Click here to close now.

Welcome!

MICROSERVICES Authors: Elizabeth White, Adrian Bridgwater, XebiaLabs Blog, Jason Bloomberg, Carmen Gonzalez

Related Topics: Security, Java, MICROSERVICES, Linux, Cloud Expo, Big Data Journal

Security: Article

Protecting the Network with Proactive Encryption Monitoring

Encryption technology is everywhere: in applications, data centers and other foundation infrastructure

Encryption is a key element of a complete security strategy. The 2013 Global Encryption Trends Study shows a steady increase in the use of encryption solutions over the past nine years. Thirty-five percent of organizations now have an encryption strategy applied consistently across the entire enterprise, up from 29 percent in 2012. The study showed that, for the first time, the main goal for most organizations in deploying encryption is mitigating the effects of data breaches. There is good reason for this shift: the latest Ponemon Institute research reveals that the cost of a data breach is $3.5 million, up 15 percent from last year.

On the surface, the 35 percent figure seems like good news, until one realizes that 65 percent of organizations do not have an enterprise-wide encryption strategy. In addition, even a consistently applied strategy can lack visibility, management controls or remediation processes. This gives hackers the green light to attack as soon as they spot a vulnerability.

While organizations are moving in the right direction when it comes to encryption, much more needs to be done - and quickly. Encryption has come to be viewed as a commodity: organizations deploy it and assume they've taken the steps they need to maintain security. If breaches occur, it's rarely the fault of the software or the encryption protocol. The fault lies rather in the fact that encryption management is left in the domain of IT system administrators and has never been properly managed with access controls, monitoring or proactive data loss prevention.

Too Many Keys Spoil the Security
While recent high-profile vulnerabilities have exposed the need to manage encrypted networks better, it's important to understand that administrators can cause vulnerabilities as well. In the Secure Shell (SSH) data-in-transit protocol, key-based authentication is one of the more common methods used to gain access to critical information. Keys are easy to create, and, at the most basic level, are simple text files that can be easily uploaded to the appropriate system. Associated with each key is an identity: either a person or machine that grants access to information assets and performs specific tasks, such as transferring a file or dropping a database, depending on the assigned authorizations. In the case of Secure Shell keys, those basic text files provide access to some of the most critical information within an organization.

A quick calculation will reveal that the number of keys assigned over the past decade to employees, contractors and applications can run up to a million or more for a single enterprise. In one example, a major bank with around 15,000 hosts had over 1.5 million keys circulating within its network environment. Around 10 percent of those keys - or 150,000 - provided high-level administrator access. This represents an astonishing number of open doors that no one was monitoring.

It may seem impossible that such a security lapse could happen, but consider that encryption is often perceived merely as a tool. Because nothing appeared on the surface to be out of place, no processes were shut down and the problem was undetected.

Safety Hazards
Forgetting to keep track of keys is one problem; failing to remove them is another. System administrators and application developers will often deploy keys in order to readily gain access to systems they are working on. These keys grant a fairly high level of privilege and are often used across multiple systems, creating a one-to-many relationship. In many cases, employees or contractors who are terminated - or even simply reassigned to other tasks that no longer require the same access - continue to carry access via Secure Shell keys; the assumption is that terminating the account is enough. Unfortunately, this is not the case when Secure Shell keys are involved; the keys must also be removed or the access remains in place.

SSH keys pose another threat as well: subverting privileged access management systems (PAMs). Many PAMs use a gateway or jump host that administrators log into to gain access to network assets. PAM solutions connect with user directories to assign privileges, monitor user actions and record which actions have taken place. While this appears like an airtight way to monitor administrators, it is incredibly easy for an administrator to log into the gateway, deploy a key and then log in using key authentication, thereby circumventing any PAM safeguards in place.

Too Clever for Their Own Good
Poorly monitored access is just one security hazard in encrypted environments. Conventional PAM solutions, which use gateways and focus on interactive users only, are designed to monitor administrator activities. Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, they end up being fairly easy to work around. Additionally, encryption blinds attackers the same way it blinds security operations and forensics teams. For this reason, encrypted traffic is rarely monitored and is allowed to flow freely in and out of the network environment. This creates obvious risks and negates security intelligence capabilities to a large degree.

The Internet offers many articles on how to use Secure Shell to bypass corporate firewalls. This is actually a fairly common and clever workaround policy that unfortunately creates a huge security risk. In order to eliminate this risk, the organization must decrypt and inspect the traffic.

Traffic Safety
Decrypting Secure Shell traffic would require an organization to use an inline proxy with access to the private keys - essentially a friendly man-in-the-middle - to decrypt the traffic without interfering with the network. When successfully deployed, 100 percent of encrypted traffic for both interactive users and M2M identities can be monitored. Also, because this is done at the network level, it's not possible for malicious parties to execute a workaround. With this method, enterprises can proactively detect suspicious or out-of-policy traffic. This is called encrypted channel monitoring and represents the next generation in the evolution of PAM.

