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My Information Security Magazine Cover Story: “Virtualization security dynamics get old, changes ahead”

November 4th, 2013 2 comments

ISM_cover_1113This month’s Search Security (nee Information Security Magazine) cover story was penned by none other than your’s truly and titled “Virtualization security dynamics get old, changes ahead”

I hope you enjoy the story; its a retrospective regarding the beginnings of security in the virtual space, where we are now, and we we’re headed.

I tried very hard to make this a vendor-neutral look at the state of the union of virtual security.

I hope that it’s useful.

You can find the story here.

/Hoff

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The Cuban Cloud Missile Crisis…Weapons Of Mass Abstraction.

September 7th, 2012 2 comments
English: Coat of arms of Cuba. Español: Escudo...

English: Coat of arms of Cuba. Español: Escudo de Cuba. Русский: Герб Кубы. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the midst of the Cold War in October of 1962, the United States and the Soviet Union stood periously on the brink of nuclear war as a small island some 90 miles off the coast of Florida became the focal point of intense foreign policy scrutiny, challenges to sovereignty and political arm wrestling the likes of which were never seen before.

Photographic evidence provided by a high altitude U.S. spy plane exposed the until-then secret construction of medium and intermediate ballistic nuclear missile silos, constructed by the Soviet Union, which were deliberately placed so as to be close enough to reach the continental United States.

The United States, alarmed by this unprecedented move by the Soviets and the already uneasy relations with communist Cuba, unsuccessfully attempted a CIA-led forceful invasion and overthrow of the Cuban regime at the Bay of Pigs.

This did not sit well with either the Cubans or Soviets.  A nightmare scenario ensued as the Soviets responded with threats of its own to defend its ally (and strategic missile sites) at any cost, declaring the American’s actions as unprovoked and unacceptable.

During an incredibly tense standoff, the U.S. mulled over plans to again attack Cuba both by air and sea to ensure the disarmament of the weapons that posed a dire threat to the country.

As posturing and threats continued to escalate from the Soviets, President Kennedy elected to pursue a less direct military action;  a naval blockade designed to prevent the shipment of supplies necessary for the completion and activation of launchable missiles.  Using this as a lever, the U.S. continued to demand that Russia dismantle and remove all nuclear weapons as they prevented any and all naval traffic to and from Cuba.

Soviet premier Krustchev protested such acts of “direct aggression” and communicated to president Kennedy that his tactics were plunging the world into the depths of potential nuclear war.

While both countries publicly traded threats of war, the bravado, posturing and defiance were actually a cover for secret backchannel negotiations involving the United Nations. The Soviets promised they would dismantle and remove nuclear weapons, support infrastructure and transports from Cuba, and the United States promised not to invade Cuba while also removing nuclear weapons from Turkey and Italy.

The Soviets made good on their commitment two weeks later.  Eleven months after the agreement, the United States complied and removed from service the weapons abroad.

The Cold War ultimately ended and the Soviet Union fell, but the political, economic and social impact remains even today — 40 years later we have uneasy relations with (now) Russia and the United States still enforces ridiculous economic and social embargoes on Cuba.

What does this have to do with Cloud?

Well, it’s a cute “movie of the week” analog desperately in need of a casting call for Nikita Khrushchev and JFK.  I hear Gary Busey and Aston Kutcher are free…

As John Furrier, Dave Vellante and I were discussing on theCUBE recently at VMworld 2012, there exists an uneasy standoff — a cold war — between the so-called “super powers” staking a claim in Cloud.  The posturing and threats currently in process don’t quite have the world-ending outcomes that nuclear war would bring, but it could have devastating technology outcomes nonetheless.

In this case, the characters of the Americans, Soviets, Cubans and the United Nations are played by networking vendors, SDN vendors, virtualization/abstraction vendors, cloud “stack” projects/efforts/products and underlying CPU/chipset vendors (not necessarily in that order…)  The rest of the world stands by as their fate is determined on the world’s stage.

If we squint hard enough at Cloud, we might find out very own version of the “Bay of Pigs,” with what’s going on with OpenStack.

