Welcome!

Linux Containers Authors: Elizabeth White, Yeshim Deniz, Stackify Blog, Pat Romanski, Liz McMillan

Related Topics: Cloud Security, Java IoT, Microservices Expo, Linux Containers, @CloudExpo, @DXWorldExpo

Cloud 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.


@ThingsExpo Stories
I think DevOps is now a rambunctious teenager - it's starting to get a mind of its own, wanting to get its own things but it still needs some adult supervision," explained Thomas Hooker, VP of marketing at CollabNet, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at DevOps Summit at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"MobiDev is a software development company and we do complex, custom software development for everybody from entrepreneurs to large enterprises," explained Alan Winters, U.S. Head of Business Development at MobiDev, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Major trends and emerging technologies – from virtual reality and IoT, to Big Data and algorithms – are helping organizations innovate in the digital era. However, to create real business value, IT must think beyond the ‘what’ of digital transformation to the ‘how’ to harness emerging trends, innovation and disruption. Architecture is the key that underpins and ties all these efforts together. In the digital age, it’s important to invest in architecture, extend the enterprise footprint to the cl...
Data is the fuel that drives the machine learning algorithmic engines and ultimately provides the business value. In his session at Cloud Expo, Ed Featherston, a director and senior enterprise architect at Collaborative Consulting, discussed the key considerations around quality, volume, timeliness, and pedigree that must be dealt with in order to properly fuel that engine.
Two weeks ago (November 3-5), I attended the Cloud Expo Silicon Valley as a speaker, where I presented on the security and privacy due diligence requirements for cloud solutions. Cloud security is a topical issue for every CIO, CISO, and technology buyer. Decision-makers are always looking for insights on how to mitigate the security risks of implementing and using cloud solutions. Based on the presentation topics covered at the conference, as well as the general discussions heard between sessio...
IoT is rapidly becoming mainstream as more and more investments are made into the platforms and technology. As this movement continues to expand and gain momentum it creates a massive wall of noise that can be difficult to sift through. Unfortunately, this inevitably makes IoT less approachable for people to get started with and can hamper efforts to integrate this key technology into your own portfolio. There are so many connected products already in place today with many hundreds more on the h...
No hype cycles or predictions of zillions of things here. IoT is big. You get it. You know your business and have great ideas for a business transformation strategy. What comes next? Time to make it happen. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jay Mason, Associate Partner at M&S Consulting, presented a step-by-step plan to develop your technology implementation strategy. He discussed the evaluation of communication standards and IoT messaging protocols, data analytics considerations, edge-to-cloud tec...
Announcing Poland #DigitalTransformation Pavilion
Digital Transformation is much more than a buzzword. The radical shift to digital mechanisms for almost every process is evident across all industries and verticals. This is often especially true in financial services, where the legacy environment is many times unable to keep up with the rapidly shifting demands of the consumer. The constant pressure to provide complete, omnichannel delivery of customer-facing solutions to meet both regulatory and customer demands is putting enormous pressure on...
CloudEXPO | DXWorldEXPO are the world's most influential, independent events where Cloud Computing was coined and where technology buyers and vendors meet to experience and discuss the big picture of Digital Transformation and all of the strategies, tactics, and tools they need to realize their goals. Sponsors of DXWorldEXPO | CloudEXPO benefit from unmatched branding, profile building and lead generation opportunities.
DXWorldEXPO LLC announced today that All in Mobile, a mobile app development company from Poland, will exhibit at the 22nd International CloudEXPO | DXWorldEXPO. All In Mobile is a mobile app development company from Poland. Since 2014, they maintain passion for developing mobile applications for enterprises and startups worldwide.
The best way to leverage your CloudEXPO | DXWorldEXPO presence as a sponsor and exhibitor is to plan your news announcements around our events. The press covering CloudEXPO | DXWorldEXPO will have access to these releases and will amplify your news announcements. More than two dozen Cloud companies either set deals at our shows or have announced their mergers and acquisitions at CloudEXPO. Product announcements during our show provide your company with the most reach through our targeted audienc...
@DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo, taking place November 12-13 in New York City, NY, is co-located with 22nd international CloudEXPO | first international DXWorldEXPO and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world.
Everything run by electricity will eventually be connected to the Internet. Get ahead of the Internet of Things revolution. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Akvelon expert and IoT industry leader Sergey Grebnov provided an educational dive into the world of managing your home, workplace and all the devices they contain with the power of machine-based AI and intelligent Bot services for a completely streamlined experience.
DXWorldEXPO | CloudEXPO are the world's most influential, independent events where Cloud Computing was coined and where technology buyers and vendors meet to experience and discuss the big picture of Digital Transformation and all of the strategies, tactics, and tools they need to realize their goals. Sponsors of DXWorldEXPO | CloudEXPO benefit from unmatched branding, profile building and lead generation opportunities.
22nd International Cloud Expo, taking place June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and co-located with the 1st DXWorld Expo will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud ...
In his keynote at 19th Cloud Expo, Sheng Liang, co-founder and CEO of Rancher Labs, discussed the technological advances and new business opportunities created by the rapid adoption of containers. With the success of Amazon Web Services (AWS) and various open source technologies used to build private clouds, cloud computing has become an essential component of IT strategy. However, users continue to face challenges in implementing clouds, as older technologies evolve and newer ones like Docker c...
JETRO showcased Japan Digital Transformation Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo® at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. The Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) is a non-profit organization that provides business support services to companies expanding to Japan. With the support of JETRO's dedicated staff, clients can incorporate their business; receive visa, immigration, and HR support; find dedicated office space; identify local government subsidies; get...
Dion Hinchcliffe is an internationally recognized digital expert, bestselling book author, frequent keynote speaker, analyst, futurist, and transformation expert based in Washington, DC. He is currently Chief Strategy Officer at the industry-leading digital strategy and online community solutions firm, 7Summits.
Bill Schmarzo, author of "Big Data: Understanding How Data Powers Big Business" and "Big Data MBA: Driving Business Strategies with Data Science," is responsible for setting the strategy and defining the Big Data service offerings and capabilities for EMC Global Services Big Data Practice. As the CTO for the Big Data Practice, he is responsible for working with organizations to help them identify where and how to start their big data journeys. He's written several white papers, is an avid blogge...