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Archive for the ‘Data-Centric Security’ Category

The Curious Case Of Continuous and Consistently Contiguous Crypto…

August 8th, 2013 9 comments

Here’s an interesting resurgence of a security architecture and an operational deployment model that is making a comeback:

Requiring VPN tunneled and MITM’d access to any resource, internal or external, from any source internal or external.

While mobile devices (laptops, phones and tablets) are often deployed with client or client-less VPN endpoint solutions that enable them to move outside the corporate boundary to access internal resources, there’s a marked uptake in the requirement to require that all traffic from all sources utilizing VPNs (SSL/TLS, IPsec or both) to terminate ALL sessions regardless of ownership or location of either the endpoint or the resource being accessed.

Put more simply: require VPN for (id)entity authentication, access control, and confidentiality and then MITM all the things to transparently or forcibly fork to security infrastructure.

Why?

The reasons are pretty easy to understand.  Here are just a few of them:

  1. The user experience shouldn’t change regardless of the access modality or location of the endpoint consumer; the notion of who, what, where, when, how, and why matter, but the user shouldn’t have to care
  2. Whether inside or outside, the notion of split tunneling on a per-service/per-application basis means that we need visibility to understand and correlate traffic patterns and usage
  3. Because the majority of traffic is encrypted (usually via SSL,) security infrastructure needs the capability to inspect traffic (selectively) using a coverage model that is practical and can give a first-step view of activity
  4. Information exfiltration (legitimate and otherwise) is a problem.

…so how are folks approaching this?

Easy.  They simply require that all sessions terminate on a set of  [read: clustered & scaleable] VPN gateways, selectively decrypt based on policy, forward (in serial or parallel) to any number of security apparatus, and in some/many cases, re-encrypt sessions and send them on their way.

We’ve been doing this “forever” with the “outside-in” model (remote access to internal resources,) but the notion that folks are starting to do this ubiquitously on internal networks is the nuance.  AVC (application visibility and control) is the inside-out component (usually using transparent forward proxies with trusted PAC files on endpoints) with remote access and/or reverse proxies like WAFs and/or ADCs as the outside-in use case.

These two ops models were generally viewed and managed as separate problems.  Now thanks to Cloud, Mobility, virtualization and BYOE (bring your own everything) as well as the more skilled and determined set of adversaries, we’re seeing a convergence of the two.  To make the “inside-out” and “outside-in” more interesting, what we’re really talking about here is extending the use case to include “inside-inside” if you catch my drift.

Merging the use case approach at a fundamental architecture level can be useful; this methodology works regardless of source or destination.  It does require all sorts of incidental changes to things like IdM, AAA, certificate management, etc. but it’s one way that folks are trying to centralize the distributed — if you get what I mean.

I may draw a picture to illustrate what I mean, but do let me know if either you’re doing this (many of the largest customers I know are) if it makes sense.

/Hoff

P.S. Remember back in the 80’s/90’s when 3Com bundled NIC cards with integrated IPSec VPN capability?  Yeah, that.

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Why Amazon Web Services (AWS) Is the Best Thing To Happen To Security & Why I Desperately Want It To Succeed

November 29th, 2012 15 comments

Many people who may only casually read my blog or peer at the timeline of my tweets may come away with the opinion that I suffer from confirmation bias when I speak about security and Cloud.

That is, many conclude that I am pro Private Cloud and against Public Cloud.

I find this deliciously ironic and wildly inaccurate. However, I must also take responsibility for this, as anytime one threads the needle and attempts to present a view from both sides with regard to incendiary topics without planting a polarizing stake in the ground, it gets confusing.

Let me clear some things up.

Digging deeper into what I believe, one would actually find that my blog, tweets, presentations, talks and keynotes highlight deficiencies in current security practices and solutions on the part of providers, practitioners and users in both Public AND Private Cloud, and in my own estimation, deliver an operationally-centric perspective that is reasonably critical and yet sensitive to emergent paths as well as the well-trodden path behind us.

