Hot skills: Network security

Network security can be lucrative but be prepared for costly training

Network security can be lucrative but be prepared for costly training What is network security? Firewalls are used to block or allow data traffic access to a computer, network or network sector. Virtual private networks (VPNs) create secure "tunnels" across the internet that allow data to be sent from one computer system to...

another without interference. Expenditure on network security software and hardware is growing rapidly. Market analyst Infonetics Research said it increased 5% between the last quarter of 2004 and the first three months of 2005, and forecast it will grow 27% before the first quarter of 2006. VPN and firewall hardware and software made up 78% of sales. Security systems are becoming easier to set up, but they need skilled staff to configure and maintain them. Firewalls monitor and control the traffic between one network and another. Usually they sit between private and public networks, but may also be used internally, since malicious attacks and security leaks come from inside as well as outside. Where did it originate? The first commercial firewall was DEC's Secure External Access Link (Seal) in 1991. The market took off with Checkpoint's Firewall-1 in 1994. Checkpoint and other specialist suppliers still perform strongly, but the market leader in network security appliances and software is now Cisco. What is it for? Most suppliers now offer products that combine firewall and VPN features. There has also been a convergence in approaches between those operating at the network level, on the basis of source and destination addresses and ports, and the application level, which examine the contents of packets. Accepting or rejecting traffic based on its origin, without inspecting contents, offers the fastest throughput. The more thorough the inspection of packets, the bigger the overhead, so some compromise has to be made between performance and security. Skilled administrators are needed to apply the organisation's security policy and keep up to date with threats. What makes it special? Firewalls help maintain an organisation's reputation for security and the confidence of its customers and partners. A thoroughly audited log of traffic can be produced in court to demonstrate that a company has exercised reasonable care in protecting its transactions. Good IT security also contributes to compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, essential for companies that do business with the US. How difficult is it to master? Choice and configuration of firewalls involves a compromise between security and ease of use. Security administrators will need a background in networks, and internal training in the organisation's security policy. Most firewall suppliers provide four or five-day basic courses. Security training, particularly at an advanced level, is the most expensive of all IT training; in part a reflection of the salaries and fees paid to staff and consultants with security skills. Where is it used? As well as the growth of firewall protected subnets with organisations, there is a surge of interest in personal firewalls. In this case the compromise is between affordability and effectiveness. What systems does it run on? Worldwide, the leading network security suppliers, according to Infonetics Research, are Cisco, Checkpoint and Juniper, followed by Enterasys, ISS, McAfee, Nokia, Nortel, Sonicwall and Symantec. What is coming up? Firewalls are beginning to incorporate other forms of network security, including intrusion protection, virus detection and end-to-end encryption.

Rates of pay

Security service revenues are growing even faster than hardware and software expenditure. Firewall specialists can look for £35,000 and upwards; much more in the financial sector.

Training

Training is available mainly from suppliers. Far more valuable are generic security qualifications available from the British Computer Society and International Information Systems Security Certifications Consortium.

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