no other detail is provided on the NSS document, leaving many unresolved questions about the real nature of the issue and the level of vulnerability of Cisco devices.

Since I was really curious to discover were the truth resides, I decided to ask to Cisco Engineers to provide more details on the testing results, and after few hours it is exactly what they kindly did with an accurate and detailed description of the events posted by Joe Karpenko and Omar Santos, the two engineers who took part to the joint session with NSS Labs.

There are 2 connection establishment handshakes associated with this topic, they are as follows:
* Split Handshake (primary concern/issue)
* Simultaneous Open

By default, the Cisco ASA accelerated security path (asp) prevents both the “Split Handshake” and “Simultaneous Open” using the “tcp-dual-open” connection check. The Cisco ASA firewall drops the TCP SYN segment sent from the server (eg: fakestack.rb) when there is an embryonic TCP connection already open between two endpoints.

However, NSS created and demonstrated a brand new test-case which deviates from the 2 connection establishment handshakes mentioned above along with the most commonly used 3-way handshake. This new test-case is not compliant with the TCP connection establishment equirements defined in RFC 793.

For the “Split Handshake”, the first TCP segment sent by the server (fakestack.rb) in response to the clients TCP SYN segment is a TCP ACK segment (also described in the paper, The TCP Split Handshake: Practical Effects on Modern Network Equipment, pg. 200). However, for the new test-case a TCP RST/ACK segment is sent instead. At this point the client would be in a state called SYN_SENT and the server in the SYN_RCVD state.

The protocol specifications for TCP (defined in RFC 793) define how to process TCP segments received in certain states. When an endpoint is in a SYN_SENT state and it receives a TCP RST/ACK segment the endpoint aborts and closes the connection.

During our testing, the client ignores the TCP RST/ACK segment sent by the server (fakestack.rb) and does not abort the connection. Upon seeing the TCP RST/ACK segment sent by the server (fakestack.rb) the Cisco ASA firewall tears down the connection slot. Immediately following the TCP RST/ACK segment sent by the server (fakestack.rb) it sends a TCP SYN segment which initiates a *new* connection establishment and completes a 3-way handshake that complies with the TCP specifications defined in RFC 793.

For the new test-case, access control list rules can be applied using an access-group and used as additional countermeasures to mitigate and prevent unsolicited connection attempts between the endpoints for a TCP conversation when the client does not abort the connection as defined in the RFC protocol specification for TCP.

Given this description of the events, I completely agree with Cisco’s interpretation and I definitively believe there is nothing strange about the behaviour of the ASA firewall, since it immediately tears down the connection slot upon receiving a TCP RST/ACK (how it should be), and immediately allocates a new connection after receiving the new TCP SYN from the server.

Moreover, in the testing scenario the client behaviour does not fit with the TCP RFC. As a matter of fact, page 32 of the TCP RFC 793 states that:

The principle reason for the three-way handshake is to prevent old   duplicate connection initiations from causing confusion.  To deal with   this, a special control message, reset, has been devised.  If the   receiving TCP is in a  non-synchronized state (i.e., SYN-SENT, SYN-RECEIVED), it returns to LISTEN on receiving an acceptable reset. If the TCP is in one of the synchronized states (ESTABLISHED, FIN-WAIT-1, FIN-WAIT-2, CLOSE-WAIT, CLOSING, LAST-ACK, TIME-WAIT), it aborts the connection and informs its user.  We discuss this latter case under “half-open” connections below.

Not only. Page 37 of the same RFC, on the paragraph “Reset Processing” states that:

In the SYN-SENT state (a RST received in response   to an initial SYN), the RST is acceptable if the ACK field acknowledges the SYN.

Which is exactly the occurrence in the above scenario when the client receives the TCP RST/ACK.

The sum of the two assertions definitively means that the tested scenario is probably not fully compliant to RFC 793 since, as stated by Cisco Engineers, upon receiving the TCP RST/ACK from the server, the client should reset the connection, free the socket and revert to LISTEN state, which corresponds, according to RFC 793, to a state waiting for a new connection request from any remote TCP and port.

