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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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The Tyranny Of Taming (Network) Traffic: Steering, Service Insertion and Chaining…

November 29th, 2012 No comments

You know what’s hard?

Describing the difficulties to anyone who doesn’t work inside of an actual “networking” company why the notions of traffic steering, services insertion and chaining across multiple physical boxes and/or combinations of physical and virtual service instantiations is freaking difficult.

12/3/12 [Ed: I realized I didn't actually define these terms.  Added below.]

What do I mean by these terms?  Simplified definitions here:

  • Traffic Steering: directing and delivering traffic (flows/packets, tagged or otherwise) from one processing point to another
  • Service Insertion: addition of some form of processing (terminated or mirrored,) delivered as a service, that is interposed dynamically between processing points
  • Service Chaining: chaining (serialized or parallelized) and insertion of services with other services.
I didn’t get into the nuances of these capabilities with things like state, flow to service mapping tables, replication across flow/state tables in “clustered” processing points, etc., but I spoke to some of them in the “Four Horsemen of the Virtualization Security Apocalypse” presentation. See Pwnie #1 - War | Episode 7: Revenge Of the UTM Clones.

Now, with that out of the way and these terms simply defined, I suppose the “networking is simple” people are right.

I mean, all you have to do is agree on a common set of protocols, a consistent tagging format, flow and/or packet metadata, disposition mechanisms, flow redirection mechanisms beyond next hop unicast, tunneling, support for protocols other than unicast, state machine handling across disparate service chains, performance/availability/QoS telemetry across network domains and diameters, disparate control and data planes, session termination versus pass-through deltas, and then incidental stuff like MAC and routing table updates with convergence latencies across distributed entities, etc.

…and support for legacy while we’re at it.

It ain’t nuthin’ but a peanut, right?

Oh, this just must be an issue with underlay (physical) networks, right?

Overlays have this handled, right?

All these new APIs and control planes are secure by default, too, right?

Uh-huh.

Glad we’ve got this covered, apparently:

Things need to change dramatically at networking companies

This is true, by the way.

However, allow me to suggest that networking companies have experience, footprint, capabilities and relationships and are quite motivated to add value, increase feature velocity, reduce complexity in deployment and operation, and add more efficiency to their solutions.

Change is good.

See 18:45 if you want the juicy bits.

/Hoff

 

Building/Bolting Security In/On – A Pox On the Audit Paradox!

January 31st, 2012 2 comments

My friend and skilled raconteur Chris Swan (@cpswan) wrote an excellent piece a few days ago titled “Building security in – the audit paradox.”

This thoughtful piece was constructed in order to point out the challenges involved in providing auditability, visibility, and transparency in service — specifically cloud computing — in which the notion of building in or bolting on security is debated.

I think this is timely.  I have thought about this a couple of times with one piece aligned heavily with Chris’ thoughts:

Chris’ discussion really contrasted the delivery/deployment models against the availability and operationalization of controls:

  1. If we’re building security in, then how do we audit the controls?
  2. Will platform as a service (PaaS) give us a way to build security in such that it can be evaluated independently of the custom code running on it?

Further, as part of some good examples, he points out the notion that with separation of duties, the ability to apply “defense in depth” (hate that term,) and the ability to respond to new threats, the “bolt-on” approach is useful — if not siloed:

There lies the issue – bolt on security is easy to audit. There’s a separate thing, with a separate bit of config (administered by a separate bunch of people) that stands alone from the application code.

…versus building secure applications:

Code security is hard. We know that from the constant stream of vulnerabilities that get found in the tools we use every day. Auditing that specific controls implemented in code are present and effective is a big problem, and that is why I think we’re still seeing so much bolting on rather than building in.

I don’t disagree with this at all.  Code security is hard.  People look for gap-fillers.  The notion that Chris finds limited options for bolting security on versus integrating security (building it in) programmatically as part of the security development lifecycle leaves me a bit puzzled.

This identifies both the skills and cultural gap between where we are with security and how cloud changes our process, technology, and operational approaches but there are many options we should discuss.

Thus what was interesting (read: I disagree with) is what came next wherein Chris maintained that one “can’t bolt on in the cloud”:

One of the challenges that cloud services present is an inability to bolt on extra functionality, including security, beyond that offered by the service provider. Amazon, Google etc. aren’t going to let me or you show up to their data centre and install an XML gateway, so if I want something like schema validation then I’m obliged to build it in rather than bolt it on, and I must confront the audit issue that goes with that.

While it’s true that CSP’s may not enable/allow you to show up to their DC and “…install and XML gateway,” they are pushing the security deployment model toward the virtual networking hooks, the guest based approach within the VMs and leveraging both the security and service models of cloud itself to solve these challenges.

I allude to this below, but as an example, there are now cloud services which can sit “in-line” or in conjunction with your cloud application deployments and deliver security as a service…application, information (and even XML) security as a service are here today and ramping!

