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How to minimize the threat

By Brett Oliphant, SecurityProfiling Inc.
September 11, 2003 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Intrusion-detection systems (IDS) are the subject of industry controversy after a Gartner Inc. report recommended that companies abandon these systems in favor of firewalls (see story).

If organizations want to stop the constantly evolving types of attacks, they must continue to rely on multitiered defense strategies consisting of network security components layered at the perimeter and internal network machines and devices. Such network security components not only include network- and host-based IDSs, but antivirus software, patch management, firewalls, scanners and intrusion-prevention systems (IPS).

Admittedly, this approach has challenges: Systems are not adequately integrated, do not identify and share vulnerability information, and rely on numerous rules to identify new threats that in turn produce volumes of alerts – all of which are overwhelming the system and its operators.

The main culprits are IDS/IPS technologies that are generally able to spot attacks by common vulnerabilities and exposures, or CVE, identifying that they see on a network. However, these same technologies generally don't have the ability to determine if the targeted machine is actually vulnerable to the attack.

For instance, if malicious code has been written as a Windows-based attack targeting a Windows vulnerability, is the destination IP address actually running Windows or a Unix variant? And, if it's Windows, is it vulnerable to the attack, or has it already been patched? An IDS doesn't have the intelligence to answer these questions and generates incident alerts indiscriminately. In addition, even if the targeted machine is vulnerable, an IDS doesn't have the capability to remediate it.

Furthermore, best-practice and government-compliance directives now require higher standards of network security and integrity to protect consumer privacy, and they must be documented with change-tracking and audit-trail reports.


Brett Oliphant

Companies are finding it increasingly difficult and expensive, especially in an environment with rising security standards and policy compliance requirements, to mitigate new threats and manage numerous systems. But relying solely on firewalls isn't the answer. Vendors must create ways to integrate systems, share information intelligently to better defend against blended threats, reduce management and cost requirements, and automate IDS/IPS configuration and tuning along with vulnerability identification and remediation functionalities.

A first and important step in this process is to improve IDS/IPS to minimize false positives that threaten productivity and result in rising costs. This can be accomplished by integrating client configuration data from client agents or a scanner, which will provide the system with data so it can determine if the targeted machines are vulnerable to the attacks, thereby reducing false positives.

The following functions are achieved through this integration:

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