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netvirt Authors: Yeshim Deniz, Moshe Kranc, Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, Daniel Gordon

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Keeping Your Network Security One Step Ahead

A new approach to data inspection is paramount in order to address undetected and emergent threats

Advanced malicious content and attacks are starting to threaten conventional network filtering technologies that are not able to keep up with the increased volume and complexity of network traffic. Currently, one in every 14 downloads contains malicious content that may create operational, reputational and customer relationship management challenges. The Global State of Information Security survey conducted by PwC in 2012 found that 57 percent of security experts are dissatisfied with their information security strategy. When malware and non-compliant data slip through the networks undetected, organizations are at risk for IT infrastructure damage and information leakage.

The explosion of social media, mobile data usage and cloud computing has introduced new threats that demand a different approach to security. Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) and packet filtering are two of the standard inspection technologies that secure networks at the packet level; unfortunately, these technologies have limited efficiency and cannot adequately scale to provide optimal security with the evolving Internet.

The Limitations of Deep Packet Inspection
Deep Packet Inspection matches IP packet sequences against known offending patterns. DPI is presently the industry standard for monitoring and managing network packet data. To be effective, DPI systems must match the packet information to these patterns at wire speed, which presents two main limitations:

  • Packet data acquired from a DPI system needs to be matched against a known malware threat, but real-time DPI has limited memory available for pattern matches. This limits the amount of unique signatures available for the system to match against threats.
  • Malware embedded in large applications often pass through DPI and sneak onto the network undetected. This occurs when the number of packets a DPI can hold for pattern matching is limited, and often the number of IP packets present during the transmission of an application payload surpasses this cap.

These limitations are failing to meet the demands of network security. Nested, zipped or archived files, along with an increasing number of unsupported application types, can manipulate these limitations and slide through a DPI security system that isn't adept enough to handle them.

Deep Content Inspection: A Different Approach
A new approach to data inspection is paramount in order to address undetected and emergent threats. Deep Content Inspection (DCI) is an innovative form of network filtering that works as a fully transparent device at a more comprehensive level.

This technology goes beyond merely checking the body or header of data packets circulating within a network; it reassembles, decompresses and/or decodes network traffic packets into their constituting application level objects, often denoted as the MIME objects. This process makes it possible for a DCI solution to scan the entire object and identify any malicious or non-compliant intent.

The prevalent DCI archetype implements full content-based review in real time in order to understand the intent of data-in-motion. Unlike the DPI approach of simply matching packet sequences against patterns, DCI has a much broader inspection scope. DCI offers a whole new level of protection by performing reputation searches and behavior analyses on structured or packed data. By keeping track of content across multiple packets, DCI can find and assess signatures that cross packet boundaries.

DCI provides a comprehensive approach to screening for attacks and malicious content by moving away from traditional packet inspection and focusing on the content and intent of data to effectively secure enterprises, governments and service providers against today's threats.

More Stories By Hongwen Zhang

Dr. Hongwen Zhang is president and CEO of Wedge Networks, a leading provider of remediation-based Deep Content Inspection for high-performance, network-based Web security. He holds a PhD in Computer Science from the University of Calgary, a MSc in Computer Engineering from the Institute of Computer Technology - Chinese Academy of Sciences (Beijing, PRC), and a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Fudan University (Shanghai, PRC). With more than two decades of high-tech leadership experience, Dr. Zhang is a co-inventor and holder of several patents in the area of computing and networking.

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