I’m not a developer.  I dabble in little bits of code (interpreted and compiled) for humor and to try and remain relevant.  Nor am I an application security expert for the same reason.  However, I spend a lot of time around developers of all sorts, those that write code for machines whose end goal isn’t to deliver applications directly, but rather help deliver them securely.  Which may seem odd as you read on…

The name of this blog, Rational Survivability, highlights my belief that the last two decades of security architecture and practices — while useful in foundation — requires a rather aggressive tune-up of priorities.

Our trust models, architecture, and operational silos have not kept pace with the velocity of the environments they were initially designed to support and unfortunately as defenders, we’ve been outpaced by both developers and attackers.

Since we’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no such thing as perfect security, “survivability” is a better goal.  Survivability leverages “security” and is ultimately a subset of resilience but is defined as the “…capability of a system to fulfill its mission, in a timely manner, in the presence of attacks, failures, or accidents.”  You might be interested in this little ditty from back in 2007 on the topic.

Sharp readers will immediately recognize the parallels between this definition of “survivability,” how security applies within context, and how phrases like “design for failure” align.  In fact, this is one of the calling cards of a company that has become synonymous with (IaaS) Public Cloud: Amazon Web Services (AWS.)  I’ll use them as an example going forward.

So here’s a line in the sand that I think will be polarizing enough:

I really hope that AWS continues to gain traction with the Enterprise.  I hope that AWS continues to disrupt the network and security ecosystem.  I hope that AWS continues to pressure the status quo and I hope that they do it quickly.

Why?

Almost a decade ago, the  Open Group’s Jericho Forum published their Commandments.  Designed to promote a change in thinking and operational constructs with respect to security, what they presciently released upon the world describes a point at which one might imagine taking one’s most important assets and connecting them directly to the Internet and the shifts required to understand what that would mean to “security”:

  1. The scope and level of protection should be specific and appropriate to the asset at risk.
  2. Security mechanisms must be pervasive, simple, scalable, and easy to manage.
  3. Assume context at your peril.
  4. Devices and applications must communicate using open, secure protocols.
  5. All devices must be capable of maintaining their security policy on an un-trusted network.
  6. All people, processes, and technology must have declared and transparent levels of trust for any transaction to take place.
  7. Mutual trust assurance levels must be determinable.
  8. Authentication, authorization, and accountability must interoperate/exchange outside of your locus/area of control
  9. Access to data should be controlled by security attributes of the data itself
  10. Data privacy (and security of any asset of sufficiently high value) requires a segregation of duties/privileges
  11. By default, data must be appropriately secured when stored, in transit, and in use.

These seem harmless enough today, but were quite unsettling when paired with the notion of “de-perimieterization” which was often misconstrued to mean the immediate disposal of firewalls.  Many security professionals appreciated the commandments for what they expressed, but the the design patterns, availability of solutions and belief systems of traditionalists constrained traction.

Interestingly enough, now that the technology, platforms, and utility services have evolved to enable these sorts of capabilities, and in fact have stressed our approaches to date, these exact tenets are what Public Cloud forces us to come to terms with.

If one were to look at what public cloud services like AWS mean when aligned to traditional “enterprise” security architecture, operations and solutions, and map that against the Jericho Forum’s Commandments, it enables such a perfect rethink.

Instead of being focused on implementing “security” to protect applications and information based at the network layer — which is more often than not blind to both, contextually and semantically — public cloud computing forces us to shift our security models back to protecting the things that matter most: the information and the conduits that traffic in them (applications.)

As networks become more abstracted, it means that existing security models do also.  This means that we must think about security programatticaly and embedded as a functional delivery requirement of the application.

“Security” in complex, distributed and networked systems is NOT a tidy simple atomic service.  It is, unfortunately, represented as such because we choose to use a single noun to represent an aggregate of many sub-services, shotgunned across many layers, each with its own context, metadata, protocols and consumption models.

As the use cases for public cloud obscure and abstract these layers — flattens them — we’re left with the core of that which we should focus:

Build secure, reliable, resilient, and survivable systems of applications, comprised of secure services, atop platforms that are themselves engineered to do the same in way in which the information which transits them inherits these qualities.

