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Archive for the ‘Information Survivability’ 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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Incomplete Thought: The Psychology Of Red Teaming Failure – Do Not Pass Go…

August 6th, 2013 14 comments
team fortress red team

team fortress red team (Photo credit: gtrwndr87)

I could probably just ask this of some of my friends — many of whom are the best in the business when it comes to Red Teaming/Pen Testing, but I thought it would be an interesting little dialog here, in the open:

When a Red Team is engaged by an entity to perform a legally-authorized pentest (physical or electronic) with an explicit “get out of jail free card,” does that change the tactics, strategy and risk appetite of the team were they not to have that parachute?

Specifically, does the team dial-up or dial-down the aggressiveness of the approach and execution KNOWING that they won’t be prosecuted, go to jail, etc.?

Blackhats and criminals operating outside this envelope don’t have the luxury of counting on a gilded escape should failure occur and thus the risk/reward mapping *might* be quite different.

To that point, I wonder what the gap is between an authorized Red Team action versus those that have everything to lose?  What say ye?

/Hoff

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Incomplete Thought: In-Line Security Devices & the Fallacies Of Block Mode

June 28th, 2013 16 comments

blockadeThe results of a long-running series of extremely scientific studies has produced a Metric Crapload™ of anecdata.

Namely, hundreds of detailed discussions (read: lots of booze and whining) over the last 5 years has resulted in the following:

Most in-line security appliances (excluding firewalls) with the ability to actively dispose of traffic — services such as IPS, WAF, Anti-malware — are deployed in “monitor” or “learning” mode are rarely, if ever, enabled with automated blocking.  In essence, they are deployed as detective versus preventative security services.

I have many reasons compiled for this.

I am interested in hearing whether you agree/disagree and your reasons for such.

/Hoff

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Wanna Be A Security Player? Deliver It In Software As A Service Layer…

January 9th, 2013 1 comment

As I continue to think about the opportunities that Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV) bring into focus, the capability to deliver security as a service layer is indeed exciting.

I wrote about how SDN and OpenFlow (as a functional example) and the security use cases provided by each will be a differentiating capability back in 2011: The Killer App For OpenFlow and SDN? SecurityOpenFlow & SDN – Looking forward to SDNS: Software Defined Network Security, and Back To The Future: Network Segmentation & More Moaning About Zoning.

Recent activity in the space has done nothing but reinforce this opinion.  My day job isn’t exactly lacking in excitement, either :)

As many networking vendors begin to bring their SDN solutions to market — whether in the form of networking equipment or controllers designed to interact with them — one of the missing strategic components is security.  This isn’t a new phenomenon, unfortunately, and as such, predictably there are also now startups entering this space and/or retooling from the virtualization space and stealthily advertising themselves as “SDN Security” companies :)

Like we’ve seen many times before, security is often described (confused?) as a “simple” or “atomic” service and so SDN networking solutions are designed with the thought that security will simply be “bolted on” after the fact and deployed not unlike a network service such as “load balancing.”  The old “we’ll just fire up some VMs and TAMO (Then a Miracle Occurs) we’ve got security!” scenario.  Or worse yet, we’ll develop some proprietary protocol or insertion architecture that will magically get traffic to and from physical security controls (witness the “U-TURN” or “horseshoe” L2/L3 solutions of yesteryear.)

The challenge is that much of Security today is still very topologically sensitive and depends upon classical networking constructs to be either physically or logically plumbed between the “outside” and the asset under protection, or it’s very platform dependent and lacks the ability to truly define a policy that travels with the workload regardless of the virtualization, underlay OR overlay solutions.

Depending upon the type of control, security is often operationalized across multiple layers using wildly different constructs, APIs and context in terms of policy and disposition depending upon it’s desired effect.

Virtualization has certainly evolved our thinking about how we should think differently about security mostly due to the dynamism and mobility that virtualization has introduced, but it’s still incredibly nascent in terms of exposed security capabilities in the platforms themselves.  It’s been almost 5 years since I started raging about how we need(ed) platform providers to give us capabilities that function across stacks so we’d have a fighting chance.  To date, not only do we have perhaps ONE vendor doing some of this, but we’ve seen the emergence of others who are maniacally focused on providing as little of it as possible.