The “community” effort behind OpenStack is one largely based on “industry” and if we think of OpenStack as Cuba, it’s being played as pawn in the much larger battle for global domination.  The munitions being stocked in this tiny little enclave threatens to disrupt relations of epic proportions.  That’s why we now see so much strategic movement around an initiative and technology that many outside of the navel gazers haven’t really paid much attention to.

Then there are players like Amazon Web Services who, like China of today, quietly amass their weapons of mass abstraction as the industry-jockeying and distractions play on (but that’s a topic for another post)

Cutting to the chase…if we step back for a minute

Intel is natively bundling more and more networking and virtualization capabilities into their CPU/Chipsets and a $7B investment in security company McAfee makes them a serious player there.  VMware is de-emphasizing the “hypervisor” and is instead positioning they are focused on end-to-end solutions which include everything from secure mobility, orchestration/provisioning and now, with Nicira, networking.  Networking companies like Cisco and Juniper continue to move up-stack to deeper integrate networking and security along with service overlays in order to remain relevant in light of virtualization and SDN.

…and OpenStack’s threat of disrupting all of those plays makes it important enough to pay attention to.  It’s a little island of technology that is causing huge behemoths to collide.  A molehill that has become a mountain.

If today’s announcements of VMware and Intel joining OpenStack as Gold Members along with the existing membership by other “super powers” doesn’t make it clear that we’re in the middle of an enormous power struggle, I’ve got a small Island to sell you ;)

Me?  I’m going to make some Lechon Asado, enjoy a mojito and a La Gloria Cubana.

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SiliconAngle Cube: Hoff On Security – Live At VMworld 2012

August 31st, 2012 3 comments

I was thrilled to be invited back to the SiliconAngle Cube at VMworld 2012 where John Furrier, Dave Vellante and I spoke in depth about security, virtualization and software defined networking (SDN)

I really like the way the chat turned out — high octane, fast pace and some great questions!

Here is the amazing full list of speakers during the event.  Check it out, ESPECIALLY Martin Casado’s talk.

As I told him, I think he is like my Obi Wan…my only hope for convincing my friends at VMware that networking and security require more attention and a real embrace of the ecosystem…

I’d love to hear your feedback on the video.

/Hoff

 

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PrivateCore: Another Virtualization-Enabled Security Solution Launches…

June 21st, 2012 No comments

On the heels of Bromium’s coming-out party yesterday at Gigamon’s Structure conference, PrivateCore — a company founded by VMware vets Oded Horovitz and Carl Waldspurger and Google’s Steve Weis — announced a round of financing and what I interpret as a more interesting and focused Raison d’être.

Previously in videos released by Oded, he described the company’s focus around protecting servers (cloud, otherwise) against physical incursion whilst extracting contents from memory, etc. where physical access is required.

From what I could glean, the PrivateCore solution utilizes encryption and CPU cache (need to confirm) to provide memory isolation to render these attack vectors moot.

What’s interesting is the way in which PrivateCore is now highlighting the vehicle for their solution; a “hardened hypervisor.”

It will be interesting to see how well they can market this approach/technology (and to whom,) what sort of API/management planes their VMM provides and how long they stand-alone before being snapped up — perhaps even by VMware or Citrix.

More good action (and $2.25M in funding) in the virtual security space.

/Hoff

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QuickQuip: “Networking Doesn’t Need a VMWare” < tl;dr

January 10th, 2012 1 comment

I admit I was enticed by the title of the blog and the introductory paragraph certainly reeled me in with the author creds:

This post was written with Andrew Lambeth.  Andrew has been virtualizing networking for long enough to have coined the term “vswitch”, and led the vDS distributed switching project at VMware

I can only assume that this is the same Andrew Lambeth who is currently employed at Nicira.  I had high expectations given the title,  so I sat down, strapped in and prepared for a fire hose.

Boy did I get one…

27 paragraphs amounting to 1,601 words worth that basically concluded that server virtualization is not the same thing as network virtualization, stateful L2 & L3 network virtualization at scale is difficult and ultimately virtualizing the data plane is the easy part while the hard part of getting the mackerel out of the tin is virtualizing the control plane – statefully.*

*[These are clearly *my* words as the only thing fishy here was the conclusion...]

