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DR Q&A: Nortel's Ravi Kumar

From NAC to Trusted Computing Group and the Enterprise Policy Manager, Kumar lays out Nortel's security strategy

Ravi Kumar is the go-to guy for security at Nortel Networks Ltd. (NYSE/Toronto: NT).

As Portfolio Lead for the vendor's enterprise security products, his challenge is to drive business across all product lines. And while every component, system, node, or piece of software has a security aspect to it these days, that's still a bigger challenge than it may sound.

For Kumar, those challenges appear to come most frequently in the form of TLAs (three-letter acronyms). To wit, he's working to give Nortel's NAC (network access control) a bigger footprint in the marketplace. He's also got to work to ensure multi-vendor security implementations under the aegis of the TCG (Trusted Computing Group). And he's got to juggle EPM (Enterprise Policy Manager) and ACLs (access control lists) so that customers get the granularity they want from security and policy networking.

Luckily, Dark Reading was able to catch up with Kumar recently to get a better understanding of what Nortel's doing with security and its infrastructure positioning in general. Here are some highlights from that conversation.

Dark Reading: How much of the product portfolio does Nortel develop versus OEM from other security vendors?

Kumar: A large part of our product portfolio is developed in-house and integrated with our own switching and routing solutions. We also bring to the market value-added products leveraging our partners. For example, we've integrated Check Point Software Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: CHKP)'s firewall with our switches to provide a high-performance, highly scaleable, highly available solution. Other solutions like Nortel's Secure Network Access, are integrated with our Ethernet switches, providing a complete network admission control and threat protection solution. Our VPN solution is a completely home-grown solution providing both IPSec and SSL VPN capabilities.

Dark Reading: Other infrastructure vendors like Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR) have tied in their own client technology with NAC, but it seems like Nortel has hitched its wagon to Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)'s NAP initiative. Is that a fair assessment?

Kumar: When you look at network admission control there are multiple aspects to this solution. We look at it in terms of five steps. First you need to have an assessment -- you need to assess what the endpoint is, what's the posture of the endpoint, and identify who the user is. The second step is basically where you enforce access control based on the assessment, on switches, gateways, and routers. The third element is remediation or quarantine in case the endpoint is clean. The fourth element is monitoring the endpoint for malicious behavior and policy compliance. The last item is endpoint containment if an endpoint gets infected.

We want to provide an open solution and integrate with partners like Microsoft and Symantec Corp. (Nasdaq: SYMC), and we have an open solution that makes it very easy to partner.

Dark Reading: Nortel was one of the first vendors to come out with endpoint validation within, and it seems as if other vendors such as Zone (now Check Point) and SyGate (now Symantec) jumped ahead of Nortel in that client technology. Is Nortel developing the client technology or going after partnerships?

Kumar: On the client side we do have key features on our IPSec TunnelGuard client -- as well as in our partner's client, we have an applet which is the same TunnelGuard technology. There are third-party companies that are totally focused on providing anti-virus capabilities, such as products from Symantec and McAfee Inc. (NYSE: MFE), which we integrate using open APIs. So it is a strategy where we take multiple inputs to make a decision.

Next Page: Standards, Open or Not

Dark Reading: What involvement does Nortel have in the Trusted Computing Group 's Trusted Network Connect working group?

Kumar: Nortel wants its switches to be compliant with an open framework. And we want to work with multiple requesters and multiple policy decision points, because no one has a completely single-vendor network. It is also important that we work with multiple OS and network devices like VOIP phones, and that is one of the key reasons why we are driving the TCG TNC framework so we can integrate seamlessly in this multi-vendor environment.

In many NAC initiatives, the enforcement is through the client software. So Nortel products will work closely with the Nortel switch. In cases where there are third-party switches, we will provide controls more on the client side.

Dark Reading: Nortel doesn't really have a client, so how does that work?

Kumar: We will be able to enforce on the NAP client. Other examples are using specific DHCP scopes to limit access, or using SNMP to configure switch ports.

Dark Reading: Would the following assessment be fair? It seems that Nortel really needs a framework like the TNC because Nortel is missing some key components of a NAC architecture like endpoint client and authorization systems.

Kumar: Nortel brings enforcement in the network in our switches, secure routers, VPN gateways. And with enforcement we bring Role Based Access Control (RBAC), restricting who can access information as well as auditing for compliance.

Dark Reading: For open standards to be effective, all the relevant players have to be involved. How do you drag a company like Cisco into a standards body like the Trusted Computing Group?

Kumar: Open standards should be driven by customers, and customers don't want to be locked into a single vendor. Customers have multiple enforcement points. Customers are pushing vendors to work with open standards bodies and I think that is why Cisco is working closely with Microsoft.

Next Page: Access Control

Dark Reading: You said Nortel implements RBAC. That's pretty complicated in terms of implementation and policy building. What is Nortel doing to simplify the task of building RBAC policies?

Kumar: We have the Enterprise Policy Manager tool set. We are also integrating with third-party policy systems, another driver for integrating with NAP and Active Directory. The next problem is taking the policies and creating access control lists on the switch port. Polices are applied when a user accesses and uses the network. Actions are continuously monitored to see if changes in behavior require a new ACL.

Dark Reading: How far along is Enterprise Policy Manager's ability to apply role information into an employable policy?

Kumar: In Phase 1, you can define policies in EPM, and Nortel Secure Network Access Controller uses those policies to apply ACL on the switch port. Today, the ACLs are at the network level. In the future, where identity information and digital rights information are used to determine what rights a user has to a document, for example... which will be enforceable at the switch port.

Dark Reading: What about application access control?

Kumar: Our enforcement points are at multiple layers in the network. One part is at the edge switch. We can put enforcement in the core in the 8600. And some enforcement in the data center using application switches sitting in front of multiple servers. In the case of file access, the application switches are full proxy and can look at the request, the user ID, and the access rights. It is available today on the application switches.

— Mike Fratto, Editor at Large, Dark Reading

Mike Fratto is a principal analyst at Current Analysis, covering the Enterprise Networking and Data Center Technology markets. Prior to that, Mike was with UBM Tech for 15 years, and served as editor of Network Computing. He was also lead analyst for InformationWeek Analytics ... View Full Bio

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