Security hardware finds renewal

As a year marked by increased computer attacks and vulnerabilities draws to a close, budget-conscious IT workers are seeking a way to combat the increasingly complex security assaults quickly, but with as little effort and cost as possible.

With these demands in mind, vendors such as McAfee, e-business Technology Inc., and SonicWALL Inc. are re-emphasizing the importance of security hardware devices as a solution for frustrated users who need strong, pervasive security to cover data, transactions, and other vital enterprise attributes.

End-user and corporate interest in security appliances is on the upswing because such devices can offer greater simplicity than do software solutions that need constant managing and monitoring in an enterprise, says Jan Sundgren, associate analyst at Giga Information Group Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

“It is a trend. Wherever you can simplify security, especially in areas such as anti-virus that are not [business] strategic, you’d rather set up protection and forget about it,” Sundgren explains. “If it’s not linked to a business process, simplify [security] management any way you can.”

Indeed, the rash of recent viruses and calls for more security protection of data have companies on the prowl for solutions that can stabilize and quiet some of the security uproar.

McAfee is addressing that point with the release of its network perimeter-oriented WebShield e250 AV (anti-virus) appliance. The plug-in device scans Web traffic and a range of major Internet protocols including HTTP, SMTP, FTP, and POP3 at the gateway, and offers content-filtering and spam-blocking capability, says Ryan McGee, group product marketing manager at Sunnyvale, Calif.-based McAfee.

WebShield e250 is geared toward small and midsize business customers, joining the company’s WebShield 500 appliance in the hardware product line. According to McGee, WebShield e250 scans approximately 30,000 messages per hour in SMTP mode, and WebShield 500, which has a dual processor, can handle 130,000 messages in the same time frame.

“As threats advance and become more sophisticated, implementing and managing network perimeter protection can be a bigger job than people want to take on,” McGee says. “The attraction of getting an appliance to do it provides no hassles.”

Security firm e-business Technology also introduced its centralized vulnerability scanning and policy monitoring SIB (Security In a Box) product in early December. Intended for Microsoft Windows-based networks, SIB combines e-business Technology’s hardware and software security offerings – PoliVec Builder, PoliVec Scanner and IDS (intrusion detection services) – into a single preinstalled and preconfigured package on a Pentium III server, said officials at the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based company.

“The biggest thing about Security In a Box, and what customers are pushing us toward, is tight packaging: being able to install it quickly and efficiently and identifying potential attacks and threats,” says Tony Locke, CTO of e-business Technology.

Other SIB features include audit capabilities, password repository and warning identification, reports, and customized security policies. Locke says the company’s security hardware has “zero impact” on existing enterprise configurations.

“It’s very cost-effective for our customers and us to be able to pop this in. Time lines are very short; with the coupling of hardware and software, we get the reliability,” Locke explains.

Brian Berg, manager of database administration at New York-based RestaurantTrade, an ASP that stores, reports, and correlates back-end data for restaurants, says that the bevy of security attacks this year has him looking for products equipped to track suspicious activity around data entry points.

“I’m looking for what types of products make you more aware: policies, rules, monitoring. I need to know if something is out of the ordinary,” Berg explains. “You have to worry about external threats. Our customers just want to know their data is protected – period.”

To focus on access and authentication, Sunnyvale, Calif.-based SonicWALL unveiled its new batch of ASIC-based hardened firewall and accelerated VPN access security appliances at December’s InfoSec security show. The new products include SonicWALL TELE3, SonicWALL SOHO3, and SonicWALL PRO 100, PRO 200, and PRO 300, says Kevin Connors, director of product marketing at SonicWALL.

Designed for remote employees and office branches, the new products feature secure auto AV updates and authentication services, content filtering, and socket layer off-loading performance enhancement. The appliances can be integrated separately or as part of a distributed network environment using SonicWALL’s Global Management System, Connors says.

Connors adds that SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) and encryption-protected data off-loading will play a huge role in transaction speed, trust, and performance delivered via the Web.

“If you look at new kinds of applications moving into Web interfaces, SSL is becoming more important for e-commerce transactions,” Connors explains. “A hardware device will be critical to satisfy customers.”

The rise in security appliance interest may continue since there seems to be no sign that the number of security attacks will decrease in coming years. Unfortunately this means no rest for those managing their companies’ security efforts.

“Our customers are feeling that stuff is being thrown at them so fast, for them to manage and maintain it is very difficult,” Locke says. “We’re finding an increase of customers saying, ‘[Security] is changing faster than we can manage it.’ That’s been a big driver [for hardware].”