Thursday, September 10, 2009

TippingPoint IPS Fails Critical Tests

I was reading a very interesting article today concerning the latest IPS testing results from NSS Labs. John Dunn over at TechWorld magazine has a story titled "Tippingpoint IPS struggles in new security tests".

Based upon the NSS Labs testing regime, TippingPoint's IPS (TippingPoint 10) detected/prevented less than 40 percent of the canned exploit tests. Lets be clear, that's bad! Just as important is the drop over the last five years in TippingPoints threat prevention coverage.

Some readers may think that I'm a little biased since I used to work for a competitor in this space - Internet Security Systems - and was responsible for their core threat detection technologies. While I'm not a great fan of TippingPoint - that's almost exclusively due to their commercial decision to purchase vulnerabilities from hackers, rather than their capability to protect organizations from Internet threats (despite the efforts of their marketing team).

TippingPoint's failure in these tests perhaps provide a degree of validation that commercial vulnerability purchase schemes do not increase protection. So the argument that such purchase programs allow security vendors to develop better protection, faster, is mostly marketing fluff.

That said, I suspect that TippingPoints poor performance in these latest tests to be more likely due to two factors:
  1. The testing has changed. It's long been said that some security vendors develop protection designed to pass testing and review systems rather than real-life threats. NSS have improved their testing systems to better represent real-life networks and their mix of traffic, and that probably had a negative effect on TippingPoints solution.
  2. They're suffering mojo drain. For the last few years 3Com have been messing about with what they're planning to do with TippingPoint - sell the division, subsume the division, spin it off, etc. The net result is that the 3Com business unit has suffered from an uncertain future which has resulted in a mix of brain-drain and mojo evaporation - with the consequence being that threat research and development has languished.
Can TippingPoint recover? Technically yes, just re-tune their detection engines for the new testing environment that NSS Labs use. But professionally I don't think that's the way to go (that sort of thing never occurred under my watch at ISS). TippingPoint's recent protection coverage failures run a lot deeper than that - their R&D teams need better executive support, a plan for the future and to recover their research mojo.

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