All The Threat Information You Want, And Then Some

BugTraq subscribers may think they're getting a lot of data on security issues. Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer tried out the Symantec DeepSight Alert & Threat Management Services and his first reaction is "Uncle!"

As the editor of the Security Center, I have to stay informed on vulnerabilities and malicious code. Hey, its my job. I subscribe to a large number of mailing lists, and vendors and analysts regularly send me information. So I thought I was well informed. Then along came Symantecs DeepSight Alert and Threat Management Services.

Security junkies will overdose on these services quickly. If all you did was to monitor Symantecs public research resources, such as the Symantec Security Response site, you might be impressed with Symantecs research. But thats only a small window onto the full picture of the information they release for a hefty fee. How hefty? Alert Services is $5,000 per year. Threat Management Services starts at $15,000 per year, per user, albeit with volume discounts.

The DeepSight Alert Services keep you informed on vulnerabilities in excruciating detail. Its highly-configurable Web-based interface allows you to control the products about which you wish to be informed, the amount of data you wish to for each vulnerability, and how you wish to receive it.

Naturally, I first signed up for alerts on Windows, where its always busy season. In the course of two weeks I received 88 messages, most of them either announcing or updating reports on vulnerabilities.

For example, Ive received (so far) 9 alerts relating to the Microsoft Messenger Service Buffer Overrun problem. Each alert lists:

  • an ID for tracking it on SecurityFocuss BugTraq (Symantec owns SecurityFocus; and this bugs ID was 8826);
  • a CVE code for those who track vulnerabilities that way;
  • the dates of original publishing and last update;
  • whether the vulnerability is remote and/or local; and
  • a classification of the type of bug it is (for instance, the Messenger bug is a "Boundary Condition Error").

Symantec also adds interpretive value to these facts. They assess the credibility of the report. In this case, the Messenger bug was "Vendor Confirmed," but others might have "Multiple Sources," "Conflicting Details," "Reliable Source," "Single Source," or just "Conflicting Reports." You can make up your own mind how seriously to take reports with these various classifications, or choose only to receive them at or above a certain level.

In addition, there are two quantitative measures on which you can filter reports: Impact, which is based on the potential threat to the system by the vulnerability; and Urgency, which is based on the severity, ease of exploitation, and credibility of the report.

Each report also lists all the vulnerable products, short and detailed technical descriptions of the vulnerability, attack scenarios, available exploits, as well as mitigating strategies and solutions. If you want to deal with a vulnerability its hard to imagine needing more information than this.

The breadth of products covered is arguably more impressive than all this detail. You could spend your whole day just understanding the Windows reports, but theres much much more.

Take for example a remotely-exploitable Denial of Service attack on Mac OS X (currently vulnerable in Version 10.2.7 and maybe fixed in Panther?). Or a bug in NetBSD that can cause a kernel panic or potentially divulge sensitive information? (Note that the BugTraq links Im providing here dont provide any detail on the bugs; you need to be a DeepSight subscriber for that.) And its not just operating systems, but a large collection of applications, critical hardware such as routers, databases, games, computer systems.

I receive my alerts via e-mail, but you can also receive them via fax (why would anyone want this?), a voice interface, or SMS text messaging. Subscribers can create multiple sets of rules for alerts, receiving most via e-mail, but the most serious ones covering the most crucial products via SMS.

The Threat Management Services provides a series of reports and statistics on threats worldwide that are collected from a large network of honey pots and other monitoring systems.

Symantec uses this data to generate a series of reports that describe increases in intrusions based on levels. The big picture is in Symantecs "ThreatCons," which range from Level 1 ("Basic Network Posture") to Level 4 ("Extreme : Full alert ... extreme global network incident activity is in progress"). These are plays on the DefCon or Defense Condition levels used by the Defense Department (to tell the truth, however, the DefCon scale actually goes from 5 down to 1).

While I was testing, on October 15, Symantec raised the ThreatCon level from 1 to 2 because of the announcement of multiple remotely-exploitable Windows vulnerabilities (including the Messenger problem described above), and increased port scanning activity from certain sites in China. They recently put ThreatCon back down to Level 1.

Im impressed with this service and if I were responsible for the security of a large and critical IT infrastructure I would seriously consider an investment in it. While most of this information could be found elsewhere, it would take a lot of research. Of course, were all too busy for that, which is why this service is worth paying for. But is it worth all those thousands of dollars? No doubt you need to be a Fortune 1000 company to be in this league.

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Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983.

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