If you think about what virtualization offers us today from a security perspective, we have the following general solution options:

  1. Hypervisor-based security solutions which may apply policy as a function of the virtual-NIC card of the workloads it protects.
  2. Extensions of virtual-networking (i.e. switching) solutions that enable traffic steering and some policy enforcement that often depend upon…
  3. Virtual Appliance-based security solutions that require manual or automated provisioning, orchestration and policy application in user space that may or may not utilize APIs exposed by the virtual networking layer or hypervisor

There are tradeoffs across each of these solutions; scale, performance, manageability, statefulness, platform dependencies, etc.  There simply aren’t many platforms that natively offer security capabilities as a function of service delivery that allows arbitrary service definition with consistent and uniform ways of describing the outcome of the policies at these various layers.  I covered this back in 2008 (it’s a shame nothing has really changed) in my Four Horsemen Of the Virtual Security Apocalypse presentation.

As I’ve complained for years, we still have 20 different ways of defining how to instantiate a five-tupule ACL as a basic firewall function.

Out of the Darkness…

The promise of SDN truly realized — the ability to separate the control, forwarding, management and services planes — and deploy security as a function of available service components across overlays and underlays, means we will be able to take advantage of any of these models so long as we have a way to programmatically interface with the various strata regardless of whether we provision at the physical, virtual or overlay virtual layer.

It’s truly exciting.  We’re seeing some real effort to enable true security service delivery.

When I think about how to categorize the intersection of “SDN” and “Security,” I think about it the same way I have with virtualization and Cloud:

  • Securing SDN (Securing the SDN components)
  • SDN Security Services (How do I take security and use SDN to deliver security as a service)
  • Security via SDN (What NEW security capabilities can be derived from SDN)

There are numerous opportunities with each of these categories to really make a difference to security in the coming years.

The notion that many of our network and security capabilities are becoming programmatic means we *really* need to focus on securing SDN solutions, especially given the potential for abuse given the separation of the various channels. (See: Software Defined Networking (In)Security: All Your Control Plane Are Belong To Us…)

Delivering security as a service via SDN holds enormous promise for reasons I’ve already articulated and gives us an amazing foundation upon which to start building solutions we can’t imagine today given the lack of dynamism in our security architecture and design patterns.

Finally, the first two elements give rise to allow us to do things we can’t even imagine with today’s traditional physical and even virtual solutions.

I’ll be starting to highlight really interesting solutions I find (and am able to talk about) over the next few months.

Security enabled by SDN is going to be huge.

More soon.

/Hoff

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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 :)

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Quick Quip: Capability, Reliability and Liability…Security Licensing

November 28th, 2012 9 comments

Earlier today, I tweeted the following and was commented on by Dan Kaminsky (@dakami):

…which I explained with:

This led to a very interesting comment by Preston Wood who suggested something very interesting from the perspective of both leadership and accountability:

…and that brought forward another insightful comment:

Pretty interesting, right? Engineers, architects, medical practitioners, etc. all have degrees/licenses and absorb liability upon failure. What about security?

What do you think about this concept?

/Hoff

 

Incomplete Thought: Virtual/Cloud Security and The Potemkin Village Syndrome

August 16th, 2012 3 comments

Portrait of russian fieldmarshal Prince Potemk...A “Potemkin village” is a Russian expression derived from folklore from the 1700’s.  The story goes something like this: Grigory Potemkin, a military leader and  statesman, erected attractive but completely fake settlements constructed only of facades to impress Catherine the Great (empress of Russia) during a state visit in order to gain favor and otherwise hype the value of recently subjugated territories.

I’ll get to that (and probably irate comments from actual Russians who will chide me for my hatchet job on their culture…)

Innovation over the last decade in technology in general has brought fundamental shifts in the way in which we work, live, and play. In the last 4 years, the manner in which technology products and services that enabled by this “digital supply chain,” and the manner in which they are designed, built and brought to market have also pivoted.

Virtualization and Cloud computing — the technologies and operational models — have contributed greatly to this.

