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Security Assessments: More Than Meets the Eye

Is the product safe to use? I have been asked this question on occasion in a non-technical sense and maybe you have too. In a technical context, I could frame the question as “Are the online services and underlying technologies supporting my services safe?”  A continuous effort must go into substantiating the preferable answer (“Yes”) that we are looking for, both prior to and after releasing a product or service into the wild. Security Intelligence Operations (SIO) includes a team of network security experts that form the Security Technology Assessment Team (STAT). They provide security assessment expertise across Cisco’s product and services organizations. In this article, I elaborate on their role and how they complement product and services organizations at Cisco in helping to protect you, our customer.

In the not-so-distant past it used to be that the majority of notoriety around product security was focused more around physical aspects. For example, a manufacturer announces a product recall about a defect (i.e. vulnerability) that could cause potential physical harm or worse. Fast-forward to today where computing devices and associated Internet plumbing comprise an entirely distinct category of product security needed.  Within that category, I would also suggest that services and the underlying supporting infrastructure would also fall into this category in the ongoing quest for achieving network security.  I think that this quote from a U.S. government hearing underscores the value of that quest as well.

When we bring in new technologies, we bring in new exposures and new vulnerabilities, things we really haven’t thought about. It takes a little while before we understand it, and after a while we begin to secure it. But our mindset needs to change. This is not the same as industrial technologies or new ways of doing aircraft or cars. These technologies are global and they expose us globally, literally within milliseconds.

House of Representatives Hearing on Cybersecurity: Emerging Threats, vulnerabilities, and challenges in securing federal information systems

Business units and quality assurance groups at Cisco apply multi-level security processes throughout the development of products and services to ensure that security is embedded into everything that is ultimately delivered to customers. For example, Cisco’s secure development life cycle (SDL) provides a highly effective process in detecting and preventing security vulnerabilities and improving overall system quality.  Cisco SDL has several elements that include, but not limited to, source code analysis and white box testing that feed into the security posture of a product or service.  Cisco has a security advocates program, a virtual community of people who understand network security and secure product development (and testing) and who can share and evangelize that knowledge with their peers, their colleagues, and their management.

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Cisco IOS Software Security Advisory Bundle Announced

Today Cisco Security Intelligence Operations (SIO) has released its Semi-annual Cisco IOS Software Security Advisory Bundle, the second and final IOS bundle publication of 2012. Today’s release includes nine advisories, of which five have workarounds.

As in previous bundle publications, Cisco SIO has provided an array of security resources to help customers secure their networks. This collateral is not unique to bundle security advisories and instead is part of SIO’s response to current security events. Resources include: Read More »

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Who Keeps Your IPS Up To Date?

The realm of Network security encompasses many perspectives and interests as is evident from the wealth of articles prevalent across the media and availability of various proactive protection measures. One particular technology recognized as integral to securing a network is the Intrusion Prevention System (IPS), which is used to detect and prevent suspected malicious network traffic or behavior. However, an IPS is not just a ‘set-it-and-forget-it’ type of solution. This is because of the necessity of employing current Cisco IPS signatures, which are the lifeblood of the IPS and are essential for it to identify and block attacks against specific vulnerabilities or certain types of threats. Because new threats and vulnerabilities are constantly being discovered, the IPS signature database for an IPS-capable device needs to be kept current to maximize the level of protection that it can provide. If you already use Cisco IPS technology, then you might already be familiar how crucial it is to use the most current IPS signatures. Otherwise, the IPS solution cannot provide optimal protection against new threats and attacks. Cisco IPS owners with a Cisco IPS Services License understand this fact and can receive signature updates as they become available. Signature updates can be installed manually or downloaded and installed automatically using native Cisco IPS capabilities or management tools such as Cisco Security Manager. For those inclined to write their own signatures, Cisco has published documentation on how to write customer signatures for the IPS.

And while the signatures are the “lifeblood” of the IPS and keeping them current is paramount, it is also important to make sure that the underlying operating system is kept up to date on the sensor as well. The underlying operating system and engines decompose and analyze the traffic as it passes through the device. Things like protocol decoding, features, and evasion resistance are handled here. The engines work but do not alert without the signature set as the signatures provide the matching framework for an alert to fire. The same can be said about the signatures. They do not work without the engines. Each requires the other to function and therefore keeping them both current is important.

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What is it Like to be a Cisco Security Analyst?

Security events, such as vulnerabilities and threats, that are detected globally continue to grow and evolve in scale, impact, diversity, and complexity. Compounded with this is the other side of the coin, the unreported or undetected events waiting in the wings, hovering below the radar in a stealthy state. With all of the security technologies at our disposal, are they sufficient enough to provide effective protection? Well, it is certainly a good start when applied correctly. At a summary level, Cisco’s Security Intelligence Operations (SIO) approach to this challenge was covered in the Network World feature article, “Inside Cisco Security Intelligence Operations.” However, one of the core human elements, which I will introduce, that deserves closer attention is the role of security analyst. In addition, this article provides those of you with career interests some additional insight into working in the IT security field.

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Cisco IOS Security Advisory Bundle – It’s That Time Again

September 28, 2011 at 9:15 am PST

Once again it’s time for Cisco’s semi-annual Cisco IOS Software Security Advisory Bundled Publication. Today’s edition of the bundle contains a total of nine IOS-related advisories and one non-IOS advisory for the Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCM) family of products. Included in the 10 Security Advisories are a total of 19 Cisco Bug IDs, each one representing an individual vulnerability.

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