F5 sees more cyber attacks on application layer

F5 official says many IT managers today have a “conga line of devices” from different vendors, and F5 is trying to “collapse that conga line into an architecture".

F5 is pushing hard into the security space as cyber attacks increasingly target the application layer, an F5 official said at the vendor’s Agility Forum on the Sunshine Coast.

“We’re very, very serious about the firewall market,” said Dean Darwin, an senior vice president of worldwide channel sales. “We [had] 175 customers last quarter deploy us as an inbound data centre firewall, ripping out their firewalls.” Most of those customers were attacked “and we solved the problem,” he said.

Many recent attacks have breached defences because they targeted the application layer of the network, Darwin said. Companies have historically protected the network layer (layer 3) but not the next four layers — transport, session, presentation and application — he said. Other attacks have disguised themselves as encrypted SSL traffic to bypass security controls, he said.

Complicating matters is that in addition to security, IT managers must also get their heads around bring your own device (BYOD) and cloud and data centre re-architecture, Darwin said. There is “a lot of confusion and what’s happening is people that are attacking are recognising this and they’re [finding] different ways in the front door”.

F5 is selling better “security context”, Darwin said, where different devices can share information so IT managers can better understand how they’re being attacked and quickly solve the problem.

Many IT managers today have a “conga line of devices” from different vendors “and every time there is a security threat or distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, they add another box and lose all context between these devices,” Darwin told Computerworld Australia. F5 is trying to “collapse that conga line into an architecture”.

Darwin said the approach is a “new way of thinking” but “not radical”. However, he admitted one challenge is raising awareness among IT managers. “I think they know what they do, and once they start getting their toe in the water, they start looking at it and see what’s possible.”

Government regulation isn’t the answer, he said. “The nature of the attacks change so fast”, and it’s difficult for regulations to keep up, he said. Regulation can also increase costs for businesses that don’t have the money to spend, he said.

One recent F5 customer is Lonely Planet, who set up F5’s firewall capabilities in a recent IT refresh. A Lonely Planet official told Computerworld Australia the travel guide faces threats from denial-of-service attacks, malicious advertising and content scrubbers.

Anyone can get attacked, Darwin said. Last year’s attack on Sony cost the company $1 billion, and if one adds “soft dollar brand damage is probably two to three [times] that." Shortly after the attack, Sega and Nintendo got hit.

“I’ve seen people put their heads in the sand” and say they won’t get hit because they’re a small company. “If any one of your competitors get hit, you’re getting walked,” Darwin said. “Because as soon as [attackers] find a vulnerability in the stack in that vertical, they go up stack and try to find vulnerabilities. If they’ve gotten Sony, they’ve going to find it in Nintendo, they’re going to find it in Sega, and they’re going to continue to walk that train.”

Adam Bender attended F5 Agility Forum as a guest of F5.

Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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