Archive

Archive for the ‘Infrastructure 2.0’ 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.

Enhanced by Zemanta

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

Related articles

Enhanced by Zemanta

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

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

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.

Related articles

Enhanced by Zemanta

The Four Horsemen Of the Virtualization (and Cloud) Security Apocalypse…

April 25th, 2010 No comments

I just stumbled upon this YouTube video (link here, embedded below) interview I did right after my talk at Blackhat 2008 titled “The 4 Horsemen of the Virtualization Security Apocalypse (PDF)” [There’s a better narrative to the PDF that explains the 4 Horsemen here.]

I found it interesting because while it was rather “new” and interesting back then, if you ‘s/virtualization/cloud‘ especially from the perspective of heavily virtualized or cloud computing environments, it’s even more relevant today!  Virtualization and the abstraction it brings to network architecture, design and security makes for interesting challenges.  Not much has changed in two years, sadly.

We need better networking, security and governance capabilities! ;)

Same as it ever was.

/Hoff

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

To Achieve True Cloud (X/Z)en, One Must Leverage Introspection

January 6th, 2010 No comments

Back in October 2008, I wrote a post detailing efforts around the Xen community to create a standard security introspection API (Xen.Org Launches Community Project To Bring VM Introspection to Xen:)

The Xen Introspection Project is a community effort within Xen.org to leverage the existing research presented above with other work not yet public to create a standard API specification and methodology for virtual machine introspection.

That blog was focused on introspection for virtualization proper but since many of the larger cloud providers utilize Xen virtualization as an underpinning of their service architecture and as an industry we’re suffering from a lack of visibility and deployable security capabilities, the relevance of VM and VMM introspection to cloud computing is quite relevant.

I thought I’d double around and see where we are.

It looks as though there’s been quite a bit of recent activity from the folks at Georgia Tech (XenAccess Project) and the University of Alaska at Fairbanks (Virtual Introspection for Xen) referenced in my previous blog.  The vCloud API proffered via the DMTF seems to also leverage (at least some of) the VMsafe API capabilities present in VMware‘s vSphere virtualization platform.

While details are, for obvious reasons sketchy, I am encouraged in speaking to representatives from a few cloud providers who are keenly interested in including these capabilities in their offerings.  Wouldn’t that be cool?

Adoption and inclusion of introspection capabilities will overcome some of the inherent security and visibility limitations we face in highly-virtualized multi-tenant environments due to networking constraints for integrating security functionality that I wrote about here.

I plan a follow-on blog in more detail once I finish some interviews.

/Hoff

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

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

December 4th, 2009 6 comments

sucklessThere are lots of great discussions these days about how infrastructure and networking need to become more dynamic and intelligent in order to more fully enable the mobility and automation promised by both virtualization and cloud computing.  There are many examples of how that’s taking place in the enterprise.

Incumbent networking vendors and emerging cloud/network startups are coming to terms with the impact of virtualization and cloud as juxtaposed with that of (and you’ll excuse the term) “pure” cloud vendors and those more traditional (Inter)networking service providers who have begun to roll out Cloud services atop or alongside their existing portfolio of offerings.

  • On the one hand we see hardware-based networking vendors adding software-based virtual switching and virtual appliance extensions in order to claw back the networking and security functions which have been abstracted into the virtualization and cloud stacks.  This is a big deal in the enterprise and especially with vendors looking to stake a claim in the private cloud space which is the evolution of traditional datacenter capabilities extended with virtualization and leverages the attributes of Cloud to provide for a more frictionless computing experience.  Here is where we see innovation and evolution with the likes of converged data and storage networking and unified fabric solutions.
    -

  • On the other hand we see massively-scaled public cloud providers and evolving (Inter)networking service providers who have essentially absorbed the networking layers into their cloud operating platforms and rely on the software functionality embedded within to manifest the connectivity required to enable service.  There is certainly networking hardware sitting beneath these offerings, but depending upon their provenance, there are remarkable differences in the capabilities and requirements between them and those mentioned above.  Mostly, these providers are really shouting for multi-terabit layer two switching fabric interconnects to which they interface their software-enabled compute platforms.  The secret sauce is primarily in software.

