An IT services company recently asked for help. Its customers are varied, with a range of systems and connectivity and the company needed to know where to put its efforts in securing information. For each infrastructure, they wanted to know, where are the highest risks?

In one case, there are two connections to the Internet, remote access, mobile users, and a complex web of systems and networks, some with external data sharing. Where should the focus be?

Fortunately, tools are emerging to automate the analysis. Recently, I tested RedSeal Systems' Security Risk Manager (SRM), which gives analysts and IT managers visual access to the risk state of their information technology.

Originally appliance-based, SRM has become software-only. One version is available on a USB flash drive, allowing consultants and others who require a fully portable analysis system access to all of the benefits of the system - and there are many.

With the growth of both the importance and the complexity of information technology within an enterprise, the implications for protecting and then managing the security of those systems are great. The challenge in doing that is very high, as well.

For example, the ACLs on a router will determine the kind of traffic that can flow through it to a system. A change in those ACLs will alter the risk profile of all systems connected to the networks that the router joins. Multiply this kind of issue across all of the routers, switches, and wireless LAN access points, together with the client and server operating systems, applications, and their patch levels, and the task seems overwhelming.

Security Risk Manager takes the configuration information from your infrastructure either by capturing it via SNMP from the devices themselves or by having the configuration files fed to the system. Then, using risk analysis that adjusts to the overall configuration (an approach that RedSeal has trademarked as "Adaptive Risk Analysis"), SRM analyses the interplay and creates a unified network view similar to what a network management system would show. Expanding on the information in that network map, it augments it with analysis of the best devices to remediate together with suggested solutions for each device.

Beyond the logical network view of the situation, SRM further creates a visualization of high-value, at-risk assets. Using a matrix of values such as the exposure of the asset, the vulnerability, the severity of the vulnerability, confirmation of the vulnerability, impact, and whether or not a patch is available, standard and customized views of the risk profile of the complete infrastructure emerge quickly. Using size, shape, and clustering, the network risk overview provides a ready reference for the areas of necessary focus for IT staff.

When I first saw the system in its early development, I was intrigued and excited by the potential, both for internal IT organisations and for consultants and services companies. The appliance-based product was less attractive for services organizations, so the shift in the product delivery strategy was welcome. Furthermore, RedSeal has continued to refine the system and add support for additional devices.

I tested Security Risk Manager in two environments. The first was a small test infrastructure in my lab. The second used a large test database that RedSeal provided at my request from its test lab. My purpose in testing this second database was to review the impact of size and complexity on SRM's ability to deliver its benefits.

I ran SRM on my 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro with 3GB of memory under a Windows XP guest operating system using Parallels with 1GB of memory allocated to it. Although SRM is a Java application, it is currently available only for Windows XP and Vista.

When you first launch RedSeal SRM, you capture a licence request file that you then send to RedSeal. By return email, you receive a licence text file that you input into the SRM. Given all of the options available for licensing software, this was one of the more awkward methods that I have seen. Systems like The Blue Technologies Group's licence or other Internet-based interactive licensing systems are much more user-friendly and easy to move around. This seems especially important for applications such as the SRM.

That said, this licence issue is one of only two complaints I have about the system, and it's a relatively minor one. My second complaint, also not major, is that SRM runs only on Windows.

Once licensed, the system is ready for use. I pointed it at my devices with my SNMP read-only strings, and it quickly captured the configuration information for all of them. It drew a map of the network, outlined the devices most at risk, gave me a table of the devices, and created the network risk map. The SRM quickly determined which of the devices warranted configuration changes and which related systems were impacted, and it gave me the insights I would need to further protect the environment. It was able to find some implications that I hadn't considered, as well.

The real test was the large database, however. When an infrastructure exceeds more than a handful of devices, the interactions become too complex and dynamic for effective analysis. Using SRM, though, I could quickly see where I need to concentrate my efforts. The different views allowed me to drill in on the most vulnerable, highest-risk zones, and decide my most effective path to reducing the overall risk of the infrastructure. In other words, I could quickly narrow my focus to the area where remediation would have the highest impact. That is one of the biggest challenges in security management, and RedSeal addresses it well.

Business has learned that visualisation tools enable rapid analysis for assessment and decision-making. Applying these technologies to the analysis of security risk and mitigation is a high-return area of technology management, and RedSeal's Security Risk Manager performs the service extremely well. Although the RedSeal product isn't cheap, organisations with networks large enough to take advantage of SRM should find it an affordable way to add critical security management functions to their administration suite. Any organisation with more than a few devices, and sufficient means, would be well served to implement it as a core to its overall security management infrastructure.


RedSeal's Security Risk Manager performs rapid and accurate analysis of network risk. Combining device configuration data with vulnerability data and other information, SRM provides a collection of views and reports that help you zero in on the most effective path to mitigation. It isn't cheap, but any organisation with valuable network assets would be well served to implement it.