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ICSA Labs Study Finds Majority of Security Products Do Not Perform as Intended


Analysis of 20 Years of Data Exposes Common Flaws Among Security Products

MECHANICSBURG, Pa. - 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 does not 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.

(NOTE: To download high-resolution charts supporting this study, as well as the ICSA Labs certification seal, visit:

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 of 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.”

Only 4 percent of Products Pass First Round

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 with the security products tested including poor product documentation and problems involving patching -- a product’s ability to accept updates correctly.

Vendors are urged to read the “ICSA Labs Product Assurance Report” in full, which contains aggregate data on problems and solutions identified through rigorous testing. In addition, the report contains common pitfalls to avoid, recurring deficiencies to be aware of, and, factors that contribute to testing success.

Recommendations for Enterprises

The report recommends steps companies should take before purchasing and using security products. Among the recommendations are:

* Demand quality. The market typically prefers feature-rich products over performance. If end-users demand quality, vendors will supply it.
* Be suspicious of performance claims and numbers. Vet them. Question them. Be an educated, cautious buyer.
* Choose more established products over new. New products have more problems; often times the kinks have not been worked out yet. Choose more established products when possible. If a new product is required, make sure the product is certified.
* Choose simplicity over complexity.
* Use certified products! This substantially reduces risk by ensuring that products meet objective, publicly vetted criteria. When shopping for a product, place certification at the top of the list. When using a certified product, keep up with whether the certification is current. Encourage vendors to maintain the certification after end-of-life if the product is still in use.
* Prefer vendors that certify their products, and that participate in industry and ICSA Labs consortia and other standards bodies. Working with consortia and industry organizations is a positive indicator for product quality. Technology held to an industry standard improves both features and reliability.

The complete “ICSA Labs Product Assurance Report” is available at, along with full product testing reports at

About ICSA Labs
ICSA Labs, an independent division of Verizon Business, offers vendor-neutral testing and certification of security products. Many of the world’s top security vendors submit their products for testing and certification at ICSA Labs. Businesses rely on ICSA Labs to authoritatively set and apply objective testing and certification criteria for measuring product compliance and reliability. For more information about ICSA Labs, please visit:

About Verizon Business
Verizon Business, a unit of Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ), is a global leader in communications and IT solutions. We combine professional expertise with one of the world’s most connected IP networks to deliver award-winning communications, IT, information security and network solutions. We securely connect today’s extended enterprises of widespread and mobile customers, partners, suppliers and employees - enabling them to increase productivity and efficiency and help preserve the environment. Many of the world’s largest businesses and governments - including 96 percent of the Fortune 1000 and thousands of government agencies and educational institutions - rely on our professional and managed services and network technologies to accelerate their business. Find out more at


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