Over the next 3 days, we’ll be posting the content from the Securosis Guide to the RSA Conference 2010. We broke the market into 8 different topics: Network Security, Data Security, Application Security, Endpoint Security, Content (Web & Email) Security, Cloud and Virtualization Security, Security Management, and Compliance. For each section, we provide a little history and what we expect to see at the show. First up is Network Security.

Network Security

Since we’ve been connecting to the Internet people have been focused on network security, so the sector has gotten reasonably mature. As a result, there has been a distinct lack of innovation over the past few years. There have certainly been hype cycles (NAC, anyone?), but most organizations still focus on the basics of perimeter defense. That means intrusion prevention (IPS) and reducing complexity by collapsing a number of functions into an integrated Unified Threat Management (UTM) device.

What We Expect to See

There are four areas of interest at the show for network security:

  • Application Awareness: This is the ability of devices to decode and protect against application layer attacks. Since most web applications are encapsulated in HTTP (port 80) or HTTPS (port 443) traffic, to really understand what’s happening it’s important for network devices to dig into each packet and understand what the application is doing. This capability is called deep packet inspection (DPI), and most perimeter devices claim to provide it, making for a confusing environment with tons of unsubstantiated vendor claims. The devil is in the details of how each vendor implements DPI, so focus on which protocols they understand and what kinds of policies and reporting are available on a per-protocol basis.
  • Speeds and Feeds: As with most mature markets, especially on the network, at some point it gets down to who has the biggest and fastest box. Doing this kind of packet decodes and attack signature matching requires a lot of horsepower, and we are seeing 20gbps IPS devices appear. You will also see blade architectures on integrated perimeter boxes, and other features focused on adding scale to the environment as customer networks continue to go faster. Since every organization has different requirements, spend some time ahead of the show on understanding what you need and how you’d like to architect your network security environment. Get it down on a single piece of paper and head down to the show floor. When you get to the vendor booth, find an SE (don’t waste time with a sales person) and have them show you how their product(s) can meet your requirements. They’ll probably want to show you their fancy interface and some other meaningless crap. Stay focused on your issues and don’t leave until you understand in your gut whether the vendor can get the job done.
  • Consolidation and Integration: After years of adding specific boxes to solve narrow problems, many organizations’ perimeter networks are messes. Thus the idea of consolidating both boxes (with bigger boxes) and functions (with multi-function devices) continues to be interesting. There will be lots of companies on the show floor talking about their UTM devices, targeting small companies and large with similar equipment. Of course, the needs of the enterprise fundamentally differ from small business requirements, so challenge how well suited any product is for your environment. That means breaking out your one-page architecture again, and having the SEs on the show floor show you how their integrated solutions can solve your problems. Also challenge them on their architecture, given that the more a box needs to do (firewall, IPS, protocol decode, content security, etc.) the lower its throughput. Give vendor responses the sniff test and invite those who pass in for a proof of concept.
  • Forensics: With the understanding that we cannot detect some classes of attacks in advance, forensics and full packet capture gear will be high profile at this year’s conference. This actually represents progress, although you will see a number of vendors talking about blocking APT-like attackers. The reality is (as we’ve been saying for a long time under the React Faster doctrine) that you can’t stop the attacks (not all of them, anyway), so you had better figure out sooner rather than later that you have been compromised, and then act accordingly. The key issues around forensics are user experience, chain of custody, and scale. Most of today’s networks generate a huge amount of data, and you’ll have to figure out how to make that data usable, especially given the time constraints inherent to incident response. You also need to get comfortable with evidence gathering and data integrity, since it’s easy to say the data will hold up in court, but much harder to make it do so.

And for those of you who cannot stand the suspense, you can download the entire guide (PDF).