Click here to close now.




















Welcome!

Cloud Security Authors: Elizabeth White, SmartBear Blog, Ed Featherston, Adrian Bridgwater, Vormetric Blog

Related Topics: Cloud Security, Microservices Expo, Containers Expo Blog, Agile Computing, @CloudExpo, @BigDataExpo, SDN Journal

Cloud Security: Article

Switching the Locks: Who Has Copies of Your SSH Keys?

Organizations are constantly leaving themselves open to security breaches and noncompliance with federal regulations

Despite the recent flood of high profile network breaches, hacking attempts are hardly new. In 1995, I was attending school in Helsinki when I discovered a password "sniffer" attack in our university network. In response, I wrote a program called the "secure shell" to safeguard information as it traveled from point to point within the network. This new program shielded all of our data and ensured that these kinds of attacks didn't jeopardize our logins.

This program, SSH, works by developing an encryption key pair - one key for the server and the other key for the user's computer - and encrypting the data that is transferred between those two keys. Currently, almost every major network environment - including those in large enterprises, financial institutions and governments - uses a version of SSH to preserve data in transit and let administrators operate systems remotely. Organizations use SSH to encrypt everything from health records to logins, financial data and other personal information.

Management of Keys a Low Priority
Despite the fact that SSH keys safeguard extremely sensitive information, companies have been incredibly casual at managing SSH key generation, access and location throughout their network environments. It's similar to a home security company making numerous copies of a person's housekeys, throwing them all over the streets and never changing the lock. The only things needed to pick up one of these keys and use it to access encrypted data are interest, time and a little know-how.

Organizations are constantly leaving themselves open to security breaches and noncompliance with federal regulations by not being more diligent about SSH key management. Many are incapable of controlling who creates keys, how many are created, or where they are positioned in the network after being dispensed and those discrepancies will lead them to network-wide attacks.

Swept Under the Rug
The issue has remained concealed in the IT department, guarded by its vastly technical nature and frequent organizational challenges. System administrators may not appreciate or understand the full scope of the problem because they typically only see a small piece of their environment. On the other side of the company, even if executives and business managers recognize that there is an issue, they are usually too busy to evaluate its scope or possible implications.

SSH key mismanagement is as mysterious as it is widespread. Through dialogs with prominent governments, financial institutions and enterprises, we have determined that on average most companies have between eight and over 100 SSH keys in their environments that allow access to each Unix/Linux server. Some of these keys also permit high-level root access, allowing servers to be vulnerable to "high-risk" insiders. These "insiders," including anyone who has ever been given server access, can use these mismanaged SSH keys to gain permanent access to production servers.

Mismanaged SSH Keys Give Viruses the Advantage
Each day, the probability increases of such a breach occurring. Attacks are becoming more prevalent and sophisticated, and news stories about network breaches are popping up daily. Using SSH keys as an attack vector in a virus is very easy, requiring only a few hundred lines of code. Once a virus secures successful entry, it can use mismanaged SSH keys to spread from server to server throughout the company.

Key-based access networks are so closely connected that it is extremely likely that a successful attack will travel through all organizational servers, especially if the virus also uses additional attack vectors to increase privileges to "root" after breaching a server. With the high number of keys being distributed, it is likely that the virus will infect nearly all servers within minutes, including disaster recovery and backup servers that are typically also managed using such keys.

In the worst case scenario, a virus utilizing numerous attack vectors could spread Internet-wide, rapidly and, combined with dissolution technologies, could corrupt enormous quantities of data.

Industry Regulations Flouted
Organizations lacking proper SSH key management protocols are not only vulnerable to security breaches, they are also out of compliance with mandatory security requirements and laws. SOX, FISMA, PCI and HIPAA are all industry regulations that require control of server access as well as the ability to discontinue that access. Additionally, companies may also be disregarding internal security practices (in some cases, policies mandated by customers).

The SSH protocol and its most commonly used implementations do not create these risks. Rather, it is the result of faulty protocols relating to SSH keys, inadequate time and means to research the problem to develop solutions, lack of understanding of the implications of the issue and the hesitancy of auditors to flag problems that they do not have solutions for.

Clearly the issue of SSH keys being improperly managed cannot be glossed over forever. Without auditing, controlling, or terminating SSH key-based access to their IT systems and data properly, most healthcare providers, enterprises and government agencies are easy targets for an attacker.

Steps to Combat the Risks
Before steps can be taken to solve a problem, it must be identified as a legitimate issue. It may take multiple IT teams to begin a remediation project and will require proper endorsement and support within the company.

