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Cisco Seeks to Fill Security Gaps

Gaps between security products, and between IT and business groups, cause enterprise headaches, says Cisco's security CTO

Like most good security executives, Bob Gleichauf isn't looking at the fitted pieces of the security puzzle. He's looking at the holes.

Gleichauf, who holds the unusual title of "Security CTO" at Cisco, is tasked with -- among other things -- building a "system approach" to security that puts some glue between Cisco and non-Cisco point products and creates a platform for enforcing security policies across an enterprise, its customers, and partners. And, like most good security executives, he's drawing one common conclusion: It ain't easy.

"What's frustrating is that a lot of the obstacles in building a system approach are not technical, but organizational, or political," Gleichauf says. "There's plenty of good technology out there. What's missing for most enterprises is a way to make it all work together."

Security products have developed in functional niches, and each vendor tends to look at the enterprise problem in a different way, Gleichauf observes. Similarly, the groups within the enterprise -- business people, security people, network people and other IT groups -- tend to work in silos that make it hard for them to see the big picture.

"What that means is that it's hard to develop a security policy that works, and it's hard for vendors to develop technology to support it," Gleichauf says.

Security products and policies today sometimes work at cross purposes, Gleichauf notes. For example, some banks recently tried to enact policies to encrypt all data, whether at rest or in transmission, on the host or on the client.

"What they found was that there were side effects," he says. "Worms spread faster than ever, because [the banks] had lost the ability to track specific types of data in the network. They no longer had the visibility they needed to solve certain problems."

What enterprises need are not rigid policies, but the means to view all of the access points in the network and understand how they are being used, Gleichauf says.

"[Security information management] tools should be the platform for viewing that data, but so far, the chasm between IT operations and business groups is still too big to make it possible for SIM tools to differentiate between critical and non-critical events," he states. "In most cases, there's no deductive process in the system, because IT and business still don't agree on what constitutes a critical threat and what to do about it."

The introduction of security requirements under SOX, HIPAA, and PCI can also complicate the systems approach, Gleichauf observes. "Enterprise IT is now serving multiple masters -- not just customers and top management, but also auditors," he explains. "We have seen cases where enterprises resisted using SIM tools for monitoring because they expose vulnerabilities. It's a paradox; if the SIM tool gives them visibility, they might lose compliance."

Cisco hopes to resolve some of these paradoxes and close some of the gaps in the system approach through its Network Access Control (NAC) initiative and its StormWatch intrusion detection technology, Gleichauf says.

"We're in a good position to help companies get visibility into all their points of access, and that's a real advantage," Gleichauf says. "That's a big reason why I wanted to come to work here."

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

Organizations mentioned in this article:

  • Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)

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