Archive for the ‘Security Strategy’ Category

The Classical DMZ Design Pattern: How To Kill Security In the Cloud

July 7th, 2010 6 comments

Every day I get asked to discuss how Cloud Computing impacts security architecture and what enterprise security teams should do when considering “Cloud.”

These discussions generally lend themselves to a bifurcated set of perspectives depending upon whether we’re discussing Public or Private Cloud Computing.

This is unfortunate.

From a security perspective, focusing the discussion primarily on the deployment model instead of thinking holistically about the “how, why, where, and who” of Cloud, often means that we’re tethered to outdated methodologies because it’s where our comfort zones are.

When we’re discussing Public Cloud, the security teams are starting to understand that the choice of compensating controls and how they deploy and manage them require operational, economic and architectural changes.  They are also coming to terms with the changes to application architectures as it relates to distributed computing and SOA-like implementation.  It’s uncomfortable and it’s a slow-slog forward (for lots of good reasons,) but good questions are asked when considering the security, privacy and compliance impacts of Public Cloud and what can/should be done about them and how things need to change.

When discussing Private Cloud, however, even when a “clean slate design” is proposed, the same teams tend to try to fall back to what they know and preserve the classical n-tier application architecture separated by physical or virtual compensating controls — the classical split-subnet DMZ or perimeterized model of “inside” vs “outside.” They can do this given the direct operational control exposed by highly-virtualized infrastructure.  Sometimes they’re also forced into this given compliance and audit requirements. The issue here is that this discussion centers around molding cloud into the shape of the existing enterprise models and design patterns.

This is an issue; trying to simultaneously secure these diametrically-opposed architectural implementations yields cost inefficiencies, security disparity, policy violations, introduces operational risk and generally means that  the ball doesn’t get moved forward in protecting the things that matter most.

Public Cloud Computing is a good thing for the security machine; it forces us to (again) come face-to-face with the ugliness of the problems of securing the things that matter most — our information. Private Cloud Computing — when improperly viewed from the perspective of simply preserving the status quo — can often cause stagnation and introduce roadblocks.  We’ve got to move beyond this.

Public Cloud speaks to the needs (and delivers on) agility, flexibility, mobility and efficiency. These are things that traditional enterprise security are often not well aligned with.  Trying to fit “Cloud” into neat and tidy DMZ “boxes” doesn’t work.  Cloud requires revisiting our choices for security. We should take advantage of it, not try and squash it.


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Gunnar Peterson Channels Tina Turner (Sort Of): What’s Happiness Got To Do With It?

October 29th, 2008 1 comment

Gunnar just hit a home run responding to John Pescatore's one line, twelve word summarization of how to measure a security program's effectiveness.  Read Gunnar's post in it's entirety but here's the short version:

Pescatore says:

The best security program is at the business with the happiest customers.

To which Gunnar suggests:

There's a fine line between happy customers and playing piano in a bordello.

…and revises Pescatore's assertion to read:

The best security program is at the business with sustainable competitive advantage.

To which, given today's economic climate, I argue the following simplification:

The best security program is at the business that is, itself, sustainable.

I maintain that if, as John suggests, you want to introduce the emotive index of "happiness" and relate it to a customer's overall experience when interacting with your business, then the best security program is one that isn't seen or felt at all.  Achieving that Zen-like balance is, well, difficult.

It's hard enough to derive metrics that adequately define a security program's effectiveness, value, and impact on risk.  Balanced scorecard or not, the last thing we need is the introduction of a satisfaction quotient that tries to quantify (on a scale from 1-10?) the "warm and fuzzies" a customer enjoys whilst having their endpoint scanned by a NAC device before attaching to your portal… 😉

I understand what John was shooting for, but it's like suggesting that there's some sort of happiness I can achieve when I go shopping for car insurance.


The Challenge of Virtualization Security: Organizational and Operational, NOT Technical

March 25th, 2008 7 comments

Taking the bull by the horns…

I’ve spoken many times over the last year on the impact virtualization brings to the security posture of organizations.  While there are certainly technology issues that we must overcome, we don’t have solutions today that can effectively deliver us from evil. 

Anyone looking for the silver bullet is encouraged to instead invest in silver buckshot.  No shocker there.

There are certainly technology and solution providers looking to help solve these problems, but honestly, they are constrained by the availability and visibility to the VMM/Hypervisors of the virtualization platforms themselves. 

Obviously announcements like VMware’s VMsafe will help turn that corner, but VMsafe requires re-tooling of ISV software and new versions of the virtualization platforms.  It’s a year+ away and only addresses concerns for a single virtualization platform provider (VMware) and not others.

The real problem of security in a virtualized world is not technical, it is organizational and operational.

With the consolidation of applications, operating systems, storage, information, security and networking — all virtualized into a single platform rather than being discretely owned, managed and supported by (reasonably) operationally-mature teams — the biggest threat we face in virtualization is now we have lost not only visibility, but the clearly-defined lines of demarcation garnered from a separation of duties we had in the non-virtualized world.

