Intrusion Prevention Systems are designed to detect possible attacks that are occurring over the network and act upon them in some way. They are not unlike firewalls, but they tend to approach the problem a bit differently. Whereas your typical network firewall is a "deny by default" system (i.e. deny all traffic except those which pass certain criteria), an IPS tends to be an "allow all by default" system (i.e. allow all traffic except those things that look dangerous). Also, firewalls tend to be routers to serve as a network choke point, whereas the IPS is a "bump in the wire" looking at all traffic passing through. It is usually deployed in-line with the firewall, either on an ingress or egress point.

Joel Esler, one of the professional services guys for Sourcefire, who sell IPS solutions (Nokia, my employer, is a Sourcefire partner), wrote an interesting blog post decrying the typical practice of deploying the IPS outside the Internet-facing firewall. His basic message: if your Internet-facing firewall is properly configured and your important machines are properly ensconced behind it, you don't need an IPS on the outside of your firewall. The IPS should be placed inside the firewall.

While I agree that IPS is needed inside the external firewall, I think IPS has a useful place outside the firewall as well. It is not always feasible to put everything behind a firewall. For example, it may not be possible/feasible to subnet your external network so you can put stuff behind a firewall. You might be using a service that does not play nice with a firewall. Or any number of other technical or political reasons.

Even if you can manage to get everything behind a stateful inspection firewall, what's looking after the firewall? Sure, a properly configured firewall will deflect anything the Internet is likely to throw at it, but even a properly configured firewall might be susceptible to a security vulnerability.

To throw another viewpoint into the mix, perhaps the place to integrate IPS functionality is right in the firewall itself. Check Point was clearly starting down this road with SmartDefense in the NG AI release of VPN-1. Now in the R70 release of Check Point's Security Gateway product, we have the IPS software blade, which is a full-blown IPS.

The bottom line is that if you're going to use an IPS, you need it everywhere bad stuff could happen--inside or just outside your security parameter. Or on the firewall itself ;)

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One of the things that is making this transition to Check Point Software easier is the community of people that support, use, and sell what used to be called Firewall-1, but now goes by a few different names and offers many more functions than just firewalling and VPNs. It's a community I have never really left, having spent the last decade in Nokia's Security Appliance Business, but it's one I was less visible in over the past several years.

Despite being less visible in recent years, I have still been contributing, albeit indirectly. I have been maintaining Nokia's knowledge base, which of course contains many articles that relate to Check Point. I haven't written many Check Point-related articles in recent years, but I do work to make sure that the articles other folks in support write are readable. I also help our team out in various, sundry capacities, with the goal being to get customer issues resolved quickly.

In the course of this work, and my presence on many a social network, I run across the occasional person who thanks me for the contribution I made to the betterment of the Check Point community many years ago. As I re-engage in the community, the accolades have noticeably increased.

Meanwhile, Kellman Meghu, a SE manager for Check Point Software in Canada, recently gave a troubleshooting presentation for CPX 2009 in Las Vegas (CPX, or Check Point Experience, is their annual trade show). In the presentation, he apparently decided to use a picture of me to represent when things got hairy and you needed expert advice from support.

Kellman tweeted the following yesterday:

Used a picture of @PhoneBoy in his presentation. The crowd cheered; no one has forgotten the help he has provided to CP users.

To say I was touched and humbled is an understatement.

So what now? Hard to make any grand plans under the circumstances, but I'm keeping busy. I'm still running the FireWall-1 Gurus mailing list and participating on the CPUG Forums, helping out where I can. It's not much, but until the deal between Nokia and Check Point closes, it's difficult to do much else.

I recently went through the trouble of installing a Nokia IP260 as a firewall at home. It was one of the only machines I felt I could keep running in my office for any length of time and not cringe at the fan noise being thrown off. Clearly, our security appliances are not designed for home installation ;)

Unfortunately, the IP260 I had been using decided to die. Again. The unit had been sent to our repair facility on two separate occasions for repair for the same problem: won't even get to the boot manager. As a software guy, there's not a whole lot I can do about hardware problems ;)

The method they make employees follow is the "Return and Repair" method. We ship the box to the repair facility, they fix it and send it back to us. The only time a customer would ever follow this process is if their box is not covered by a support agreement. Otherwise, most direct customers get Advanced Replacement or on-site replacement, depending on your purchased support agreement.

The good news is that this unit should be scrapped and I'll get a (like) new unit to replace it. I also can run R65 now instead of R62. The bad news? I have to listen to the whine of the fans of an IP390 for a while.

Update: Our Service Parts guy told me they are going to overnight me a unit. I can scrap the unit myself. Spare parts FTW!

I got an email from the National Science Foundation regarding an interesting technology they used to watch all the surveillance cameras at President Obama's inauguration. According to the press release put out by the NSF, the technology created by VSee allowed law enforcement the ability to look at multiple cameras in real-time--even from police cruisers on a mobile phone network connection!

VSee sells their technology as a videoconferencing/application sharing service for companies, though at $50 per user per month, it's a bit pricey. However, you can be assured the service will work over low-bandwidth connections, is secured with FIPS 140-2 certified 256-bit AES encryption, and will traverse firewalls.

You can try the service with 3 users for free to see how well it works. Of course, without a Mac version, it's unlikely I'll spend a lot of time using it. I will have to see how well it works across the great firewall of Nokia before I become an ex-employee ;)

Long before I was a security geek, I was a systems administrator. Oh sure, security goes with the territory when you're a systems administrator, but it's only one aspect of the job.

Needless to say, I've maintained email servers as part of my duties, where I've had plenty of access to look at people's private emails. I also ran a computer bulletin board in the late 1980s, where I had the same privilege. In college, I did a term paper where I wrote about the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, which protects people's personal email, but does little to protect corporate email. Provisions in the law allow business to monitor their networks for business purposes, which means they can see everything going on--including potentially non-business related communications.

While generally speaking, all an employer in the U.S. has to do is disclose that use of the corporate network is subject to monitoring, that is not the case in many European countries, where there are strict data privacy laws forbidding the practice. That would make it difficult for, let's say, Nokia, to find out if a Finland-based employee was leaking secrets about upcoming handsets. It's so difficult, in fact, that there was a reported rumor that Nokia was threatening to leave Finland if they couldn't get a law passed that would allow employee email monitoring.

While Nokia spokespeople are officially denying this rumor, it doesn't change the fact that the passing of such a law would be extremely beneficial to Nokia. Many companies, including Nokia, have a similar problem: how can evidence of corporate wrongdoing be found when you can't look where evidence of wrongdoing would easily be found? In Europe, obviously, there are strict laws regulating who can see or do what with "private" electronic communications like email.

Even if monitoring workplace communications is legal, let's assume the communication is somehow encrypted. How would you determine something inappropriate is going on? One school of thought is that the very use of encryption implies you have something to hide--something the company might not like.

Even if a communication is encrypted, some things about the communication usually aren't: who it's coming from, where it's going to, and how much data or how long it is. One can certainly make some inferences based on that information, but one cannot conclusively prove that wrongdoing is taking place. However, you might find out enough just from that information alone to suspect something.

Of course, if you're going to leak any company secrets, it's probably best not to do it using the corporate network ;)