So if Public Cloud forces one to think this way, how does one relate this to practices of today?

Frankly, enterprise (network) security design patterns are a crutch.  The screened-subnet DMZ patterns with perimeters is outmoded. As Gunnar Peterson eloquently described, our best attempts at “security” over time are always some variation of firewalls and SSL.  This is the sux0r.  Importantly, this is not stated to blame anyone or suggest that a bad job is being done, but rather that a better one can be.

It’s not like we don’t know *what* the problems are, we just don’t invest in solving them as long term projects.  Instead, we deploy compensation that defers what is now becoming more inevitable: the compromise of applications that are poorly engineered and defended by systems that have no knowledge or context of the things they are defending.

We all know this, but yet looking at most private cloud platforms and implementations, we gravitate toward replicating these traditional design patterns logically after we’ve gone to so much trouble to articulate our way around them.  Public clouds make us approach what, where and how we apply “security” differently because we don’t have these crutches.

Either we learn to walk without them or simply not move forward.

Now, let me be clear.  I’m not suggesting that we don’t need security controls, but I do mean that we need a different and better application of them at a different level, protecting things that aren’t tied to physical topology or addressing schemes…or operating systems (inclusive of things like hypervisors, also.)

I think we’re getting closer.  Beyond infrastructure as a service, platform as a service gets us even closer.

Interestingly, at the same time we see the evolution of computing with Public Cloud, networking is also undergoing a renaissance, and as this occurs, security is coming along for the ride.  Because it has to.

As I was writing this blog (ironically in the parking lot of VMware awaiting the start of a meeting to discuss abstraction, networking and security,) James Staten (Forrester) tweeted something from @Werner Vogels keynote at AWS re:invent:

I couldn’t have said it better myself :)

So while I may have been, and will continue to be, a thorn in the side of platform providers to improve the “survivability” capabilities to help us get from there to there, I reiterate the title of this scribbling: Amazon Web Services (AWS) Is the Best Thing To Happen To Security & I Desperately Want It To Succeed.

I trust that’s clear?

/Hoff

P.S. There’s so much more I could/should write, but I’m late for the meeting :)

Related articles

 

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CloudPassage & Why Guest-Based Footprints Matter Even More For Cloud Security

February 1st, 2011 4 comments
VM (operating system)

Image via Wikipedia

Every day for the last week or so after their launch, I’ve been asked left and right about whether I’d spoken to CloudPassage and what my opinion was of their offering.  In full disclosure, I spoke with them when they were in stealth almost a year ago and offered some guidance as well as the day before their launch last week.

Disappointing as it may be to some, this post isn’t really about my opinion of CloudPassage directly; it is, however, the reaffirmation of the deployment & delivery models for the security solution that CloudPassage has employed.  I’ll let you connect the dots…

Specifically, in public IaaS clouds where homogeneity of packaging, standardization of images and uniformity of configuration enables scale, security has lagged.  This is mostly due to the fact that for a variety of reasons, security itself does not scale (well.)

In an environment where the underlying platform cannot be counted upon to provide “hooks” to integrate security capabilities in at the “network” level, all that’s left is what lies inside the VM packaging:

  1. Harden and protect the operating system [and thus the stuff atop it,]
  2. Write secure applications and
  3. Enforce strict, policy-driven information-centric security.

My last presentation, “Cloudinomicon: Idempotent Infrastructure, Building Survivable Systems and Bringing Sexy Back to Information Centricity” addressed these very points. [This one is a version I delivered at the University of Michigan Security Summit]

If we focus on the first item in that list, you’ll notice that generally to effect policy in the guest, you must have a footprint on said guest — however thin — to provide the hooks that are needed to either directly effect policy or redirect back to some engine that offloads this functionality.  There’s a bit of marketing fluff associated with using the word “agentless” in many applications of this methodology today, but at some point, the endpoint needs some sort of “agent” to play*

So that’s where we are today.  The abstraction offered by virtualized public IaaS cloud platforms is pushing us back to the guest-centric-based models of yesteryear.

