Cisco’s Aggressive Security Push

A raft of new security enhancements helps bring Cisco to feature parity with other vendors—but the networking giant isn’t yet a security innovator

Cisco Systems Inc. last week fleshed out its security portfolio with the addition of 10 new products, software enhancements, and services.

Analysts say that the improvements should at least bring Cisco to feature parity with its competitors in several different markets—although few believe that Cisco has recast itself as a security innovator in these spaces.

“Cisco has been competitively behind in both markets where these products compete,” writes Joel Conover, a principal analyst for enterprise infrastructure with Current Analysis Inc. “The introduction of Cisco’s application firewalling technology in the PIX brings it up to the competitive level of key competitors Check Point and Juniper, while its SSL VPN enhancements deliver the baseline features necessary for Cisco to pose a significant competitive threat.”

It looks like security innovation—or, at the very least, security leadership—will be a major theme for Cisco in the years ahead, however. At the RSA Conference 2005 security confab late last month, Cisco CEO John Chambers outlined an aggressive security strategy in which, he promised, Cisco will innovate on its own to enhance the security of its products, but won’t hesitate to look elsewhere to acquire key technology assets either. Cisco has already made more than half a dozen acquisitions in the last 12 months, including several vendors that specialize in network security solutions.

“I believe … innovation is about doing it yourself, acquiring, and partnering. As we move into elements of security, you will see us both acquire very aggressively, you will see us partner very aggressively, and you will see us innovate probably two-thirds of the products ourselves,” said Chambers.

For the record, Cisco announced version 5.0 of its Cisco Intrusion Prevention System (IPS), a new version 4.0 release of its Anomaly Guard Module and Traffic Anomaly Detector Module, the availability of SSL VPN services for its VPN 3000 Concentrator Version 4.7, and version 7.0 of its Cisco PIX security appliance software. On top of this, Cisco said that IPS Version 5.0 and Release 12.3(14)T of IOS also support application inspection and control capabilities that offer improved application security for port-80 control as well as for VoIP.

Finally, Cisco announced its Cisco Network Control and Containment Cisco Security Monitoring, Analysis and Response System (CS-MARS) and Security Auditor products. Officials said that IOS 12.3(14)T ships with a new IPSec virtual interface, which supports more scalable IPSec VPN management, along with enhanced support for Voice and Video over VPN (V3PN) applications.

Among all the enhancements, the SSL VPN functionality was the most sorely needed, says Conover. “Cisco’s improvements to its SSL VPN functionality were essential to its ability to compete with the leaders in the SSL VPN market, and necessary to counter competitive pressure from upstart competitors and industry heavyweights such as Check Point and Nokia,” he writes. “With the recently announced version 4.7 enhancements, Cisco finally sits on a level playing field with respect to software features and functionality.”

Similarly, Cisco’s firewall enhancements help to bring it up to speed with competitors such as Juniper Networks, which has been mounting a challenge to Cisco in several markets of late. “Cisco has been also been competitively deficient on the firewall front for some time. For instance, Cisco has lacked a strong competitive response to ‘deep packet inspection’ for a while now,” he notes. “PIX 7.0 addresses that shortcoming with protocol-in-protocol inspection support targeted largely at HTTP inspection. This provides a sufficient competitive response against solutions from Check Point … and Juniper … Those competitors have a jumpstart on breadth and depth over Cisco’s solution.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.