There are multiple steps that make up the core of the remediation project:

  • Automating key setups and key removals; eliminating human errors, manual work and reducing the amount of administrators from hundreds to almost none.
  • Controlling what commands can be executed using each key and where the keys can be used from.
  • Enforcing proper protocols for establishing keys and other key operations.
  • Monitoring the environment in order to determine which keys are actively in use and removing keys that are no longer being used.
  • Rotating keys, i.e., switching out every authorized key (and corresponding identity keys) on a regular basis, so that any compromised (copied) keys stop working.
  • Unearthing all current trust-relationships (who has access to what).

The Future of Security
SSH continues to be the gold standard for data-in-transit security but the management of SSH network access must be addressed by organizations in the current threat landscape.

Nearly all of the Fortune 500 and several prominent government agencies are inadvertently putting themselves at risk to major security threats from hackers or rogue employees because they continue to operate out of compliance. This problem cannot be solved overnight. It will take numerous years and thousands of well-trained people to fully combat the problem. It must be the entire organization's responsibility to address the issue. Time must be allotted and it must become a priority to ensure that SSH user keys are properly managed in their companies.

More Stories By Tatu Ylönen

Tatu Ylönen is the CEO and founder of SSH Communications Security. While working as a researcher at Helsinki University of Technology, he began working on a solution to combat a password-sniffing attack that targeted the university’s networks. What resulted was the development of the secure shell (SSH), a security technology that would quickly replace vulnerable rlogin, TELNET and rsh protocols as the gold standard for data-in-transit security.

Tatu has been a key driver in the emergence of security technology, including SSH & SFTP protocols and co-author of globally recognized IETF standards. He has been with SSH since its inception in 1995, holding various roles including CEO, CTO and as a board member.

In October 2011 Tatu returned as chief executive officer of SSH Communications Security, bringing his experience as a network security innovator to SSH’s product line. He is charting an exciting new course for the future of the space that he invented.

Tatu holds a Master of Science degree from the Helsinki University of Technology.

