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

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.

Latest Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that Niagara Networks will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Niagara Networks offers the highest port-density systems, and the most complete Next-Generation Network Visibility systems including Network Packet Brokers, Bypass Switches, and Network TAPs.
The best way to leverage your Cloud Expo presence as a sponsor and exhibitor is to plan your news announcements around our events. The press covering Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo 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 Cloud Expo. Product announcements during our show provide your company with the most reach through our targeted audiences.
Virgil consists of an open-source encryption library, which implements Cryptographic Message Syntax (CMS) and Elliptic Curve Integrated Encryption Scheme (ECIES) (including RSA schema), a Key Management API, and a cloud-based Key Management Service (Virgil Keys). The Virgil Keys Service consists of a public key service and a private key escrow service. 

In his general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Manish Dixit, VP of Product and Engineering at Dice, will discuss how Dice leverages data insights and tools to help both tech professionals and recruiters better understand how skills relate to each other and which skills are in high demand using interactive visualizations and salary indicator tools to maximize earning potential. Manish Dixit is VP of Product and Engineering at Dice. As the leader of the Product, Engineering and Data Sciences team a...
OnProcess Technology has announced it will be a featured speaker at @ThingsExpo, taking place November 1 - 3, 2016, in Santa Clara, California. Dan Gettens, OnProcess’ Chief Analytics Officer, will discuss how Internet of Things (IoT) data can be leveraged to predict product failures, improve uptime and slash costly inventory stock. @ThingsExpo is an annual gathering of IoT and cloud developers, practitioners and thought-leaders who exchange ideas and insights on topics ranging from Big Data in...
@ThingsExpo has been named the Top 5 Most Influential Internet of Things Brand by Onalytica in the ‘The Internet of Things Landscape 2015: Top 100 Individuals and Brands.' Onalytica analyzed Twitter conversations around the #IoT debate to uncover the most influential brands and individuals driving the conversation. Onalytica captured data from 56,224 users. The PageRank based methodology they use to extract influencers on a particular topic (tweets mentioning #InternetofThings or #IoT in this ...
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, will discuss the key considerations around quality, volume, timeliness, and pedigree that must be dealt with in order to properly fuel that engine.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cemware will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Use MATLAB functions by just visiting website mathfreeon.com. MATLAB compatible, freely usable, online platform services. As of October 2016, 80,000 users from 180 countries are enjoying our platform service.
In an era of historic innovation fueled by unprecedented access to data and technology, the low cost and risk of entering new markets has leveled the playing field for business. Today, any ambitious innovator can easily introduce a new application or product that can reinvent business models and transform the client experience. In their Day 2 Keynote at 19th Cloud Expo, Mercer Rowe, IBM Vice President of Strategic Alliances, and Raejeanne Skillern, Intel Vice President of Data Center Group and ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that StarNet Communications will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. StarNet Communications’ FastX is the industry first cloud-based remote X Windows emulator. Using standard Web browsers (FireFox, Chrome, Safari, etc.) users from around the world gain highly secure access to applications and data hosted on Linux-based servers in a central data center. ...
Digitization is driving a fundamental change in society that is transforming the way businesses work with their customers, their supply chains and their people. Digital transformation leverages DevOps best practices, such as Agile Parallel Development, Continuous Delivery and Agile Operations to capitalize on opportunities and create competitive differentiation in the application economy. However, information security has been notably absent from the DevOps movement. Speed doesn’t have to negat...
SYS-CON Events announced today that eCube Systems, the leading provider of modern development tools and best practices for Continuous Integration on OpenVMS, will exhibit at SYS-CON's @DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo New York, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. eCube Systems offers a family of middleware products and development tools that maximize return on technology investment by leveraging existing technical equity to meet evolving business needs. ...
More and more companies are looking to microservices as an architectural pattern for breaking apart applications into more manageable pieces so that agile teams can deliver new features quicker and more effectively. What this pattern has done more than anything to date is spark organizational transformations, setting the foundation for future application development. In practice, however, there are a number of considerations to make that go beyond simply “build, ship, and run,” which changes ho...
I'm a lonely sensor. I spend all day telling the world how I'm feeling, but none of the other sensors seem to care. I want to be connected. I want to build relationships with other sensors to be more useful for my human. I want my human to understand that when my friends next door are too hot for a while, I'll soon be flaming. And when all my friends go outside without me, I may be left behind. Don't just log my data; use the relationship graph. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Ryan Boyd, Engi...
There is growing need for data-driven applications and the need for digital platforms to build these apps. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Muddu Sudhakar, VP and GM of Security & IoT at Splunk, will cover different PaaS solutions and Big Data platforms that are available to build applications. In addition, AI and machine learning are creating new requirements that developers need in the building of next-gen apps. The next-generation digital platforms have some of the past platform needs a...