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Cisco playing network defence

Cisco playing network defence

Cisco's six-year-old Self-Defending Network strategy for securing converged networks remains a work in progress: Acquisitions and internal developments are moving it forward even as customers push Cisco to go above and beyond its initial plans.

Cisco spends US$400 million annually -- roughly 10 percent of its total R&D budget -- on security. The company's aim with SDN is to integrate security into all aspects of a converged data, voice and video network with a focus on secure connectivity, threat defence, and trust and identity management.

In June, Cisco provided its most recent update on SDN after its acquisition of IronPort Systems, a privately held developer of email and web security products. Cisco said IronPort ushered in Version 3.0 of SDN (Version 1.0 involved Cisco's recognition that security is more than point products, like firewalls, VPN concentrators and intrusion-detection systems; Version 2.0 comprised building those capabilities into Cisco products.)

Cisco plans to port IronPort's SenderBase reputation services onto Cisco Adaptive Security Appliance firewalls by the first half of 2008. Cisco also plans to port SenderBase to other key security or routing platforms, such as the Integrated Services Routers and Mitigation Analysis and Response System. Integration with Cisco and third party network admission control (NAC) products also is expected.

"If they can now get email security, Web security -- basically all the secure messaging technologies -- into that mix they've got a bigger story," says Charlotte Dunlap, senior analyst of enterprise security at Current Analysis.

Dunlap is keeping an eye on how Cisco might take advantage of an existing relationship between IronPort and Vontu, a developer of software that analyzes content and authorizes user access at endpoints to protect against data leakage.

"I'd really like to hear their data-leakage story," says Dunlap, who compares Cisco's purchase of IronPort to Secure Computing's acquisition of CipherTrust last year. "[IronPort does not offer] the level of depth that the data-leakage prevention providers do."

Cisco intends to maintain IronPort's ties to Vontu and exploit the relationship for inclusion in the SDN architecture, according to Jeff Platon, vice president of security marketing at Cisco.

"I think of that as a part of the solution but I do see a variety of other parts of the portfolio that are also being enhanced to be able to participate in a more comprehensive data-leakage solution," Platon says. "It's a tough problem -- you can't just rely on one methodology."

An announcement last week by Cisco and Intel might help. Intel enhanced its vPro processor technology with a Cisco-certified "embedded trust agent" that offers Cisco customers the ability to manage systems without lowering the security on IEEE 802.1x networks and Cisco SDN products.

Nielsen says PG&E hasn't been briefed yet on Cisco's road map for that. But where SDN currently fits is in spots where PG&E is installing new Cisco infrastructure.

"Where we've had problems is where we have legacy systems," Nielsen says. "If a company buys into the Cisco solution and they buy all of the pieces, it works great; but you've got to have all of the pieces there. You can't do clean access NAC on a Catalyst 1900 switch that was built six or 10 years ago; it just doesn't work."

Nielsen notes that this issue is industrywide, not Cisco-specific.


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