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A novel architecture to enable future network security systems to provide effective protection in the context of continued traffic growth and the need to minimize energy consumption is proposed. It makes use of an all-optical prefiltering stage operating at the line rate under software control to distribute incoming packets to specialized electronic processors. An experimental system that integrates software controls and electronic interfaces with an all-optical pattern recognition system has demonstrated the key functions required by the new architecture. As an example, the ability to sort packets arriving in a 42.6 Gb/s data stream according to their service type was shown experimentally.