Interestingly enough, the faster technology evolves, the more lethargic, fragile and fractured security seems to be.

This can be explained in a few ways.

First, the trust models, architecture and operational models surrounding how we’ve “done” security simply are not designed to absorb this much disruption so quickly.  The fact that we’ve relied on physical segregation, static policies that combine locality and service definition, mobility and the (now) highly dynamic application deployment options means that we’re simply disconnected.

Secondly, fragmentation and specialization within security means that we have no cohesive, integrated or consistent approach in terms of how we define or instantiate “security,” and so customers are left to integrate disparate solutions at multiple layers (think physical and/or virtual firewalls, IDP, DLP, WAF, AppSec, etc.)  What services and “hooks” the operating systems, networks and provisioning/orchestration layers offers largely dictates what we can do using the skills and “best practices” we already have.

Lastly, the (un)natural market consolidation behavior wherein aspiring technology startups are acquired and absorbed into larger behemoth organizations means that innovation cycles in security quickly become victims of stunted periodicity, reduced focus on solving specific problems, cultural subduction and artificially constrained scope based on P&L models which are detached from reality, customers and out of step with trends that end up driving more disruption.

I’ve talked about this process as part of the “Security Hamster Sine Wave of Pain.”  It’s not a malicious or evil plan on behalf of vendors to conspire to not solve your problems, it’s an artifact of the way in which the market functions — and is allowed to function.

What this yields is that when new threat models, evolving vulnerabilities and advanced adversarial skill sets are paired with massively disruptive approaches and technology “conquests,” the security industry  basically erects facades of solutions, obscuring the fact that in many cases, there’s not only a lacking foundation for the house of cards we’ve built, but interestingly there’s not much more to it than that.

Again, this isn’t a plan masterminded by a consortium of industry “Dr. Evils.”  Actually, it’s quite simple: It’s inertial…if you keep buying it, they’ll keep making it.

We are suffering then from the security equivalent of the Potemkin Village syndrome; our efforts are largely built to impress people who are mesmerized by pretty facades but don’t take the time to recognize that there’s really nothing there.  Those building it, while complicit, find it quite hard to change.

Until the revolution comes.

To wit, we have hardworking members of the proletariat, toiling away behind the scenes struggling to add substance and drive change in the way in which we do what we do.

Adding to this is the good news that those two aforementioned “movements” — virtualization and cloud computing — are exposing the facades for what they are and we’re now busy shining the light on unstable foundations, knocking over walls and starting to build platforms that are fundamentally better suited to support security capabilities rather than simply “patching holes.”

Most virtualization and IaaS cloud platforms are still woefully lacking the native capabilities or interfaces to build security in, but that’s the beauty of platforms (as a service,) as you can encourage more “universally” the focus on the things that matter most: building resilient and survivable systems, deploying secure applications, and identifying and protecting information across its lifecycle.

Realistically this is a long view and it is going to take a few more cycles on the Hamster Wheel to drive true results.  It’s frankly less about technology and rather largely a generational concern with the current ruling party who governs operational security awaiting deposition, retirement or beheading.

I’m looking forward to more disruption, innovation and reconstruction.  Let’s fix the foundation and deal with hanging pictures later.  Redecorating security is for the birds…or dead Russian royalty.

/Hoff

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Brood Parasitism: A Cuckoo Discussion Of Smart Device Insecurity By Way Of Robbing the NEST…

July 18th, 2012 No comments
English: Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) nest...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I’m doing some research, driven by recent groundswells of some awesome security activity focused on so-called “smart meters.”  Specifically, I am interested in the emerging interconnectedness, consumerization and prevalence of more generic smart devices and home automation systems and what that means from a security, privacy and safety perspective.

I jokingly referred to something like this way back in 2007…who knew it would be more reality than fiction.

