My organization's security budget is strapped, but we still need to improve our firewall performance. I've read...
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that free blacklists can be used along with firewall data to spot otherwise unnoticed attacks. Is this true? What should organizations look for in a free website blacklist?
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In short, yes, this is true. If your organization's firewall is behind the times, or if you simply don't have the manpower to devote to the proper maintenance of the firewall, a temporary work-around is to utilize your firewall in conjunction with an open source website blacklist.
A good example of this is the OpenBL project. The way this works is that a firewall must maintain some sort of updated connectivity with the open source blacklist infrastructure and allow for the downloading of known nefarious URLs and IPs. This amounts to a very cheap way of keeping your firewall updated. What should be stressed here is the fact that this should never be viewed as a permanent solution to professional firewall maintenance. This technique should be considered temporary or an add-on to an already robust firewall infrastructure.
In terms of what to look for, that's a very difficult question to answer, as there are many ways that this can backfire on your organization. For example, it wouldn't be that hard for an attacker to configure a "free blacklist" website that begins to feed your firewall a long list of valid websites that are frequented by your organization's end users -- effectively using your own firewall as a mini denial-of-service tool. Therefore, when choosing a free blacklist website, go by overall reputation. As mentioned above, the OpenBL project has a fairly honest reputation, and you can rest assured that the list of nefarious sites that it feeds your firewall infrastructure are legitimately bad sites.
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