In the area of information security, companies didn’t need the Sept. 11 wakeup call to realize they need to devote more resources to securing corporate networks and customer data. Hackers who stole credit card numbers and embarrassing security holes found in newly released operating systems grabbed headlines well before companies worried about terrorist attacks on their computer systems.
This increase in security breaches caused more companies to assess their security needs in 2001 and figure out ways to fix those problems. One of the most popular solutions so far is to install a firewall to protect corporate networks when employees work from home. One of those firewall products, Cisco System’s PIX 501, captured by far the most votes of those who cast ballots for the Datamation Product of the Year for Security in 2001. The Cisco firewall gathered 60%, or 128 votes out of a possible 213 votes cast.
The 3Com 3CR990-TX network interface card, which includes embedded firewall technology, came in a distant second with 12%, or 26 votes. It was followed in third place by the Dragon 5 intrusion detection system by Rochester, N.H.-based Enterasys Networks Inc., which received 9%, or 19 votes.
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Christian Byrnes, vice president for security programs for market researcher Meta Group, says that historically a relatively small percentage of large corporations did anything more than install a firewall to secure their systems. But beginning in the spring of 2001, companies started realizing they needed to put someone in charge of security and at the very least complete a security assessment. They were under new federal audit rules that required that information systems used to control a company’s financial records must be secure.
“They were typically not,” Byrnes says.
Then came the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. While those attacks did not target computer systems per se, they served as a wakeup call to the information technology industry that their systems were just as vulnerable.
“The tragic events of 11 September have altered the landscape of the security software market as enterprises re-prioritize security initiatives, moving them from the IT wish list to the list of IT `must haves,'” says a November 2001 report by market researcher Gartner Inc.
The increased focus on security is being seen across all industries – from well-established financial institutions like the large credit card issuer First USA Bank – to new technology companies like satellite radio pioneer XM Satellite Radio, Inc.
“Because XM Satellite Radio will become a very high profile company, security is a highest concern and we don’t want to have external break-ins causing any service interruption,” says Tony Yeh, director of infrastructure for the Washington, D.C.-based satellite radio company.
Yeh last year installed the Cisco PIX 501 Firewall to allow employees with a dedicated Internet connection to work from their homes without compromising XM’s computer network. Although there were other firewall products available, Yeh says he choose the Cisco system because his company already uses other Cisco devices and he trusts the brand.
Meta’s Byrnes says this scenario is pretty typical of large companies, which are familiar with Cisco products.
Voters had a choice of the following nominees:
MANAnet Reverse Firewall
ReefEdge Connect System
WG-1000 Wireless Gateway
Cisco PIX 501 Firewall
Firewall technology and virus protection software, Byrnes says, are two areas of the security market that are well established and have the ability to scale to meet the needs of large corporations. Virtual private networks and intrusion detection systems are less mature and their ability to scale still has not been proven, he adds.
Nevertheless, companies are seeing the need to install these security systems. First USA Bank, the Wilmington, Del.-based credit card subsidiary of Bank One, is one of the nation’s largest issuers of Visa and MasterCard credit cards, claiming nearly 52 million cardholders. As the bank continues to service more customers through its FirstUSA.com and cardmemberservices.com Web sites, it can’t afford to let hackers intrude, says computer security engineer Bob Huber. The credit card company in July began using the Dragon 5 intrusion detection system because of its speed and the ability to customize it, Huber says.
“We used another product and once our bandwidth gets above a certain threshold, it drops a lot of packets,” Huber says. “We tested the Dragon and it held up better at higher speeds.”
Currently, about 40% of large corporations have intrusion detection devices, Byrnes says. “We believe network intrusion detection is needed by everyone.”
In 2002, he predicts, companies will take action on the security assessments they completed in 2001. “You’ll see implementation across the board. Companies new to security have an awful lot of catching up to do.”
Freelance writer Cynthia Flash covers technology and business from Bellevue, Wash. Reach her at [email protected]