You may think this is interesting.  You may think this is overhyped and boorish.  You may even think this is cuckoo…

Speaking of which, back to the title of the blog…

Brood parasitism is defined as:

A method of reproduction seen in birds that involves the laying of eggs in the nests of other birds. The eggs are left under the parantal care of the host parents. Brood parasitism may be occur between species (interspecific) or within a species (intraspecific) [About.com]

A great example is that of the female european Cuckoo which lays an egg that mimics that of a host species.  After hatching, the young Cuckcoo may actually dispose of the host egg by shoving it out of the nest with a genetically-engineered physical adaptation — a depression in its back.  One hatched, the forced-adoptive parent birds, tricked into thinking the hatchling is legitimate, cares for the imposter that may actually grow larger than they, and then struggle to keep up with its care and feeding.

What does this have to do with “smart device” security?

I’m a huge fan of my NEST thermostat. :) It’s a fantastic device which, using self-learning concepts, manages the heating and cooling of my house.  It does so by understanding how my family and I utilize the controls over time doing so in combination with knowing when we’re at home or we’re away.  It communicates with and allows control over my household temperature management over the Internet.  It also has an API <wink wink>  It uses an ARM Cortex A8 CPU and has both Wifi and Zigbee radios <wink wink>

…so it knows how I use power.  It knows how when I’m at home and when I’m not. It allows for remote, out-of-band, Internet connectivity.  I uses my Wifi network to communicate.  It will, I am sure, one day intercommunicate with OTHER devices on my network (which, btw, is *loaded* with other devices already)

So back to my cuckoo analog of brood parasitism and the bounty of “robbing the NEST…”

I am working on researching the potential for subverting the control plane for my NEST (amongst other devices) and using that to gain access to information regarding occupancy, usage, etc.  I have some ideas for how this information might be (mis)used.

Essentially, I’m calling the tool “Cuckoo” and it’s job is that of its nest-robbing namesake — to have it fed illegitimately and outgrow its surrogate trust model to do bad things™.

This will dovetail on work that has been done in the classical “smart meter” space such as what was presented at CCC in 2011 wherein the researchers were able to do things like identify what TV show someone was watching and what capabilities like that mean to privacy and safety.

If anyone would like to join in on the fun, let me know.

/Hoff

 

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Back To The Future: Network Segmentation & More Moaning About Zoning

July 16th, 2012 5 comments

A Bit Of Context…

This image was selected as a picture of the we...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)A Bit Of Context…

The last 3 years have been very interesting when engaging with large enterprises and service providers as they set about designing, selecting and deploying their “next generation” network architecture. These new networks are deployed in timescales that see them collide with disruptive innovation such as fabrics, cloud, big data and DevOps.

In most cases, these network platforms must account for the nuanced impact of virtualized design patterns, refreshes of programmatic architecture and languages, and the operational model differences these things introduce.  What’s often apparent is that no matter how diligent the review, by the time these platforms are chosen, many tradeoffs are made — especially when it comes to security and compliance — and we arrive at the old adage: “You can get fast, cheap or secure…pick two.”

…And In the Beginning, There Was Spanning Tree…

The juxtaposition of flatter and flatter physical networks, nee “fabrics” (compute, network and storage,) with what seems to be a flip-flop transition between belief systems and architects who push for either layer 2 or layer 3 (or encapsulated versions thereof) segmentation at the higher layers is again aggravated by continued push for security boundary definition that yields further segmentation based on policy at the application and information layer.

So what we end up with is the benefits of flatter, any-to-any connectivity at the physical networking layer with a “software defined” and virtualized networking context floating both alongside (Nicira, BigSwitch, OpenFlow) as well as atop it (VMware, Citrix, OpenStack Quantum, etc.) with a bunch of protocols ladled on like some protocol gravy blanketing the Chicken Fried Steak that represents the modern data center.

Oh!  You Mean the Cloud…

Now, there are many folks who don’t approach it this way, and instead abstract away much of what I just described.  In Amazon Web Services’ case as a service provider, they dumb down the network sufficiently and control the abstracted infrastructure to the point that “flatness” is the only thing customers get and if you’re going to run your applications atop, you must keep it simple and programmatic in nature else risk introducing unnecessary complexity into the “software stack.”

The customers who then depend upon these simplified networking services must then absorb the gaps introduced by a lack of features by architecturally engineering around them, becoming more automated, instrumented and programmatic in nature or add yet another layer of virtualized (and generally encrypted) transport and execution above them.

