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Jan 27, 2012

Real-time, deep-packet inspection of network traffic improves security

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The real-time, deep-layer inspection of inbound, outbound and internal network traffic enables companies to improve the security of their information and also to secure information accessed remotely by different devices, says firewall supplier SonicWall director of emerging markets and Europe, Middle East and Africa distributors Dominique Honnay.

The information technology administrator or security officer of a company needs to be able to identify the applications coming into the company’s network, he says.

“We look at the special characteristics of data streams and, based on these, we can determine that the traffic is LinkedIn, Facebook, Facebook Farmville gaming, or Skype, beside others. Our library has a database of 3 800 applications that we can identify and it is growing continuously,” he explains.

All incoming traffic should be scanned and filtered, as is the case with classic Unified Threat Management Solutions (intrusion prevention services, gateway antivirus and antispyware). However, there is a growing need to scan the traffic from specific applications in detail, owing to emerging security threats. This means scanning streaming media, such as Skype, YouTube and Voice-over-Internet Protocols (VoIPs). Also, when companies are using cloud applications, it is critical to ensure a secure network envi- ronment, he says.

“This must happen in real time, as the information is streamed. We have developed our own patented technology, called Reassembly-Free Deep Packet Inspection (RFDPI), to scan network traffic. This engine gives us the ability to scan up to 56 different protocols, including secure hypertext trans- fer protocol and other secure traffic,” he notes.

“One of the things we do is to look for anomalies in the packets. For example, session initiation protocol and VoIP have distinguishing characteristics. We also use our own intelligence database to identify potential threats coming into the network through, for example, VoIP, and we define the patterns that the engine can recognise in the VoIP traffic coming into companies,” explains Honnay.

Companies traditionally focus on securing and filtering information coming from outside into the networks. However, in larger, more open environments, such as in large corporate companies and universi- ties, it is also important to subsegment the internal network in different virtual or physical areas and conduct scans and filtering for internal traffic on the network, he notes.

Meanwhile, given that some employees must be able to access different sites, such as Facebook or LinkedIn, to establish and maintain client relationships, simply blocking access to sites is not the most effective method of dealing with the emerging security threats in the workplace.

Rules for bandwidth prioritisation can be set up to manage the performance of a company’s network because there will always be a greater demand for bandwidth than is available, he adds.

“From a secure remote access point of view, we also must be able to identify which users are accessing our networks, using which applications and what devices. Is the device known to the company, is it a private device, does it have the correct firewall settings and is its antivirus program up to date?”

Employees and managers need to be able to connect to work networks using any device at hand and the critical measure is how companies control this development, states Honnay.

The mechanisms to manage device connectivity mostly have to do with the internal environment, which means that the user must register and authenticate the device on the active directory database, including his or her position in, or relationship with, the company, for example, a consultant.

“Secondly, we have to check the device he or she is using and whether it is a managed or unmanaged device. Can the information technology (IT) manager configure or see the security settings?”

SonicWall’s Secure Remote Access Platforms can check to see if devices are secure and can prevent flooding, which is mass traffic sent to bring down a server or network.

“We can define, for instance, when a person wants to connect with a device that does not meet the company’s security policy; they can only access browser-based applications, and will only be granted full access to the internal network if the user has taken action to secure his device,” he says.

The challenge, if a company wants to effectively secure traffic on its network, is to be able to scan at wire speeds.

“If you cannot scan at 1 Gbit/s, 5 Gbit/s, 40 Gbit/s or higher, you are securing the environment at the cost of performance. There must be a balance between connec- tivity, security and performance.

“We have RFDPI appliances capable of handling 10 Gbit/s and can combine four boxes to enable 40 Gbit/s scanning. We plan to increase this capacity in 2012.”

Meanwhile, SonicWall has identified a potential growth market in South Africa in line with developments in the US and Europe, where smaller companies that are unable to afford skilled or permanent IT security personnel are outsourcing the perimeter security of their networks to specialist companies.

“This is a change in the market that will probably come to South Africa as well,” concludes Honnay.

Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu
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