Startup Aims for Meatier Signatures

New technology promises more visibility into threats, fewer false positives

A startup founded by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison next month will begin beta-testing an appliance based on its patent-pending technology aimed at stopping attackers and bot-herders before they hit client machines.

The network security device detects attacks differently than existing security products do, says Paul Barford, a computer scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and co-founder of Nemean Networks LLC, which has been operating in stealth mode. Barford says Nemean's technology provides a more detailed look at malicious activity around the network. It also creates signatures for new attacks on the fly -- and the signatures are more detailed, so the device is less prone to generating false alarms, he says.

Nemean Networks, which was named after the Herculean myth of the Nemean lion whose coat is impenetrable by weapons, hopes to conclude its beta testing at several large enterprise companies within four to six months and then begin production of the appliance, which for now is being called the A1000.

"Our signatures are different from existing ones," Barford says. "The real difference is there is a lot more information embedded in them and they can be much less susceptible to false alarms," and a single signature can be used to detect a class of attack.

The Linux-based appliance also uses honeypot technology to help identify and analyze would-be attacks. "Our product is an information-gathering product... It's not active in blocking packets, so you still need active-blocking like firewalls. But we may move into that area" eventually, as well as add a client-side agent, he says.

"Our objective is to substantially enhance the visibility that network security analysts have on their IP infrastructure. The key word is 'situational awareness'... We want to move beyond the simple alert-generation standard for IDS systems today," Barford says. "We want to provide a broad perspective on all attack activity in the network and drill down on the minute details."

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