Network ICE CTO responds to further BlackICE criticisms

The jury's still out

The CTO of Network ICE, Robert Graham, has been in touch to support his BlackICE firewall product following recent criticisms by security consultant Steve Gibson that it's not up to the job.

Graham initially responded (in a personal capacity) that Mr Gibson misunderstood BlackICE as simply a firewall - and that it's functionality is far greater than this. Gibson had said BlackICE failed to find a Trojan on his PC while a free security product had found it without trouble.

After we posted Graham's comments, we were inundated by readers asking why if BlackICE is not a firewall is it sold as a "personal firewall" on Network ICE's own Web site.

This is Robert Graham individual response to that, to why people should continue buying BlackICE and why corporates find it far more useful than free security products available on the Net.

"It is a personal firewall, just a different kind. We do this intrusion detection bit where we fully analyse the content that goes in and out of the machine. This is something nobody else does. Zone[Alarm - a free security product] is 'personal firewall + outbound blocking'; we are 'personal firewall + intrusion detection'.

"We believe that our solution is superior. Other firewalls give you limited information about an application attempting to contact a certain port number at a certain IP address, but give the end user no visibility why. They don't give any indication whether it is a Trojan or a legitimate attempt to access the Net. In contrast, we identify that it is Trojan traffic and automatically block. We are the only personal firewall that is able to identify Trojans - the rest assume the user can.

"The problem is that users are forced to tell [other security products] about every Web site they go to. They get into the habit of saying 'yes' to everything. This is what happened with the Melissa virus. People get trained like monkeys to agree with dialog boxes without paying attention to them.

"It is our automation and added intelligence that has led to BlackICE being the most popular personal firewall in corporate environments. Corporation managers go through extensive analysis of these things and understand the difference in technology. They trust our ability to identify hacker activity by watching the raw traffic more than their end-users ability to identify what the port/IP addresses mean."

With regard to Steve Gibson's analysis of locating Trojans, Graham had this to say: "If you focus down on just 'Trojans', the issue [of whether free security software is just as effective] is debatable. It's a matter of whether you want the hands-on, information-free approach, or the automated, information-gathering approach.

"However, when you go outside of just Trojans, it is quite clear that our approach is the best (at least, that's what our customers tell us). Most consumers buy personal firewalls because they believe they can identify hackers and stop the identified activities. They are quite surprised to learn that their personal firewall cannot differentiate hackers from normal activity.

"Corporations have an even worse problem. What do you think happens when the IT department forces an application onto a user's desktop that gets in their way and forces them to start answer a bunch of questions they aren't prepared to deal with?"

In support of BlackICE came one reader: "I have used BlackICE for a couple of years now, and it routinely has protected from all sorts of attacks, a good percentage which are related to Trojans. I manage several servers, and use it routinely on them."

Others were less impressed: "This is just a lame response by Network ICE to cover up its poor coding. Of course folks are going to threaten if someone exposes them."

One was not impressed with Network ICE's explanation as to why it didn't find the Trojan on Mr Gibson's machine: "It is irrelevant if this program has accessed the Net before or not. Once you install ZoneAlarm all programs (and I mean all) produce the alert. Therefore the Sub7 virus and any other Trojan, spyware, virus are stopped dead in their tracks (even if there already on your PC) unless of course you explicitly give them permission to access the Net. This is the way all proper firewall's work - everything is locked down until you open it.

"The fact that BlackICE can't do this is testament to the uselessness of this product and the absolute crap they have come up with in their official response. On a side note, Gibson isn't the only one to have slated BlackICE, several magazines have noted a particular lack of BlackICE doing anything useful when compared to other Personal firewalls."

So there you have it: corporate lifesaver or over-priced sieve? You decide. ®

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