Cisco details Sourcefire security threat integration, open source direction

At RSA , Cisco invites open-source community through "Open App ID" to build application-layer next-generation firewall code

Having acquired the security firm Sourcefire last October, Cisco is using this week's RSA Conference as the showcase for how Cisco's security products are being integrated as well as detailing how it will cut an open-source path for the next-generation application-layer firewall/IPS.

The first step Cisco is taking to integrate Sourcefire’s FireAMP advanced malware detection technology into Cisco’s line of e-mail and web gateways, including cloud-based web security, in order to detect and block incoming threats, or trace any impacted enterprise endpoints if malware makes it through.

“We’re calling it ‘AMP Everywhere,’” says Chris Young, senior vice president of the security group at Cisco, adding that this will extend threat detection and discovery to over 600 million end-users that can be counted as Cisco customers.

We’re open-sourcing one of the key components of the next-generation firewall.

— Marty Roesch, vice president and chief security architect at Cisco

Some industry analysts are calling this a good blend. “I see this as an advantage,” says Rick Holland, security analyst at Forrester. “I think AMP will be one of the most beneficial aspects of the acquisition.” AMP is filing a “gap” in Cisco’s own anti-malware capabilities, he says.

+More on Network World: Background: Sourcefire debuts anti-malware software FireAMP for enterprise | Cisco spending $2.7B for Sourcefire, company that commercialized Snort open-source security tool | Cisco: Thousands of web-hosting centers now launch pads for attacks +

The FireAMP threat-detection capability has been as part of the Sourcefire  FirePOWER http://www.sourcefire.com/products/firepower-appliances next-generation firewall for two years, plus it’s available as an agent for PCs, mobile devices, a VMware virtual appliance and a dedicated appliance. AMP’s goal is to immediately spot and block a wide range of malware through both signature and behavior-based detection methods, but if a threat makes it through into the enterprise network, be able to tell where the malware infection is through a centralized coordination process.

Cisco will be demonstrating how AMP works on Cisco e-mail and web security gateways at its booth at the RSA Conference this week. Cisco will also introduce the new FirePOWER 8300 Series appliances for the data center and core that range between 15 Gbps to 60 Gbps and are said to be stackable for up to 120 Gbps throughput.

However Cisco is not expected to detail other product-strategy questions that have been raised related to NGFW and intrusion prevention systems, where there is some product overlap between traditional Cisco and Sourcefire. Young says there’s a “longer-term roadmap” about the two platforms that will be shared in the future.

Forrester analyst Rick Holland said there’s obviously a need to know about this Cisco/Sourcefire roadmap. But wherever it ends up  with NGFW for Cisco, it could “take business away from their Cisco Web Security Appliance business,” he predicts. “Many companies migrate their web filtering/URL filtering over to their NGFW once they have  deployed them and  have confidence in their abilities.This  will be the case for many Cisco customers. Why have more operational friction, when you can consolidate offerings.”

In a second initiative to be unveiled at RSA Conference, Cisco is taking a new path related to its next-generation application-layer firewalls by asking the open-source community to contribute code for applications through the Snort open-source forum.

Snort is the open-source IDS/IPS started several years ago by Martin Roesch, who founded Sourcefire to commercialize Snort into products. Roesch, now vice president and chief security architect at Cisco Security Business Group, said the initiative is being called “Open App ID.”

Basically, “we’re open-sourcing one of the key components of the next-generation firewall,” Roesch said about it. He said Open App ID opens up the possibility of building a next-generation firewall through open-source code.

The Snort open-source forum is making available a special Snort engine with the so-called OpenAppID preprocessor that can detect apps on network, report usage stats and block apps by policy. The Snort rule extensions would enable app specification. There is going to be a library of OpenAppID detectors, and Cisco is inviting open-source developers to contribute to it.

“I like this move,” says Holland. “I think it shows commitment to the open-source community which was a big concern going into this acquisition.”

For enterprises that still lack application-layer visibility, there may be appeal in being able to leverage open-source code that might lower costs relative to paid commercial products in the future, he concludes.

Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security. Twitter: MessmerE. E-mail: emessmer@nww.com

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