And even if could be acceptable to perform a test in similar conditions not covered by the RFC 793, similarly I do not find anything strange or suboptimal in deploying ACLs to prevent unsolicited connection attempts between the endpoint. As I told yesterday, a firewall should protect critical assets from unsolicited connections independently from the risk of a TCP Handshake attack…

Again, I would like to thank the Cisco Engineers for their kindness and the transparency with which they quenched my curiosity thirst.

P.S.: A final thought from my youth

Now the big picture is clear! Few years ago, when I was younger and at the end of my short and shining system engineer life, I stumbled upon the curious case of a custom application which suddenly stopped to work after an upgrade of the firewall. Deeper analysis showed that each session of the application used the same TCP port for source and destination (the port number was used to identify the customer sigh!). Moreover the server used to terminate the connection with a TCP RST/ACK and to immediately open a new connection with a SYN packet with the same source and destination port number of the previous session. Does it sound familiar to you after reading the post? Yes it does! At that time we spent many hours on insulting the dangerous mind of the programmer and his strange interpretation of the TCP-IP RFC (but the client port should not be allocated on the random Ephemeral Port Range from 1024 to 65535?). After many years I got it!: he was a precursor of the TCP Split Handshake attack.

You will be asking which was the firewall that since then proved not to be susceptible to TCP Split Handshake… I will never say it! Not even under torture. I only may say that in order to fix the problem we had to perform a very unlikely tuning on the timeout parameters of the firewall queues…

TCP Split Handshake: The (Never)ending Story…

May 12, 2011 2 comments
Cisco ASA 5510 Adaptive Security Appliance Cluster

Image by Audric Leperdi via Flickr

Update May 12: TCP Split Handshake: Why Cisco ASA is not susceptible

On May, the 9th 2011, nearly in contemporary, Cisco Systems and Fortinet, the last two security vendors involved in the TCP Split Handshake affair, which had not yet released a fix for the encountered issue, released two separate posts indicating the result of a second session of tests performed with NSS Labs.

As you will probably know, Cisco Systems was not able to reproduce the issue on its labs and decided to perform a second joint session with NSS Labs on April, the 21st 2011 promising a definitive, resolutive post for the same day. I must confess I have been waiting for a while for the promised post, eager to know the outcome and the likely happy ending of the story. I still did not know I would have had to curb my hunger for knowledge for nearly 20 days (much more than initially expected), and (unfortunately) I would also have had to renounce to the happy ending as well (at least for Cisco).

Analyzing singularly (and in alphabetical order) the two vendors:

In an update to its initial post, dated May, the 9th 2001, Cisco stated that after a thorough investigation of the TCP Split Handshake issue raised by NSS Labs, the company has confirmed that the Cisco ASA firewall is not susceptible to this issue. In all test cases examined, the ASA operates as expected, providing protection in its default configuration against the Split-Handshake as defined in the original TCP Split Handshake paper. As a result, the Cisco PSIRT (Product Security Incident Response Team) closed this investigation on May 4th.

Moreover, during the two recent visits to NSS Labs, Cisco was presented with a number of scenarios, including new test cases that deviated from the original Split-Handshake scenario. The Cisco PSIRT collected traces and provided feedback to NSS Labs on all scenarios. In each case, Cisco demonstrated successful network protection through the default ASA configuration or the implementation of firewall policies that are fully supported, documented and used pervasively in enterprise deployments.

Similarly, in a nearly contemporary update to its initial post, Fortinet announced the release, on April the 20th 2011, of an update for their FortiGate platform to correctly handle and block the TCP split handshake attack technique. This fix was subsequently tested by NSS Labs, which recognized its effectiveness on permanently addressing the TCP split handshake issue with just the FortiGate firewall function enabled. The patch applies to FortiOS 4.0 MR2 and is available for download, for customers with a forticare contract, on the Company FortiCare support portal. An update to FortiOS 4.0 MR3 is scheduled in the near future.

