Keeping hackers out of the modern network infrastructure

“The business promise of convergence can never happen unless you address security,” said Bruce Claflin, CEO of network gear maker 3Com Corp., during a recent speech. That sentence goes a long way to explaining why network equipment vendors are cozying up to IT security firms.

Network gear makers are getting serious about security software and hardware — boxes, bits and bytes designed to safeguard the complex connectivity arrangements of “convergence,” whereby all types of communication (voice, video and data) reside on a single network infrastructure.

The business benefits of convergence are far-reaching. This network commingling should help companies drive down network operating costs, save money on long-distance phone charges and improve employee productivity.

But if one network carries every kind of communication, it’s extremely important for that network to be secure. To lock down the increasingly integral switches, routers and wireless access points that comprise the modern enterprise communication environment, network equipment sellers are beefing up their ties to the security industry.

Earlier this year, 3Com acquired TippingPoint Technologies Inc. TippingPoint makes intrusion prevention systems for network protection. 3Com’s representatives said their company would not only continue to sell TippingPoint appliances, but also embed the new subsidiary’s guarding technology into 3Com routers and switches, to strengthen network installs at the core.

“We want to be the leader in secure, converged networks in the enterprise,” Claflin said, adding that 3Com has the full range of equipment — wireless devices, core and edge switches and routers, and IP phone platforms — for businesses to build converged networking systems.

But 3Com isn’t the only company looking to be the enterprise’s main go-to vendor for secure networking. Enterasys Networks Inc. embarked on a campaign last year to win customers with products centred around network security. The company expects its list of network management tools and security-centric Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) running proprietary algorithms to give it a leg up on the competition.

As part of the strategy, Enterasys unveiled the Dynamic Intrusion Response, a product designed to allow customers to automate intrusion detection, network management and intrusion response. It combines the power of the Enterasys Dragon intrusion defence system and the NetSight Atlas network management system.

Cisco Systems Inc. is also getting in on the security game. According to Russell Rice, director of marketing for the firm’s security group, Cisco is all about the “self-defending network” these days. A crucial aspect of this self-protecting infrastructure: Network Admission Control (NAC). NAC links enterprise security policies to network admission. “How do I make sure everything that connects to my network conforms to my policy, and then determine what kind of access it has?” Rice said during an interview in February. “One path is smarter, faster, better in terms of the technology we’re familiar with, whether it be firewall, intrusion detection,” etc.

Cisco is also working hand in hand with Microsoft Corp. to ensure the networking giant’s NAC integrates with the software giant’s NAP. That’s Network Access Protection, Microsoft’s operating-system-based information gatekeeper. It’s supposed to show up in future versions of the company’s OS.

Industry analysts have noted that network equipment vendors might be smart to address security when it comes to convergence. Not only is it important to keep the data, voice and video conduits free of intruders, the security obsession lets gear makers tap into two hot markets at one time: convergence and digital protection.

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— with files from Mike Martin

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