This will bring challenges with scale, management, efficacy, policy convergence between physical and virtual and the overall API-driven telemetry driven by true cloud solutions.

You can read more about this in some of my other posts on the topic:

Finally, since I used them for eyeballs, please do take a look at CloudPassage — their first (free) offerings are based upon leveraging small footprint Linux agents and a cloud-based SaaS “grid” to provide vulnerability management, and firewall/zoning in public cloud environments.

/Hoff

* There are exceptions to this rule depending upon *what* you’re trying to do, such as anti-malware offload via a hypervisor API, but this is not generally available to date in public cloud.  This will, I hope, one day soon change.

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The Security Hamster Sine Wave Of Pain: Public Cloud & The Return To Host-Based Protection…

July 7th, 2010 7 comments
Snort Intrusion Detection System Logo
Image via Wikipedia

This is a revisitation of a blog I wrote last year: Incomplete Thought: Cloud Security IS Host-Based…At The Moment

I use my ‘Security Hamster Sine Wave of Pain” to illustrate the cyclical nature of security investment and deployment models over time and how disruptive innovation and technology impacts the flip-flop across the horizon of choice.

To wit: most mass-market Public Cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services rely on highly-abstracted and limited exposure of networking capabilities.  This means that most traditional network-based security solutions are impractical or non-deployable in these environments.

Network-based virtual appliances which expect generally to be deployed in-line with the assets they protect are at a disadvantage given their topological dependency.

So what we see are security solution providers simply re-marketing their network-based solutions as host-based solutions instead…or confusing things with Barney announcements.

Take a press release today from SourceFire:

Snort and Sourcefire Vulnerability Research Team(TM) (VRT) rules are now available through the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) in the form of an Amazon Machine Image (AMI), enabling customers to proactively monitor network activity for malicious behavior and provide automated responses.

Leveraging Snort installed on the AMI, customers of Amazon Web Services can further secure their most critical cloud-based applications with Sourcefire’s leading protection. Snort and Sourcefire(R) VRT rules are also listed in the Amazon Web Services Solution Partner Directory, so that users can easily ensure that their AMI includes the latest updates.

As far as I can tell, this means you can install a ‘virtual appliance’ of Snort/Sourcefire as a standalone AMI, but there’s no real description on how one might actually implement it in an environment that isn’t topologically-friendly to this sort of network-based implementation constraint.*

Since you can’t easily “steer traffic” through an IPS in the model of AWS, can’t leverage promiscuous mode or taps, what does this packaging implementation actually mean?  Also, if  one has a few hundred AMI’s which contain applications spread out across multiple availability zones/regions, how does a solution like this scale (from both a performance or management perspective?)

I’ve spoken/written about this many times:

Where Are the Network Virtual Appliances? Hobbled By the Virtual Network, That’s Where… and

Dear Public Cloud Providers: Please Make Your Networking Capabilities Suck Less. Kthxbye

Ultimately, expect that Public Cloud will force the return to host-based HIDS/HIPS deployments — the return to agent-based security models.  This poses just as many operational challenges as those I allude to above.  We *must* have better ways of tying together network and host-based security solutions in these Public Cloud environments that make sense from an operational, cost, and security perspective.

/Hoff

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* I “spoke” with Marty Roesch on the Twitter and he filled in the gaps associated with how this version of Snort works – there’s a host-based packet capture element with a “network” redirect to a stand-alone AMI:

@Beaker AWS->Snort implementation is IDS-only at the moment, uses software packet tap off customer app instance, not topology-dependent

and…

they install our soft-tap on their AMI and send the traffic to our AMI for inspection/detection/reporting.

It will be interesting to see how performance nets out using this redirect model.

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Chattin’ With the Boss: “Securing the Network” (Waiting For the Jet Pack)

March 7th, 2010 8 comments

At the RSA security conference last week I spent some time with Tom Gillis on a live uStream video titled “Securing the Network.”

Tom happens to be (as he points out during a rather funny interlude) my boss’ boss — he’s the VP and GM of Cisco‘s STBU (Security Technology Business Unit.)

