First Look: NetCitadel threat management platform in beta site

Detecting and stopping stealthy malware designed to steal sensitive information means moving fast. Start-up NetCitadel wants to put its new Threat Management Platform in the middle of the security-response game with many of the other players there now -- sandboxing, firewalling, and other technologies a company may use in order to provide a kind of orchestration and decision-making point.

The NetCitadel appliance is designed to be the security brainpower for making decisions about what to do if sandboxing products, such as FireEye for example, detect a zero-day attack after safely "exploding" files to check for possible malicious activity that is not necessarily signature-based. The first version of the NetCitadel appliance, expected to ship next month, is also supposed  to have a kind of on-demand, on-the-fly  forensics capability to collect host-based infection data.

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But can this start-up's ambitious efforts hold the attention of corporate customers who are now surrounded by a veritable throng of security start-ups trumpeting their wares?

Kevin Moore, director of information technology at California-based law firm Fenwick & West, is kicking the tires on the NetCitadel gear. He's been running a beta test of the Threat Management Platform for about two months, mainly to find out how an alert from the FireEye detection product he uses to check incoming files can be sent along to NetCitadel, which in turn can instruct the law firm's firewall's Cisco and Palo Alto Networks to take appropriate action. NetCitadel is really a kind of "workflow you have to design," says Moore. "You have to set up the rules."

Because there could be a time lag in detecting that advanced malware that wants to steal sensitive data, the infection point could be trying to communicate back to a command and control server somewhere. NetCitadel can instruct the Cisco and Palo Alto firewalls to block that connection and the IP address. Because the law firm doesn't have a large info security staff, automation holds special appeal. NetCitadel could earn a spot because it would act as an "orchestrator," says Moore.

One question is whether NetCitadel will be bumping into the role of the security information and event management (SIEM) products. Moore says his law firm uses SolarWinds and Splunk as log-management platforms, but they aren't playing the same kind of role that NetCitadel would. But he noted that some very high-end SIEM, such as HP ArcSight, might be seen as functionally closer to NetCitadel.

Mike Horn, co-founder and CEO at NetCitadel, says the upcoming Threat Management Platform is also intended to be used for manual changes as well as automated ones between different security gear.

NetCitadel is being developed to interact with SIEM, including ArcSight and IBM's QRadar. In its first release, NetCitadel with support Cisco firewalls and routers' access control lists, Juniper firewalls, plus Check Point, Palo Alto, Fortinet and the Blue Coat web proxy. It has a tie to the VirusTotal database for information about malware. There's not yet integration with the Sourcefire products that Cisco gained its recent acquisition of the company, but NetCitadel says that's "on the roadmap" going forward.

Horn said NetCitadel is still working on a kind of integration with Microsoft Active Director that would let the enterprise security manager add an update that would identify any user machine as infected and restrict access to certain applications, if needed. A forensics component that ships next month would allow an on-demand agent to immediately grab information about the infection. Horn acknowledges there's a lot that he wants NetCitadel to be able to do in the future in the areas of network packet capture or  integration with McAfee's ePolicy Orchestrator, for instance.

The first version of the NetCitadel product is expected to range between $50,000 into the "six figures" according to Horn when it ships by year end. Will enterprises find room for it in an increasingly crowded collection of security gear? So far, Fenwick & West's Kevin Moore thinks it looks good as the possible "single pane of glass" to determine and automate response to advanced malware.

Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG publication and website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security. Twitter: MessmerE. E-mail:

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