This works if you’re able to engineer your way around these gaps (or make them less relevant,) but generally this is where segmentation becomes an issue due to security and compliance design patterns which depend on the “complexity” introduced by the very flexible networking constructs available in most enterprise of SP networks.

It’s like a layered cake that keeps self-frosting.

Software Defined Architecture…

You can see the extreme opportunity for Software Defined *anything* then, can’t you? With SDN, let the physical networks NOT be complex but rather more simple and flat and then unify the orchestration, traffic steering, service insertion and (even) security capabilities of the physical and virtual networks AND the virtualization/cloud orchestration layers (from the networking perspective) into a single intelligent control plane…

That’s a big old self-frosting cake.

Basically, this is what AWS has done…but all that intelligence provided by the single pane of glass is currently left up to the app owner atop them.  That’s the downside.  Those sufficiently enlightened AWS’ customers are aware generally  of this and understand the balance of benefits and limitations of this path.

In an enterprise environment, however, it’s a timing game between the controller vendors, the virtualization/cloud stack providers, the networking vendors, and security vendors …each trying to offer up this capability either as an “integrated” capability or as an overlay…all under the watchful eye of the auditor who is generally unmotivated, uneducated and unnerved by all this new technology — especially since the compliance frameworks and regulatory elements aren’t designed to account for these dramatic shifts in architecture or operation (let alone the threat curve of advanced adversaries.)

Back To The Future…Hey, Look, It’s Token Ring and DMZs!

As I sit with these customers who build these nextgen networks, the moment segmentation comes up, the elegant network and application architectures rapidly crumble into piles of asset-based rubble as what happens next borders on the criminal…

Thanks to compliance initiatives — PCI is a good example — no matter how well scoped, those flat networks become more and more logically hierarchical.  Because SDN is still nascent and we’re lacking that unified virtualized network (and security) control plane, we end up resorting back to platform-specific “less flat” network architectures in both the physical and virtual layers to achieve “enclave” like segmentation.

But with virtualization the problem gets more complex as in an attempt to be agile, cost efficient and in order to bring data to the workloads to reduce heaving lifting of the opposite approach, out-of-scope assets can often (and suddenly) be co-resident with in-scope assets…traversing logical and physical constructs that makes it much more difficult to threat model since the level of virtualized context supports differs wildly across these layers.

Architects are then left to think how they can effectively take all the awesome performance, agility, scale and simplicity offered by the underlying fabrics (compute, network and storage) and then layer on — bolt on — security and compliance capabilities.

What they discover is that it’s very, very, very platform specific…which is why we see protocols such as VXLAN and NVGRE pop up to deal with them.

Lego Blocks and Pig Farms…

These architects then replicate the design patterns with which they are familiar and start to craft DMZs that are logically segmented in the physical network and then grafted on to the virtual.  So we end up with relying on what Gunnar Petersen and I refer to as the “SSL and Firewall” lego block…we front end collections of “layer 2 connected” assets based on criticality or function, many of which stretched across these fabrics, and locate them behind layer 3 “firewalls” which provide basic zone-based isolation and often VPN connectivity between “trusted” groups of other assets.

In short, rather than build applications that securely authenticate, communicate — or worse yet, even when they do — we pigpen our corralled assets and make our estate fatter instead of flatter.  It’s really a shame.

I’ve made the case in my “Commode Computing” presentation that one of the very first things that architects need to embrace is the following:

…by not artificially constraining the way in which we organize, segment and apply policy (i.e. “put it in a DMZ”) we can think about how design “anti-patterns” may actually benefit us…you can call them what you like, but we need to employ better methodology for “zoning.”

These trust zones or enclaves are reasonable in concept so long as we can ultimately further abstract their “segmentation” and abstract the security and compliance policy requirements by expressing policy programmatically and taking the logical business and functional use-case PROCESSES into consideration when defining, expressing and instantiating said policy.

You know…understand what talks to what and why…

A great way to think about this problem is to apply the notion of application mobility — without VM containers — and how one would instantiate a security “policy” in that context.  In many cases, as we march up the stack to distributed platform application architectures, we’re not able to depend upon the “crutch” that hypervisors or VM packages have begun to give us in legacy architectures that have virtualization grafted onto them.

