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

November 29th, 2012 15 comments

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

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

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

Let me clear some things up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I couldn’t have said it better myself :)

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

I trust that’s clear?

/Hoff

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

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

July 16th, 2012 5 comments

A Bit Of Context…

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(Photo credit: Wikipedia)A Bit Of Context…

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

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

…And In the Beginning, There Was Spanning Tree…

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

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

Oh!  You Mean the Cloud…

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

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

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

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

Software Defined Architecture…

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

That’s a big old self-frosting cake.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lego Blocks and Pig Farms…

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

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

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

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

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

You know…understand what talks to what and why…

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

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

Wrapping Up…

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

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

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

…perhaps later.

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On Stacked Turtles & the AWS Outage…

April 29th, 2011 2 comments

The best summary I could come up with:

Dedicated AWS VPC Compute Instances – Strategically Defensive or Offensive?

March 28th, 2011 9 comments

Chugging right along on the feature enhancement locomotive, following the extension of networking capabilities of their Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) offerings last week (see: AWS’ New Networking Capabilities – Sucking Less ;) ,) Amazon Web Services today announced the availability of dedicated (both on-demand and dedicated) compute instances within a VPC:

Dedicated Instances are Amazon EC2 instances launched within your Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC) that run hardware dedicated to a single customer. Dedicated Instances let you take full advantage of the benefits of Amazon VPC and the AWS cloud – on-demand elastic provisioning, pay only for what you use, and a private, isolated virtual network, all while ensuring that your Amazon EC2 compute instances will be isolated at the hardware level.

That’s interesting, isn’t it?  I remember writing this post ” Calling All Private Cloud Haters: Amazon Just Peed On Your Fire Hydrant… and chuckling when AWS announced VPC back in 2009 in which I suggested that VPC:

  • Legitimized Private Cloud as a reasonable, needed, and prudent step toward Cloud adoption for enterprises,
  • Substantiated the value proposition of Private Cloud as a way of removing a barrier to Cloud entry for enterprises, and
  • Validated the ultimate vision toward hybrid Clouds and Inter-Cloud

That got some hackles up.

So this morning, people immediately started squawking on Twitter about how this looked remarkably like (or didn’t) private cloud or dedicated hosting.  This is why, about two years ago, I generated this taxonomy that pointed out the gray area of “private cloud” — the notion of who manages it, who owns the infrastructure, where it’s located and who it’s consumed by:

I did a lot of this work well before I utilized it in the original Cloud Security Alliance Guidance architecture chapter I wrote, but that experienced refined what I meant a little more clearly and this version was produced PRIOR to the NIST guidance which is why you don’t see mention of “community cloud”:

  1. Private
    Private Clouds are provided by an organization or their designated service provider and offer a single-tenant (dedicated) operating environment with all the benefits and functionality of elasticity* and the accountability/utility model of Cloud.  The physical infrastructure may be owned by and/or physically located in the organization’s datacenters (on-premise) or that of a designated service provider (off-premise) with an extension of management and security control planes controlled by the organization or designated service provider respectively.
    The consumers of the service are considered “trusted.”  Trusted consumers of service are those who are considered part of an organization’s legal/contractual umbrella including employees, contractors, & business partners.  Untrusted consumers are those that may be authorized to consume some/all services but are not logical extensions of the organization.
  2. Public
    Public Clouds are provided by a designated service provider and may offer either a single-tenant (dedicated) or multi-tenant (shared) operating environment with all the benefits and functionality of elasticity and the  accountability/utility model of Cloud.
    The physical infrastructure is generally owned by and managed by the designated service provider and located within the provider’s datacenters (off-premise.)  Consumers of Public Cloud services are considered to be untrusted.
  3. Managed
    Managed Clouds are provided by a designated service provider and may offer either a single-tenant (dedicated) or multi-tenant (shared) operating environment with all the benefits and functionality of elasticity and the  accountability/utility model of Cloud.The physical infrastructure is owned by and/or physically located in the organization’s datacenters with an extension of management and security control planes controlled by the designated service provider.  Consumers of Managed Clouds may be trusted or untrusted.
  4. Hybrid
    Hybrid Clouds are a combination of public and private cloud offerings that allow for transitive information exchange and possibly application compatibility and portability across disparate Cloud service offerings and providers utilizing standard or proprietary methodologies regardless of ownership or location.  This model provides for an extension of management and security control planes.  Consumers of Hybrid Clouds may be trusted or untrusted.

