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Posts Tagged ‘Automation’

Unsafe At Any Speed: The Darkside Of Automation

July 29th, 2011 5 comments

I’m a huge proponent of automation. Taking rote processes from the hands of humans & leveraging machines of all types to enable higher agility, lower cost and increased efficacy is a wonderful thing.

However, there’s a trade off; as automation matures and feedback loops become more closed with higher and higher clock rates yielding less time between execution, our ability to both detect and recover — let alone prevent — within a cascading failure domain is diminished.

Take three interesting, yet unrelated, examples:

  1. The premise of the W.O.P.R. in War Games — Joshua goes apeshit and almost starts WWIII by invoking a simulated game of global thermonuclear war
  2. The Airbus 380 failure – the luck of having 5 pilots on-board and their skill to override hundreds of cascading automation failures after an engine failure prevented a crash that would have killed hundreds of people.*
  3. The AWS EBS outage — the cloud version of Girls Gone Wild; automated replication caught in a FOR…NEXT loop

These weren’t “maliciously initiated” issues, they were accidents.  But how about “events” like Stuxnet?  What about a former Gartner analyst having his home automation (CASA-SCADA) control system hax0r3d!? There’s another obvious one missing, but we’ll get to that in a minute (hint: Flash Crash)

How do we engineer enough failsafe logic up and down the stack that can function at the same scale as the decision and controller logic does?   How do we integrate/expose enough telemetry that can be produced and consumed fast enough to actually allow actionable results in a timeframe that allows for graceful failure and recovery (nee survivability.)

One last example that is pertinent: high frequency trading (HFT) —  highly automated, computer driven, algorithmic-based stock trading at speeds measured in millionths of a second.

Check out how this works:

[Check out James Urquhart's great Wisdom Of the Clouds blog post: "What Cloud Computing Can Learn From Flash Crash"]

In the use-case of HFT, ruthlessly squeezing nanoseconds from the processing loops — removing as much latency as possible from every element of the stack — literally has implications in the millions of dollars.

Technology vendors are doing many very interesting and innovative things architecturally to achieve these goals — some of them quite audacious — and anything that gets in the way or adds latency is generally not considered “useful.”  Security is usually one of them.

There are most definitely security technologies that allow for very low latency insertion of things like firewalls that have low single-digit microsecond latency figures (small packet,) but interestingly enough we’re also governed by the annoying laws of physics and things like propagation delay, serialization delay, TCP/IP protocol overhead, etc. all adds up.

Thus traditional approaches to “in-line” security — both detective and preventative — are not generally sustainable in these environments and thus require some deep thought so as to provide solutions that will scale as well as these HFT systems do…no short order.

I think this is another good use for “big data” and security data analytics.  Consider very high speed side-band systems that function along with these HFT systems that could potentially leverage the logic in these transactional trading systems to allow us to get closer to being able to solve the challenges of these environments.  Integrate these signaling and telemetry planes with “fabric-enabled” security capabilities and we might get somewhere useful.

This tees up nicely my buddy James Arlen’s talk at Blackhat on the insecurity of high frequency trading systems: “Security when nano seconds count”  You should plan on checking it out…I know I will.

/Hoff

*H/T to @reillyusa who also pointed me to “Questions Raised About Airbus Automated Control System” regarding the doomed Air France 447 flight.  Also, serendipitously, @etherealmind posted a link to a a story titled “Volkswagen demonstrates ‘Temporary Auto Pilot'” — what could *possibly* go wrong? ;)

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SecurityAutomata: A Reference For Security Automation…

June 24th, 2011 No comments

The SecurityAutomata Project is themed toward enabling consumers, service and technology solution providers to collectively share knowledge on how to automate and focus on the programmability of “security” across physical, virtual and cloud environments.

It’s a bit of an experiment, really. I want to enable better visibility into the state-of-the-art (as it were) of security automation by providing a neutral ground to discuss and demonstrate how security can be automated in physical, virtual and cloud computing environments.

There are many solutions available today but it’s often difficult to grasp how the approaches differ from one another and what sort of capabilities must exist to get them to work.

Please help us organize and contribute content to the SecurityAutomata Wiki here.

/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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