All’s well that ends well?

Not really! NSS labs has released an update to their remediation guidance freely available, upon registration, at this link. If the document states that, after the update, the Fortinet platform is no more vulnerable to the TCP Split Handshake:

Update: On April 21, 2011 Fortinet provided NSS Labs FortiOS 4.0 MR2 Patch 6. NSS Labs has confirmed that with the patch applied, Fortinet provides protection against the TCP Split Handshake.

In case of Cisco the situation is not so univocally resolved:

Update on May 6: Over the past several weeks, NSS Labs has worked with Cisco, providing numerous configurations, PCAPs and live demonstrations of the TCP Split Handshake getting past a Cisco ASA. Our original results are unchanged, and ultimately Cisco did offer some mitigation steps. Unlike every other tested vendor, Cisco’s approach to defend against the TCP Split Handshake is based upon Access Control Lists (ACLs). An ACL centric approach is suboptimal since it requires firewall administrators to follow best practices as well as have a low-level understanding of how the TCP Split Handshake works in order to avoid an accidental “misconfiguration” that enables the attack. And there are some firewall configurations in which using an ACL will not be possible.

In practice, according to NSS Labs, it looks like (but this is my personal interpretation since the above phrase does not provide enough details), Cisco devices block the TCP Split Handshake if a proper Access Control List is in place. Unfortunately it is not specified if the ACL must permit the traffic (that is an allowed connection showing the TCP Split Handshake pattern is blocked) or must deny it (that is a blocked connection showing the TCP Split Handshake pattern is blocked as it should be). In any case the ACL-based approach is not considered optimal since it requires direct intervention (and configuration) from the Administrators (and a good knowledge of how TCP Split Handshake).

I must confess, if both assumptions are correct, that in any caseI do not completely agree with NSS Labs conclusions. Firstly in my ideal world firewall should be managed by skilled administrators knowing what they do and moreover which could be the impact of configuration changes on possible attack vectors (ok I did not know the occurrence of TCP Split Handshake before the NSS Labs affair, but nobody’s perfect!). Secondly if a critical resource should lack an ACL (or should be the unintended victim of an accidental “misconfiguration”), this could potentially be more dangerous than a “simple” TCP Split Handshake attack since in that case the target resource could be exposed to a pretty much wider range of threats…

Meanwhile I was too curious and I kindly asked to Cisco to provide more details… I will update the post as soon as I will have any…

Some Random Thoughts On The Security Market

May 10, 2011 1 comment

The intention by UK-headquartered company Sophos to acquire Astaro, the privately-held security company co-headquartered in Karlsruhe, Germany and Wilmington, Massachusetts (USA) is simply the last effect of the process of vendor consolidation acting in the information security market. It is also the trigger for some random thoughts…

In the last two years a profound transformation of the market is in place, which has seen the birth (and subsequent growth) of several giants security vendors, which has been capable of gathering under their protective wings the different areas of information security.

The security model is rapidly converging toward a framework which tends to collect under a unified management function, the different domains of information security, which according to my personal end-to-end model, mat be summarized as follows: Endpoint Security, Network Security, Application Security, Identity & Access Management.

  • Endpoint Security including the functions of Antivirus, Personal Firewall/Network Access Control, Host IPS, DLP, Encryption. This component of the model is rapidly converging toward a single concept of endpoint including alle the types of devices: server, desktop, laptop & mobile;
  • Network & Contente Security including the functions of Firewall, IPS, Web and Email Protection;
  • Application Security including areas of WEB/XML/Database Firewall and (why not) proactive code analysis;
  • Compliance: including the functions of assessment e verification of devce and applications security posture;
  • Identity & Access Management including the functions of authentication and secure data access;
  • Management including the capability to manage from a single location, with an RBAC model, all the above quoted domains.

