Cisco Adds Intrusion Prevention to ACI

Cisco is integrating its FirePower threat prevention software and ACI network virtualization platform, while also adding a new security partner.

network security

Cisco Systems is growing the security features in its ACI network virtualization by integrating intrusion prevention technology the company acquired when it bought Sourcefire in 2013 for $2.7 billion.

Cisco officials on April 29 at the Interop 2015 show in Las Vegas announced that the FirePower threat protection software will be integrated with the vendor's Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), Cisco's answer to the software-defined networking (SDN) trend that brings together open and optimized hardware and software that are designed to ensure that workloads get the networking resources they need.

The combination of ACI with the FirePower Next Generation Intrusion Prevention System—which will be available in June—will give businesses improved visibility not only before a cyber-attack occurs, but also during and after the attack, according to company officials. Users will be able to detect and deal with advanced security threats inside the data center through both FirePower's threat detection and advanced malware protection and such ACI capabilities as microsegmentation, advanced security service insertion and Layers 4-7 policy automation, according to Gary Kinghorn, senior solution marketing manager for network virtualization and SDN at Cisco.

The rapid changes occurring in the data center are impacting how enterprises need to think about security, Kinghorn wrote in a post on the company blog.

"Perimeter security solutions that block all malicious traffic coming into the data center are great, but they can't help threats from propagating inside the data center," he wrote. "In a shared, multi-tenant environment where trust between users and applications can no longer be assumed, security solutions have to be in place to protect every workload from every other one, and to protect all tenants from each other. This is several orders of magnitude more complexity than we previously required. This trend has led to the implementation of fine-grained security policies, enforced between individual application workloads (microsegmentation)."

Other challenges include trying to secure increasingly mobile applications with static security devices and automating security operations in on-demand, cloud-based environments.

Cisco's FirePower security appliances can be delivered as either physical or virtual devices, company officials said. It adds to other security capabilities in ACI—including a whitelist policy model that helps protect physical and virtual applications from each other—as well as support for security products from the likes of Check Point Software Technologies, Fortinet, Infoblox, Intel Security, Radware and Symantec.

Fortinet's addition to the list was announced earlier this month at the RSA Conference. Fortinet will integrate its Fortigate firewall platform into ACI.

The integration of FirePower into ACI comes at a time when security attacks are getting more sophisticated, according to Cisco officials. A survey of IT security professionals this year commissioned by the networking technology giant and conducted by market research firm Enterprise Strategy Group found that 57 percent of respondents said their data centers had been hit by an attack over the last two years, and that 68 percent said some important steps—such as removing expired or out-of-date access control lists or firewall rules—are difficult and time-consuming to do because the process is still a manual one and needs to be automated.

Cisco's Kinghorn wrote that automation is a key part of any security solution.

"In our on-demand, elastic cloud environments, where applications are deployed in minutes, sorting out this complexity, and updating security policies across many potential devices, is a logistical nightmare," he wrote. "A security management solution that can automatically update, provision and configure security policies across all applicable devices quickly is required to support the agility required of cloud architectures."

Also at Interop, Cisco officials announced that independent auditors have validated ACI to be used in Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) compliant networks.