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Application whitelisting review: Bit9 Parity Suite

Application whitelisting review: Bit9 Parity Suite

Bit9 Parity 5.0 shines brightest among whitelisting competitors with strong protection and useful risk metrics

As many product vendors can readily tell you, this reviewer is the ultimate computer security cynic and a tough writer to please. I'm unsparingly critical of overhyped products. Although I've evaluated a number of excellent products over the years, I've never given a perfect 10 in any scorecard category -- until now. Bit9 Parity is one of the few computer security products that, if deployed in your Windows environment, will radically and immediately reduce your enterprise's level of security risk. It's not perfect, and it did not score a perfect 10 in every field -- but it earned the highest score this reviewer has ever given.

Started in 2002 from a NIST grant, Bit9 Parity is the most mature whitelisting product in this review. It provides broad coverage of Windows clients and file types, and its functionality and features assist users with making the right trust decisions needed to secure their environment.

Bit9 Parity's server console, called Parity Center screen image, runs on Windows Server 2003, with IIS enabled and a Microsoft SQL Server database. The Parity client supports Windows 2000 and later, including embedded versions. Bit9 Parity comes linked, like SignaCert, to a cloud service with more than 7.5 billion legitimate and malicious files predefined and hashed.

Machines can be scanned to create baseline rulesets, and individual files and folders can be whitelisted or blacklisted. Where Bit9 takes application control to a new level is in rating identified files as to their trust and risk, based upon hash, digital signature (if included), software category (if known), and location. All reported client hashes are compared against known malware and legitimate vendor files.

For example, if a managed, trusted user downloads Apple iTunes, it may violate corporate policy, but not necessarily be a real security risk to the enterprise. However, a known malware program or unidentified file would be marked as higher risk. Bit9 Parity's risk and trust ratings screen image allow you to discriminate between the merely noncompliant, such as iTunes and Picasa, and a security threat, such as the Fiasco virus. It's important to note that Bit9 doesn't automatically decide what is the appropriate treatment for a particular risk level; it just reports the result and lets the administrator define the policy.

Bit9 Parity has three main policies and an emergency mode. In Monitor mode, users are allowed to execute anything, but all executions are monitored. In Block & Ask mode, users are asked to approve executions of unknown programs. And in Lockdown mode, execution of all unknown and unapproved programs is blocked. Emergency Lockdown mode returns to a previously more secure state, blocking all execution of originally unapproved programs across all managed machines, regardless of whether trusted users later whitelisted them.

Each policy can be tied to a computer, user, group, organizational unit, or other Active Directory component. Parity can be integrated into McAfee's ePolicy Orchestrator administrative console, and it works with multiple patching products.

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