Study: Nearly 80 Percent Of IT Security Products Do Not Perform As Intended

Nearly 80 percent of security products fail to perform as intended when first tested and generally require two or more cycles of testing before achieving certification, according to a new ICSA Labs report.  The “ICSA Labs Product Assurance Report” -- a first-of-its-kind study co-authored by the Verizon Business Data Breach Investigations Report research team -- details lessons gleaned from testing thousands of security products over 20 years. 

The report found that the No. 1 reason why a product fails during initial testing is that it doesn’t adequately perform as intended. Across seven product categories, core product functionality accounted for 78 percent of initial test failures -- for example, an anti-virus product failing to prevent infection or an IPS (intrusion prevention system) product failing to filter malicious traffic.

The failure of a product to completely and accurately log data was the second most common reason security products do not perform as intended. Incomplete or inaccurate logging of who did what and when accounted for 58 percent of initial failures.

The report findings suggest that some vendors and enterprise users consider logging a nuisance and merely a “box to check.”  According to the report, logging is a particular challenge for firewalls.  Almost every network firewall (97 percent) or Web application firewall (80 percent) tested experienced at least one logging problem.

The third most significant reason for product failure is the finding that 44 percent of security products had inherent security problems, including vulnerabilities that compromise the confidentiality or integrity of the system and random behavior that affects product availability.

Even though it can be a demanding process, certification with a trusted, established third party is critical to verifying product quality, states the report.  Product categories studied were: anti-virus, network firewall, Web application firewall, network IPS, IPSec VPN, SSL VPN and custom testing.

“Our goal is to help vendors develop more secure products,” said George Japak, managing director, ICSA Labs and a co-author of the report.  “When a product fails, we encourage vendors to view that as an opportunity to improve the product before it goes to market.  In addition to benefiting the security industry, this open exchange of information can greatly benefit enterprises by providing them more reliable and available information to make educated product purchasing and use decisions.”

The ICSA Labs testing and certification process is rigorous; only 4 percent of products tested attained certification during the first testing cycle.  However, 82 percent of products resubmitted for testing eventually earn ICSA Labs certification.  Once a vendor earns certification, products are required to undergo ongoing testing to maintain certification.

Japak said, “The question I ask vendors is: ‘Who would you rather have find an issue in your product -- ICSA Labs in a safe testing environment or a criminal in the real world?’”

The study also identified several other issues including poor product documentation and problems involving patching -- a product’s ability to accept updates correctly.

The complete report is available at

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