* Note: the benefits of elasticity don’t imply massive scale, which in many cases is not a relevant requirement for an enterprise.  Also, ultimately I deprecated the “managed” designation because it was a variation on a theme, but you can tell that ultimately the distinction I was going for between private and hybrid is the notion of OR versus AND designations in the various criteria.

AWS’ dedicated VPC options now give you another ‘OR’ option when thinking about who manages, owns the infrastructure your workloads run on, and more importantly where.  More specifically, the notion of ‘virtual’ cloud becomes less and less important as the hybrid nature of interconnectedness of resources starts to make more sense — regardless of whether you use overlay solutions like CloudSwitch, “integrated” solutions from vendors like VMware or Citrix or from AWS.  In the long term, the answer will probably be “D) all of the above.”

Providing dedicated compute atop a hypervisor for which you are the only tenant will be attractive to many enterprises who have trouble coming to terms with sharing memory/cpu resources with other customers.  This dedicated functionality costs a pretty penny – $87,600 a year, and as Simon Wardley pointed out that this has an interesting effect inasmuch as it puts a price tag on isolation:

Here’s the interesting thing that goes to the title of this post:

Is this a capability that AWS really expects to be utilized as they further blur the lines between public, private and hybrid cloud models OR is it a defensive strategy hinged on the exorbitant costs to further push enterprises into shared compute and overlay security models?

Specifically, one wonders if this is a strategically defensive or offensive move?

A single tenant atop a hypervisor atop dedicated hardware — that will go a long way toward addressing one concern: noisy (and nosy) neighbors.

Now, keep in mind that if an enterprise’s threat modeling and risk management frameworks are reasonably rational, they’ll realize that this is compute/memory isolation only.  Clearly the network and storage infrastructure is still shared, but the “state of the art” in today’s cloud of overlay encryption (file systems and SSL/IPSec VPNs) will likely address those issues.  Shared underlying cloud management/provisioning/orchestration is still an interesting area of concern.

So this will be an interesting play for AWS. Whether they’re using this to take a hammer to the existing private cloud models or just to add another dimension in service offering (logical, either way) I think in many cases enterprises will pay this tax to further satisfy compliance requirements by removing the compute multi-tenancy boogeyman.

/Hoff

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Incomplete Thought: Cloud Capacity Clearinghouses & Marketplaces – A Security/Compliance/Privacy Minefield?

March 11th, 2011 2 comments
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With my focus on cloud security, I’m always fascinated when derivative business models arise that take the issues associated with “mainstream” cloud adoption and really bring issues of security, compliance and privacy into even sharper focus.

To wit, Enomaly recently launched SpotCloud – a Cloud Capacity Clearinghouse & Marketplace in which cloud providers can sell idle compute capacity and consumers may purchase said capacity based upon “…location, cost and quality.”

Got a VM-based workload?  Want to run it cheaply for a short period of time?

…Have any security/compliance/privacy requirements?

To me, “quality” means something different that simply availability…it means service levels, security, privacy, transparency and visibility.

Whilst one can select the geographic location where your VM will run, as part of offering an “opaque inventory,” the identity of the cloud provider is not disclosed.  This begs the question of how the suppliers are vetted and assessed for security, compliance and privacy.  According to the SpotCloud FAQ, the answer is only a vague “We fully vet all market participants.”

There are two very interesting question/answer pairings on the SpotCloud FAQ that relate to security and service availability:

How do I secure my SpotCloud VM?

User access to VM should be disabled for increased security. The VM package is typically configured to automatically boot, self configure itself and phone home without the need for direct OS access. VM examples available.

Are there any SLA’s, support or guarantees?

No, to keep the costs as low as possible the service is offered without any SLA, direct support or guarantees. We may offer support in the future. Although we do have a phone and are more than happy to talk to you…

:: shudder ::

For now, I would assume that this means that if your workloads are at all mission critical, sensitive, subject to compliance requirements or traffic in any sort of sensitive data, this sort of exchange option may not be for you. I don’t have data on the use cases for the workloads being run using SpotCloud, but perhaps we’ll see Enomaly make this information more available as time goes on.

