Careful What You Buy

Before you put sign the check, make sure you've covered all the options for solving your security problem

5:30 PM -- When you buy a security product, are you buying it for the right reason? There seems to be a security "solution" for every problem out there, and some solutions seem to create more problems than they solve. But once you get past all the vendor hype, does the product really do what it says it does? And does it fit your needs?

I know a company that recently purchased an expensive content-filtering solution simply to block MySpace and Facebook. Raise your hand if you can think of a way to do that without a third-party appliance, and without the cost of something measuring in the tens of thousands of dollars range? When I heard they had bought the appliance, I figured it must be related to productivity or human resources issues -- porn surfing, gambling sites, or social networking.

If they had planned to block all those things plus add a layer of protection against malicious sites, I would have been excited about them implementing it. But unfortunately, that wasn't their vision.

Had they called me prior to the purchase, I would have suggested several possibilities that would have been inexpensive, or even free.

One easy easier alternative is to modify DNS in some manner that prevents users from being able to resolve those domains. The change could either be in the local systems’ host files, or through the corporate DNS. Another option is to set a simple rule at the network gateway router or firewall to prevent all access to the Web servers. (The latter solution might require more maintenance as Web servers can change IPs or be hosted on clustered servers with more than one IP.)

A slightly more sophisticated solution is setting up a Web proxy that blocks certain Websites. If all machines are centrally managed through something like Active Directory, policies can be created that force all machines to use the proxy. A matching firewall rule could be set up to only allow Web traffic from the proxy server. While this is very effective for all desktops, it becomes cumbersome for road warriors because the solutions would have to be host-based -- either through a software solution (maybe already a feature of your AV product), or by modifying the local host file.

Bottom line: If this company had asked me about this rather than listening to product hype, I could have provided a variety of different options. If you're in the market for a solution to one of your problems, take the time to ask an expert first. Don't be afraid to ask -- and like the saying goes, the only dumb question is the one that wasn't asked.

– John H. Sawyer is a security geek on the IT Security Team at the University of Florida. He enjoys taking long war walks on the beach and riding pwnies. When he's not fighting flaming, malware-infested machines or performing autopsies on blitzed boxes, he can usually be found hanging with his family, bouncing a baby on one knee and balancing a laptop on the other. Special to Dark Reading