When is a virus attack lucky? When it strikes right in the middle of a test of intrusion detection systems. In fact, InfoWorld was lucky many times over as we conducted the testing for “Network Detectives: Inspecting the Inspectors”. Not only were we slammed by the Sasser worm, but we ran smack dab into a host of Microsoft IIS attacks and a plague of Gator spyware. Needless to say, our review team was pleased; there’s nothing quite like real-life attacks on real-world networks to find out what really works.
Luck also played a role in our choice of test venue. Contributing Editor Victor R. Garza was attending a Wi-Fi Planet conference last year when he met Lieutenant Commander Joseph L. Roth, department head of the Network Security Group at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) in Monterey, Calif. The two struck up a conversation, and pretty soon they decided to collaborate on a test of vulnerability assessment appliances (“Uncovering Network Holes”) at NPS. This week’s IDS test is a continuation of that serendipitous partnership with NPS, a facility with 3,000 nodes on its network and a host of top-notch IT talent to watch over it.
For our four-month torture test, we invited the major IDS vendors to participate; a few — including McAfee, Sourcefire, and Symantec — declined because the timing wasn’t right. (Look for our reviews of their new releases in coming weeks.) The six products that survived our testing, however, were put through the proverbial mill. Over the course of the trial, our team detected more than 4,000 “events” from nearly 1,000 unique attackers.
By and large, these IDS solutions acquitted themselves admirably, although some used a signature-based approach and others employed anomaly detection algorithms to spot the black hats. Ultimately, our review team concluded that, in the safest of all possible worlds, an IDS would use both signatures and anomaly detection.
Garza and company might have drawn another conclusion, namely that open source folks have more fun. Whereas the commercial IDS products have sober names (Border Guard and StealthWatch), the open-source IDS of choice is Snort (nicknamed “The Pig”). The Pig’s most commonly used graphical front end is the colorfully named ACID (Analysis Console for Intrusion Databases). And then there are the porcine-inspired Snort add-ons Barnyard and Oinkmaster.
Snort creator Martin Roesch — founder of security pioneer Sourcefire and an InfoWorld 2004 Innovator — confirmed our suspicions about the open source crowd in a post-test conversation. ACID, he confided, is on its way out as the preferred Snort GUI, soon to be replaced by SGUIL. And what does that stand for? Snort Graphical User Interface for Losers, of course.
That’s a winner in our book.