I would further assume that the criteria for provider selection might be expanded to include certification, compliance and security capabilities — all the more reason for these providers to consider something like CloudAudit which would enable them to provide supporting materials related to their assertions. (*wink*)

To be clear, from a marketplace perspective, I think this is a really nifty idea — sort of the cloud-based SETI-for-cost version of the Mechanical Turk.  It takes the notion of “utility” and really makes one think of the options.  I remember thinking the same thing when Zimory launched their marketplace in 2009.

I think ultimately this further amplifies the message that we need to build survivable systems, write secure code and continue to place an emphasis on the security of information deployed using cloud services. Duh-ja vu.

This sort of use case also begs the interesting set of questions as to what these monolithic apps are intended to provide — surely they transit in some sort of information — information that comes from somewhere?  The oft-touted massively scaleable compute “front-end” overlay of public cloud often times means that the scale-out architectures leveraged to deliver service connect back to something else…

You likely see where this is going…

At any rate, I think these marketplace offerings will, for the foreseeable future, serve a specific type of consumer trafficking in specific types of information/service — it’s yet another vertical service offering that cloud can satisfy.

What do you think?

/Hoff

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App Stores: From Mobile Platforms To VMs – Ripe For Abuse

March 2nd, 2011 4 comments
Android Market

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This CNN article titled “Google pulls 21 apps in Android malware scare” describes an alarming trend in which malicious code is embedded in applications which are made available for download and use on mobile platforms:

Google has just pulled 21 popular free apps from the Android Market. According to the company, the apps are malware aimed at getting root access to the user’s device, gathering a wide range of available data, and downloading more code to it without the user’s knowledge.

Although Google has swiftly removed the apps after being notified (by the ever-vigilant “Android Police” bloggers), the apps in question have already been downloaded by at least 50,000 Android users.

The apps are particularly insidious because they look just like knockoff versions of already popular apps. For example, there’s an app called simply “Chess.” The user would download what he’d assume to be a chess game, only to be presented with a very different sort of app.

Wow, 50,000 downloads.  Most of those folks are likely blissfully unaware they are owned.

In my Cloudifornication presentation, I highlighted that the same potential for abuse exists for “virtual appliances” which can be uploaded for public consumption to app stores and VM repositories such as those from VMware and Amazon Web Services:

The feasibility for this vector was deftly demonstrated shortly afterward by the guys at SensePost (Clobbering the Cloud, Blackhat) who showed the experiment of uploading a non-malicious “phone home” VM to AWS which was promptly downloaded and launched…

This is going to be a big problem in the mobile space and potentially just as impacting in cloud/virtual datacenters as people routinely download and put into production virtual machines/virtual appliances, the provenance and integrity of which are questionable.  Who’s going to police these stores?

(update: I loved Christian Reilly’s comment on Twitter regarding this: “Using a public AMI is the equivalent of sharing a syringe”)

/Hoff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

/Hoff

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

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Revisiting Virtualization & Cloud Stack Security – Back to the Future (Baked In Or Bolted On?)

January 17th, 2011 No comments

[Like a good w[h]ine, this post goes especially well with a couple of other courses such as Hack The Stack Or Go On a Bender With a Vendor?, Incomplete Thought: Why Security Doesn’t Scale…Yet, What’s The Problem With Cloud Security? There’s Too Much Of It…, Incomplete Thought: The Other Side Of Cloud – Where The (Wild) Infrastructure Things Are… and Where Are the Network Virtual Appliances? Hobbled By the Virtual Network, That’s Where…]

There are generally three dichotomies of thought when it comes to the notion of how much security should fall to the provider of the virtualization or cloud stack versus that of the consumer of their services or a set of third parties:

  1. The virtualization/cloud stack provider should provide a rich tapestry of robust security capabilities “baked in” to the platform itself, or
  2. The virtualization/cloud stack provider should provide security-enabling hooks to enable an ecosystem of security vendors to provide the bulk of security (beyond isolation) to be “bolted on,” or
  3. The virtualization/cloud stack provider should maximize the security of the underlying virtualization/cloud platform and focus on API security, isolation and availability of service only while pushing the bulk of security up into the higher-level programatic/application layers, or

So where are we today?  How much security does the stack, itself, need to provide. The answer, however polarized, is somewhere in the murkiness dictated by the delivery models, deployment models, who owns what part of the real estate and the use cases of both the virtualization/cloud stack provider and ultimately the consumer.

