We Used to Worry About Security Appliance Sprawl – Now It’s Endpoint Security Software Sprawl!
Security practitioners have struggled to gain a foothold against the
rising tide of threats washing their way while having to deploy and
manage security box after security box in response to each new class of
threat and vulnerability.
Each of these boxes provides a specialized function and each expects
to be in-line with one another sitting in front of the asset(s) to be
It’s a nasty self-perpetuating game of security dominoes with each in-line device adding its own latency tax and contributing to an ever-expanding cascading failure domain by adding to the burden of operational complexity, cost and a weaker security posture.
Why a weaker security posture? Doesn’t "defense in depth" make me more secure? Well, since it’s extremely difficult to understand the effect one device’s security policy has on another, this truly exemplifies the notion of a chain only being as strong as its weakest link. And with everything being encrypted, we can’t even make decent decisions on content. Don’t even get me started on the effect this has on change control.
As we’ve continued to deal with this security appliance sprawl across
our networks, the natural evolution of the consolidation effect is to
combine security functions at arterial points across or in the
network taking the form of UTM devices or embedded in routers and switches.
However, we’ve also come to realize that the locus of the threats
and vulnerabilities demands that we get as close to the assets and data
we seek to protect, so now in an ironic twist, the industry has turned
to instead sprinkle software-based agents directly on the machines instead.
After all, the endpoint is the closest thing to the data, so the more
endpoint control the better, right?
What we’ve done now is transferred the management of a few gateways to that of potentially thousands of endpoints.
Based on an informal survey of security practitioners, the diagram I
whipped up above demonstrates various end-point agents that reside on a
typical enterprise client and/or server. It’s absurdly obscene:
- Software Management/Helpdesk Remote Control
- Patch Management (OS)
- Asset Management (Inventory)
- Browser Security Plug-ins
- Encryption (Disk/eMail)
- 802.1x Supplicants
- NAC Agents
- Single Sign-On
- Forensic Agents
- Device Control (USB, CD, etc…)
You generally have to manage each of those pieces of software independently. So while you may not have a separate "appliance" to manage, these things live on your host; they take memory, processor, disk and sometimes step rather rudely on one another. They represent the most basic premise of software appliances and they each generally have their own administrative console to manage them.
Granted, we’re seeing the same sort of consolidation occur on the
software side with "super agent endpoints," but these pieces of
bloatware can be worse than stacking individual agents up, one against
the other. Security in width (not in depth) will become our undoing and the benefits of consolidation wear off when you end up with a "single vendor’s version of the truth" that ends up being a jack of all trades and a master of none.
To point out the obvious, this is madness.
We all know that what we need is robust protocols, strong mutual authentication, encryption, resilient operating systems and applications that don’t suck.
But because we can’t wait until the Sun explodes to get this, we need a way for these individual security components to securely communicate and interoperate using a common protocol based upon open standards.
We need to push for an approach to an ecosystem that allows devices that have visibility to our data and the network that interconnects them to tap this messaging bus and either enact a disposition, describe how to, and communicate appropriately when we do so.
We have the technology, we have the ability, we have the need. Now all we need is the vendor gene pool to get off their duff and work together to get it done. The only thing preventing this is GREED.
It’s a shame it seems we’ll have to wait for the Sun to explode for this, too.