The appliance-ization of security Security vendors moved heavily toward implementing their products in network appliances. This happened most aggressively in the enterprise space, but its happening even in small and midsize businesses. This is part of the good news this year: Security solutions are getting easier, cheaper and more powerful. These devices are typically Linux PCs in disguise, running an application that could run on a regular PC. Appliances for firewall protection and other general network perimeter security have been common for years. Such devices with sophisticated functionality broke the $1000 barrier this year, putting them in reach of SMBs. We also found appliances focused on spam and virus detection, single-sign on and encryption acceleration.Firefox: The first decent IE alternative The Mozilla browser has been available for some time and has had fans, but the noise it generated in the browser "market" (if you can call it that) was as a mere firecracker next to the thermonuclear device that is Microsofts Internet Explorer. But in November, the Mozilla Foundation released Firefox 1.0, a simpler version of the Mozilla browser without all the ancillary features that were also made available separately. Firefox was well-received, and it has started to make a dent in Internet Explorers market share. Many people were clamoring for a good replacement for IE, given how many of Windows vulnerabilities are, in fact, Internet Explorer vulnerabilities. But the jury is still out. Firefox has had its own vulnerabilities. If Firefox maintains a better record than IE, it might become respectable enough for corporations to adopt it, and maybe even for OEMs to preinstall it and set it as the default browser. Firefox advocates dont dwell on the fact, but the browser goes to great pains to duplicate many IE user interface elements, so at least part of what makes Firefox acceptable is that it doesnt shock people who like IE. Perhaps if theyre shocked enough by the next IE security disaster, theyll rush to Firefox. Nonstories of the year I also like following the stories that were supposed to happen but didnt, and we had some big ones this year. None was bigger than the great e-voting disaster that just had to happen. For a variety of reasonssome plausible, some paranoidmany people felt that increased use of electronic voting in this election guaranteed increased voting fraud through subversion of flaws in the e-voting systems. And indeed there were problems, as just about anyone could have predicted. An underground conspiracy theory continues to bubblethough it has settled down latelythat "evidence" such as the exit poll numbers indicate the vote was "hacked." But those of us who took the precaution of wearing our tinfoil hats realize that if there were really something to it the Democratic party would be complaining, too. A few months ago, we got a warning of a hacker effort to bring down the Net. "E-Jihad" had the potential, we were told, to cripple the Internet for at least several hours. Of course, nothing happened. There was a similar nonevent in 2003a Web page defacement contest that fizzled. Remember how after Microsoft bought RAV AntiVirus in 2003, it was supposed to leverage its monopoly to crush the anti-virus industry? It didnt happen. I suspect that they dont want to put out a loser, and they think that the technology they bought isnt good enough to simply put a "Microsoft" label on and sell. And thats because Microsoft, unlike many of their observers, knows that it doesnt always win, monopoly or not. Windows source code leaks In February, source code from Windows 2000 was leaked to the Web by someone with access to it. It turned out that the code came from Mainsoft, a development company with a license to it. Their systems had been compromised by an attacker who was recently caught. But conventional wisdom immediately leapt to the conclusion that hackers would scour the source code and find large collections of security holes that they wouldnt have without the source. This hasnt happened for reasons that were foreseeable at the time. Do you think 2004 was a rough year? Were the problems serious, or just annoying? Let us know in the TalkBack section below. Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983.
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Some of the innovative developments included an appliance from Juniper that secures Web-based conferences. The device itself is not without problems, but its a good example of how application-focused appliances are becoming.