Welcome!

Related Topics: @CloudExpo

@CloudExpo: Blog Feed Post

Platform-Based Vulnerabilities and Cloud Computing

How to take out an entire PaaS cloud with one vulnerability

Apache Killer.

Post of Doom.

What do these two vulnerabilities have in common? Right, they’re platform-based vulnerabilities. Meaning they are vulnerabilities peculiar to the web or application server platform upon which applications are deployed. Mitigations for such vulnerabilities generally point to changes in configuration of the platform – limit post size, header value sizes, turn off some value in the associated configuration.

But they also have something else in common – risk. And not just risk in general, but risk to cloud providers whose primary value is in offering not just a virtual server but an entire, pre-integrated and pre-configured application deployment stack. Think LAMP, as an example, and providers like Microsoft (Azure) and VMware (CloudFoundry), more commonly adopting the moniker of PaaS. It’s an operational dream to have a virtual server pre-configured and ready to go with the exact application deployment stack needed and offers a great deal of value in terms of efficiency and overall operational investment, but it is – or should be – a security professional’s nightmare. It’s not unlike the recent recall of Chevy Volts – a defect in the platform needs to be mitigated. The only way to do it, for car owners, is to effectively shut down their ability to drive while a patch is applied. It’s disruptive, it’s expensive (you still have to get to work, after all), and it’s frustrating for the consumer. For the provider, it’s bad PR and negatively impacts the brand. Neither of which is appealing.

A vulnerability in the application stack, in the web or application server, can be operationally devastating to the provider – and potentially disruptive to the consumer whether the vulnerability is exploited or not.

STANDARDIZATION is a DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD

Assume a homogeneous cloud environment offering an application stack based on Microsoft ASP. Assume now an exploit, oh say like Post of Doom, is discovered whose primary mitigation lies in modifying the configuration of each and every instance. Virtualization of any kind provides a solution, of course, but introduces the possibility of disruption in the impact to consumer applications from the configuration change. A primary mitigation for the Post of Doom is to limit the size of data in a POST to under 8MB. Depending on the application, this has to potential to “break” application functionality, particularly those for which uploading big data is a focus. Images, video, documents, etc… These all may be impacted negatively, disrupting applications and angering consumers.

Patching, of course, is preferred, as it eliminates the underlying vulnerability without potentially breaking applications. But patching takes time – time to develop, time to test, time to deploy. The actual delivery of such patches in a PaaS environment is a delicate operation. You can’t just shut the whole cloud down and restart it after the patches are applied to the base images, can you? Do you wait, quiesce the vulnerable images and only force the patched ones when new instances are provisioned? A configuration-based mitigation, too, has these same issues. You can’t just shut down the whole cloud, apply the change, and reboot.

It’s a delicate balance of security versus availability that must struck for the provider, and certainly their position in such cases is one not to be envied. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

Then there is the risk of exploitation before any mitigation is applied. If I want to wreak havoc on a PaaS, I may be able to accomplish simply by finding one with the appropriate platform vulnerable to a given exploit, and attack. Cycling through applications deployed in that environment (easily identified at the network layer by the IP ranges assigned to the provider) should result in a wealth of chaos being wrought. The right vulnerability could take out a significant enough portion of the environment to garner attention from the outages caused.

Enterprise organizations that think they are immune from such issues should think again, as even a cloud provider is often not as standardized on a single application platform as an enterprise is, and it is that standardization that is at the root of the potential risk from platform-based vulnerabilities. Standardization, commoditization, these are good things in terms of many financial and operational benefits, but they can also cause operational risk to increase.

MITIGATE in the MIDDLE

There is a better solution, a better strategy, a better operational means of mitigating platform-based risks.

chess-queen-protected

This is where the role of a flexible, broad-spectrum layer of security applies. One that enables security professionals to broadly apply security policies to quickly mitigate potentially disastrous vulnerabilities. Without disrupting a single running instance, an organization can deploy a mitigating solution that detects and prevents the effects of such vulnerabilities. Applying security policies that mitigate such vulnerabilities before they reach the platform is critical to preventing a disaster of epic (and newsworthy) proportions.

Whether stop gap or a permanent solution, by leveraging the application delivery tier of any data center – enterprise or cloud provider – such vulnerabilities can be addressed without imposing harsh penalties on applications and application owners, such as requiring complete shutdown and reboots.

Leveraging such a flexible data center tier insulates the platform from exploitation while insulating customers from the disruption required to mitigate immediately on the platform layer, allowing time to redress through patches or, at least, understand the potential implication to the application from the platform configuration changes required to mitigate the vulnerability.

In today’s data center, time is perhaps the biggest benefit afforded to IT by any solution, and yet the one least likely to be provided. A flexible application delivery tier capable of mitigating threats across the network and application stack without disruption is one of the few solutions available that offers the elusive and very valuable benefit of time. Providers and enterprises alike need to consider their current data center architecture and whether it supports the notion of such a dynamic tier. If not, it’s time to re-evaluate and determine whether a strategic change of direction is necessary to ensure the ability of operations and security teams to address operational risk as quickly and efficiently as possible.