For the purpose of this post, I’m not going to focus on the private Cloud camp and enterprise cloud plays, or those “Cloud” providers who replicate the same architectures to serve these customers, rather, I want to focus on those service providers/Cloud providers who offer massively scalable Infrastructure and Platform-as-a-Service offerings as in the second example above and highlight two really important points:

  1. From a physical networking perspective, most of these providers rely, in some large part, on giant, flat, layer two physical networks with the actual “intelligence,” segmentation, isolation and logical connectivity provided by the hypervisor and their orchestration/provisioning/automation layers.
  2. Most of the networking implementations in these environments are seriously retarded as it relates to providing flexible and extensible networking topologies which make for n-Tier application mapping nightmares for an enterprise looking to move a reasonable application stack to their service.

I’ve been experimenting with taking several reasonably basic n-Tier app stacks which require mutiple levels of security, load balancing and message bus capabilities and design them using several cloud platform providers offerings today.

The dirty little secret is that there are massive trade-offs with each of them, mostly due to constraints related to the very basic networking and security functionality offered by the hypervisors that power their services today.  The networking is basic.  Just the way they like it. It sucks for me.

This is a problem I demonstrated in enterprise virtualization in my Four Horsemen of the Virtualization Apocalypse presentation two years ago.  It’s much, much worse in Cloud.

Not supporting multiple virtual interfaces, not supporting multiple IP addresses per instance/VM, not supporting multicast or broadcast capabilities for software-based load balancing (and resiliency of the LB engines themselves)…these are nasty issues that in many cases require wholesale re-engineering of app stacks and push things like resiliency and high availability into uncertain waters.

It’s also going to cost me more.

Sure, there are ways of engineering around these inadequacies, but they require additional levels of complexity, more cost, additional providers or instances and still leave me without many introspection options and detective and preventative security controls that I’m used to being able to rely on in traditional networking environments using colocation services or natively within the enterprise.

I’m sure I’ll see comments (public and private) suggesting all sorts of reasons why these are non-issues and how it’s silly to try and replicate the enterprise approach in the cloud.  I have 500 reasons why they’re wrong…the Fortune 500, that is.  You should also know I’m not apologizing for the sorry state of non-dynamic infrastructure, but I am suggesting that forcing me to re-tool app stacks to fit your flat network topologies without giving me better security and flexible connectivity options simply sucks.

In may cases, people just can’t get there from here.

I don’t want to have to re-architect my app stacks to work in the cloud simply because of a lack of maturity from a networking perspective.  I shouldn’t have to. That’s simply backward.  If the power of Cloud is its ability to quickly, flexibly, and easily allow me to provision, orchestrate and deploy services, that must include the network, also!

The networking and security capabilities of  public Cloud providers needs to improve — and quickly.  Applications that are not network topology-dependent and only require a single interface (or more specifically an IP address/socket) to communicate aren’t the problem.  It’s when you need to integrate applications and/or infrastructure solutions that require multiple interfaces, that *are* topology dependent and require insertion between these monolithic applications that things break down. Badly.

The “app on a stick” model doesn’t work when enterprises struggle with taking isolated clusters of applications (tiers) and isolate/protect them with physical or virtual appliances that require multiple interfaces to do so.  ACL’s don’t cut it, not when I need FW, IPS, DLP, WAF, etc. functionality.  Let’s not forget dedicated management, storage or backup interfaces.  These are many of the differences between public and private cloud offerings.

I can’t do many of the things I need to do easily in the Cloud today, not without serious trade-offs that incur substantial cost and given the immaturity of the market as a whole put me at risk.

For the large enterprise, if the fundamental networking and security architectures don’t allow for easy portability that does not require massive re-engineering of app stacks, these enterprises are going to turn to niche or evolving (Inter)networking providers who offer them the capability to do so, even if they’re not as massively scaleable, or they’ll simply build private clouds instead.

/Hoff

The Emotion of VMotion…

September 29th, 2009 8 comments
VMotion - Here's Where We Are Today

VMotion - Here's Where We Are Today

A lot has been said about the wonders of workload VM portability.

Within the construct of virtualization, and especially VMware, an awful lot of time is spent on VM Mobility but as numerous polls and direct customer engagements have shown, the majority (50% and higher) do not use VMotion.  I talked about this in a post titled “The VM Mobility Myth:

…the capability to provide for integrated networking and virtualization coupled with governance and autonomics simply isn’t mature at this point. Most people are simply replicating existing zoned/perimertized non-virtualized network topologies in their consolidated virtualized environments and waiting for the platforms to catch up. We’re really still seeing the effects of what virtualization is doing to the classical core/distribution/access design methodology as it relates to how shackled much of this mobility is to critical components like DNS and IP addressing and layer 2 VLANs.  See Greg Ness and Lori Macvittie’s scribblings.