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
SYS-CON Events announced today that HPM Networks will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. For 20 years, HPM Networks has been integrating technology solutions that solve complex business challenges. HPM Networks has designed solutions for both SMB and enterprise customers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
For IoT to grow as quickly as analyst firms’ project, a lot is going to fall on developers to quickly bring applications to market. But the lack of a standard development platform threatens to slow growth and make application development more time consuming and costly, much like we’ve seen in the mobile space. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mike Weiner, Product Manager of the Omega DevCloud with KORE Telematics Inc., discussed the evolving requirements for developers as IoT matures and conducted a live demonstration of how quickly application development can happen when the need to comply wit...
The Internet of Everything (IoE) brings together people, process, data and things to make networked connections more relevant and valuable than ever before – transforming information into knowledge and knowledge into wisdom. IoE creates new capabilities, richer experiences, and unprecedented opportunities to improve business and government operations, decision making and mission support capabilities.
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Red Hat's Chief Architect for the Internet of Things and Intelligent Systems, described how to revolutionize your archit...
MuleSoft has announced the findings of its 2015 Connectivity Benchmark Report on the adoption and business impact of APIs. The findings suggest traditional businesses are quickly evolving into "composable enterprises" built out of hundreds of connected software services, applications and devices. Most are embracing the Internet of Things (IoT) and microservices technologies like Docker. A majority are integrating wearables, like smart watches, and more than half plan to generate revenue with APIs within the next year.
Growth hacking is common for startups to make unheard-of progress in building their business. Career Hacks can help Geek Girls and those who support them (yes, that's you too, Dad!) to excel in this typically male-dominated world. Get ready to learn the facts: Is there a bias against women in the tech / developer communities? Why are women 50% of the workforce, but hold only 24% of the STEM or IT positions? Some beginnings of what to do about it! In her Opening Keynote at 16th Cloud Expo, Sandy Carter, IBM General Manager Cloud Ecosystem and Developers, and a Social Business Evangelist, d...
In his keynote at 16th Cloud Expo, Rodney Rogers, CEO of Virtustream, discussed the evolution of the company from inception to its recent acquisition by EMC – including personal insights, lessons learned (and some WTF moments) along the way. Learn how Virtustream’s unique approach of combining the economics and elasticity of the consumer cloud model with proper performance, application automation and security into a platform became a breakout success with enterprise customers and a natural fit for the EMC Federation.
The Internet of Things is not only adding billions of sensors and billions of terabytes to the Internet. It is also forcing a fundamental change in the way we envision Information Technology. For the first time, more data is being created by devices at the edge of the Internet rather than from centralized systems. What does this mean for today's IT professional? In this Power Panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed this very serious issue of profound change in the industry.
Discussions about cloud computing are evolving into discussions about enterprise IT in general. As enterprises increasingly migrate toward their own unique clouds, new issues such as the use of containers and microservices emerge to keep things interesting. In this Power Panel at 16th Cloud Expo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed the state of cloud computing today, and what enterprise IT professionals need to know about how the latest topics and trends affect their organization.
It is one thing to build single industrial IoT applications, but what will it take to build the Smart Cities and truly society-changing applications of the future? The technology won’t be the problem, it will be the number of parties that need to work together and be aligned in their motivation to succeed. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jason Mondanaro, Director, Product Management at Metanga, discussed how you can plan to cooperate, partner, and form lasting all-star teams to change the world and it starts with business models and monetization strategies.
Converging digital disruptions is creating a major sea change - Cisco calls this the Internet of Everything (IoE). IoE is the network connection of People, Process, Data and Things, fueled by Cloud, Mobile, Social, Analytics and Security, and it represents a $19Trillion value-at-stake over the next 10 years. In her keynote at @ThingsExpo, Manjula Talreja, VP of Cisco Consulting Services, discussed IoE and the enormous opportunities it provides to public and private firms alike. She will share what businesses must do to thrive in the IoE economy, citing examples from several industry sectors.
There will be 150 billion connected devices by 2020. New digital businesses have already disrupted value chains across every industry. APIs are at the center of the digital business. You need to understand what assets you have that can be exposed digitally, what their digital value chain is, and how to create an effective business model around that value chain to compete in this economy. No enterprise can be complacent and not engage in the digital economy. Learn how to be the disruptor and not the disruptee.
Akana has released Envision, an enhanced API analytics platform that helps enterprises mine critical insights across their digital eco-systems, understand their customers and partners and offer value-added personalized services. “In today’s digital economy, data-driven insights are proving to be a key differentiator for businesses. Understanding the data that is being tunneled through their APIs and how it can be used to optimize their business and operations is of paramount importance,” said Alistair Farquharson, CTO of Akana.
Business as usual for IT is evolving into a "Make or Buy" decision on a service-by-service conversation with input from the LOBs. How does your organization move forward with cloud? In his general session at 16th Cloud Expo, Paul Maravei, Regional Sales Manager, Hybrid Cloud and Managed Services at Cisco, discusses how Cisco and its partners offer a market-leading portfolio and ecosystem of cloud infrastructure and application services that allow you to uniquely and securely combine cloud business applications and services across multiple cloud delivery models.
The enterprise market will drive IoT device adoption over the next five years. In his session at @ThingsExpo, John Greenough, an analyst at BI Intelligence, division of Business Insider, analyzed how companies will adopt IoT products and the associated cost of adopting those products. John Greenough is the lead analyst covering the Internet of Things for BI Intelligence- Business Insider’s paid research service. Numerous IoT companies have cited his analysis of the IoT. Prior to joining BI Intelligence, he worked analyzing bank technology for Corporate Insight and The Clearing House Payment...
"Optimal Design is a technology integration and product development firm that specializes in connecting devices to the cloud," stated Joe Wascow, Co-Founder & CMO of Optimal Design, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City.
SYS-CON Events announced today that CommVault has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. A singular vision – a belief in a better way to address current and future data management needs – guides CommVault in the development of Singular Information Management® solutions for high-performance data protection, universal availability and simplified management of data on complex storage networks. CommVault's exclusive single-platform architecture gives companies unp...
Electric Cloud and Arynga have announced a product integration partnership that will bring Continuous Delivery solutions to the automotive Internet-of-Things (IoT) market. The joint solution will help automotive manufacturers, OEMs and system integrators adopt DevOps automation and Continuous Delivery practices that reduce software build and release cycle times within the complex and specific parameters of embedded and IoT software systems.
"ciqada is a combined platform of hardware modules and server products that lets people take their existing devices or new devices and lets them be accessible over the Internet for their users," noted Geoff Engelstein of ciqada, a division of Mars International, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City.
Internet of Things is moving from being a hype to a reality. Experts estimate that internet connected cars will grow to 152 million, while over 100 million internet connected wireless light bulbs and lamps will be operational by 2020. These and many other intriguing statistics highlight the importance of Internet powered devices and how market penetration is going to multiply many times over in the next few years.