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ISPs Plan Security Push

New opportunities, public criticism drive service providers to develop more comprehensive security services

Panda Software, like many enterprises, thinks Internet service providers should be doing more to sanitize the traffic they deliver to their customers.

"Comparisons can be made between the services offered by water companies and those provided by the ISPs," said the security software company in a statement earlier this week. "Whereas the water companies are required to provide potable water, the ISPs are not subject to the same demands."

The "water analogy," which has been set forth by security tool vendors such as MessageLabs, Panda, and others in recent weeks, suggests that ISPs could do more to detect and eradicate spam, spyware, and other malware as it traverses the Internet, potentially reducing the volume of infected traffic handled by enterprises and end users at the ends of the pipes.

Until recently, ISPs have generally been lukewarm to the idea of offering "in-cloud" security services, partly because there was no technology for delivering them. In recent weeks, however, several technology vendors and ISPs have unveiled capabilities that show the equation's changing.

  • BT last week unveiled "the world's first fully-automated 'spam buster' system" to track down and tackle professional spammers and botnet-infected customers on the BT broadband network. The service is based on StreamShield Networks' Content Forensics spam detection system. (See BT Launches Spam Buster.)

  • Trend Micro last month introduced the InterCloud Security Service, a new offering designed to help ISPs detect botnets and the threats that often accompany them, including spam, phishing, and identity theft. (See ISPs Needed in Botnet Battle.)

  • Cloudmark yesterday rolled out a new set of services designed to help ISPs detect, remediate, and prevent attacks from computer "zombies," which are used to deliver spam and malware across service provider links. (See Cloudmark Out for Blood.)

    All of these new services and capabilities are designed to help ISPs detect and eradicate security threats "in-cloud," which means the ISP handles them before they infect the enterprise.

    "We're seeing a lot of demand for this type of service, especially among small businesses that don't have the resources to manage all of these threats," says Adam Schenker, systems engineer at Cincinnati Bell. "The companies that want hosted email also want mail security -- they want us to catch the malware, quarantine it, and mark any messages that seem suspect. They want the whole shebang."

    Up to now, ISPs have been delivering anti-spam, antivirus, and other security capabilities through on-premises appliances and unified threat management (UTM) devices at branch offices, notes Craig Labovitz, director of network architecture at Arbor Networks, which provides security products and services to the ISPs. About 30 ISPs also offer the ability to detect denial-of-service attacks in-cloud, he observes.

    However, while they are increasingly able to detect security problems, many ISPs still don't have an automated method for fixing them, Labovitz states. Many ISPs still drop customers temporarily from their networks when they detect a major security threat.

    With the introduction of new technologies from companies like StreamShield and Cloudmark -- as well as improvements in carrier security products from Arbor Networks, Cisco, and Juniper -- it is likely that enterprises will see a much broader range of in-cloud security services from their ISPs in the near future.

    "We're looking at all kinds of things right now, from encrypted email to SSL login to SMTP authentication," says Cincinnati Bell's Schenker. "Security is becoming an important differentiator in this market."

    That may be, but ISPs will still have plenty of convincing to do. Fortune 1000 companies have resisted outsourcing their security, particularly after investing heavily in their own in-house security systems. Such systems are treated as the keys to the kingdom and they're not handed over lightly.

    Labovitz believes these emerging services will change some minds. "Today, enterprises have a portal that allows them to view all aspects of traffic in their provider's network, including security," he notes. "And now, a lot of service providers are adding a big red button on the portal that says 'mitigate' or 'defend,' which lets them deploy firewall rules not only in the enterprise, but in the service provider cloud. This is a really dramatic step."

    — Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

  • Arbor Networks Inc.
  • BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA)
  • Cincinnati Bell Inc. (NYSE: CBB)
  • Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)
  • Cloudmark Inc.
  • Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR)
  • StreamShield Networks Ltd. Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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