Furthermore, Workload distribution (Ed: today) is simply impractical for anything other than monolithic stacks because the virtualization platforms, the applications and the networks aren’t at a point where from a policy or intelligence perspective they can easily and reliably self-orchestrate.

That last point about “monolithic stacks” described what I talked about in my last post “Virtual Machines Are the Problem, Not the Solution” in which I bemoaned the bloat associated with VM’s and general purpose OS’s included within them and the fact that VMs continue to hinder the notion of being able to achieve true workload portability within the construct of how programmatically one might architect a distributed application using an SOA approach of loosely coupled services.

Combined with the VM bloat — which simply makes these “workloads” too large to practically move in real time — if one couples the annoying laws of physics and current constraints of virtualization driving the return to big, flat layer 2 network architecture — collapsing core/distribution/access designs and dissolving classical n-tier application architectures — one might argue that the proposition of VMotion really is a move backward, not forward, as it relates to true agility.

That’s a little contentious, but in discussions with customers and other Social Media venues, it’s important to think about other designs and options; the fact is that the Metastructure (as it pertains to supporting protocols/services such as DNS which are needed to support this “infrastructure 2.0″) still isn’t where it needs to be in regards to mobility and even with emerging solutions like long-distance VMotion between datacenters, we’re butting up against laws of physics (and costs of the associated bandwidth and infrastructure.)

While we do see advancements in network-driven policy stickiness with the development of elements such as distributed virtual switching, port profiles, software-based vSwitches and virtual appliances (most of which are good solutions in their own right,) this is a network-centric approach.  The policies really ought to be defined by the VM’s themselves (similar to SOA service contracts — see here) and enforced by the network, not the other way around.

Further, what isn’t talked about much is something that @joe_shonk brought up, which is that the SAN volumes/storage from which most of these virtual machines boot, upon which their data is stored and in some cases against which they are archived, don’t move, many times for the same reasons.  In many cases we’re waiting on the maturation of converged networking and advances in networked storage to deliver solutions to some of these challenges.

In the long term, the promise of mobility will be delivered by a split into three four camps which have overlapping and potentially competitive approaches depending upon who is doing the design:

  1. The quasi-realtime chunking approach of VMotion via the virtualization platform [virtualization architect,]
  2. Integration distribution and “mobility” at the application/OS layer [application architect,] or
  3. The more traditional network-based load balancing of traffic to replicated/distributed images [network architect.]
  4. Moving or redirecting pointers to large pools of storage where all the images/data(bases) live [Ed. forgot to include this from above]

Depending upon the need and capability of your application(s), virtualization/Cloud platform, and network infrastructure, you’ll likely need a mash-up of all three four.  This model really mimics the differences today in architectural approach between SaaS and IaaS models in Cloud and further suggests that folks need to take a more focused look at PaaS.

Don’t get me wrong, I think VMotion is fantastic and the options it can ultimately delivery intensely useful, but we’re hamstrung by what is really the requirement to forklift — network design, network architecture and the laws of physics.  In many cases we’re fascinated by VM Mobility, but a lot of that romanticization plays on emotion rather than utilization.

So what of it?  How do you use VM mobility today?  Do you?

/Hoff

Cloud Security: Waiting For Godot & His Silver Bullet

July 15th, 2009 No comments

It’s that time again.  I am compelled after witnessing certain behaviors to play anthropologist and softly whisper my observations in your ear.godot

You may be familiar with Beckett’s “Waiting For Godot”*:

Waiting for Godot follows two days in the lives of a pair of men who divert themselves while they wait expectantly and unsuccessfully for someone named Godot to arrive. They claim him as an acquaintance but in fact hardly know him, admitting that they would not recognise him were they to see him. To occupy themselves, they eat, sleep, converse, argue, sing, play games, exercise, swap hats, and contemplate suicide — anything “to hold the terrible silence at bay”

Referencing my prior post about the state of Cloud security, I’m reminded of the fact that as a community of providers and consumers, we continue to wait for the security equivalent of Godot to arrive and solve all of our attendant Cloud security challenges with the offer of some mythical silver bullet.  We wait and wait for our security Godot as I mix metaphors and butcher Beckett’s opus to pass the time.