It’s an interesting discussion (albeit with some self-serving Cisco tidbits) surrounding how collaboration, cloud, mobility, virtualization, video, the consumerizaton of IT and, um, jet packs are changing the network and how we secure it.

Direct link here.

Embedded below:

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Slides from My Cloud Security Alliance Keynote: The Cloud Magic 8 Ball (Future Of Cloud)

March 7th, 2010 No comments

Here are the slides from my Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) keynote from the Cloud Security Summit at the 2010 RSA Security Conference.

The punchline is as follows:

All this iteration and debate on the future of the “back-end” of Cloud Computing — the provider side of the equation — is ultimately less interesting than how the applications and content served up will be consumed.

Cloud Computing provides for the mass re-centralization of applications and data in mega-datacenters while simultaneously incredibly powerful mobile computing platforms provide for the mass re-distribution of (in many cases the same) applications and data.  We’re fixated on the security of the former but ignoring that of the latter — at our peril.

People worry about how Cloud Computing puts their applications and data in other people’s hands. The reality is that mobile computing — and the clouds that are here already and will form because of them — already put, quite literally, those applications and data in other people’s hands.

If we want to “secure” the things that matter most, we must focus BACK on information centricity and building survivable systems if we are to be successful in our approach.  I’ve written about the topics above many times, but this post from 2009 is quite apropos: The Quandary Of the Cloud: Centralized Compute But Distributed Data You can find other posts on Information Centricity here.

Slideshare direct link here (embedded below.)

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Comments on the PwC/TSB Debate: The cloud/thin computing will fundamentally change the nature of cyber security…

February 16th, 2010 2 comments

I saw a very interesting post on LinkedIn with the title PwC/TSB Debate: The cloud/thin computing will fundamentally change the nature of cyber security…

PricewaterhouseCoopers are working with the Technology Strategy Board (part of BIS) on a high profile research project which aims to identify future technology and cyber security trends. These statements are forward looking and are intended to purely start a discussion around emerging/possible future trends. This is a great chance to be involved in an agenda setting piece of research. The findings will be released in the Spring at Infosec. We invite you to offer your thoughts…

The cloud/thin computing will fundamentally change the nature of cyber security…

The nature of cyber security threats will fundamentally change as the trend towards thin computing grows. Security updates can be managed instantly by the solution provider so every user has the latest security solution, the data leakage threat is reduced as data is stored centrally, systems can be scanned more efficiently and if Botnets capture end-point computers, the processing power captured is minimal. Furthermore, access to critical data can be centrally managed and as more email is centralised, malware can be identified and removed more easily. The key challenge will become identity management and ensuring users can only access their relevant files. The threat moves from the end-point to the centre.

What are your thoughts?

My response is simple.

Cloud Computing or “Thin Computing” as described above doesn’t change the “nature” of (gag) “cyber security” it simply changes its efficiency, investment focus, capital model and modality. As to the statement regarding threats with movement “…from the end-point to the centre,” the surface area really becomes amorphous and given the potential monoculture introduced by the virtualization layers underpinning these operations, perhaps expands.

Certainly the benefits described in the introduction above do mean changes to who, where and when risk mitigation might be applied, but those activities are, in most cases, still the same as in non-Cloud and “thick” computing.  That’s not a “fundamental change” but rather an adjustment to a platform shift, just like when we went from mainframe to client/server.  We are still dealing with the remnant security issues (identity management, AAA, PKI, encryption, etc.) from prior  computing inflection points that we’ve yet to fix.  Cloud is a great forcing function to help nibble away at them.

But, if you substitute “client server” in relation to it’s evolution from the “mainframe era” for “cloud/thin computing” above, it all sounds quite familiar.

As I alluded to, there are some downsides to this re-centralization, but it is important to note that I do believe that if we look at what PaaS/SaaS offerings and VDI/Thin/Cloud computing offers, it makes us focus on protecting our information and building more survivable systems.