It seems the main point here, besides that mentioned above, is to stealthily and diligently distance Nicira as far from the description of “…could be to networking something like what VMWare was to computer servers” as possible.

This is interesting given that this is how they were described in a NY Times blog some months ago.  Indeed, this is exactly the description I could have sworn *used* to appear on Nicira’s own about page…it certainly shows up in Google searches of their partners o_O

In his last section titled “This is all interesting … but why do I care?,” I had selfishly hoped for that very answer.

Sadly, at the end of the day, Lambeth’s potentially excellent post appears more concerned about culling marketing terms than hammering home an important engineering nuance:

Perhaps the confusion is harmless, but it does seem to effect how the solution space is viewed, and that may be drawing the conversation away from what really is important, scale (lots of it) and distributed state consistency. Worrying about the datapath , is worrying about a trivial component of an otherwise enormously challenging problem

This smacks of positioning against both OpenFlow (addressed here) as well as other network virtualization startups.

Bummer.

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VMware vCloud Architecture ToolKit (vCAT) 2.0 – Get Some!

September 8th, 2011 No comments

Here’s a great resource for those of you trying to get your arms around VMware’s vCloud Architecture:

VMware vCloud Architecture ToolKit (vCAT) 2.0

This is a collection of really useful materials, clearly painting a picture of cloud rosiness, but valuable to understand how to approach the various deployment models and options for VMware’s cloud stack:

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VMware’s vShield – Why It’s Such A Pain In the Security Ecosystem’s *aaS…

September 4th, 2011 15 comments

I’ve become…comfortably numb…

Whilst attending VMworld 2011 last week, I attended a number of VMware presentations, hands-on labs and engaged in quite a few discussions related to VMware’s vShield and overall security strategy.

I spent a ton of time discussing vShield with customers — some who love it, some who don’t — and thought long and hard about writing this blog.  I also spent some time on SiliconAngle’s The Cube discussing such, here.

I have dedicated quite a lot of time discussing the benefits of VMware’s security initiatives, so it’s important that you understand that I’m not trying to be overtly negative, nor am I simply pointing fingers as an uneducated, uninterested or uninvolved security blogger intent on poking the bear.  I live this stuff…every day, and like many, it’s starting to become messy. (Ed: I’ve highlighted this because many seem to have missed this point. See here for example.)

It’s fair to say that I have enjoyed “up-to-the-neck” status with VMware’s various security adventures since the first marketing inception almost 4 years ago with the introduction of the VMsafe APIs.  I’ve implemented products and helped deliver some of the ecosystem’s security offerings.  My previous job at Cisco was to provide the engineering interface between the two companies, specifically around the existing and next generation security offerings, and I now enjoy a role at Juniper which also includes this featured partnership.

I’m also personal friends with many of the folks at VMware on the product and engineering teams, so I like to think I have some perspective.  Maybe it’s skewed, but I don’t think so.

There are lots of things I cannot and will not say out of respect for obvious reasons pertaining to privileged communications and NDAs, but there are general issues that need to be aired.

Geez, enough with the CYA…get on with it then…

As I stated on The Cube interview, I totally understand VMware’s need to stand-alone and provide security capacities atop their platform; they simply cannot expect to move forward and be successful if they are to depend solely on synchronizing the roadmaps of dozens of security companies with theirs.

However, the continued fumbles and mis-management of the security ecosystem and their partnerships as well as the continued competitive nature of their evolving security suite makes this difficult.  Listening to VMware espouse that they are in the business of “security ecosystem enablement” when there are so few actually successful ecosystem partners involved beyond antimalware is disingenuous…or at best, a hopeful prediction of some future state.

Here’s something I wrote on the topic back in 2009: The Cart Before the Virtual Horse: VMware’s vShield/Zones vs. VMsafe APIs that I think illustrates some of the issues related to the perceived “strategy by bumping around in the dark.”

A big point of confusion is that vShield simultaneously describes both an ecosystem program and a set of products that is actually more than just anti-malware capabilities which is where the bulk of integration today is placed.