Here’s a classic illustration of hoping our way to Cloud security from a ComputerWeekly post titled “Cryptography breakthrough paves way to secure cloud services:

A research student who had a summer job at IBM, has cracked a cryptography problem that has baffled experts for over 30 years. The breakthrough may pave the way to secure cloud computing services.

This sounds fantastic and much has been written about this “homomorphic encryption,” with many people espousing how encryption will “solve our Cloud security problems.”

It’s a very interesting concept, but as to paving the “…path to secure cloud computing,” the reality is that it won’t.  At least not in isolation and not without some serious scale in ancillary support mechanisms including non-trivial issues like federated identity.

Bruce Schneier wades in with his assessment:

Unfortunately — you knew that was coming, right? — Gentry’s scheme is completely impractical…Despite this, IBM’s PR machine has been in overdrive about the discovery. Its press release makes it sound like this new homomorphic scheme is going to rewrite the business of computing: not just cloud computing, but “enabling filters to identify spam, even in encrypted email, or protection information contained in electronic medical records.” Maybe someday, but not in my lifetime.

The reality is that in addition to utilizing encryption — both existing and new approaches — we still continue to need all the usual suspects as they deal with the fact that fundamentally we’re still in a cycle of constructing insecure code in infostructure sitting atop infrastructure and metastructure that has its own fair share of growing up to do.

As a security architect, engineer, or manager, you need to continue to invest in understanding how what you have does or does not work within the context of Cloud.

You will likely find that you will need to continue to invest in threat and trust models analysis, risk management, vulnerability assessment, (id)entity management, compensating controls implemented as hardware and software technology solutions such as firewalls, IDP, DLP, and policy instantiation, etc. as well as host of modified and new approaches to dealing with Cloud-specific implementation challenges, especially those based on virtualization and massive scale with multitenancy.

These problems don’t solve themselves and we are simply not changing our behavior.  We wait and wait for our Godot.

So here’s the obligatory grumpy statement of the obvious as providers of solutions and services churn to deliver more capable solutions to put in your hands:

There is no silver bullet, just a lot of silver buckshot.  Use it all.  You’re going to have to deal with the cards we are dealt for the foreseeable future whilst we retool our approach in the longer term and technology equalizes some of our shortfalls.

Godot is not coming and you likely wouldn’t recognize him if he showed up anyway because he’d be dressed in homomorphic invisible hotpants…

Get on with it.  Treat security as the enterprise architecture element it is and use Cloud as the excuse to make things better by working on the things that matter.

If Godot does happen to show up, tell him I want my weed whacker back that he borrowed last summer.

/Hoff

* Wikipedia

Hey, Uh, Someone Just Powered Off Our Firewall Virtual Appliance…

June 11th, 2009 11 comments

onoffswitchI’ve covered this before in more complex terms, but I thought I’d reintroduce the topic due to a very relevant discussion I just had recently (*cough cough*)

So here’s an interesting scenario in virtualized and/or Cloud environments that make use of virtual appliances to provide security capabilities*:

Since virtual appliances (VAs) are just virtual machines (VMs) what happens when a SysAdmin spins down or moves one that happens to be your shiny new firewall protecting your production VMs behind it, accidentally or maliciously?  Brings new meaning to the phrase “failing closed.”

Without getting into the vagaries of vendor specific mobility-enabled/enabling technologies, one of the issues with VMs/VAs is that there’s not really a good way of designating one as being “more important” or functionally differentiated such as “security” or “critical application” that would otherwise ensure a higher priority for service availability (read: don’t spin this down unless…) or provide a topological dependency hierarchy in virtualized network constructs.

Unlike physical environments where system administrators (servers) are segregated from access to network and security appliances, this isn’t the case in virtual environments. In Cloud environments (especially public, multi-tenant) where we are often reliant only upon virtual security capabilities since we have no option for physical alternatives, this is an interesting corner case.

We’ve talked a lot about visibility, audit and policy management in virtual environments and this is a poignant example.

/Hoff

*Despite the silly notion that the Google dudes tried to suggest I equated virtualization with Cloud as one-in-the-same, I don’t.