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Extended Enforcement

Companies are using compliance tools to ensure that security policies are followed at network endpoints.

May 10, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Like many companies, for several years Tripos Inc. has required employees who work remotely to install a firewall and antivirus software on the laptop or desktop PCs they use to connect to the corporate network via VPN.
But it wasn't until about a year ago that the St. Louis-based drug research company adopted measures to enforce end-user compliance with those requirements.
Technology from InfoExpress Inc. in Mountain View, Calif., helps Tripos monitor and audit all remote end-user systems to ensure that they have active firewalls and updated antivirus software. Systems that don't have both are automatically shut out of the Tripos network.
Tripos is one of a growing number of companies turning to monitoring and auditing technologies such as those from InfoExpress to enforce policy compliance at vulnerable network endpoints. The tools, many of which require software agents to be installed on client devices, inspect systems for active firewalls, the latest antivirus signatures, secure configuration settings and unauthorized privilege escalation.
The demand for such endpoint enforcement technologies is being driven by growing concerns that remote client devices could be compromised and used by attackers to gain entry into core production systems, says Jerry Wintrode, senior network architect at Tripos. For instance, this month's Sasser and last year's Blaster and Slammer worms spread primarily via infected client systems.
Privacy concerns and regulatory issues are also creating a need for endpoint compliance.
"Until you have something that absolutely enforces policies, you may as well admit that you have a back door into your network," Wintrode says. "You could make all the policies you wanted to and educate your employees until they are all security experts. But someone is still going to screw up."
For the most part, endpoint compliance technologies include agent software that's installed on end-user systems, an enforcement component and a policy management server tool. At a high level, the agent software sits on each client device and collects information on a variety of issues, such as the status of antivirus software, firewalls, host intrusion-detection systems, file versions, patches and registry values.

The enforcement agent typically sits between the client and the corporate gateway and audits this information for compliance with corporate policies. Systems that are compliant are allowed access to the network, while those that aren't are either automatically blocked or redirected to a quarantine site for fixes. In some cases, the tools can be used to bring an endpoint device into compliance, by turning on a firewall or downloading the latest antivirus signatures, for instance.
In other cases, the enforcement agent can send a message back to

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