I’ve had a really interesting series of debates with the likes of Simon Crosby (of Xen/Citrix fame) on this topic and we even had a great debate at RSA with Steve Herrod from VMware.  These two “infrastructure” companies and their solutions typify the diametrically opposed first two approaches to answering this question while cloud providers who own their respective custom-rolled “stacks” at either end of IaaS and SaaS spectrums such as Amazon Web Services and Salesforce bringing up the third.

As with anything, this is about the tenuous balance of “security,” compliance, cost, core competence and maturity of solutions coupled with the sensitivity of the information that requires protection and the risk associated with the lopsided imbalance that occurs in the event of loss.

There’s no single best answer which explains why were have three very different approaches to what many, unfortunately, view as the same problem.

Today’s “baked in” security capabilities aren’t that altogether mature or differentiated, the hooks and APIs that allow for diversity and “defense in depth” provide for new and interesting ways to instantiate security, but also add to complexity, driving us back to an integration play.  The third is looked upon as proprietary and limiting in terms of visibility and transparency and don’t solve problems such as application and information security any more than the other two do.

Will security get “better” as we move forward with virtualization and cloud computing.  Certainly.  Perhaps because of it, perhaps in spite of it.

One thing’s for sure, it’s going to be messy, despite what the marketing says.

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The Curious Case Of the MBO Cloud

December 23rd, 2010 1 comment

I was speaking to an enterprise account manager the other day regarding strategic engagements in Cloud Computing in very large enterprises.

He remarked on the non-surprising parallelism occurring as these companies build and execute on cloud strategies that involve both public and private cloud initiatives.

Many of them are still trying to leverage the value of virtualization and are thus often conservative about their path forward.  Many are blazing new trails.

We talked about the usual barriers to entry for even small PoC’s: compliance, security, lack of expertise, budget, etc., and then he shook his head solemnly, stared at the ground and mumbled something about a new threat to the overall progress toward enterprise cloud adoption.

MBO Cloud.

We’ve all heard of public, private, virtual private, hybrid, and community clouds, right? But “MBO Cloud?”

I asked. He clarified:

Cloud computing is such a hot topic, especially with its promise of huge cost savings, agility, and the reduced time-to-market for services and goods that many large companies who might otherwise be unable or unwilling to be able to pilot using a public cloud provider and also don’t want to risk much if any capital outlay for software and infrastructure to test private cloud are taking an interesting turn.

They’re trying to replicate Amazon or Google but not for the right reasons or workloads. They just look at “cloud” as some generic low-cost infrastructure platform that requires some open source and a couple of consultants — or even a full-time team of “developers” assigned to make it tick.

They rush out, buy 10 off-the-shelf white-label commodity multi-CPU/multi-core servers, acquire a plain vanilla NAS or low-end SAN storage appliance, sprinkle on some Xen or KVM, load on some unremarkable random set of open source software packages to test with a tidy web front-end and call it “cloud.”  No provisioning, no orchestration, no self-service portals, no chargeback, no security, no real scale, no operational re-alignment, no core applications…

It costs them next to nothing and it delivers about the same because they’re not designing for business cases that are at all relevant, they’re simply trying to copy Amazon and point to a shiny new rack as “cloud.”

Why do they do this? To gain experience and expertise? To dabble cautiously in an emerging set of technological and operational models?  To offload critical workloads that scale up and down?

Nope.  They do this for two reasons:

  1. Now that they have proven they can “successfully” spin up a “cloud” — however useless it may be — that costs next to nothing, it gives them leverage to squeeze vendors on pricing when and if they are able to move beyond this pile of junk, and
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  2. Management By Objectives (MBO) — or a fancy way of saying, “bonus.”  Many C-levels and their ops staff are compensated via bonus on hitting certain objectives. One of them (for all the reasons stated above) is “deliver on the strategy and execution for cloud computing.” This half-hearted effort sadly qualifies.