Since many enterprises are now just starting to better leverage their virtualized infrastructure, there *are* some good solutions (again, platform specific) that unify the physical and virtual networks from a zoning perspective, but the all-up process-driven, asset-centric (app & information) view of “policy” is still woefully lacking, especially in heterogeneous environments.

Wrapping Up…

In enterprise and SP environments where we don’t have the opportunity to start anew, it often feels like we’re so far off from this sort of capability because it requires a shift that makes software defined networking look like child’s play.  Most enterprises don’t do risk-driven, asset-centric, process-mapped modelling, [and SP's are disconnected from this,] so segmentation falls back to what we know: DMZs with VLANs, NAT, Firewalls, SSL and new protocol band-aids invented to cover gaping arterial wounds.

In environments lucky enough to think about and match the application use cases with the highly-differentiated operational models that virtualized *everything* brings to bear, it’s here today — but be prepared and honest that the vendor(s) you chose must be strategic and the interfaces between those platforms and external entities VERY well defined…else you risk software defined entropy.

I wish I had more than the 5 minutes it took to scratch this out because there’s SO much to talk about here…

…perhaps later.

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Six Degress Of Desperation: When Defense Becomes Offense…

July 15th, 2012 No comments
English: Defensive and offensive lines in Amer...

English: Defensive and offensive lines in American football (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One cannot swing a dead cat without bumping into at least one expose in the mainstream media regarding how various nation states are engaged in what is described as “Cyberwar.”

The obligatory shots of darkened rooms filled with pimply-faced spooky characters basking in the green glow of command line sessions furiously typing are dosed with trademark interstitial fade-ins featuring the masks of Anonymous set amongst a backdrop of shots of smoky Syrian streets during the uprising,  power grids and nuclear power plants in lockdown replete with alarms and flashing lights accompanied by plunging stock-ticker animations laid over the trademark icons of financial trading floors.

Terms like Stuxnet, Zeus, and Flame have emerged from the obscure .DAT files of AV research labs and now occupy a prominent spot in the lexicon of popular culture…right along side the word “Hacker,” which now almost certainly brings with it only the negative connotation it has been (re)designed to impart.

In all of this “Cyberwar” we hear that the U.S. defense complex is woefully unprepared to deal with the sophistication, volume and severity of the attacks we are under on a daily basis.  Further, statistics from the Private Sector suggest that adversaries are becoming more aggressive, motivated, innovative, advanced,  and successful in their ability to attack what is basically described as basically undefended — nee’ undefendable — assets.

In all of this talk of “Cyberwar,” we were led to believe that the U.S. Government — despite hostile acts of “cyberaggression” from “enemies” foreign and domestic — never engaged in pre-emptive acts of Cyberwar.  We were led to believe that despite escalating cases of documented incursions across our critical infrastructure (Aurora, Titan Rain, etc.,) that our response was reactionary, limited in scope and reach and almost purely detective/forensic in nature.

It’s pretty clear that was a farce.

However, what’s interesting — besides the amazing geopolitical, cultural, socio-economic, sovereign,  financial and diplomatic issues that war of any sort brings — including “cyberwar” — is that even in the Private Sector, we’re still led to believe that we’re both unable, unwilling or forbidden to do anything but passively respond to attack.

There are some very good reasons for that argument, and some which need further debate.

Advanced adversaries are often innovative and unconstrained in their attack methodologies yet defenders remain firmly rooted in the classical OODA-fueled loops of the past where the A, “act,” generally includes some convoluted mixture of detection, incident response and cleanup…which is often followed up with a second dose when the next attack occurs.

As such, “Defenders” need better definitions of what “defense” means and how a silent discard from a firewall, a TCP RST from an IPS or a blip from Bro is simply not enough.  What I’m talking about here is what defensive linemen look to do when squared up across from their offensive linemen opponents — not to just hold the line to prevent further down-field penetration, but to sack the quarterback or better yet, cause a fumble or error and intercept a pass to culminate in running one in for points to their advantage.

That’s a big difference between holding till fourth down and hoping the offense can manage to not suffer the same fate from the opposition.

