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Perimeter

Open Security Tests Gain Momentum With More Lab Partners

NetSecOPEN, a group of next-generation firewall vendors, has added the first university-based testing facility in its effort to move toward more open security testing.

Open security testing received a boost with the announcement last week that the University of New Hampshire's InterOperability Lab (UNH-IOL) would become the first university-based testing facility to work with NetSecOPEN, a vendor-based organization that aims to create an open framework for testing next-generation firewall products.

With few exceptions, security testing has been a closed affair — a situation that has often been a sore point for both vendors and security-equipment consumers. Over the past five years, businesses have become more knowledgeable about the type of performance needed to do security at speed, making a stronger argument for open testing, says Timothy Winters, senior executive for software and IP networking at the UNH-IOL

"Open testing is definitely up and coming. The argument is, 'Open it up so people on both sides can see what was tested, and then you can do apples-to-apples comparisons,'" he says. "Anyone can see whether they are covering the issues that they need covered and, if not, can request changes, and that can feed back into the open testing."

Along with similar efforts in anti-malware systems and penetration testing, NetSecOPEN marks a growing movement toward open security testing standards. While impetus for the organization came from vendors, both open testing labs and testing-equipment vendors have signed on as well. To date, the list of members include large network-security firms — such as Check Point Software, Cisco Systems, Fortinet, and WatchGuard — and testing firms such as UL and the European Advanced Networking Test Center (EANTC).

"Hearing from a lot of vendors, they want options because other programs are closed," the UNH-IOL's Winters says. "They have issues with the lack of openness of not know what was being tested and how it was being tested. Often, the results come out and people would say, 'I got a different number,' and vendors would not know why they got a specific score."

The testing methodology has been submitted to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the organization that sets the standards for Internet technologies. The focus on getting the specification accepted as a standard demonstrates the commitment to openness, says Brian Monkman, executive director of NetSecOPEN.

"The big thing is the transparency aspect," he says. "So much performance testing is done in various labs that don't share their testing methodology. The goal here is to ensure that there is a lot more information presented with these tests that will provide the enterprises with the ability to reproduce things and understand the philosophy behind the tests themselves."

The effort will initially focus on quantifying the performance of next-generation firewall technology in a small number of realistic environments. In addition, the group will curate different sets of network data, including attack data that can be used to test the efficacy of products. 

Initially, however, the focus will not be on the capabilities of products to detect the latest attacks, but on their performance while checking traffic under realistic scenarios, says the UNH-IOL's Winters. Those scenarios will be different depending on customer needs.

"A small business or enterprise firewall is very different than a giant-campus firewall," he says. "Small businesses and really big companies are going to be looking at very different things. Users have to be a bit more educated, but I don't know how you get around that."

So far, independent labs have not had the same problems with the NetSecOPEN initiative that they have had with another vendor-led initiative, the Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organization (AMTSO). Last year, private testing firm NSS Labs, a member of AMTSO, filed suit against the organization, claiming it violated antitrust statutes.

NetSecOPEN has a different model, the company said.

"With regard to NetSecOPEN, a standard, defined traffic mix for testing performance that reaches adoption with the IETF will be useful for consumers and help remove some of the incomparability in vendor datasheets," says Jason Brvenik, CEO at NSS Labs. "While the draft performance testing standard from NetSecOpen serves a different purpose than our performance testing and comparative testing, we welcome more consistency and transparency in published performance claims for products."

In its off-campus facilities, the UNH-IOL is building out its test bed. The organization brings in company representatives for several days of head-to-head interoperability testing, works with the US government on standards testing, and is now focusing increasingly on security testing.

"I think the world is different today than it was five years ago," Winters says. "It used to be that open testing was not considered secure. Today I'm not hearing those concerns."

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Veteran technology journalist of more than 20 years. Former research engineer. Written for more than two dozen publications, including CNET News.com, Dark Reading, MIT's Technology Review, Popular Science, and Wired News. Five awards for journalism, including Best Deadline ... View Full Bio

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