Welcome!

Cloud Security Authors: Liz McMillan, Scott Sobhani, Dana Gardner, Stefano Stabellini, Elizabeth White

Related Topics: Cloud Security, Java IoT, Industrial IoT, Microservices Expo, Agile Computing, @CloudExpo

Cloud Security: Article

Remediating SSH Key Mismanagement

The Necessary Steps to Secure Your Network

From its origin in 1995, SSH, the secure shell data-in-transit protocol, has been used the world over as a method to transfer data between machines, as well as a tool to provide remote administrator access. Some variation of the protocol is packaged free in every version of Unix, Mac OS and Linux. Recently, its use has grown exponentially in Windows operating systems as well. While the exact number of worldwide SSH deployments is unknown, it is estimated that nearly half of all of the World Wide Web uses SSH, making it a virtually mandatory service in the world of network security.

After nearly two decades of use, SSH has succeeded in securing billions of business transactions without any faults of the protocol itself, demonstrating its dependability as a security solution. On the other hand, the evolution of cyber-threat ability requires that organizations take a careful look at how they manage their SSH environments.

New Threats Requires New Thinking
Organizations rely on SSH to securely transmit immense amounts of sensitive data - such as banking information, healthcare records, classified intelligence and other personally identifiable material. Therefore, to attackers and malicious insiders, SSH is a barrier protecting vital corporate data.

However, because this barrier is inherently unbreakable, attackers must pursue alternate routes around the secure shell; to do this, they must focus instead on the mismanagement of SSH keys.

Network administrators establish a trust-based relationship between a user's computer and server by implementing a cryptographic key pair. The connection is established and managed within the corporation's networking system. Unfortunately, many of these systems are outdated and often cannot search for or pinpoint the location of trust-based relationships. Therefore, the search for keys must be done manually. Given a network often houses keys numbering in the hundreds of thousands, it is too easy to lose track of these trust relationships.

This leads to a disheartening conclusion: if an attacker inside or outside the company walls can discover a key, they can essentially imitate any authorized user and gain access to any sensitive data freely.

Improper management of SSH keys presents a prominent vulnerability available for exploitation by attackers looking to gain access to sensitive information.

A study performed recently on some of the largest corporations in the world produced shocking results deriving from the lack of judgment and knowledge of the importance of key management:

  • Roughly 10 percent of all SSH user keys offer root access, creating a major compliance and security issue
  • Having key-based access grants be essentially permanent leaves the network vulnerable to attack and is in direct violation of SOX, PCI and FISMA requirements for proper termination of access
  • Enterprises rarely know what each key is used for, presenting not only a security risk, but also a business continuity risk
  • Many SSH keys that grant access to critical servers are no longer usable
  • Man-in-the-middle attacks are made simple when organizations share the same SSH host keys across thousands of computers
  • Some organizations permit administrators to create or delete SSH user keys at will - without approvals or control - essentially granting unfettered, permanent access to systems and people
  • Very few organizations ever rotate SSH user keys, or even remove them when a user leaves or an application is decommissioned

Today, advanced threat vectors are very real and are becoming more commonplace. It is more imperative than ever for organizations without proper SSH key management protocols to restructure their approach to key management, or otherwise face serious consequences.

Organizations must also understand that federal compliance standards such as SOX, NIST, PCI and HIPAA all entail huge fines if they do not exercise the utmost control over access to sensitive network information. With 20,000 servers, a typical number for many large organizations, the cost of manual SSH key management is $40 million over ten years. When the reputation damage caused by a security breach is factored in, organizations have a slew of incentives to repair organizational SSH key management practices.

Key Management Practices Must Change
Fortunately, access control issues in secure shell environments are not a result of any vulnerabilities or flaws in the SSH protocol itself. Rather, the security and compliance risks identified are caused by:

  • A reluctance on the part of auditors to flag issues for which they don't have effective answers
  • Insufficient resources and time to dig into the issue to gain understanding or develop answers
  • Years of lack of clear guidelines or policies relating to SSH key management
  • Unintentionally ignoring of the scope and implications of the problem
  • A lack of guidelines and good tools early on for solving key management issues
  • The focus of the access management field on interactive users without addressing automated access

Why then, has this problem remained in the dark, particularly given the possible consequences? Given its complexity, SSH key management has remained buried in the domain of system administrators. System administrators usually don't control the entire IT environment; instead, they only see the area under their immediate jurisdiction. It must also be taken into account that IT administrators are some of the company's busiest employees, and as such, they may not have had time to recognize and investigate the issue. In addition, because managers and executives are disconnected from the problem, and its underlying consequences, no action is taken and the high risk remains present.

Best Practices for Dealing with SSH Key Mismanagement
The process needed to fix the issue involves several teams within IT operations. The possible liability and compliance risks demand the awareness and buy-in from executive management as well.

Some best practices to get rid of the dangers include:

  • Enforcing proper approvals for all key setups
  • Discovering all existing users, public and private keys, and mapping trust between machines and users
  • Restricting where each key has access and what commands can be executed using the key
  • Rotating keys regularly, so that copied keys cease to work and proper termination of access can be ensured
  • Monitoring the environment to determine which keys are actually used, and removing keys no longer in use
  • Automating key setups and key removals; eliminating manual work and human errors. This step slashes the number of administrators needed for key setups from possibly several hundred to only a few highly trusted administrators

To further reduce risk, proper key management should involve the establishment of internal boundaries within the organization. The organization should strictly control what key-based trust relationships can cross which boundaries, while enforcing iron-clad IP address and "forced command" restrictions for all authorized keys involving trust relationships crossing such boundaries.

