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CEO Visions: Manage Your Way To 360-Degree Security

Innovative security-management systems will better protect data, Symantec's John Thompson says.

Today's corporate computing environments have never been more complex, and the level of complexity will likely increase in 2003 and beyond.

A leading global financial institution offers a compelling example of one of today's most intricate IT infrastructures. The institution has 48,000 PCs, 8,000 distributed servers, 11 mainframes, eight data centers, nearly 600 routers, more than 1,600 switches, 1,750 subnets, 25 data T1 lines, and six ISPs. On top of this highly complex infrastructure are nearly 1 billion customer transactions a year, an average of 2.5 million Internet visits each week, and electronic equity trades topping 87% of all trades the bank performs.

There are too many applications and too many servers and an increasing lack of expertise to manage them effectively. In addition, more and more unique end points connecting to the network appear every day from wired and wireless locations inside the corporate walls and beyond, including mobile phones, handhelds, laptops, and tablet PCs.

As corporate networks and operations have become more sophisticated, the challenges of securing these environments grow. Each week, 60 new software vulnerabilities are discovered and more than 100 new viruses appear. And the time between discovery of a vulnerability and the exploitation of that vulnerability is shrinking.

Further magnifying the security challenge is the emergence of increasingly complex, blended threats, from Code Red and Nimda to Klez and Bugbear. Unlike yesterday's viruses, blended threats combine the characteristics of viruses, worms, Trojan horses, or other malicious code with methods of exploiting server and Internet vulnerabilities to initiate, transmit, and spread attacks. Blended threats have destructive consequences, and the frequency of these types of threats is projected to rise dramatically over the next few years.

To protect against this steady rise in vulnerabilities, exploits, and blended threats, many companies now use an assortment of single-purpose or point products such as antivirus software, firewalls, and intrusion-detection systems. Yet, each disparate product generates its own deluge of alerts and log entries. For example, in analyzing more than a billion security events generated by Symantec's managed security services customers, we found that in an average-sized company, 9.5 million log entries and alerts were produced each month by the firewalls and intrusion-detection system devices across the enterprise.

But we also discovered that few security events actually required immediate response. Of the millions of entries and alerts generated by the various security products, just 620 security events needed further analysis, and only 55 of those were determined to constitute a security threat. Finally, additional investigation revealed that just two threats posed a risk critical enough to necessitate immediate action.

Effectively protecting against increasingly complex threats will require a combination of technology and expertise aimed at streamlining security through early-warning systems, powerful solutions, and automated response, all tied together under an open, comprehensive, standards-based management system that spans all tiers of the network and runs on multiple platforms. Without such a system, the process of aggregating and normalizing security-event data will remain inefficient and difficult, which, in turn, will make protection nearly impossible.

Just as systems-management solutions helped ease many of the past challenges of client-server computing, innovative security-management systems will let companies better protect their information assets by providing a 360-degree view of their security environment, their security processes, and the actions of their distributed security teams.

Companies, in turn, will become more proactive in their security planning and implementation and faster to install patches, respond to events, and implement and update policies, thereby increasing their protection as well as improving return on investment and reducing risk.

John Thompson is the chairman and CEO of Symantec Corp. He's a member of President Bush's National Infrastructure Advisory Council.

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Do tech stars like Michael Dell, Steve Ballmer, and Carly Fiorina see the future clearly? Check out what our complete panel of 32 visionaries have to say here.

Columns By Other Hardware Company CEOs
Craig Barrett, Intel Scott McNealy, Sun Microsystems
John Chambers, Cisco Systems Inc. Sam Palmisano, IBM
Michael Dell, Dell Computer Joe Tucci, EMC Corp.
Carly Fiorina, Hewlett-Packard Dan Warmenhoven, Network Applicance Inc.

Is the author right? Or out in left field? Have your say on this column and the rest of our Future Visions package at

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