All the major players are moving quickly toward such a unified model, starting from their traditional battlefield: some vendors, such as McAfee and Symantec, initiallty moved from the endpoint domain which is their traditional strong point. Other vendors, such as Checkpoint, Fortinet, Cisco and Juniper moved from the network filling directly with their technology, or also by mean of dedicated acquisitions or tailored strategic alliances, all the domains of the model. A further third category is composed by the “generalist” vendors which were not initially focused on Information Security, but became focused by mean of specific acquisition. This is the case of HP, IBM and Microsoft (in rigorous alphabetical order) which come from a different technological culture but are trying to become key players by mean of strategic acquisitions.

It is clear that in similar complicated market the position and the role of the smaller, vertical, players is becoming harder and harder. They may “hope” to become prey of “bigger fishes” or just to make themselves acquisitions in order to reach the “critical mass” necessary to survive.

In this scenario should be viewed the acquisition of Astaro by Sophos: from a strategical perspective Sophos resides permanently among the leaders inside the Gartner Magic quadrant but two of three companions (Symantec and Mcafee, the third is Trend Micro) are rapidly expanding toward the other domains (meanwhile McAfee has been acquired by Intel). In any case all the competitors have a significant major size if compared with Sophos, which reflects in revenues, which in FY 2010 were respectively 6.05, 2.06 and 1.04 B$, pretty much bigger than Sophos, whose revenues in FY 2010 were approximately 260 M$, about one fourth of the smaller between the three above (Trend Micro which is, like Sophos, a privately-owned company).

In perspective the acquisition may be also more appealing and interesting for Astaro, which is considered one of the most visionary players in the UTM arena with a primary role in the European market. Its position with respect to the competition is also more complicated since the main competitors are firms such as Fortinet, Check Point and Sonicwall which all have much greater size (as an example Checkpoint revenues were about 1.13 B $ in FY 2010 which sound impressive if compared with the 56 M $ made by Astaro in the Same Fiscal Year).

In this scenario, the combined company aims to head for $500 million in 2012.

Last but not least both companies are based in Europe (respectively in England and Germany) and could rely on an US Headquarter in Massachusetts.

From a technological perspective, the two vendors are complementary, and the strategy of the acquisition is well summarized by the following phrase contained in the Acquisition FAQ:

Our strategy is to provide complete data and threat protection for IT, regardless of device type, user location, or network boundaries. Today, we [Sophos] offer solutions for endpoint security, data protection, and email and web security gateways. The combination of Sophos and Astaro can deliver a next generation set of endpoint and network security solutions to better meet growing customer needs […]. With the addition of Astaro’s network security, we will be the first provider to deliver truly coordinated threat protection, data protection and policy from any endpoint to any network boundary.

Sophos lacks of a network security solution in its portfolio, and the technology from Astaro could easily fill the gap. On the other hand, Astaro does not own an home-built antivirus technology for its products (so far it uses ClamAV and Avira engines to offer a double layer of protection), and the adoption of Sophos technologies (considered one of the best OEM Antivirus engine) could be ideal for its portfolio of UTM solutsions.

Moreover the two technologies fit well among themselves to build an end-to-end security model: as a matter of fact Information security is breaking the boundary between endpoint and network (as the threats already did). Being obliged to adapt themselves to the new blended threats, which often uses old traditional methods to exploit 0-day vulnerabilities on the Endpoint, some technologies like Intrusion prevention, DLP and Network Access Control, are typically cross among different elements of the infrastructure, and this explains the rush of several players (as Sophos did in this circumstance) to enrich their security portfolio with solutions capable of covering all the information Security Domains.

Just to have an idea, try to have a look to some acquisitions made by the main security players in the last years (sorry for the Italian comments). Meanwghile the other lonely dancers (that is the companies currently facing the market on their own), are advised…

Cisco

HP

IBM

Intel

Microsoft

Check Point

Fortinet

Juniper Networks

Symantec

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