Product review: Unified threat management (UTM) devices


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Daily Operation
A critical value UTM products offer is the ability to quickly determine if your network has been breached or if you need to adjust the various protective mechanisms, since you have access to firewall, IDS and VPNs all in the same place. This means that if you mistakenly open a firewall port for the VPN, you can receive alerts to fix it without having to compare logs from two different places.

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Juniper's quirky main menu (down the left side of this screen) presents control settings in almost random order.

We used a typical scenario in which we ran the box for several days, examined the reports based on an initial firewall and protection rule set, and then adjusted our rules based on two situations--places where we wanted to eliminate false positives, and places where we needed to tighten down the box to prevent typical security weaknesses. Part of this exercise was to examine how reports would be created and examined and how threats will be evaluated and acted upon by the device.

Overall, Fortinet has the best set of tools to handle the day-to-day life of a security administrator, and Juniper scored lowest with its quirky main menu that scatters controls in almost random order (See Juniper screen shot, right). Juniper also requires that you visit several places to examine reports and other screens to change its protection rules. The other products are capable and about equal in this area.

Fortinet's front page gives you just enough details to monitor its overall operations. You can quickly find attack summaries in its menus, and the policy definitions are easy to set, and more importantly, easy to change when you have done something wrong.

Firewall-IDS. Part of the usefulness of a UTM appliance is how its firewall and IDS work together, and flexibility in terms of where it can be used across different configurations of an enterprise network. In other words, some products can position the IDS module outside of the firewall to repel attacks and reject this traffic before it is processed any further, or to work with an existing firewall infrastructure at a headquarters network.

Fortinet and Astaro can also examine incoming encrypted packet streams and act on this analysis before passing these streams through other modules, thereby saving on processing power.

Check Point, Juniper, Fortinet and Astaro IDSes scan for both attack signatures and attack behaviors. SonicWALL only analyzes behaviors and IBM ISS only signatures. The IDS modules of both IBM ISS and SonicWALL UTMs can also explicitly detect outbound attack signatures.

The SonicWALL, IBM ISS and Juniper IDSes are hard-wired to "live inside" the firewall, meaning that all network packets from the outside world go first to the firewall and then to the IDS for inspection. The advantage is that packets are filtered out by the firewall, reducing the inspection burden on the IDS. However, you do lose some insights because having the IDS outside the firewall can help you identify attack vectors early. This may be fine for organizations that manage both with the same administrative group, but problematic if the administrative roles are split.

This was first published in June 2007

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