Are your desktop systems feeling sluggish? There might be more than slow hardware or spyware at fault -- it may just be your security software.

“Generally, users will experience a twenty percent decrease in performance, just from having Norton or McAfee Antivirus installed on their desktops," says Perri Naccarato, owner of The Computer Guys, a computer service and repair shop in Saugerties, N.Y. “And that's not taking into account any other security software you may also be running.”

Naccarato believes that for all but the smallest businesses, it makes more sense to take a unified threat management (UTM) approach, placing the security on the network, and off the individual desktops. The constantly increasing need for more and better security on all workstations is a problem in any company. The trick is how can you keep a computer safe from intrusion without loading the system down to the point of non-functionality?

What a UTM solution is

UTM solutions are primarily hardware gateways, routers with hardened operating systems that contain centrally maintained firewall, anti-virus, anti-spyware, and anti-spam functions, as well as assorted other monitoring and blocking capabilities for the highest levels of security. This relieves the need for each workstation to provide these services, thereby freeing their resources so they can better do the work needed.

According to Jon Kuhn, director of product management at SonicWALL, Inc., a secure network infrastructure company based in Sunnyvale, Calif., the security problems don't come just from outside threats, but maintaining control over just what your employees are doing as well. The rapid growth of innovations that provide services through the Internet, and the accompanying increase in network traffic, can pose real problems for IT to manage.

“The Web 2.0 approach makes for a loss of control,” says Kuhn. “Internet applications like Google Documents, Scribd, and Zoho are quite useful, but a potential security problem for IT.”

UTM solutions also allow IT to control all incoming and outgoing data. This gives IT one place to manage all maintenance, and gives far more control over what Internet sites workers can access, and what they can't. Plus, not only can you control threats of intrusion, but with some of the more sophisticated UTM solutions being offered now, you can control the content itself sent out by employees, safeguarding confidential content, like medical or legal documents, from accidental release or insider espionage.

 “It's so important for admins to have access to tools to control and monitor all throughput,” says Kuhn. “The UTM solution protects your bandwidth and secures all your sensitive data.”

Prices have come down

UTM systems used to be more costly, too high for small and mid-sized businesses to handle. But Moore's Law continues to apply across the tech spectrum, bringing everything within reach, and now even the smallest company can protect its network investment.

 “If you have just 10 employees or more, then investing in security hardware becomes cost effective," Naccarato says. "Those aren't cheap items for small businesses, but take into account all the money spent on multiple licenses for security software installed at each desktop, as well as all the man-hours reclaimed that used to be spent updating and patching individual computer boxes, and it suddenly looks like a bargain.”

Though UTM devices and network-based software provide great protection for in-house desktops, they obviously can't protect users' laptops while they're off the network, using a home Internet connection or surfing the Web from a café, airport, or hotel room. But they can use UTM to free up processing power by simply plugging it into a USB port.

The Yoggie Pico, an award-winning miniature personal security server that resembles a USB flash memory, provides the mobile worker with security software solutions that include a firewall, VPN, IDS/IPS, anti-virus, anti-spam, and more. The little thumb-sized unit contains a 520 MHz Intel Processor running a hardened Linux-based OS. All data coming in and going out is seamlessly passed through the unit, keeping your data safe. And at under $200, it's affordable for every business -- even if you're the entire company.

“My customers are usually amazed at how much faster their system runs when I take all the security software off the desktop,” says Naccarato. “It can make the difference between a slow, frustrating working experience and a smooth, responsive one.”

SIDEBAR: Some Companies Offering UTM Services and Products

  • Fortinet is a provider of Unified Threat Management (UTM) security systems that enable secure business communications and deliver excellent security. Their security systems and subscription services protect more than 20,000 customers worldwide -- including telecommunications carriers, service providers and enterprises of all sizes.
  • IBM Internet Security Systems (ISS) offers a large portfolio of IT security products and services for organizations of all sizes. Their UTM solutions protect against a wide variety of attacks and Internet nuisances, and provide data security solutions to safeguard valuable information.
  • 3Com Unified Security Platforms offer threat protection for organizations of all sizes, as well as those with multiple sites, branch offices or numerous teleworkers, including services like virtual private network (VPN), packet inspection firewall, application bandwidth management, and IP multicast routing support.
  • Astaro Security Gateway provides protection for networks, Web access and e-mail traffic, and offer a complete range of hardware appliances.
  • Cisco Systems provides security products that combine firewall, virtual private networking (VPN), and intrusion prevention system (IPS) technologies, and incorporate content inspection and control over applications like e-mail, Web access, instant messaging, and others.
  • The SonicWALL network security appliances provide UTM security services with deep packet inspection to provide small, mid-size and enterprise-class organizations excellent protection. SonicWALL appliances integrate automated and dynamic security capabilities for protection and performance.
  • ZyXEL solutions offer networking features such as quality of service (QoS), network security, and network management. Serving both corporate and home users, the companies UTM Series combine firewall, content filtering, anti-virus, anti-spam, and intrusion detection and prevention. It also supports virtual private network, load balancing, and bandwidth management features.
  • Yoggie’s range of USB key-sized and ExpressCard-sized security mini-computers connect to any PC or laptop at home, in the office or on the road, blocking Internet threats outside the host computer and boosting computer performance by off-loading installed security software. 
Published on: Jul 1, 2008