Many companies have segmented off splinter cells of "virtualization admins" from the server teams and they are often solely responsible for the virtualization platforms which includes the care, feeding, diapering and powderering of not only the operating systems and virtualization platforms, but the networking and security functionality also.

No offense to my brethren in the trenches, but this is simply a case of experience and expertise.  Server admins are not experts in network or security architectures and operations, just as the latter cannot hope to be experts in the former’s domain.

We’re in an arms race now where virtualization brings brilliant flexibility, agility and cost savings to the enterprise, but ultimately further fractures the tenuous relationships between the server, network and security teams.

Now that the first-pass consolidation pilots of virtualizing non-critical infrastructure assets has been held up as beaconing examples of ROI in our datacenters, security and networking teams are exercising their veto powers as virtualization efforts creep towards critical production applications, databases and transactional systems.

Quite simply, the ability to express risk, security posture, compliance, troubleshooting and measureing SLA’s and dependencies within the construct of a virtualized world is much more difficult than in the discretely segregated physical world and when taken to the mat on the issues, the virtual server admins simply cannot address these issues competently within the scope of language of the security and risk teams.

This is going to make for some unneeded friction in what was supposed to be a frictionless effort.  If you thought the security teams were thought of as speed bumps before, you’re not going to like what happens soon when they try to delay/halt a business-driven effort to reduce costs, speed time-to-market, increase availability and enable agility.

I’ll summarize my prior recommendations as to how to approach this conundrum in a follow-on post, but the time is now to get these teams together and craft the end-play strategies and desired end-states for enterprise architecture in a virtualized world before we end up right back where we started 15+ years ago…on the hamster wheel of pain!


VMWare’s VMSafe: Security Industry Defibrilator….Making Dying Muscle Twitch Again.

March 2nd, 2008 6 comments

Nurse, 10 cc’s of Adrenalin, stat!

As I mentioned in a prior posting, VMware’s VMsafe has the potential to inject life back into the atrophied and withering heart muscle of the security industry and raise the prognosis from DOA to the potential for a vital economic revenue stream once more.

How?  Well, the answer to this question really comes down to whether you believe that keeping a body on assisted life support means that the patient is living or simply alive, and the same perspective goes for the security industry.

With the inevitable consolidation of solutions and offerings in the security industry over the last few years, we have seen the commoditization of many markets as well as the natural emergence of others in response to the ebb and flow of economic, technological, cultural and political forces.

One of the most impacting disruptive and innovative forces that is causing arrhythmia in the pulse of both consumers and providers and driving the emergence of new market opportunities is virtualization. 

For the last two years, I’ve been waving my hands about the fact that virtualization changes everything across the information lifecycle.  From cradle to grave, the evolution of virtualization will profoundly change what, where, why and how we do what we do.

I’m not claiming that I’m the only one, but it was sure lonely from a general security practitioner’s perspective up until about six months ago.  In the last four months, I’ve given two keynotes and three decently visible talks on VirtSec, and I have 3-4 more tee’d up over the next 3 months, so somebody’s interested…better late than never, I suppose.

How’s the patient?

For the purpose of this post, I’m going to focus on the security implications of virtualization and simply summarize by suggesting that virtualization up until now has quietly marked a tipping point where we see the disruption stretch security architectures and technologies to their breaking point and in many cases make much of our invested security portfolio redundant and irrelevant.

I’ve discussed why and how this is the case in numerous posts and presentations, but it’s clear (now) to most that the security industry has been clearly out of phase with what has plainly been a well-signaled (r)evolution in computing.

Is anyone really surprised that we are caught flat-footed again?  Sorry to rant, but…

This is such a sorry indicator of why things are so terribly broken with "IT/Information Security" as it stands today; we continue to try and solve short term problems with even shorter term "solutions" that do nothing more than perpetuate the problem — and we do so in a horrific display of myopic dissonance, it’s a wonder we function at all.   Actually, it’s a perfectly wonderful explanation as to why criminals are always 5 steps ahead — they plan strategically while acting tactically against their objectives and aren’t afraid to respond to the customers proactively.

So, we’ve got this fantastic technological, economic, and cultural transformation occurring over the last FIVE YEARS (at least,) and the best we’ve seen as a response from most traditional security vendors is that they have simply marketed their solutions slimly as "virtualization ready" or "virtualization aware" when in fact, these are simply hollow words for how to make their existing "square" products fit into the "round" holes of a problem space that virtualization exposes and creates.

Firewalls, IDS/IPSs, UTM, NAC, DLP — all of them have limited visibility in this rapidly "re-perimeterized" universe in which our technology operates, and in most cases we’re busy looking at uninteresting and practically non-actionable things anyway.  As one of my favorite mentors used to say, "we’re data rich, but information poor."

The vendors in these example markets — with or without admission — are all really worried about what virtualization will do to their already shrinking relevance.  So we wait.

Doctor, it hurts when I do this…

VMSafe represents a huge opportunity for these vendors to claw their way back to life, making their solutions relevant once more, and perhaps even more so.