However, there’s a notable bifurcation occurring. Whilst the example above paints a picture of mass re-centralization, incredibly powerful mobile platforms are evolving.  These platforms (such as the iPhone) employ a hybrid approach featuring both native/local on-device applications and storage of data combined with the potential of thin client capability and interaction with distributed Cloud computing services.*

These hyper-mobile and incredibly powerful platforms — and the requirements to secure them in this mixed-access environment — means that the efficiency gains on one hand are compromised by the need to once again secure  diametrically-opposed computing experiences.  It’s a “squeezing the balloon” problem.

The same exact thing is occurring in the Private versus Public Cloud Computing models.

/Hoff

* P.S. Bernard Golden also commented via Twitter regarding the emergence of Sensor nets which also have a very interesting set of implications on security as it relates to both the examples of Cloud and mobile computing elements above.

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Incomplete Thought: Storage In the Cloud: Winds From the ATMOS(fear)

May 18th, 2009 1 comment

I never metadata I didn’t like…

I first heard about EMC’s ATMOS Cloud-optimized storage “product” months ago:

EMC Atmos is a multi-petabyte offering for information storage and distribution. If you are looking to build cloud storage, Atmos is the ideal offering, combining massive scalability with automated data placement to help you efficiently deliver content and information services anywhere in the world.

I had lunch with Dave Graham (@davegraham) from EMC a ways back and while he was tight-lipped, we discussed ATMOS in lofty, architectural terms.  I came away from our discussion with the notion that ATMOS was more of a platform and less of a product with a focus on managing not only stores of data, but also the context, metadata and policies surrounding it.  ATMOS tasted like a service provider play with a nod to very large enterprises who were looking to seriously trod down the path of consolidated and intelligent storage services.

I was really intrigued with the concept of ATMOS, especially when I learned that at least one of the people who works on the team developing it also contributed to the UC Berkeley project called OceanStore from 2005:

OceanStore is a global persistent data store designed to scale to billions of users. It provides a consistent, highly-available, and durable storage utility atop an infrastructure comprised of untrusted servers.

Any computer can join the infrastructure, contributing storage or providing local user access in exchange for economic compensation. Users need only subscribe to a single OceanStore service provider, although they may consume storage and bandwidth from many different providers. The providers automatically buy and sell capacity and coverage among themselves, transparently to the users. The utility model thus combines the resources from federated systems to provide a quality of service higher than that achievable by any single company.

OceanStore caches data promiscuously; any server may create a local replica of any data object. These local replicas provide faster access and robustness to network partitions. They also reduce network congestion by localizing access traffic.

Pretty cool stuff, right?  This just goes to show that plenty of smart people have been working on “Cloud Computing” for quite some time.

Ah, the ‘Storage Cloud.’

Now, while we’ve heard of and seen storage-as-a-service in many forms, including the Cloud, today I saw a really interesting article titled “EMC, AT&T open up Atmos-based cloud storage service:”

EMC Corp.’s Atmos object-based storage system is the basis for two cloud computing services launched today at EMC World 2009 — EMC Atmos onLine and AT&T’s Synaptic Storage as a Service.
EMC’s service coincides with a new feature within the Atmos Web services API that lets organizations with Atmos systems already on-premise “federate” data – move it across data storage clouds. In this case, they’ll be able to move data from their on-premise Atmos to an external Atmos computing cloud.

Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is evaluating Atmos for its next-generation storage infrastructure, and storage architect Michael Passe said he plans to test the new federation capability.

Organizations without an internal Atmos system can also send data to Atmos onLine by writing applications to its APIs. This is different than commercial graphical user interface services such as EMC’s Mozy cloud computing backup service. “There is an API requirement, but we’re already seeing people doing integration” of new Web offerings for end users such as cloud computing backup and iSCSI connectivity, according to Mike Feinberg, senior vice president of the EMC Cloud Infrastructure Group. Data-loss prevention products from RSA, the security division of EMC, can also be used with Atmos to proactively identify confidential data such as social security numbers and keep them from being sent outside the user’s firewall.

AT&T is adding Synaptic Storage as a Service to its hosted networking and security offerings, claiming to overcome the data security worries many conservative storage customers have about storing data at a third-party data center.

The federation of data across storage clouds using API’s? Information cross-pollenization and collaboration? Heavy, man.

