Security in a single package

Network administrators are under siege, battling to protect network resources from viruses, hackers and badly written code.

Citadel Security Software Inc. officials are promising to help ease the load with the company's Hercules Version 3.0 product, which rolls patch distribution, system remediation and security policies into one streamlined package with a unified interface.

Hercules is an automated vulnerability remediation system, which is a fancy way of saying that as vulnerabilities are identified, the product automatically determines which machines are vulnerable and distributes the appropriate remedies to them. Pretty slick — if it works. And with Hercules, it does work.

We reviewed Version 3.0, which recently received Common Criteria Evaluation Assurance Level 3 certification, a qualification that government officials are increasingly requiring.

The Hercules architecture is designed to handle thousands of machines in a distributed environment. Normally, we would have installed an Administrators Console, a Download Server to get the remedies from Citadel and several Channel Servers to distribute remedies to our networks. But because we were most interested in testing the remediation features, we simply loaded all the components onto a single Microsoft Corp. Windows 2000 Advanced Server. We used a Dell Inc. 2650 P4 dual-processor desktop with lots of RAM and disk space.

After installing Microsoft's .NET 1.1 Web services solution, installing the Hercules product was virtually a hands-off affair. The install program automatically configured the Hercules Server engine and the Microsoft Data Engine database. (Hercules also supports SQL.) Then it breezed through the Channel Server and Download Server installations. The only pause was on the last screen, which prompted us for an administrative account and password. Because we wanted a unique administrator to do our bidding, we used the Microsoft Management Console to create a new domain administrator account.

A stitch in time

First, we wanted to test the strengths of the remediation features by creating and assigning remediations to a single computer. We started by identifying the devices on our network and listing their associated vulnerabilities.

Hercules does not reinvent the wheel by performing these tasks itself. Instead, it accepts data from industry-leading vulnerability scanners such as Nessus, Foundstone Inc.'s FoundScan and Harris Corp.'s Harris Stat.

We chose the Harris Stat scanner to map our network devices and identify their vulnerabilities. After we scanned the network, we easily imported a list of all devices and associated vulnerabilities and assigned our computers to device groups we had created earlier.

Before we could distribute the remedies, we had to install the Hercules client on the chosen workstation. The client distribution function is built into the interface, so we were able to deploy the client and continue scheduling the remediation without skipping a beat. After a few more clicks, we isolated our target computer and sent it a customized remediation.

We followed up by creating and enforcing a policy for a group of Windows 2000 workstations. The process was the same except for some extra clicks needed to create a remedy group to hold the remediations for our policy.

Hercules also was able to remediate Red Hat Inc.'s Red Hat Linux, IBM Corp.'s AIX, Hewlett-Packard Co.'s HP-UX and Apple Computer Inc.'s Mac OS X quite handily through a Secure Shell client built into the interface, giving users the flexibility to create intelligent group policies that span multiple platforms.

We quickly found that Hercules remedies are not only patches. The product also can fix bad password policies, delete questionable services such as Telnet, fix rogue FTP sites and close security backdoors.

Hercules offers a lot of flexibility with many options to choose from when applying specific remedies to multitudes of devices. You can apply remedies ad hoc or create group policies for logical device groups, allowing you to organize devices based on whatever criteria you choose. A rich set of remedy actions can help you create in-house scripts and custom remedies.

We were impressed by the ability to customize remedy actions for each of the operating systems supported. If you need to force a password change for each of your Linux computers, Hercules can handle the job.

We also liked a lockout feature called ConnectGuard, which isolates policy violators from the network until they are patched to a required level. And the rollback feature means never having to tell your boss you can't fix a problem you created.

We liked the broad number of operating systems that Hercules supports. But it does not currently support Novell Inc.'s NetWare or SuSE Linux, so officials at organizations using Novell should consider other remediation products, such as PatchLink Corp.'s PatchLink.

The Hercules report engine is exceptional. It provides attractive management summaries of your activities with the capability to produce detailed reports about the total vulnerability of your network, including trends, problem severity and remediation success.

The large database of remedies was difficult to manage at times. When we tried to apply a specific remedy, it took a long time to navigate through the remedy set to find what we were trying to fix.

The bottom line

We liked the administrator interface, which is well-organized and easy to understand, though the console could have used a stop button to cancel long database searches.

Overall, Hercules is a capable product that efficiently remediates a large number of problems on diverse platforms. Its best strength is its ability to capture vulnerability information and automatically download remedies, thereby saving administrators a significant amount of time. n

Greer is a network security consultant. Brown is a network analyst at a large Texas state agency. They can be reached at egreer@thecourageequation.com.

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