Analysts and journalists continue to miss the fact that “vShield” is actually made up of 4 components (not counting the VMsafe APIs):

  • vShield Edge
  • vShield App
  • vShield Endpoint
  • vShield Manager

What most people often mean when they refer to “vShield” are the last two components, completely missing the point that the first two products — which are now monetized and marketed/sold as core products for vSphere and vCloud Director — basically make it very difficult for the ecosystem to partner effectively since it’s becoming more difficult to exchange vShield solutions for someone else’s.

An important reason for this is that VMware’s sales force is incentivized (and compensated) on selling VMware security products, not the ecosystem’s — unless of course it is in the way of a big deal that only a partnership can overcome.  This is the interesting juxtaposition of VMware’s “good enough” versus incumbent security vendors “best-of-breed” product positioning.

VMware is not a security or networking company and ignoring the fact that big companies with decades of security and networking products are not simply going to fade away is silly.  This is true of networking as it is security (see software-defined networking as an example.)

Technically, vShield Edge is becoming more and more a critical piece of the overall architecture for VMware’s products — it acts as the perimeter demarcation and multi-tenant boundary in their Cloud offerings and continues to become the technology integration point for acquisitions as well as networking elements such as VXLAN.

As a third party tries to “integrate” a product which is functionally competitive with vShield Edge, the problems start to become much more visible and the partnerships more and more clumsy, especially in the eyes of the most important party privy to this scenario: the customer.

Jon Oltsik wrote a story recently in which he described the state of VMware’s security efforts: “vShield, Cloud Computing, and the Security Industry

So why aren’t more security vendors jumping on the bandwagon? Many of them look at vShield as a potentially competitive security product, not just a set of APIs.

In a recent Network World interview, Allwyn Sequeira, VMware’s chief technology officer of security and vice president of security and network solutions, admitted that the vShield program in many respects “does represent a challenge to the status quo” … (and) vShield does provide its own security services (firewall, application layer controls, etc.)

Why aren’t more vendors on-board? It’s because this positioning of VMware’s own security products which enjoy privileged and unobstructed access to the platform that ISV’s in the ecosystem do not have.  You can’t move beyond the status quo when there’s not a clear plan for doing so and the past and present are littered with the wreckage of prior attempts.

VMware has its own agenda: tightly integrate security services into vSphere and vCloud to continue to advance these platforms. Nevertheless, VMware’s role in virtualization/cloud and its massive market share can’t be ignored. So here’s a compromise I propose:

  1. Security vendors should become active VMware/vShield partners, integrate their security solutions, and work with VMware to continue to bolster cloud security. Since there is plenty of non-VMware business out there, the best heterogeneous platforms will likely win.
  2. VMware must make clear distinctions among APIs, platform planning, and its own security products. For example, if a large VMware shop wants to implement vShield for virtual security services but has already decided on Symantec (Vontu) or McAfee DLP, it should have the option for interoperability with no penalties (i.e., loss of functionality, pricing/support premiums, etc.).

Item #1 Sounds easy enough, right? Except it’s not.  If the way in which the architecture is designed effectively locks out the ecosystem from equal access to the platform except perhaps for a privileged few, “integrating” security solutions in a manner that makes those solutions competitive and not platform-specific is a tall order.  It also limits innovation in the marketplace.

Look how few startups still exist who orbit VMware as a platform.  You can count them on less fingers that exist on a single hand.  As an interesting side-note, Catbird — a company who used to produce their own security enforcement capabilities along with their strong management and compliance suite — has OEM’d VMware’s vShield App product instead of bothering to compete with it.

Now, item #2 above is right on the money.  That’s exactly what should happen; the customer should match his/her requirements against the available options, balance the performance, efficacy, functionality and costs and ultimately be free to choose.  However, as they say in Maine…”you can’t get there from here…” at least not unless item #1 gets solved.

In a complimentary piece to Jon’s, Ellen Messmer writes in “VMware strives to expand security partner ecosystem“:

Along with technical issues, there are political implications to the vShield approach for security vendors with a large installed base of customers as the vShield program asks for considerable investment in time and money to develop what are new types of security products under VMware’s oversight, plus sharing of threat-detection information with vShield Manager in a middleware approach.