While  immature and emerging in some areas, I offer the following suggestions that the “bolt-on” approach is very much alive and kicking.  Given that the “code security” is hard, this means that the cloud providers harden/secure their platforms, but the app stacks that get deployed by the customers…that’s the customers’ concerns and here are some options:

  1. Introspection APIs (VMsafe)
  2. Security as a Service (Cloudflare, Dome9, CloudPassage)
  3. Auditing frameworks (CloudAudit, STAR, etc)
  4. Virtual networking overlays & virtual appliances (vGW, VSG, Embrane)
  5. Software defined networking (Nicira, BigSwitch, etc.)

Yes, some of them are platform specific and I think Chris was mostly speaking about “Public Cloud,” but “bolt-on” options are most certainly available an are aggressively evolving.

I totally agree that from the PaaS/SaaS perspective, we are poised for many wins that can eliminate entire classes of vulnerabilities as the platforms themselves enforce better security hygiene and assurance BUILT IN.  This is just as emerging as the BOLT ON solutions I listed above.

In a prior post “Silent Lucidity: IaaS – Already a Dinosaur. Rise of PaaSasarus Rex

As I mention in my Cloudifornication presentation, I think that from a security perspective, PaaS offers the potential of eliminating entire classes of vulnerabilities in the application development lifecycle by enforcing sanitary programmatic practices across the derivate works built upon them.  I look forward also to APIs and standards that allow for consistency across providers. I think PaaS has the greatest potential to deliver this.

There are clearly trade-offs here, but as we start to move toward the two key differentiators (at least for public clouds) — management and security — I think the value of PaaS will really start to shine.

My opinion is that given the wide model of integration between various delivery and deployment models, we’re gonna need both for quite some time.

Back to Chris’ original point, the notion that auditors will in any way be able to easily audit code-based (built-in) security at the APPLICATION layer or the PLATFORM layer versus the bolt-on layer is really at the whim on the skillset of the auditors themselves and the checklists they use which call out how one is audited:

Infrastructure as a service shows us that this can be done e.g. the AWS firewall is very straightforward to configure and audit (without needing to reveal any details of how it’s actually implemented). What can we do with PaaS, and how quickly?

This is a very simplistic example (more infrastructure versus applistructure perspective) but represents the very interesting battleground we’ll be entrenched in for years to come.

In the related posts below, you’ll see I’ve written a bunch about this and am working toward ensuring that as really smart folks work to build it in, the ecosystem is encouraged to provide bolt ons to fill those gaps.

/Hoff

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OpenFlow & SDN – Looking forward to SDNS: Software Defined Network Security

April 8th, 2011 3 comments

As facetious as the introductory premise of my Commode Computing presentation is, the main message — the automation of security capabilities up and down the stack — really is something I’m passionate about.

Ultimately, I made the point that “security” needs to be as programmatic/programmable, agile, scaleable and flexible as the workloads (and stacks) it is designed to protect. “Security” in this contexts extends well beyond the network, but the network provides such a convenient way of defining templated containers against which we can construct and enforce policies across a wide variety of deployment and delivery models.

So as I watch OpenFlow (and Software Defined Networking) mature, I’m really, really excited to recognize the potential for a slew of innovative ways we can leverage and extend this approach to networking [monitoring and enforcement] in order to achieve greater visibility, scale, agility, performance, efficacy and reduced costs associated with security.  The more programmatic and instrumented the network becomes, the more capable our security options will become also.

I’m busy reading many of the research activities associated with OpenFlow security and digesting where vendors are in terms of their approach to leveraging this technology in terms of security.  It may be just my perspective, but it’s a little sparse today — not disappointingly so — with a huge greenfield opportunity for really innovative stuff when paired with advancements we’re seeing in virtualization and cloud computing.

I’ll relate more of my thoughts and discoveries as time goes on.  If you’ve got some cool ideas/concepts/products in this area (I don’t care who you work for,) post ‘em here in the comments, please!

In the meantime, check out: www.openflow.org to get your feet wet.

/Hoff

Reminders to self to perform more research on (I think I’m going to do my next presentation series on this):

  • AAA for messages between OpenFlow Switch and Controllers
  • Flood protection for controllers
  • Spoofing/MITM between switch/controllers (specifically SSL/TLS)
  • Flow-through (ha!)/support of OpenFlow in virtual switches (see 1000v and Open vSwitch)
  • (per above) Integration with VN-Tag (like) flow-VM (workload) tagging
  • Integration of Netflow data from OpenFlow flow tables
  • State/flow-table convergence for security decisions with/without cut-through given traffic steering
  • Service insertion overlays for security control planes
  • Integration with 802.1x (and protocol extensions such as TrustSec)
  • Telemetry integration with NAC and vNAC
  • Anti-DDoS implications
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