Cisco combats network worms

Lock down or lock in?


Cisco Systems is to combat the spread of computer worms across internal networks.

Cisco's Network Admission Control program is designed to minimise the threat posed when mobile or guest users connect infected PCs to internal company networks.

Infections from worms such as Blaster and Nimda are frequently traced back to mobile or remote workers; their PCs are less likely to have AV protection and up-to-date security. Often infections from such sources break out long after the initial viral onslaught.

To minimise this secondary infection threat, Cisco is developing a network admission control system designed to enforce tighter security policies.

Network bouncers

Customers using Cisco's network admission control system can permit network access only to compliant and trusted endpoint devices (for example, PCs, servers, personal digital assistants) and restrict the access of non-compliant devices.

In its initial phase, Cisco's Network Admission Control technology will enable Cisco routers to enforce access privileges when an endpoint device attempts to connect to a network. So devices without up-to-date patches or AV signature definition files can be denied network access, placed in a quarantined area, or given restricted access to computing resources.

Software called Cisco Trust Agent runs on endpoint devices to determine their security state and communicates this information to the connected Cisco network where access control decisions are made and enforced. The system will initially support only devices running Microsoft Windows NT, XP and 2000.

Cisco has licensed its Cisco Trust Agent technology to Network Associates, Symantec and Trend Micro so it can be integrated with their security software client products. The Cisco Trust Agent will also be integrated with Cisco Security Agent (host intrusion prevention technology) to enforce access privileges based on an endpoint's operating system patch level.

The program is described by Cisco as a key development in its Self-Defending Network Initiative, the networking giant's strategy of integrating security services throughout Internet Protocol (IP) networks. The goal of the program is to help users to better identify, prevent and adapt to security threats.

Cisco Network Admission Control functionality is scheduled to be supported on Cisco's access and mid-range routers in mid-2004. In future releases, this capability will be extended across multiple Cisco product platforms, including switches, wireless access points and security appliances.

The Cisco Trust Agent is scheduled to be integrated with both Cisco and some Cisco Network Admission Control program supporting companies' security client software products beginning in mid-2004.

Cisco's anti-virus campaign is good idea, which we'd like a lot more if it were less proprietary.

Cisco's programme to 'give away' client extensions to WLAN provoked accusations that the company is trying to use its dominance to control the wireless LAN market. The networking giant's Network Admission Control program looks like much the same Trojan Horse play, this time applied to network security. ®

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