Take plays like Cisco’s UCS with VMware’s virtualization and stir in VN-Tag with DLP/ERM solutions and sit it on top of ATMOS…from an architecture perspective, you’ve got an amazing platform for service delivery that allows for some slick application of policy that is information centric.  Sure, getting this all to stick will take time, but these are issues we’re grappling with in our discussions related to portability of applications and information.

Settling Back Down to Earth

This brings up a really important set of discussions that I keep harping on as the cold winds of reality start to blow.

From a security perspective, storage is the moose on the table that nobody talks about.  In virtualized environments we’re interconnecting all our hosts to islands of centralized SANs and NAS.  We’re converging our data and storage networks via CNAs and unified fabrics.

In multi-tenant Cloud environments all our data ends up being stored similarly with the trust that segregation and security are appropriately applied.  Ever wonder how storage architectures never designed to do these sorts of things at scale can actually do so securely? Whose responsibility is it to manage the security of these critical centerpieces of our evolving “centers of data.”

So besides my advice that security folks need to run out and get their CCIE certs, perhaps you ought to sign up for a storage security class, too.  You can also start by reading this excellent book by Himanshu Dwivedi titled “Securing Storage.”

What are YOU doing about securing storage in your enterprise our Cloud engagements?  If your answer is LUN masking, here’s four Excedrin, call me after the breach.

/Hoff

The Quandary Of the Cloud: Centralized Compute But Distributed Data

January 7th, 2009 3 comments

Here's a theme I've been banging around for quite some time as it relates to virtualization, cloud computing and security.  I've never really sat down and written about it, however.

As we trend towards consolidating and (re)centralizing our computing platforms — both endpoints and servers — using virtualization and cloud computing as enablers to do so, we're also simultaneously dealing with the decentralization and distributed data sets that come with technologies such as Web2.0, mobility and exposure of APIs from cloud platforms.*

So here we are all frothed up as virtualization and cloud computing have, in a sense, led us back to the resource-based consolidation of the mainframe model with all it's centralized splendor and client virtualization/thin clients/compartmentalized remote access is doing the same thing for endpoints. 

But the interesting thing is that with Moore's Law, the endpoints are also getting more and more powerful even though we're dumbing them down and trying to make their exposure more limited despite the fact that they can still efficiently process and store data locally.

These models, one could argue, are diametrically opposed when describing how to secure the platforms versus the information that resides on or is utilized by them.  As the cyclic waffling between centralized versus distributed continues, the timing of how and where we adapt to securing them always lags behind.  Which do we focus on securing and where?  The host, centralized server, network.

The unfortunate answer is always "yes."

Remember this (simplified) model of how/where we secure things?
Youarehere

If you juxtapose the image above mentally with how I represent the centralized <–> distributed trends in IT below, it's no wonder we're always behind the curve.  The computing model technology changes much more quickly than the security technology and processes do, thus the disconnect:

Compute-data-access
I need to update the diagram above to split out the "computing" layer
into client and server as well as extend the data layer to reference
storage modalities also, but it gets the job done.

At any rate, it's probably obvious and common sense, but when explaining to people why I spend my time pointing out gaps with security in virtualization and cloud models, I found this useful.

/Hoff

* It's important to note that while I refer to/group cloud computing models as centralized, I understand they have a distributed element to them, also.  I would ask you to think about the multiple cloud overlays as centralized resources, regardless of how intrinsically "distributed" in processing/load balancing they may be.

P.S. I just saw an awesome post titled "The Rise of the Stupid Endpoint" on the vinternals blog that shares many of the same points, although much more eloquently.  Check it out here.  Awesome!

CloudSQL – Accessing Datastores in the Sky using SQL…

December 2nd, 2008 5 comments
Zohosql-angled
I think this is definitely a precursor of things to come and introduces some really interesting security discussions to be had regarding the portability, privacy and security of datastores in the cloud.