This kind of monitoring solves the issue of decrypting traffic at the perimeter and helps organizations move away from a gateway approach to PAM. At the same time, it prevents attackers from using the organization's own encryption technology against itself. In addition, an organization can use inline access controls and user profiling to control what activities a user can undertake. For example, policy controls can be enforced to forbid file transfers from certain critical systems. With the more advanced solutions, an organization can even block subchannels from running inside the encrypted tunnel, the preferred method of quickly exfiltrating data.

Encryption technologies are often set up without effective monitoring or proper access controls, which also blinds layered defenses. A major vulnerability could potentially compromise the entire server, which could in turn expose other areas of the network to subsequent attacks.

A Healthy Respect for Encryption
Encryption technology is everywhere: in applications, data centers and other foundation infrastructure. While it has been widely embraced, it has also often been abused, misused or neglected. Most organizations have not instituted centralized provisioning, encrypted channel monitoring and other best practices, even though the consequence of inadequate security can be severe. IT security staff may think conventional PAM is keeping their organizations safe, when commonly-known workarounds are instead putting their data in jeopardy.

No one understands better than IT administrators how critical network security is. This understanding should spur security professionals to do all in their power to make their organizations' data as safe as possible. Given all that can go awry, it's important to examine encrypted networks, enabling layered defenses and putting proactive monitoring in place if they have not yet done so. An all-inclusive encrypted channel monitoring strategy will go a long way toward securing the network.

