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Most Security Products Don't Initially Work As Intended, Study Says

In certification tests, many products fail in functionality or logging, ICSA/Verizon reports
Nearly 80 percent of security products fail to perform as intended when first tested -- and most require two or more cycles of testing before achieving certification, according to a new report from ICSA Labs, which performs security product testing.

The ICSA Labs Product Assurance Report -- a first-of-its-kind study co-authored by ICSA and the Verizon Business Data Breach Investigations Report research team -- offers insights from ICSA's tests of thousands of security products from the past 20 years.

According to the report, the main reason why a security product fails during initial testing is that it does not adequately perform as intended. Across seven product categories, core product functionality accounted for 78 percent of initial test failures -- for example, an antivirus product failing to prevent infection or an intrusion prevention system product failing to filter malicious traffic.

The failure of a security product to completely and accurately log data was the second most common reason for test failure, according to the report. Fifty-eight percent of failures were attributed to incomplete or inaccurate logging of who did what -- and when, ICSA said.

The report findings suggest some vendors and enterprise users consider logging a nuisance. According to the report, logging is a particular challenge for firewalls. Almost every network firewall (97 percent) or Web application firewall (80 percent) tested by ICSA experienced at least one logging problem.

The third most significant reason for test failure was inherent security problems in the products themselves, including vulnerabilities that compromise the confidentiality or integrity of the system, ICSA said. The product categories studied were antivirus, network firewall, Web application firewall, network IPS, IPSec VPN, SSL VPN, and custom testing.

"Our goal is to help vendors develop more secure products," said George Japak, managing director of ICSA Labs and a co-author of the report. "When a product fails, we encourage vendors to view that as an opportunity to improve the product before it goes to market."

Only 4 percent of products tested attained ICSA certification during the first testing cycle, the report says. However, 82 percent of products resubmitted for testing eventually earn ICSA Labs certification, the testing service said. Once a vendor earns certification, products are required to undergo ongoing testing to maintain certification.

The study also identified several other issues with the security products tested, including poor product documentation and problems involving patching.

The report recommends that enterprises should be wary of vendor performance claims and numbers, and advises the use of more established products over newer, less-tested security products.

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