Best of open source in security

Best of open source in security
Best of open source in security 

By Tom Bowers
September 10, 2007

In areas such as CRM software and portals, open source gained a foothold 
because users were willing to compromise -- less could be more, because 
the price was right. In security, open source rushed in because 
commercial vendors fell down on the job. As security problems in the 
enterprise outstripped the capabilities of commercial solutions, a 
number of talented security researchers stepped into the breach via the 
open source model.

 From folks such as Renaud Deraison of Nessus to Martin Roesch of Snort, 
great security tools poured forth to the enterprise. There are now 
thriving open source security projects in anti-virus, anti-spam, 
personal and application firewalls, VPNs, IDS/IPS, wireless security, 
vulnerability assessment, and penetration testing to name but a few.

In network vulnerability assessment, our Bossie winner, Nessus, stands 
alone. The granddaddy of all security tools, Nessus combines an 
up-to-the-minute vulnerability engine and testing controls, making it an 
essential member of the toolbox in both well-funded and cash-strapped 
security organizations. It tests all aspects of a target including the 
operating system, ports, services, and applications, and it scores 
consistently as the top security tool based on professional security 
tester reviews. Reports can be lengthy, but they're comprehensive.

Nessus shows you where intruders might get in. Snort, which takes our 
Bossie for intrusion prevention, can stop them from doing so. Snort 
performs real-time traffic analysis and packet logging. In addition to 
classic protocol analysis, Snort now also performs content monitoring. 
Its rules language has evolved light-years beyond the version available 
when Snort was first released. And like Nessus, Snort is at the top of 
the heap in community support. The Snort project has spawned a range of 
add-on projects such as ACID (Analysis Console for Intrusion Databases), 
SnortSnarf, Swatch, and SnortCenter. These add-ons are needed for 
reporting and centralized control of multiple Snort boxes; Snort itself 
is strictly the detection and prevention engine.

In the case of anti-virus, one open source solution stands alone, 
ClamAV. ClamAV was recently purchased by Sourcefire, the owners of 
Snort. As with most projects on this distinguished list, ClamAV runs on 
Linux and Unix, and it was designed primarily for e-mail gateways. Virus 
signature updates are frequent and the detection engine is fast. ClamAV 
works well with Spamassassin within the MIMEDefang filtering framework 
for e-mail servers.

Our Bossie winner for anti-spam is the ubiquitous Spamassassin. 
Powerful, extensible, and effective, Spamassassin uses a trainable 
neural network engine to identify spam and minimize false positives, in 
addition to the classic techniques of blacklisting and Bayesian 

Snatching our Bossie for best firewall is IPCop. IPCop is a complete 
Linux distribution with the sole purpose of network protection. Think of 
it as a Linux computer with one task: imposing security policies on 
network traffic. A competing project, SmoothWall, similarly turns any 
old PC into a high-functioning firewall appliance, but the Web 
management interface of IPCop is a bit more refined and thus edged out 
its competition.

Not to be outdone by the private sector, the exceptionally talented 
folks at the NSA created a superior application firewall called SELinux. 
The special sauce of this Linux distribution is a mandatory access 
control architecture for the OS kernel and major subsystems that keeps 
every process in check, ensuring that the action of one process cannot 
flow into another. Even the superuser is placed in isolation. A worthy 
competitor is Novell's open source AppArmor project, an 
easy-to-configure application firewall aimed exclusively at Suse 
distributions. SELinux continues to be better supported by the security 
community, and it forms the basis for a flexible security solution 
(versus a simple secure operating system). SELinux takes the Bossie.

OpenVPN, our Bossie winner for best SSL VPN, is the open source champion 
of secure connectivity. OpenVPN simply outshines its competition. It can 
be used to secure site to site links, remote access connections, and 
Wi-Fi networks, providing load balancing and fail-over capabilities. It 
runs on a wide range of operating systems and is supported by numerous 
open source projects and commercial products. And OpenVPN supports all 
ciphers and key sizes supported by OpenSSL, giving it tremendous 

Although not an application per se, the OSSTMM (Open Source Security 
Testing Methodologies Manual) is a phenom in the security world. The 
OSSTMM project provides an entire testing framework for security 
throughout the enterprise, including physical security, information 
security, Internet and wireless security, even security against fraud 
and social networking attacks. The OSSTMM provides a method for 
quantifying risk and an excellent foundation for security testing best 
practices. The project offers testing templates, intense community 
support, and a first-rate architect in Pete Herzog, scoring our Bossie 
for security testing best practices.

Tom Bowers is a contributing editor to the InfoWorld Test Center and 
managing director of Security Constructs.

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