More Stories By Jason Thompson

Jason Thompson is director of global marketing for SSH Communications Security. He brings more than 12 years of experience launching new, innovative solutions across a number of industry verticals. Prior to joining SSH, he worked at Q1 Labs where he helped build awareness around security intelligence and holistic approaches dealing with advanced threat vectors. Mr. Thompson holds a BA from Colorado State University and an MA for the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@MicroservicesExpo Stories
Chef and Canonical announced a partnership to integrate and distribute Chef with Ubuntu. Canonical is integrating the Chef automation platform with Canonical's Machine-As-A-Service (MAAS), enabling users to automate the provisioning, configuration and deployment of bare metal compute resources in the data center. Canonical is packaging Chef 12 server in upcoming distributions of its Ubuntu open source operating system and will provide commercial support for Chef within its user base.
InfoScout in San Francisco gleans new levels of accurate insights into retail buyer behavior by collecting data directly from consumers’ sales receipts. In order to better analyze actual retail behaviors and patterns, InfoScout provides incentives for buyers to share their receipts, but InfoScout is then faced with the daunting task of managing and cleansing that essential data to provide actionable and understandable insights.
After what feel like an interminable cycle of media frenzy followed by hype and hysteria cycles, the practical elements of real world cloud implementations are starting to become better documented. But what is really different in the cloud? How do software applications behave, live, interact and interconnect inside the cloud? Where do cloud architectures differ so markedly from their predecessors that we need to learn a new set of mechanics – and, when do we start to refer to software progra...
When it comes to microservices there are myths and uncertainty about the journey ahead. Deploying a “Hello World” app on Docker is a long way from making microservices work in real enterprises with large applications, complex environments and existing organizational structures. February 19, 2015 10:00am PT / 1:00pm ET → 45 Minutes Join our four experts: Special host Gene Kim, Gary Gruver, Randy Shoup and XebiaLabs’ Andrew Phillips as they explore the realities of microservices in today’s IT worl...
The world's leading Cloud event, Cloud Expo has launched Microservices Journal on the SYS-CON.com portal, featuring over 19,000 original articles, news stories, features, and blog entries. DevOps Journal is focused on this critical enterprise IT topic in the world of cloud computing. Microservices Journal offers top articles, news stories, and blog posts from the world's well-known experts and guarantees better exposure for its authors than any other publication. Follow new article posts on T...
Even though it’s now Microservices Journal, long-time fans of SOA World Magazine can take comfort in the fact that the URL – soa.sys-con.com – remains unchanged. And that’s no mistake, as microservices are really nothing more than a new and improved take on the Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) best practices we struggled to hammer out over the last decade. Skeptics, however, might say that this change is nothing more than an exercise in buzzword-hopping. SOA is passé, and now that people are ...
Hosted PaaS providers have given independent developers and startups huge advantages in efficiency and reduced time-to-market over their more process-bound counterparts in enterprises. Software frameworks are now available that allow enterprise IT departments to provide these same advantages for developers in their own organization. In his workshop session at DevOps Summit, Troy Topnik, ActiveState’s Technical Product Manager, will show how on-prem or cloud-hosted Private PaaS can enable organ...
For those of us that have been practicing SOA for over a decade, it's surprising that there's so much interest in microservices. In fairness microservices don't look like the vendor play that was early SOA in the early noughties. But experienced SOA practitioners everywhere will be wondering if microservices is actually a good thing. You see microservices is basically an SOA pattern that inherits all the well-known SOA principles and adds characteristics that address the use of SOA for distribut...
SYS-CON Events announced today the IoT Bootcamp – Jumpstart Your IoT Strategy, being held June 9–10, 2015, in conjunction with 16th Cloud Expo and Internet of @ThingsExpo at the Javits Center in New York City. This is your chance to jumpstart your IoT strategy. Combined with real-world scenarios and use cases, the IoT Bootcamp is not just based on presentations but includes hands-on demos and walkthroughs. We will introduce you to a variety of Do-It-Yourself IoT platforms including Arduino, Ras...
Microservice architectures are the new hotness, even though they aren't really all that different (in principle) from the paradigm described by SOA (which is dead, or not dead, depending on whom you ask). One of the things this decompositional approach to application architecture does is encourage developers and operations (some might even say DevOps) to re-evaluate scaling strategies. In particular, the notion is forwarded that an application should be built to scale and then infrastructure sho...
Microservices are the result of decomposing applications. That may sound a lot like SOA, but SOA was based on an object-oriented (noun) premise; that is, services were built around an object - like a customer - with all the necessary operations (functions) that go along with it. SOA was also founded on a variety of standards (most of them coming out of OASIS) like SOAP, WSDL, XML and UDDI. Microservices have no standards (at least none deriving from a standards body or organization) and can be b...
Our guest on the podcast this week is Jason Bloomberg, President at Intellyx. When we build services we want them to be lightweight, stateless and scalable while doing one thing really well. In today's cloud world, we're revisiting what to takes to make a good service in the first place. Listen in to learn why following "the book" doesn't necessarily mean that you're solving key business problems.
Right off the bat, Newman advises that we should "think of microservices as a specific approach for SOA in the same way that XP or Scrum are specific approaches for Agile Software development". These analogies are very interesting because my expectation was that microservices is a pattern. So I might infer that microservices is a set of process techniques as opposed to an architectural approach. Yet in the book, Newman clearly includes some elements of concept model and architecture as well as p...
Cloud computing is changing the way we look at IT costs, according to industry experts on a recent Cloud Luminary Fireside Chat panel discussion. Enterprise IT, traditionally viewed as a cost center, now plays a central role in the delivery of software-driven goods and services. Therefore, companies need to understand their cloud utilization and resulting costs in order to ensure profitability on their business offerings. Led by Bernard Golden, this fireside chat offers valuable insights on ho...
Microservices, for the uninitiated, are essentially the decomposition of applications into multiple services. This decomposition is often based on functional lines, with related functions being grouped together into a service. While this may sound a like SOA, it really isn't, especially given that SOA was an object-centered methodology that focused on creating services around "nouns" like customer and product. Microservices, while certainly capable of being noun-based, are just as likely to be v...
SYS-CON Events announced today the DevOps Foundation Certification Course, being held June ?, 2015, in conjunction with DevOps Summit and 16th Cloud Expo at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. This sixteen (16) hour course provides an introduction to DevOps – the cultural and professional movement that stresses communication, collaboration, integration and automation in order to improve the flow of work between software developers and IT operations professionals. Improved workflows will res...
You hear the terms “subscription economy” and “subscription commerce” all the time. And with good reason. Subscription-based monetization is transforming business as we know it. But what about usage? Where’s the “consumption economy”? Turns out, it’s all around us. When most people think of usage-based billing, the example that probably comes to mind first is metered public utilities — water, gas and electric. Phone services, especially mobile, might come next. Then maybe taxis. And that’s ab...
Learn the top API testing issues that organizations encounter and how automation plus a DevOps team approach can address these top API testing challenges. Ensuring API integrity is difficult in today's complex application cloud, on-premises and hybrid environment scenarios. In this interview with TechTarget, Parasoft solution architect manager Spencer Debrosse shares his experiences about the top API testing issues that organizations encounter and how automation and a DevOps team approach can a...
Containers and microservices have become topics of intense interest throughout the cloud developer and enterprise IT communities. Accordingly, attendees at the upcoming 16th Cloud Expo at the Javits Center in New York June 9-11 will find fresh new content in a new track called PaaS | Containers & Microservices Containers are not being considered for the first time by the cloud community, but a current era of re-consideration has pushed them to the top of the cloud agenda. With the launch ...
An explosive combination of technology trends will be where ‘microservices’ and the IoT Internet of Things intersect, a concept we can describe by comparing it with a previous theme, the ‘X Internet.' The idea of using small self-contained application components has been popular since XML Web services began and a distributed computing future of smart fridges and kettles was imagined long back in the early Internet years.