Welcome!

Cloud Security Authors: Liz McMillan, Elizabeth White, Kevin Jackson, Harry Trott, Doron Kolton

Related Topics: Cloud Security, Java IoT, Mobile IoT, Microservices Expo, Agile Computing, SDN Journal

Cloud Security: Article

User Accounts Are Only the Tip of the Iceberg

How to secure M2M connections and protect encrypted networks

Identity and access management solutions provide governance and visibility capabilities that enable organizations to provision and control access to their applications, cloud infrastructure, servers and both structured and unstructured data. Enterprise IAM deployments are generally effective in managing the identities assigned to interactive, human users. However, within a typical enterprise there often are a greater number of identities assigned to the automated processes that drive much of the computing in large- scale data centers. As enterprises adopt more and more process automation, the number of non-human identities continues to grow while the number of identities assigned to human users remains relatively flat or even declines. The net result is enterprise IAM deployments are ignoring the much larger set of identities that actually perform most of the enterprise computing functions.

The vast majority of the identities enabling machine to machine (M2M) processes use Secure Shell for authentication, authorization and to provide a secure encrypted channel for M2M data transfers. For example, an automated process that retrieves server log data requires an authenticated and authorized connection to each server, plus a secure channel to move the log data to a centralized processing application. Secure Shell is ideal for these functions because:

  • Public key (PKI) based authentication supported by Secure Shell enables the process to present its credentials without requiring an interactive user to login via username and password - or via any other interactive authentication process.
  • The PKI based authentication process used by Secure Shell provides security for the login credentials. The private Secure Shell user key is never sent over the network.
  • Secure Shell provides facilities to define and limit what functions a process may perform under a Secure Shell authorization. This meets "need to know, need to do" criteria of basic IAM governance.
  • Finally, Secure Shell provides for confidentiality of data in transit. Communications over a Secure Shell channel are encrypted.

In spite of these advantages, there are significant gaps in IAM governance of identities that use Secure Shell. Typically, the provisioning of these identities is decentralized. Identities may be assigned by application developers, application owners and process owners. This often leads to a lack of proper control and oversight over creation of identities and their authorizations. Without central management and visibility, enterprises cannot be sure how many Secure Shell identities have been created, what these identities are authorized to perform and what authorizations are in fact no longer needed. The scope and nature of this problem are not theoretical. The typical enterprise server has between 8 and 100 Secure Shell authorizations (i.e., public Secure Shell user keys). This adds up. A large enterprise may have over one million keys, which in turn establish an even greater number of unmanaged machine-to-machine (M2M) trust relationships.

The Challenge of Ubiquitous Encryption
While many in IT security use Secure Shell to securely access remote servers, most are surprised to discover that M2M communication makes up the majority - in some cases over 90% of all Secure Shell traffic - on their network. The vast majority of Secure Shell trust relationships provide access to production servers and carry high-value payloads; including credit card information, healthcare records, national secrets, intellectual property and other highly critical information.

Shockingly, access to M2M encrypted channels via Secure Shell, which uses keys to authenticate a non-human user, almost always lacks proper identity and IAM controls, creating a huge risk and compliance issue for most enterprises. Any interactive user who has the proper credentials - in the case of Secure Shell, a simple copy of the key file - can hijack these uncontrolled M2M networks. This means that, in many cases, the most valuable information in the enterprise has the least amount of protection from unauthorized access.

Most large organizations have between 100,000 to well over a million of these keys in their network environments. Even though these keys grant access to critical systems and servers, many have never been changed. Even more incredibly, many organizations have no process for approving and enforcing who can grant permanent access to servers using these keys. One study at a large bank, with over one million keys in use, found that 10 percent of these keys granted unlimited administrative ("root") access to production servers; a grave security risk.

The lack of security controls - coupled with the high value of data it protects - has made Secure Shell a target for hackers. A recent IBM X-Force study found most attacks against Linux/Unix servers utilize stolen or lost Secure Shell keys as a threat vector. Because many keys are deployed in one-to-many relationships, it is possible that a single breach related to a compromised key could have a cascading effect across a large swath of the network environment.