Have you heard of Zoho?  No?  Zoho is a SaaS vendor that describe themselves thusly:

Zoho is a suite of online applications (services) that you sign up for and access from our Website. The applications are free for individuals and some have a subscription fee for organizations. Our vision is to provide our customers (individuals, students, educators, non-profits, small and medium sized businesses) with the most comprehensive set of applications available anywhere (breadth); and for those applications to have enough features (depth) to make your user experience worthwhile.

Today, Zoho announced the availability of CloudSQL which is middleware that allows customers who use Zoho's SaaS apps to "…access their data on Zoho SaaS
applications using SQL queries."
 

From their announcement:

Zoho CloudSQL is a technology that allows developers to interact with business data stored across Zoho Services using the familiar SQL language. In addition, JDBC and ODBC database drivers make writing code a snap – just use the language construct and syntax you would use with a local database instance. Using the latest Web technology no longer requires throwing away years of coding and learning.

Zoho CloudSQL allows businesses to connect and integrate the data and applications they have in Zoho with the data and applications they have in house, or even with other SaaS services. Unlike other methods for accessing data in the cloud, CloudSQL capitalizes on enterprise developers’ years of knowledge and experience with the widely‐used SQL language. This leads to faster deployments and easier (read: less expensive) integration projects.

Basically, CloudSQL is interposed between the suite of Zoho applications and the backend datastores and functions as an intermediary receiving SQL queries against the pooled data sets using standard SQL commands and dialects. Click on the diagram below for a better idea of what this looks like.

Zoho-cloud-sql
What's really interesting about allowing native SQL access is the ability to then allow much easier information interchange between apps/databases on an enterprises' "private cloud(s)" and the Zoho "public" cloud.

Further, it means that your data is more "portable" as it can be backed up, accessed, and processed by applications other than Zoho's.  Imagine if they were to extend the SQL exposure to other cloud/SaaS providers…this is where it will get really juicy. 

This sort of thing *will* happen.  Customers will see the absolute utility of exposing their cloud-based datastores and sharing them amongst business partners, much in the spirit of how it's done today, but with the datastores (or chunks of them) located off-premises.

That's all good and exciting, but obviously security questions/concerns immediately surface regarding such things as: authentication, encryption, access control, input sanitation, privacy and compliance…

Today our datastores typically live inside the fortress with multiple
layers of security and proxied access from applications, shielded from
direct access and yet we still have basic issues with attacks such as
SQL injection.  Imagine how much fun we can have with this!

The best I could find regarding security and Zoho came from their FAQ which doesn't exactly inspire confidence given the fact that they address logical/software security by suggesting that anti-virus software is the best line of defense ffor protecting your data and that "data encryption" will soon be offered as an "option" and (implied) SSL will make you secure:

6. Is my data secured?

Many people ask us this question. And rightly so; Zoho has invested alot of time and money to ensure that your information is secure and private. We offer security on multiple levels including the physical, software and people/process levels; In fact your data is more secure than walking around with it on a laptop or even on your corporate desktops.

Physical: Zoho servers and infrastructure are located in the most secure types of data centers that have multiple levels of restrictions for access including: on-premise security guards, security cameras, biometric limited access systems, and no signage to indicate where the buildings are, bullet proof glass, earthquake ratings, etc.

Hardware: Zoho employs state of the art firewall protection on multiple levels eliminating the possibility of intrusion from outside attacks

Logical/software protection: Zoho deploys anti-virus software and scans all access 24 x7 for suspicious traffic and viruses or even inside attacks; All of this is managed and logged for auditing purposes.

Process: Very few Zoho staff have access to either the physical or logical levels of our infrastructure. Your data is therefore secure from inside access; Zoho performs regular vulnerability testing and is constantly enhancing its security at all levels. All data is backed up on multiple servers in multiple locations on a daily basis. This means that in the worst case, if one data center was compromised, your data could be restored from other locations with minimal disruption. We are also working on adding even more security; for example, you will soon be able to select a "data encryption" option to encrypt your data en route to our servers, so that in the unlikely event of your own computer getting hacked while using Zoho, your documents could be securely encrypted and inaccessible without a "certificate" which generally resides on the server away from your computer.

Fun times ahead, folks.

/Hoff