More Stories By Lori MacVittie

Lori MacVittie is responsible for education and evangelism of application services available across F5’s entire product suite. Her role includes authorship of technical materials and participation in a number of community-based forums and industry standards organizations, among other efforts. MacVittie has extensive programming experience as an application architect, as well as network and systems development and administration expertise. Prior to joining F5, MacVittie was an award-winning Senior Technology Editor at Network Computing Magazine, where she conducted product research and evaluation focused on integration with application and network architectures, and authored articles on a variety of topics aimed at IT professionals. Her most recent area of focus included SOA-related products and architectures. She holds a B.S. in Information and Computing Science from the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University.

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.


Latest Stories
Adobe is changing the world though digital experiences. Adobe helps customers develop and deliver high-impact experiences that differentiate brands, build loyalty, and drive revenue across every screen, including smartphones, computers, tablets and TVs. Adobe content solutions are used daily by millions of companies worldwide-from publishers and broadcasters, to enterprises, marketing agencies and household-name brands. Building on its established design leadership, Adobe enables customers not o...
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 19th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago. All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices - comp...
Information technology is an industry that has always experienced change, and the dramatic change sweeping across the industry today could not be truthfully described as the first time we've seen such widespread change impacting customer investments. However, the rate of the change, and the potential outcomes from today's digital transformation has the distinct potential to separate the industry into two camps: Organizations that see the change coming, embrace it, and successful leverage it; and...
Cloud computing is being adopted in one form or another by 94% of enterprises today. Tens of billions of new devices are being connected to The Internet of Things. And Big Data is driving this bus. An exponential increase is expected in the amount of information being processed, managed, analyzed, and acted upon by enterprise IT. This amazing is not part of some distant future - it is happening today. One report shows a 650% increase in enterprise data by 2020. Other estimates are even higher....
19th Cloud Expo, taking place November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, 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 strategy. Meanwhile, 94% of enterpri...
Smart Cities are here to stay, but for their promise to be delivered, the data they produce must not be put in new siloes. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mathias Herberts, Co-founder and CTO of Cityzen Data, will deep dive into best practices that will ensure a successful smart city journey.
From wearable activity trackers to fantasy e-sports, data and technology are transforming the way athletes train for the game and fans engage with their teams. In his session at @ThingsExpo, will present key data findings from leading sports organizations San Francisco 49ers, Orlando Magic NBA team. By utilizing data analytics these sports orgs have recognized new revenue streams, doubled its fan base and streamlined costs at its stadiums. John Paul is the CEO and Founder of VenueNext. Prior ...
Why do your mobile transformations need to happen today? Mobile is the strategy that enterprise transformation centers on to drive customer engagement. In his general session at @ThingsExpo, Roger Woods, Director, Mobile Product & Strategy – Adobe Marketing Cloud, covered key IoT and mobile trends that are forcing mobile transformation, key components of a solid mobile strategy and explored how brands are effectively driving mobile change throughout the enterprise.
Businesses are struggling to manage the information flow and interactions between all of these new devices and things jumping on their network, and the apps and IT systems they control. The data businesses gather is only helpful if they can do something with it. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Witeck, Principal Technology Strategist at Citrix, will discuss how different the impact of IoT will be for large businesses, expanding how IoT will allow large organizations to make their legacy ap...
“We're a global managed hosting provider. Our core customer set is a U.S.-based customer that is looking to go global,” explained Adam Rogers, Managing Director at ANEXIA, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"We have several customers now running private clouds. They're not as large as they should be but it's getting there. The adoption challenge has been pretty simple. Look at the world today of virtualization vs cloud," stated Nara Rajagopalan, CEO of Accelerite, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
Apache Hadoop is a key technology for gaining business insights from your Big Data, but the penetration into enterprises is shockingly low. In fact, Apache Hadoop and Big Data proponents recognize that this technology has not yet achieved its game-changing business potential. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, John Mertic, director of program management for ODPi at The Linux Foundation, will explain why this is, how we can work together as an open data community to increase adoption, and the i...
Developing software for the Internet of Things (IoT) comes with its own set of challenges. Security, privacy, and unified standards are a few key issues. In addition, each IoT product is comprised of (at least) three separate application components: the software embedded in the device, the back-end service, and the mobile application for the end user’s controls. Each component is developed by a different team, using different technologies and practices, and deployed to a different stack/target –...
What does it look like when you have access to cloud infrastructure and platform under the same roof? Let’s talk about the different layers of Technology as a Service: who cares, what runs where, and how does it all fit together. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Phil Jackson, Lead Technology Evangelist at SoftLayer, an IBM company, spoke about the picture being painted by IBM Cloud and how the tools being crafted can help fill the gaps in your IT infrastructure.
According to Forrester Research, every business will become either a digital predator or digital prey by 2020. To avoid demise, organizations must rapidly create new sources of value in their end-to-end customer experiences. True digital predators also must break down information and process silos and extend digital transformation initiatives to empower employees with the digital resources needed to win, serve, and retain customers.