Most of the companies who have so far signed on to VMsafe will, as I mentioned previously, need to align roadmaps and release new or modified versions of their product lines to work with the new API’s and management planes. 

This is obviously a big deal, but one that is unavoidable for these companies — most of which are clumbsy and generally not agile or responsive to third parties.  However, you don’t get 20 of some of the biggest "monoliths" of the security world scrambling to sign up for a program like VMsafe just for giggles — and the reality is that the platform version of VMware’s virtualization products that will support this technology aren’t even available yet.

I am willing to wager that you will, in extremely short time given VMware’s willingness to sign on new partners, see many more vendors flock to the program.  I further maintain that despite their vehement denial, NAC vendors (with pressure already from the oncoming tidal wave of Microsoft’s NAP) will also adapt their wares to take advantage of this technology for reasons I’ve outlined here.

They literally cannot afford not to.

I am extremely interested in what other virtualization vendors’ responses will be — especially Citrix.  It’s pretty clear what Microsoft has in mind.  It’s going to further open up opportunities for networking vendors such as Cisco, f5, etc., and we’re going to see the operational, technical, administrative, "security" and governance lines  blur even further.

Welcome back from the dead, security vendors, you’ve got a second chance in life.  I’m not sure it’s warranted, but it’s "natural" even though we’re going to end up with a very interesting Frankenstein of a "solution" over the long term.

The Doctor prescribes an active lifestyle, healthy marketing calisthenics, a diet with plenty of roughage, and jumping back on the hamster wheel of pain for exercise.


Companies Must Update Thinking About Security Spending

October 23rd, 2007 1 comment

Gunnar Peterson’s been on a tear lately regarding how security spending is out of control and out of alignment with the business. 

He wrote about it here in a post titled "Network Security Budget Cruft – Why you are probably spending waaayyy to much on network security" and this morning pointed us to an interview he gave on the same topic with ITBusinessEdge.

Here’s the Reader’s Digest version:

Question: Is the realignment important?

Peterson: I think it is a big deal. I really think IT security is out
of control; in many cases, they are spending $10 to protect something
worth $5, and in other cases they are spending a nickel to protect
something worth $1,000. If you look at the numbers objectively, you see
why it is out of control, and you can use the investing habits of the
business to improve the situation

Coincidentally, I am giving the keynote at this year’s Information Security Decisions show in Chicago on November 5th and will be discussing about how "Security" needs to embrace disruptive technology and innovation. 

One of the most important facets of this presentation is how security managers must build and manage a strategic security portfolio with investments made over time that align to the business; if you can’t demonstrate how what you do supports the strategic initiatives of the company, you’re in a bad place.  The business innovates driven by the need to corner competitive advantage.  Security needs to do the same:

Question: How do you start building a case to confront the issue?
Peterson: You
take the budget and prove it in numbers. When you look at how the
business invests and see how security invests, many times it is the
opposite. You have to ask questions about that. It’s not a one-to-one
match. That should be the starting point, and if you want to invest
more in other areas, the burden is on you to prove [it is justified].

As Gunnar alludes, if it were easy we’d be there already and it’s really important to understand that when we talk about these things it should be understood that it’s not going to happen overnight:

Question: These spending habits must be pretty deeply engrained. It must be a big challenge to turn it around.
Peterson: It
is going to be hard to change some of these things overnight. The
company has licenses, legacy investments. I would look to where the gap
is coming from. When you look to resolve this, I think investing in
training and awareness can go a long way. It can’t completely solve the
problem, but can help by [for instance] showing them how to write more
secure code, training database administrators to configure their
databases more securely. Doing that is not a huge investment, but
ultimately having people helping to bridge the gaps is a huge advantage.

I think Gunnar’s topic goes hand-in-hand with the discussions we’ve been having lately regarding the misalignment and missing language used to describe what we do.  IT security is one of the only crafts I’ve seen where transparency and accountability for spend and alignment are represented as being too difficult and allusive to demonstrate.  From Gunnar’s initial post:

Awhile back, Dan Geer posed the following questions

  • How secure am I?
  • Am I better than this time last year?
  • Am I spending the right amount of $$?
  • How do I compare to my peers?
  • What risk transfer options do I have?
  • Dan asserted, and I agree, that these are perfectly reasonable for
    senior management to ask, virtually any part of a business can provide
    some enlightenment on them, and the exception is infosec which has
    virtually no way to answer any of these today.

    These questions are not only reasonable but required.  If you can’t answer them — and articulately defend your assertions, then you’re most certainly engaged in the practice of the bastardized and neutered ugly stepchild version of "Information Security" that our industry has become.

    "I don’t know," "I guess so" and "we use a firewall and SSL" aren’t professionally-accepted answers in most career paths to these questions, why are they in ours?

    Thanks for the great read, Gunnar.


    *** Update: In a freaky bit of coincidence, Alex Hutton was remarking on a comment I made on Shrdlu’s Layer8 blog regarding security investments and pointed to Gunnar’s post also.  Alex’s questions are really good…

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