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Vulnerabilities / Threats

10/14/2010
02:50 PM
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Anti-Botnet Startup Quietly Emerges From Stealth Mode

Umbra Data offers 'Dark Side Intelligence' on botnet activity for service providers, ISPs, and enterprises

A startup led by former Trend Micro executives that offers botnet intelligence feeds and threat reports has come out of the shadows. Umbra Data, based in San Jose, Calif., offers a cloud-based service that continuously monitors and vets command and control (C&C) activity and can be integrated into either a service provider's offerings or enterprise security devices, such as routers and recursive DNS servers.

The company was founded in 2008 by former Trend Micro executive Paul Moriarty -- now CEO of Umbra Data -- who developed Trend's first anti-botnet products, and Marc Evans, former senior software architect at Trend and now CTO of Umbra Data. The company's Dark Side Intelligence service has been adopted by a university and, most recently, a service provider, Moriarty says.

Moriarty and Evans found what they saw as a major gap in the anti-botnet space. "There was a lot of botnet intelligence out there ... But it was all over the place, and you can't put it all on one big list -- a lot of stuff is not really actionable," Moriarty says.

So they built a sensor network that constantly tracks and scrutinizes C&C traffic for malicious activity. About one-fourth of the data the company gathers is from its own research and investigation, and the rest from other available intelligence sources. "We're using our own feeds and other available intelligence out there for consumption. The difference is we're providing it to you in a way that enables you to incorporate it into your existing network infrastructure," Moriarty says.

That includes feeding it into a Cisco router Access Control List, for instance, or a Check Point firewall rule. It doesn't require purchasing a separate appliance, something many cash- and resource-strapped organizations would rather avoid. The average of 7 to 12 percent of an enterprise's machines being bot-infected may not be enough to cost-justify them buying another appliance, Moriarty says.

But botnets, indeed, are a major vehicle for cybercrime activity. A handful of anti-botnet vendors, including Damballa Research and FireEye, offer anti-botnet appliances. In a report by The 451 Group, Joshua Corman, research director for the enterprise security practice, says it's difficult for some organizations to justify purchasing another appliance. "Very few people have the budget or the staff to add a net-new appliance to their arsenal. While there is some spending on anti-botnet products, like those from Damballa and FireEye, we believe a greater portion of the market wants to leverage these capabilities but cannot justify another appliance to do so," he wrote. "In many CISO discussions, we hear, 'I love the research, but can I consume this content via one of my existing appliance investments?' We've been encouraging the existing players to pursue licensing their content for some time now. Umbra Data is showing it has both botnet and market/budget intelligence."

Umbra Data's Dark Side Intelligence service publishes its findings in XML format, which can be fed into an organization's data leakage protection or other network security equipment. The company recently inked an OEM deal with a DLP appliance vendor, according to Moriarty, and is in discussions with a firewall vendor as well as a deep-packet inspection vendor.

Interestingly, of the around 120,000 IPs Umbra Data tracks, only about 30 percent are typically found to be malicious. The Dark Side Intelligence service offers a "block" list for any C&Cs that it confirms malicious and an "alert" list for bad guys who have some legitimate traffic as well. There's also a list for suspicious activity.

Umbra Data's Dark Side Intelligence has been shipping since early this year, and is priced from $50,000 to $350,000 per year, depending on the size of the organization.

Meanwhile, 451 Group's Corman says if Umbra Data's strategy works, it could be a game-changer in the anti-botnet market. "One interesting competitive twist comes from Umbra Data's strategy to only deliver a feed. Currently, if an enterprise has only enough budget for one or two more noncompliance-mandated projects, anti-botnet appliances compete for that slot with data-loss prevention, next-generation firewalls, network forensics, and packet-capture appliances, as well as other one-function 'uni-tasker' appliances. Umbra Data has already signed an OEM relationship with one such player," 451 Group's Corman wrote. "This could make any or all of those vendors potential partners. This changes the equation for those CISOs who wanted the anti-botnet capabilities, but didn't want a solo appliance for it. It could force the question, why buy an anti-botnet-only appliance if I can buy a box that does DLP and botnet C&C? The proof will be in the pudding."

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Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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