That implies there’s a difference between “winning” and “not losing,” with arbitrary values of the latter.

Put simply, it means we should employ methods that make it more and more difficult, costly, timely and non-automated for the attacker to carry out his/her mission…[more] active defense.

I’ve written about this before in 2009 “Incomplete Thought: Offensive Computing – The Empire Strikes Back” wherein I asked people’s opinion on both their response to and definition of “offensive security.”  This was a poor term…so I was delighted when I found my buddy Rich Mogull had taken the time to clarify vocabulary around this issue in his blog titled: “Thoughts on Active Defense, Intrusion Deception, and Counterstrikes.

Rich wrote:

…Here are some possible definitions we can work with:

  • Active defense: Altering your environment and system responses dynamically based on the activity of potential attackers, to both frustrate attacks and more definitively identify actual attacks. Try to tie up the attacker and gain more information on them without engaging in offensive attacks yourself. A rudimentary example is throwing up an extra verification page when someone tries to leave potential blog spam, all the way up to tools like Mykonos that deliberately screw with attackers to waste their time and reduce potential false positives.
  • Intrusion deception: Pollute your environment with false information designed to frustrate attackers. You can also instrument these systems/datum to identify attacks. DataSoft Nova is an example of this. Active defense engages with attackers, while intrusion deception can also be more passive.
  • Honeypots & tripwires: Purely passive (and static) tools with false information designed to entice and identify an attacker.
  • Counterstrike: Attack the attacker by engaging in offensive activity that extends beyond your perimeter.

These aren’t exclusive – Mykonos also uses intrusion deception, while Nova can also use active defense. The core idea is to leave things for attackers to touch, and instrument them so you can identify the intruders. Except for counterattacks, which move outside your perimeter and are legally risky.

I think that we’re seeing the re-emergence of technology that wasn’t ready for primetime now become more prominent in consideration when folks refresh their toolchests looking for answers to problems that “passive response” offers.  It’s important to understand that tools like these — in isolation — won’t solve many complex attacks, nor are they a silver bullet, but understanding that we’re not limited to cleanup is important.

The language of “active defense,” like Rich’s above, is being spoken more and more.

Traditional networking and security companies such as Juniper* are acquiring upstarts like Mykonos Software in this space.  Mykonos’ mission is to “…change the economics of hacking…by making the attack surface variable and inserting deceptive detection points into the web application…mak[ing] hacking a website more time consuming, tedious and costly to an attacker. Because the web application is no longer passive, it also makes attacks more difficult.”

VC’s like Kleiner Perkins are funding companies whose operating premise is a more active “response” such as the in-stealth company “Shape Security” that expects to “…change the web security paradigm by shifting costs from defenders to hackers.”

Or, as Rich defined above, the notion of “counterstrike” outside one’s “perimeter” is beginning to garner open discussion now that we’ve seen what’s possible in the wild.

In fact, check out the abstract at Defcon 20 from Shawn Henry of newly-unstealthed company “Crowdstrike,” titled “Changing the Security Paradigm: Taking Back Your Network and Bringing Pain to the Adversary:

The threat to our networks is increasing at an unprecedented rate. The hostile environment we operate in has rendered traditional security strategies obsolete. Adversary advances require changes in the way we operate, and “offense” changes the game.

Shawn Henry Prior to joining CrowdStrike, Henry was with the FBI for 24 years, most recently as Executive Assistant Director, where he was responsible for all FBI criminal investigations, cyber investigations, and international operations worldwide.

If you look at Mr. Henry’s credentials, it’s clear where the motivation and customer base are likely to flow.

Without turning this little highlight into a major opus — because when discussing this topic it’s quite easy to do so given the definition and implications of “active defense,”– I hope this has scratched an itch and you’ll spend more time investigating this fascinating topic.

I’m convinced we will see more and more as the cybersword rattling continues.

Have you investigated technology solutions that offer more “active defense?”

/Hoff

* Full disclosure: I work for Juniper Networks who recently acquired Mykonos Software mentioned above.  I hold a position in, and enjoy a salary from, Juniper Networks, Inc. ;)

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