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August 2003

Examining identification friend or foe technology

In submarine warfare, Identify Friend or Foe (IFF) is vital. In the network world, we could accomplish this by requiring that all packets are signed, so that only "friendly" packets are processed. However, this doesn't mean you can safely ignore all signed packets. If you are a submarine commander, it's important to track all contacts, so you don't run into them. Likewise, with information security, all contacts should be analyzed for anomalies, regardless of an IFF tag. The technology to accomplish network IFF isn't here yet, but here's how it would work: Your IDS would use heuristic analysis to try to identify signed packets that look suspicious -- for example, traffic tunneled over protocols that aren't compliant with network policy or packets originating in a production DMZ that attempt a root login in another zone. Once you have the ability to sign packets and monitor traffic through heuristic analysis, IDS can revoke credentials for hostile packets. Sounds good so far, but here's the problem: Network-level PKI is beyond ...

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