Conclusion
While SSH is widely considered the benchmark for data-in-transit security, the current threat landscape requires organizations to rethink how they are managing access to their encrypted networks. The SSH protocol has done a great job in protecting data-in-transit at a tactical level, but an ever-increasing number of threat vectors means effective management of the SSH environment is critical to secure network operations. Best security practices like the ones identified above will position your enterprise to prepare for security threats and new compliance mandates before they occur.

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
A strange thing is happening along the way to the Internet of Things, namely far too many devices to work with and manage. It has become clear that we'll need much higher efficiency user experiences that can allow us to more easily and scalably work with the thousands of devices that will soon be in each of our lives. Enter the conversational interface revolution, combining bots we can literally talk with, gesture to, and even direct with our thoughts, with embedded artificial intelligence, wh...
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....
SYS-CON Events announced today that Bsquare has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. For more than two decades, Bsquare has helped its customers extract business value from a broad array of physical assets by making them intelligent, connecting them, and using the data they generate to optimize business processes.
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...
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...
Connected devices and the industrial internet are growing exponentially every year with Cisco expecting 50 billion devices to be in operation by 2020. In this period of growth, location-based insights are becoming invaluable to many businesses as they adopt new connected technologies. Knowing when and where these devices connect from is critical for a number of scenarios in supply chain management, disaster management, emergency response, M2M, location marketing and more. In his session at @Th...
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 Day 2 Keynote at @ThingsExpo, Henrik Kenani Dahlgren, Portfolio Marketing Manager at Ericsson, discussed how to plan to cooperate, partner, and form lasting all-star teams to change t...
The cloud market growth today is largely in public clouds. While there is a lot of spend in IT departments in virtualization, these aren’t yet translating into a true “cloud” experience within the enterprise. What is stopping the growth of the “private cloud” market? In his general session at 18th Cloud Expo, Nara Rajagopalan, CEO of Accelerite, explored the challenges in deploying, managing, and getting adoption for a private cloud within an enterprise. What are the key differences between wh...
The 19th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo, to be held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, brings together Cloud Computing, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Digital Transformation, Microservices and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportuni...
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with the 19th International Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world and ThingsExpo Silicon Valley Call for Papers is now open.
There is little doubt that Big Data solutions will have an increasing role in the Enterprise IT mainstream over time. Big Data at Cloud Expo - to be held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA - has announced its Call for Papers is open. 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...
In his general session at 18th Cloud Expo, Lee Atchison, Principal Cloud Architect and Advocate at New Relic, discussed cloud as a ‘better data center’ and how it adds new capacity (faster) and improves application availability (redundancy). The cloud is a ‘Dynamic Tool for Dynamic Apps’ and resource allocation is an integral part of your application architecture, so use only the resources you need and allocate /de-allocate resources on the fly.
In his keynote at 18th Cloud Expo, Andrew Keys, Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise, provided an overview of the evolution of the Internet and the Database and the future of their combination – the Blockchain. Andrew Keys is Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise. He comes to ConsenSys Enterprise with capital markets, technology and entrepreneurial experience. Previously, he worked for UBS investment bank in equities analysis. Later, he was responsible for the creation and distribution of life sett...
Machine Learning helps make complex systems more efficient. By applying advanced Machine Learning techniques such as Cognitive Fingerprinting, wind project operators can utilize these tools to learn from collected data, detect regular patterns, and optimize their own operations. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Stuart Gillen, Director of Business Development at SparkCognition, discussed how research has demonstrated the value of Machine Learning in delivering next generation analytics to imp...
There are several IoTs: the Industrial Internet, Consumer Wearables, Wearables and Healthcare, Supply Chains, and the movement toward Smart Grids, Cities, Regions, and Nations. There are competing communications standards every step of the way, a bewildering array of sensors and devices, and an entire world of competing data analytics platforms. To some this appears to be chaos. In this power panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, Bradley Holt, Developer Advocate a...
Cognitive Computing is becoming the foundation for a new generation of solutions that have the potential to transform business. Unlike traditional approaches to building solutions, a cognitive computing approach allows the data to help determine the way applications are designed. This contrasts with conventional software development that begins with defining logic based on the current way a business operates. In her session at 18th Cloud Expo, Judith S. Hurwitz, President and CEO of Hurwitz & ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that ReadyTalk, a leading provider of online conferencing and webinar services, has been named Vendor Presentation Sponsor 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. ReadyTalk delivers audio and web conferencing services that inspire collaboration and enable the Future of Work for today’s increasingly digital and mobile workforce. By combining intuitive, innovative tec...
Amazon has gradually rolled out parts of its IoT offerings, but these are just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to optimizing their backend AWS offerings, Amazon is laying the ground work to be a major force in IoT - especially in the connected home and office. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Kocher, founder and managing director of Grey Heron, explained how Amazon is extending its reach to become a major force in IoT by building on its dominant cloud IoT platform, its Dash Button strat...
industrial company for a multi-year contract initially valued at over $4.0 million. In addition to DataV software, Bsquare will also provide comprehensive systems integration, support and maintenance services. DataV leverages advanced data analytics, predictive reasoning, data-driven diagnostics, and automated orchestration of remediation actions in order to improve asset uptime while reducing service and warranty costs.
Vidyo, Inc., has joined the Alliance for Open Media. The Alliance for Open Media is a non-profit organization working to define and develop media technologies that address the need for an open standard for video compression and delivery over the web. As a member of the Alliance, Vidyo will collaborate with industry leaders in pursuit of an open and royalty-free AOMedia Video codec, AV1. Vidyo’s contributions to the organization will bring to bear its long history of expertise in codec technolo...