Security Manager's Journal: Upgrading, and looking for the best we can afford

Several of the company's security technologies are reaching end of life. It's a new experience for our manager to be improving security measures instead of closing gaps.

I've spent the last few weeks evaluating some technologies to improve my company's security posture. These are replacements for products we already have, as opposed to brand-new technologies for us. That's because some of our products are getting past their support lifetime, and they're not performing up to my expectations. This is an interesting situation, because I think it's the first time in my career that I've had the luxury of focusing on technology improvement instead of closing a gap.

The first area I'm looking at involves our patching capabilities. I've written recently about Java vulnerabilities and their associated zero-day exploits and our efforts to keep up with all the software updates. Until now, the way our IT department has been dealing with that was to manually push out and install the updates. The same was true for Adobe products. But the newest versions of these products have built-in capabilities to check for and install updates and new versions.

Auto updates can cause problems. Updates that self-install without any in-house testing may not work properly with all of an organization's software, breaking functionality. You then have to spend a lot of time troubleshooting and resolving that issue. Another problem is that end users are bombarded by update prompts, sometimes several times a day. Users usually don't know how to deal with installation failures, which can happen because of connectivity or software issues. And they don't know how to determine whether an update is legitimate. With so many fake update scams going around that try to trick users into installing malware, it's hard for them to know when it's OK to install an update and when it's not. In fact, I'd like to tell them never to install any updates, and let IT handle it.

In short, automatic updates are really not the best way to keep enterprise software up to date. Yet we still need to install the security fixes as soon as possible.

We are using the basic Windows update software provided by Microsoft, but it doesn't update Java and Adobe products. And to be frank, it doesn't really do that great a job of updating Microsoft products. So we've been looking into products that can update products from all three vendors, after being approved by an IT administrator. The challenges are that I'm not picking the product, my IT counterparts are, and the products they are looking at are really expensive. The IT people are talking with several vendors, taking lots of meetings, and suffering through hours-long sales pitches, and I'm not really in a position to help them do it better. My approach would be to find out from a reliable third-party expert which vendor has the best value (functionality that meets our needs for the least cost), and try out that vendor's product. But that's not the way it's being done, so for now, we're still somewhat distant from our goal and may end up paying more than we should.

Another technology I've been checking out is email filtering products and services. Until recently, the filter we've been using has done a pretty good job of stopping spam and phishing messages. Now, for some reason, we have seen a sharp increase in phishing. Because this product is almost at end-of-life anyway, it's time for something new. I'm thinking of going with an Internet-based software-as-a-service offering instead of a premises-based appliance, like we have now, because it's only going to be filtering inbound e-mail. Why not stop those unwanted messages while they're still in the Internet, before they reach us? So I'm looking into email filtering services to see what best meets our needs. Postini was once the undisputed king of email filtering, but because I'm not really sure what Google is doing with it, I'm looking at other options.

Web filtering is another technology that is in need of refresh in my environment. Our old tried-and-true product is performing admirably, after years of being fine-tuned by daily administration, but because it's nearing the end of its support lifetime, I'll need to either upgrade or replace it. I'd like to find a smarter Web filtering product that doesn't require so much attention. Subscribing to blacklists and manually managing individual domains for blocking and allowing is time-consuming and not completely reliable, and that causes frustration for both our administrators and our end users.

Finally, I'm looking into upgrading my security information and event management (SIEM) tool. I'm currently using an inexpensive SIEM product from Cisco that used to be the best but has gradually fallen behind other commercial products, into abandonment. It has finally reached the end of its life. I don't have a lot of money to spend, so I'm again looking for the best value. How can I meet my business needs while spending a reasonable amount of money? That is the question.

While replacing technologies that I already have instead of bringing in new ones is all fairly new to me, I'm applying the same principles and approach I've always used for evaluating options. And I'm looking forward to taking advantage of the newest inventions (that I can afford) for managing network security.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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