Unified Threat Management: The New Firewall? - InformationWeek

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Unified Threat Management: The New Firewall?

We put five UTM firewalls through extensive tests to see if they could detect blended threats and maintain high performance. Although we were mostly underwhelmed with the results, our Tester's Choice stood out from the rest, having caught all our 'attacks' the first time around.

UTM perimeter-security devices combine firewalling, antivirus, and intrusion detection and prevention on a single appliance. Many throw in content filtering and antispam, making a compelling argument for one-stop security shopping. Unified threat management, a term coined by IDC, is not a new concept, however: Vendors have tried to bring these processes together for years but were stymied by performance problems. Fortunately, advances in processing, both on the main CPU and in specialized silicon, mean that performance problems can be overcome.

To see how well vendors are tak- ing advantage of new technologies, we tested UTM products in our Syracuse University Real-World Labs, rating each on how well it increases protection without hurting performance. Unfortunately, we found most products wanting. Our scenario was typical: An organization with 5,000 users seeks an edge device that provides firewall, IDS/IPS, antivirus and content filtering. The organization's DMZ network hosts DNS and Web servers that communicate with a back-end Microsoft SQL Server and an SMTP server, which relays mail to an internal Exchange 2000 server (for more details, see "Test Methodology,"). Most traffic is from internal users to the Internet.

We invited 11 vendors to participate. Fortinet, Internet Security Systems, Secure Computing, SonicWall and Symantec accepted our invitation. Check Point Software Technologies, Cisco Systems and Finjan Software said they couldn't ship products in time. Juniper Networks doesn't have an offering that fits, and Astaro and iPolicy Networks did not respond to our invitation.

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Advanced Protection?

It's time to puncture the IPS myth: All the problems inherent in intrusion detection are exacerbated by automated prevention. Certainly, there are signatures that flag malicious traffic with a high degree of probability, and you can safely block these packets. Any protocol violation--for example, characters not defined within the HTTP protocol specification, similar to RFC 822--can be intercepted with little risk of a false positive.

Figuring out which other signatures can be safely blocked takes a bit more digging to determine if normal traffic will trigger an alarm.

The vendors in this review take a conservative approach to setting default block policies, and that's appropriate. Each network is different, and an aggressive cookie-cutter stance will likely turn away legitimate traffic. With the exception of ISS's Proventia, changing the default action in the IPS functions of the devices tested was a simple matter of selecting the signature, or in some cases a family of signatures, and setting the action to block. Changing the default IPS setting in Proventia is a multistep process, but it can be done.


Performance Firewall with IPS and Content Filtering
Click to Enlarge

However, in our tests only Proventia properly detected our malicious traffic. The other products failed to detect at least one attack--Fortinet's FortiGate-800 came in last, detecting just two out of five. This is outcome inexcusable: All the vulnerabilities we selected are at least a year old, with publicly available exploit code waltzing through most of these devices and returning a reverse shell on our "attacker's" computer. Moreover, we told all the vendors we'd be using publicly available exploits against servers with known vulnerabilities.

After testing, we shared our results, the tool we used (Metasploit 2.3) and the modules with the vendor participants. Frankly, if we didn't provide the vendors with this information, we aren't convinced they would have added new signatures. In any case, those that didn't fare well will likely have fixes by the time you read this story. We scored protection capabilities, however, based on our initial set of attacks.


Performance Firewall with IPS, Content Filtering and AntiVirus
Click to Enlarge

We then pulled together well-known virus files and sent them over FTP and SMTP with just names, no file extensions, to see if we could sneak any through. Every product except Secure Computing's Sidewinder offered antivirus scanning of FTP traffic, and all the products successfully scanned e-mail attachments.

Signature updates are automatic for the most part, with many of the products able to update manually if necessary. A few of the firewalls required that we install firmware updates and perform reboots manually, but that's par for the course.

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