In an ironic twist, the very function that blinds prying eyes from spying on sensitive data in-transit also prevents systems administrators from seeing whether information is being accessed improperly using a stolen Secure Shell key. All data-in-transit encryption, including Secure Shell, blinds layered security defense systems to malicious activity originating from a hacker, trusted insiders, business partners and outsourced IT. This means that unless the enterprise has deployed an encrypted channel monitoring, security operations and forensics teams cannot see what is happening in the encrypted network. Encrypted channel monitoring enables security intelligence and DLP solutions to inspect, store and - if need be - stop traffic to make sure hackers or malicious insiders cannot use Secure Shell encryption to spirit away information in an undetectable and untraceable manner. This way, the network administrator can track what a user is doing inside the encrypted channel, without exposing the data in the clear during transmission.

Evolving Standards to Include Other Authentication Methods
Moving to protect themselves against both hacker attacks and security compliance mandates, many enterprises are bolstering interactive user authentication methods; including enforcing password strength, requiring periodic password changes and implementing two-factor authentication. These methodologies are designed to confound hacker attempts to access interactive accounts through brute force attacks, lost or stolen passwords, or spoofed credentials. These approaches are now considered best practices and are enshrined in compliance requirements like PCI, HIPAA, FISMA, SOX and others.

Currently, compliance bodies are updating their regulations to specifically include other methods of authentication above and beyond user names and passwords - such as certificates and keys - in their regulatory language. This means that auditors will be required to flag instances where access is not being controlled via Secure Shell. This is a natural progression for compliance mandates, arriving at a time when the market is beginning to recognize that strong standards are required to ensure the safety of the enterprise's most critical business information.

Best Practices
To provide the highest levels of security and accountability, it is in the organization's best interest to research, design and deploy an IAM strategy that includes processes designed specifically for M2M communications. A comprehensive, best practices-based IAM program that includes provisions for Secure Shell-based M2M security must address both the provisioning and intelligence aspects of IAM across large, complex and heterogeneous environments.

Best practices based Secure Shell key management enables strong authentication practices, including:

  • Restricting root access to servers so that only the key manager can provision or revoke keys
  • Automated key creation, rotation and removal
  • Discovery and continuous monitoring of trust relationships and unauthorized key deployments and removals
  • Enforcing proper key type, size and version of Secure Shell
  • Controlling where each key can be used from and what commands can be executed using the key
  • Monitoring traffic in encrypted channels

Looking Ahead
In an environment where ever-increasing numbers of users, devices and machines are connected to the Internet and the company network, ensuring that the enterprise's IAM strategy includes strong Secure Shell access controls in M2M communications is mission-critical. While ubiquitous encryption offers clear network security benefits, left unmanaged it can present a significant threat to the business. IT security, compliance and audit professionals must begin the process of addressing Secure Shell access control and governance issues. The absence of such controls creates security vulnerabilities and can cause an organization to run afoul of compliance mandates, resulting in the risk of fines and other liabilities. By critically examining the organization's Secure Shell environment, IT teams can reveal and address the M2M access control issues that lie beneath the tip of the iceberg.

More Stories By Jonathan Lewis

Jonathan Lewis is director of product marketing for SSH Communications Security, where he is responsible for communicating the value and importance of effective Secure Shell access governance. Jonathan has diverse experience in the network and security industry including technical and business management roles at companies ranging from start-ups to global enterprises. His technology expertise includes VPN, Firewall, SSL, SSH and DDoS mitigation. Jonathan holds BS and MS degrees from McGill University and an MBA from Bentley College.