…and…

The pressure to make vShield and its APIs a success is on VMware in some respects because VMware’s earlier security API , the VMsafe APIs, weren’t that successful. Sequiera candidly acknowledges that, saying, “we got the APIs wrong the first time,” adding that “the major security vendors have found it hard to integrate with VMsafe.”

Once bitten, twice shy…

So where’s the confidence that guarantees it will be easier this time? Basically, besides anti-malware functionality provided by integration with vShield endpoint, there’s not really a well-defined ecosystem-wide option for integration beyond that with VMware now.  Even VMware’s own roadmaps for integration are confusing.  In the case of vCloud Director, while vShield Edge is available as a bundled (and critical) component, vShield App is not!

Also, forcing integration with security products now to directly integrate with vShield Manager makes for even more challenges.

There are a handful of security products besides anti-malware in the market based on the VMsafe APIs, which are expected to be phased out eventually. VMware is reluctant to pin down an exact date, though some vendors anticipate end of next year.

That’s rather disturbing news for those companies who have invested in the roadmap and certification that VMware has put forth, isn’t it?  I can name at least one such company for whom this is a concern. :(

Because VMware has so far reserved the role of software-based firewalls and data-loss prevention under vShield to its own products, that has also contributed to unease among security vendors. But Sequiera says VMware is in discussions with Cisco on a firewall role in vShield.   And there could be many other changes that could perk vendor interest. VMware insists its vShield APIs are open but in the early days of vShield has taken the approach of working very closely with a few selected vendors.

Firstly, that’s not entirely accurate regarding firewall options. Cisco and Juniper both have VMware-specific “firewalls” on the market for some time; albeit they use different delivery vehicles.  Cisco uses the tightly co-engineered effort with the Nexus 1000v to provide access to their VSG offering and Juniper uses the VMsafe APIs for the vGW (nee’ Altor) firewall.  The issue is now one of VMware’s architecture for integrating moving forward.

Cisco has announced their forthcoming vASA (virtual ASA) product which will work with the existing Cisco VSG atop the Nexus 1000v, but this isn’t something that is “open” to the ecosystem as a whole, either.  To suggest that the existing APIs are “open” is inaccurate and without an API-based capability available to anyone who has the wherewithal to participate, we’ll see more native “integration” in private deals the likes of which we’re already witnessing with the inclusion of RSA’s DLP functionality in vShield/vSphere 5.

Not being able to replace vShield Edge with an ecosystem partner’s “edge” solution is really a problem.

In general, the potential for building a new generation of security products specifically designed for VMware’s virtualization software may be just beginning…

Well, it’s a pretty important step and I’d say that “beginning” still isn’t completely realized!

It’s important to note that these same vendors who have been patiently navigating VMware’s constant changes are also looking to emerging competitive platforms to hedge their bets. Many have already been burned by their experience thus far and see competitive platform offerings from vendors who do not compete with their own security solutions as much more attractive, regardless of how much marketshare they currently enjoy.  This includes community and open source initiatives.

Given their druthers, with a stable, open and well-rounded program, those in the security ecosystem would love to continue to produce top-notch solutions for their customers on what is today the dominant enterprise virtualization and cloud platform, but it’s getting more frustrating and difficult to do so.

It’s even worse at the service provider level where the architectural implications make the enterprise use cases described above look like cake.

It doesn’t have to be this way, however.

Jon finished up his piece by describing how the VMware/ecosystem partnership ought to work in a truly cooperative manner:

This seems like a worthwhile “win-win,” as that old tired business cliche goes. Heck, customers would win too as they already have non-VMware security tools in place. VMware will still sell loads of vShield product and the security industry becomes an active champion instead of a suspicious player in another idiotic industry concept, “coopitition.” The sooner that VMware and the security industry pass the peace pipe around, the better for everyone.

The only thing I disagree with is how this seems to paint the security industry as the obstructionist in this arms race.  It’s more than a peace pipe that’s needed.

Puff, puff, pass…it’s time for more than blowing smoke.

