McAfee Aims to Achieve Sustainable Innovation in IT Security

The opportunity for innovation that has a longer shelf life occurs when security technologies are connected, explains McAfee CTO Mike Fey.

SAN FRANCISCO—McAfee executives speaking at a press event Feb. 24 at the RSA Conference here detailed their plans to push security forward and bypass rival vendors. McAfee, an Intel company, aims to change the way it looks at a key challenge that faces modern enterprise security: achieving true, sustainable innovation.

"Taking an individual countermeasure, like firewall, AV [antivirus] or sandboxing, all that does is keep the barbarians at the gate," said Mike Fey, CTO for McAfee. "It's just moments away from parity at some point, and most of these technologies give you two to three years of differentiation."

Where Fey sees the opportunity for sustainable innovation is when security technologies are connected. A single security control can be strengthened by the information and architecture that surrounds that control. The new McAfee Comprehensive Threat Protection offering the company is launching at the RSA conference is an attempt to provide a more robust approach to security wrapping together information and security controls, Fey said.

"If you look at the history of the battlefield, you saw this," Fey said. "First, a better sword, then a better shield, then a better gun, tank and plane."

The battle changed when telemetry and situational awareness entered the fray, Fey said. With full awareness provided with modern satellite communications, that battlefield innovation has now accelerated to the point where only a handful of nations can compete and find parity on the modern battlefield, he added.

"If you change the way you innovate, you can change the outcome," Fey said.

That is what Fey said he has been trying to do for the last two years that he has been McAfee's CTO.

One way McAfee is learning how to develop new differentiated offerings like the Comprehensive Threat Protection technology is by closely observing attackers. For example, Fey explained, McAfee recently set up a honeynet—a Website built specifically to trap attackers. The honeynet was set up to trick attackers into thinking it was a legitimate U.S. Department of Defense contractor.

"They threw everything, including the kitchen sink, at us," Fey said.

That experience enabled McAfee to see the attempts made to exploit the site and where breaches in a real site would have occurred. The value of deep forensics and tracking every interaction is a key lesson learned from that experience.

Staying a step ahead of attackers is also a key pledge made by Fey.

"You're going to see advancements in the way that networks and firewalls work together and in the way an endpoint can educate the network," Fey said. "These devices will stop becoming selfish about what they do."

By sharing and coordinating all those efforts, Fey said, attackers' strength is used against them. The big problem that McAfee is trying solve is not just how to create better AV or a better firewall but rather how to improve security overall, he said.

Fey also pledged a continuous stream of innovation from his company for the months ahead. "You'll see a fairly innovative concept coming from McAfee almost every quarter moving forward," Fey said.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.