The ISA, or Internet Security and Acceleration Server, (currently called Microsoft Forefront Threat Management Gateway) is a part of Microsoft’s protection solutions. It protects the user from malware (software designed to access and manipulate information on a computer or computer network without the approval from the owner) and decreases the time required to enter a frequently accessed website on a network.
ISA Server Functions
The protection function is provided by the server’s firewall, which protects the resources (information) on a private network from unauthorized access. Basically, the firewall software monitors all the network traffic, then determines whether to forward a specific data packet to its destination or not. This can be done in a number of ways; the simplest of which is to make sure that the access request originates from a legitimate (previously identified) IP and domain name.
Faster routing to frequently accessed websites is made possible by the use of a cache server. Just like a simple cache memory, the web cache stores the frequently accessed web content. This makes it possible to serve future requests for this content quicker. This feature effectively reduces network traffic, consequently rendering the server even faster.
The ISA server is available in two versions: standard and enterprise. The standard version supports a maximum of 4 processors. The enterprise version allows clustering, which is the ability to link a number of computers together so that they have the functionality of a single computer with enhanced computing power. It also permits multi - level access rights policies which enable the network administrators to assign rights of access to specific/private data, and is best suited for large scale deployments. There are several versions of the ISA server, and the basic features of each version are the same. These versions are:
· ISA server 2000.
· ISA server 2004.
· ISA server 2006.
· ISA server appliance edition.
How ISA Protects Shared Information
Everyone who has private data to be shared among a limited number of people should use filtering firewalls. Why? Let’s consider this scenario. Company A is a market leader in the production of a juice X. The secret behind juice X is its secret ingredient. Now, information regarding the secret ingredient is only available on the company’s private network (intranet) to which a limited number of people or entities have access. The trouble is, this network has no firewall protection. Company B is interested in juice X, and is desperate to find its secret ingredient. Company B makes a malware and gets into Company A’s network and extracts the ingredient. Imagine the potential loss posed by such an activity in the real world. Access to unprotected information of various entities such as banks, criminal prisons, armed forces etc. can create sheer mayhem. As it is often said, too much technology makes it easier for these things to happen.
Using ISA to Deal With High Internet Traffic
Using a caching server like ISA is also helpful in dealing with high internet traffic. A lot of programmers and website developers have created online content which attract a lot of people. In the absence of an access speed boosting server/software, a lot of people would be left to stare at the comment “we are experiencing high traffic, please try accessing after 5 min”. Such statements might be acceptable once or twice, but too much of this creates frustration. In today’s technological world, it takes only minutes for published information to spread all over the internet. If a website or network is unable to accommodate the traffic, the person requesting access is bound to use other available information sources. This results in the loss of traffic, which is not good for websites that make money based on traffic. Alternatively, faster access may merge online traffic onto a particular website. As you can imagine, there are plenty of other alternate outcomes, so anyone looking to protect themselves and speed up their network access should use software such as ISA.
Other Available Security Software
Apart from ISA, there is plenty of other security software available, each with their own pros and cons. Software such as Untangle, Endian, Smoothwall, Monowall etc. are all examples of open source (the source code of which can be modified) security software. They have different features, but they are not as effective as ISA which integrates very easily into the computing environment. One drawback of ISA is that it is very costly as compared to other software of the same category. However, can you afford to put a price tag on the value of the protection and efficient access of your network’s information?