/Hoff

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Quick Blip: Hoff In The Cube at VMworld 2011 – On VMware Security

September 1st, 2011 No comments

John Furrier and Dave Vellante from SiliconAngle were kind enough to have my on the Cube, live from VMworld 2011 on the topic of virtualization/cloud security, specifically VMware…:


Watch live video from SiliconANGLE.com on Justin.tv

Thanks for having me, guys.

/Hoff

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(Physical, Virtualized and Cloud) Security Automation – An API Example

June 7th, 2011 10 comments

The premise of my Commode Computing presentation was to reinforce that we desperately require automation in all aspects of “security” and should work toward leveraging APIs in stacks and products to enable not only control but also audit and compliance across physical and virtualized solutions.

There are numerous efforts underway that underscore both this need and the industry’s response to such.  Platform providers (virtualization and cloud) are leading this charge given that much of their stacks rely upon automation to function and the ecosystem of third party solutions which provide value are following suit, also.

Most of the work exists around ensuring that the latest virtualized versions of products/solutions are API-enabled while the CLI/GUI-focused configuration of older products rely in many cases still on legacy management consoles or intermediary automation and orchestration “middlemen” to automate.

Here’s a great example of how one might utilize (Perl) scripting and RESTful APIs against VMware’s vShield Edge solution to provision, orchestrate and even audit firewall policies using their API. It’s a fantastic write-up from Richard Park of SourceFire (h/t to Davi Ottenheimer for the pointer):

Working with VMware vShield REST API in perl:

Here is an overview of how to use perl code to work with VMware’s vShield API.

vShield App and Edge are two security products offered by VMware. vShield Edge has a broad range of functionality such as firewall, VPN, load balancing, NAT, and DHCP. vShield App is a NIC-level firewall for virtual machines.

We’ll focus today on how to use the API to programatically make firewall rule changes. Here are some of the things you can do with the API:

  • List the current firewall ruleset
  • Add new rules
  • Get a list of past firewall revisions
  • Revert back to a previous ruleset revision

Awesome post, Richard.  Very useful. Thanks!

/Hoff

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Clouds, WAFs, Messaging Buses and API Security…

June 2nd, 2011 3 comments
An illustration of where a firewall would be l...

Image via Wikipedia

In my Commode Computing talk, I highlighted the need for security automation through the enablement of APIs.  APIs are centric in architectural requirements for the provisioning, orchestration and (ultimately) security of cloud environments.

So there’s a “dark side” with the emergence of APIs as the prominent method by which one now interacts with stacks — and it’s highlighted in VMware’s vCloud Director Hardening Guide wherein beyond the normal de rigueur deployment of stateful packet filtering firewalls, the deployment of a Web Application Firewall is recommended.

Why?  According to VMware’s hardening guide:

In summary, a WAF is an extremely valuable security solution because Web applications are too sophisticated for an IDS or IPS to protect. The simple fact that each Web application is unique makes it too complex for a static pattern-matching solution. A WAF is a unique security component because it has the capability to understand what characters are allowed within the context of the many pieces and parts of a Web page.

I don’t disagree that web applications/web services are complex. I further don’t disagree that protecting the web services and messaging buses that make up the majority of the exposed interfaces in vCloud Director don’t require sophisticated protection.

This, however, brings up an interesting skill-set challenge.

How many infrastructure security folks do you know that are experts in protecting, monitoring and managing MBeans, JMS/JMX messaging and APIs?  More specifically, how many shops do you know that have WAFs deployed (in-line, actively protecting applications not passively monitoring) that did not in some way blow up every app they sit in front of as well as add potentially significant performance degradation due to SSL/TLS termination?

Whether you’re deploying vCloud or some other cloud stack (I just happen to be reading these docs at the moment,) the scope of exposed API interfaces ought to have you re-evaluating your teams’ skillsets when it comes to how you’re going to deal with the spotlight that’s now shining directly on the infrastructure stacks (hardware and software) their private and public clouds.

Many of us have had to get schooled on web services security with the emergence of SOA/Web Services application deployments.  But that was at the application layer.  Now it’s exposed at the “code as infrastructure” layer.

Think about it.

/Hoff

[Update 6/7/11 - Here are two really timely and interesting blog posts on the topic of RESTful APIs:

Mark's post has some links to some videos on secure API deployment]

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