So here’s the problem…when these efforts flame out and don’t deliver, they will impact the success of cloud in general — everywhere from a private cloud vendor to even potentially public cloud offers like AWS.  Why?  Because as we already know, *anything* that smells at all like failure gets reflexively blamed on cloud these days, and as these craptastic “cloud” PoC’s fail to deliver — even on minimal cash outlay — it’s going to be hard to gain a second choice given the bad taste left in the mouths of the business and management.

The opposite point could also be made in regard to public cloud services — that these truly “false cloud*” trials based on poorly architected and executed bubble gum and bailing wire will drive companies to public cloud (however longer that may take as compliance and security catch up.)

It will be interesting to see which happens first.

Either way, beware the actual “false cloud” but realize that the motivation behind many of them isn’t the betterment of the business or evolution of IT, it’s the fattening of wallets.

/Hoff

* I’m leveraging “false cloud” here to truly illustrate a point; despite actually useful private cloud initiatives, this is a term unfortunately levied on all private cloud initiatives by certain public cloud providers.

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Hoff’s 5 Rules Of Cloud Security…

August 21st, 2010 5 comments

Mike Dahn pinged me via Twitter with an interesting and challenging question:

I took this as a challenge in 5 minutes or less to articulate this in succinct, bulleted form.  I timed it. 4 minutes & 48 seconds. Loaded with snark and Hoffacino-fueled dogma.

Here goes:

  1. Get an Amazon Web Services [or Rackspace or Terremark vCloud Express, etc.] account, instantiate a couple of instances as though you were deploying a web-based application with sensitive information that requires resilience, security, survivability and monitoring. If you have never done this and you’re in security spouting off about the insecurities of Cloud, STFU and don’t proceed to step 2 until you do.  These offerings put much of the burden on you to understand what needs to be done to secure Cloud-based services (OS, Apps, Data) which is why I focus on it. It’s also accessible and available to everyone.
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  2. Take some time to be able to intelligently understand that as abstracted as much of Cloud is in terms of  the lack of exposed operational moving parts, you still need to grok architecture holistically in order to be able to secure it — and the things that matter most within it.  Building survivable systems, deploying securable (and as secure as you can make it) code, focusing on protecting information and ensuring you understand system design and The Three R’s (Resistance, Recognition, Recovery) is pretty darned important.  That means you have to understand how the Cloud provider actually works so when they don’t you’ll already have planned around that…
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  3. Employ a well-developed risk assessment/management framework and perform threat modeling. See OCTAVE, STRIDE/DREAD, FAIR.  Understanding whether an application or datum is OK to move to “the Cloud” isn’t nuanced. It’s a simple application of basic, straightforward and prudent risk management. If you’re not doing that now, Cloud is the least of your problems. As I’ve said in the past “if your security sucks now, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the lack of change when you move to Cloud.”
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  4. Proceed to the Cloud Security Alliance website and download the guidance. Read it. Join one or more of the working groups and participate to make Cloud Security better in any way you believe you have the capacity to do so.  If you just crow about how “more secure” the Cloud is or how “horribly insecure by definition” it is, it’s clear you’ve not done steps 1-3. Skip 1-3, go to #5 and then return to #1.
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  5. Use common sense.  There ain’t no patch for stupid.  Most of us inherently understand that this is a marathon and not a sprint. If you take steps 1-4 seriously you’re going to be able to logically have discussions and make decisions about what deployment models and providers suit your needs. Not everything will move to the Cloud (public, private or otherwise) but a lot of it can and should. Being able to layout a reasonable timeline is what moves the needle. Being an idealog on either side of the tarpit does nobody any good.  Arguing is for Twitter, doing is for people who matter.

Cloud is only rocket science if you’re NASA and using the Cloud for rocket science.  Else, for the rest of us, it’s an awesome platform upon which we leverage various opportunities to improve the way in which we think about and implement the practices and technology needed to secure the things that matter most to us.

/Hoff

(Yeah, I know. Not particularly novel or complex, right? Nope. That’s the point. Just like  “How to Kick Ass in Information Security — Hoff’s Spritually-Enlightened Top Ten Guide to Health, Wealth and Happiness“)

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