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Cisco sets the bar for mobile security

Joel Snyder | March 21, 2011
Combination of always-on client, VPN/firewall and Web security gateway provides secure access for mobile end users.

We chose to focus on the third type of Web security: the Web proxy. Cisco's approach to applying Web-based security to VPN users requires a tight linkage between the ASA VPN concentrator and the S-series Web proxy, in order to transfer authentication information to the Web proxy. Making that linkage is very simple — you just put a common port number and shared secret into both devices, click the "test" button, and if everything is correct, you're done.

The ASA sends the username, but not any group membership information, over to the IronPort S-series, so we had to link to our Active Directory (NTLM or LDAP are supported) to get this information. Once that was settled, we were able to apply user- and group-based Web security policies.

One of the most important parts of the integration between the AnyConnect client, the ASA appliance, and the IronPort S-Series is the automatic download of proxy information to AnyConnect clients. We tested this with Windows (Internet Explorer), Mac (Safari, Chrome, and Firefox), and iPhone systems all running the AnyConnect client and had seamless experiences browsing through the VPN tunnel, passed to the IronPort S-Series proxy, and off to the Internet.

The IronPort S-series has a fairly standard set of protections, including URL filtering (for example, blocking gambling sites), malware scanning with two different engines (Webroot and McAfee in our test system), and Web reputation checking, used to block access to known bad Web pages or objects. The IronPort S-series also supports sanctioned man-in-the-middle, a way to "break in" to the SSL conversation by pretending to be the encrypted Web server with a fake public-key infrastructure certificate.

We briefly tested the malware scanning and URL filtering. As with all URL filtering products, we had a very high success rate, but were able to slip through a few URLs in violation of policy. A selection of 10 recent viruses transmitted into our test lab network were all caught by the malware scanner.

We 'like' the Facebook controls

A new feature in the IronPort S-Series is application visibility and control. This lets the network manager monitor and block various Web-based applications directly, separately from the URL filtering part of the product. The version we tested is more of a proof-of-concept than a fully-baked application visibility tool, with only eight categories, including "Blogging," "Facebook," "IM," "LinkedIn," "Media," "P2P/File Sharing," "Conferencing," and "Social Networking."


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