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Standard Could Unify Security Apps

ArcSight's proposed standards for log management, event reporting could get security apps onto the same page

You've got anywhere from six to 60 security applications and tools in your data center, and most of them work pretty well. There's just one problem: None of them speak the same language.

ArcSight today attacked that problem by proposing a new log management standard, the Common Event Format, that could enable security devices and applications to present and exchange event data in a common way. The net result: Security managers might soon be able to analyze security incidents from a single screen, without plowing through event logs and data on a dozen different apps or appliances.

"This will save us time and integration headaches," says John Summers, global director of managed security services at Unisys, which uses ArcSight products to help integrate and monitor security information for large enterprises. "The end result will be expanded visibility across our clients' IT environments."

Security managers have been frustrated by the proliferation of "point products" in their environments, which generate a ton of data but offer no method to filter or correlate it to find the root cause of a violation. (See Security Pros Wrestle With Data Overload.) Security information management (SIM) tools offer a possible solution, but each has its own proprietary means of collecting and presenting security data.

"What the CEF offers is a standard way to normalize the data from the different devices and tools so that it can be analyzed," says Steve Sommer, senior vice president of marketing and business development at ArcSight.

If it's adopted across the industry, the CEF could play a role similar to SNMP, the IETF standard that unified network and systems management tools a decade ago. So far, however, the vendors that have announced support for CEF are those that were already ArcSight partners: AirTight Networks, CipherOptics, DeepNines, Intrusic, Reconnex, Vericept, and Vontu.

Sommers says ArcSight is negotiating with "a multi-billion dollar competitor" in the SIM market, which is considering adopting the standard. He would not disclose the name of the vendor, but three of the multibillion vendors that make SIM tools are Cisco, Computer Associates, and Symantec.

ArcSight also has not decided which forum it might use to propose the standard for industrywide adoption, Sommers says. The company is talking to NIST and the SANS Institute, he says.

Even when a forum is selected, it will probably take six to 12 months to get on the agenda of the standards bodies, Sommers observes. "In the meantime, we're making this available as an open specification, so anybody can get it and use it."

The specification itself uses a text-based format that includes some "mandatory" fields for defining an event, as well as some open fields that can be adapted to the needs of a particular vendor or IT manager, says Tim Driessen, who manages partner relationships at ArcSight.

"The big problem our engineers had was whether to create a format that would optimize performance, like the Juniper model, or one that would give the most complete information, like you would see with some of the application security tools," Driessen says. "The text-based format gives us the chance to do both, because it provides a lot of information but carries a low overhead." Some developers are surprised at the simplicity of the specification, he says.

Analysts note that there are a few security standards available, such as WELF and IDMEF, but they generally target a specific device or function. "The [CEF] enables companies to quickly incorporate new technologies and address evolving needs," says Charles Kolodgy, research director for security products at IDC.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

  • ArcSight Inc.
  • Computer Associates
  • Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)
  • Symantec Corp. (Nasdaq: SYMC)
  • Unisys Corp. (NYSE: UIS)

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