Denying denial of services

Agencies' security managers soon could have more weapons to battle denial-of-service and other cyberattacks if technology from Network Associates Inc.'s research labs is incorporated into the company's intrusion-prevention products.

Network Associates Laboratories' officials recently handed completed research projects to the company's product development teams, who will evaluate the best way to deploy the technology, according to Erik Mettala, vice president of McAfee Research, a unit of the labs.

Now it's up to developers in the "product division to make sure the technology does what [the research group claims] it does," Mettala said. This will require large-scale testing.

As network incidents and attacks increase, agencies and enterprises need tools that can help them respond to intrusions and defend critical systems with as little human intervention as possible. That is the goal of the Cooperative Intrusion Traceback and Response Architecture (CITRA) and the Intruder Detection and Isolation Protocol (IDIP).

Funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, IDIP dates back to 1995, when researchers investigated how machines should communicate and share information about intrusions. The protocol, which lab officials submitted to the Internet Engineering Task Force standards group for approval, provides low-level capabilities, Mettala said.

"Multiple networks in an enterprise might have intrusion-prevention appliances deployed within each subnet," he said.

"CITRA provides the ability to communicate among subnets across an enterprise when [the network] is under attack." When a system like Network Associates' IntruShield is close to the point of attack, it can isolate and block the offender and send information to IntruShield systems throughout the network.

Other technologies that could be incorporated into IntruShield include NetBouncer and FloodWatch, which are designed to stop denial-of-service attacks. NetBouncer's filtering mechanisms test the legitimacy of network traffic and give priority to approved data packets. They analyze the behavior of network nodes and block nodes that send out large volumes of packets with spurious data, Mettala said.

FloodWatch analyzes the behavior of packets using statistical mechanisms to detect malicious traffic and prevents the forwarding of identified attacks.

Some experts question whether denial-of-service attacks deserve all the attention they are getting. The attacks that brought down Web sites such as eBay and Yahoo in 2000 prompted interest in filtering techniques, according to John Pescatore, vice president of Internet security research at Gartner Inc. But "we haven't seen a meaningful [distributed denial-of-service] attack since," he said.

However, Network Associates' new technology could be useful to agents on the U.S. Secret Service's electronic crime task force. The task force is charged with protecting the nation's financial infrastructure.

"We're looking for new ways to protect the national infrastructure" and for tools that can help the agency combat cybercrimes before they are committed, said Chris Williams, a special agent in the task force's Washington, D.C., division who is evaluating some of the new technology.

***

Precision blocking

Network Associates Inc. Laboratories have given their product development teams new technology aimed at thwarting intrusions and distributed denial-of-service attacks on networked computer systems.

Core technologies will:

Enable the communication and sharing of attack information by intrusion sensors across a network.

Provide high-performance filtering.

Detect and prevent attacks by analyzing traffic behavior.

Ensure that systems can still access network resources in the event of an attempted attack.

Monitor and assess the health of a system so that attacks or operational errors can be detected and appropriately handled.

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