Unified Threat Management (UTM) Appliance Comparison

Instructor: David Gloag

David has over 40 years of industry experience in software development and information technology and a bachelor of computer science

Securing information and protecting it against possible problems is of prime importance. In this lesson, we'll take a look at the threat, what it is, unified threat management, and some of the appliances that are used to implement it.

Information Threats Are Real

We think of threats as strictly those related to life and death, or personal health. But threats carry over to our information too. And the effects, if they should come to pass, would be catastrophic.

Just think about how terrible it would be if someone learned the user id and password to your bank account, or infected an important computer system with a virus? These threats are real, and they have happened before. Fortunately, work is being done in the area of unified threat management to combat this.

What Is a Threat?

In computer terms, a threat is anything that can potentially cause a computer system harm, both physically, and to the information it contains. Think about your cell phone for a moment. It is a hand-held computing device that performs a number of important functions for you and stores a considerable amount of information that has personal meaning.

If the device were to be damaged, you could lose the device. No surprises here. But there is the potential to lose the information as well, particularly if the phone contains the only copy. This compounds the problem and is why computer threats are taken so seriously.

Unified Threat Management

Threats can potentially affect many aspects of a computer system. Unified threat management focuses on a portion of those threats, the ones that threaten connections to a system, and the information that flows from the outside world.

Unified threat management started out as simple firewall protection, which focuses on confirming authorized access, then broadened to the multi-faceted area we see today. These facets include:

  • Intrusion Detection - this capability monitors access to a computer system and refuses any that aren't authorized.
  • Anti-malware - this capability monitors the information that flows into an organization and prevents, identifies, and eliminates, a variety of malware including viruses, worms, and Trojans.
  • Spam - this capability monitors the information that flows into an organization and removes information that isn't necessarily harmful, but that is simply unwanted. Unsolicited promotional email and popup advertisements immediately come to mind.
  • Content Filtering - this capability is closely related to the spam capability but focuses on information or web content that is objectionable in some way.
  • VPN - virtual private network, a method for securing a connection between two locations. It is often used by remote workers or workers that work from home on a particular day. The information is typically sensitive in nature.

Appliances Used in Unified Threat Management

There are many unified threat management appliances on the market today, and they offer a wide variety of capabilities. Comparisons usually involve throughput (information processed per unit time), the number of features, and the number of users supported. Here are some notable appliances:

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