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
The 20th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo, to be held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, brings together Cloud Computing, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Containers, 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 opportunity. Submit your speaking proposal ...
DevOps is being widely accepted (if not fully adopted) as essential in enterprise IT. But as Enterprise DevOps gains maturity, expands scope, and increases velocity, the need for data-driven decisions across teams becomes more acute. DevOps teams in any modern business must wrangle the ‘digital exhaust’ from the delivery toolchain, "pervasive" and "cognitive" computing, APIs and services, mobile devices and applications, the Internet of Things, and now even blockchain. In this power panel at @...
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...
Bert Loomis was a visionary. This general session will highlight how Bert Loomis and people like him inspire us to build great things with small inventions. In their general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Harold Hannon, Architect at IBM Bluemix, and Michael O'Neill, Strategic Business Development at Nvidia, discussed the accelerating pace of AI development and how IBM Cloud and NVIDIA are partnering to bring AI capabilities to "every day," on-demand. They also reviewed two "free infrastructure" pr...
Whether your IoT service is connecting cars, homes, appliances, wearable, cameras or other devices, one question hangs in the balance – how do you actually make money from this service? The ability to turn your IoT service into profit requires the ability to create a monetization strategy that is flexible, scalable and working for you in real-time. It must be a transparent, smoothly implemented strategy that all stakeholders – from customers to the board – will be able to understand and comprehe...
Businesses and business units of all sizes can benefit from cloud computing, but many don't want the cost, performance and security concerns of public cloud nor the complexity of building their own private clouds. Today, some cloud vendors are using artificial intelligence (AI) to simplify cloud deployment and management. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Ajay Gulati, Co-founder and CEO of ZeroStack, will discuss how AI can simplify cloud operations. He will cover the following topics: why clou...
"Dice has been around for the last 20 years. We have been helping tech professionals find new jobs and career opportunities," explained Manish Dixit, VP of Product and Engineering at Dice, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 19th Cloud Expo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
More and more brands have jumped on the IoT bandwagon. We have an excess of wearables – activity trackers, smartwatches, smart glasses and sneakers, and more that track seemingly endless datapoints. However, most consumers have no idea what “IoT” means. Creating more wearables that track data shouldn't be the aim of brands; delivering meaningful, tangible relevance to their users should be. We're in a period in which the IoT pendulum is still swinging. Initially, it swung toward "smart for smar...
The Internet of Things will challenge the status quo of how IT and development organizations operate. Or will it? Certainly the fog layer of IoT requires special insights about data ontology, security and transactional integrity. But the developmental challenges are the same: People, Process and Platform and how we integrate our thinking to solve complicated problems. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Craig Sproule, CEO of Metavine, demonstrated how to move beyond today's coding paradigm and sh...
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...
We are always online. We access our data, our finances, work, and various services on the Internet. But we live in a congested world of information in which the roads were built two decades ago. The quest for better, faster Internet routing has been around for a decade, but nobody solved this problem. We’ve seen band-aid approaches like CDNs that attack a niche's slice of static content part of the Internet, but that’s it. It does not address the dynamic services-based Internet of today. It does...
The WebRTC Summit New York, to be held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, announces that its Call for Papers is now open. Topics include all aspects of improving IT delivery by eliminating waste through automated business models leveraging cloud technologies. WebRTC Summit is co-located with 20th International Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo. WebRTC is the future of browser-to-browser communications, and continues to make inroads into the traditional, difficult, plug-in web ...
20th Cloud Expo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, 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.
WebRTC is the future of browser-to-browser communications, and continues to make inroads into the traditional, difficult, plug-in web communications world. The 6th WebRTC Summit continues our tradition of delivering the latest and greatest presentations within the world of WebRTC. Topics include voice calling, video chat, P2P file sharing, and use cases that have already leveraged the power and convenience of WebRTC.
"We're a cybersecurity firm that specializes in engineering security solutions both at the software and hardware level. Security cannot be an after-the-fact afterthought, which is what it's become," stated Richard Blech, Chief Executive Officer at Secure Channels, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to simplify and streamline our lives by automating routine tasks that distract us from our goals. This promise is based on the ubiquitous deployment of smart, connected devices that link everything from industrial control systems to automobiles to refrigerators. Unfortunately, comparatively few of the devices currently deployed have been developed with an eye toward security, and as the DDoS attacks of late October 2016 have demonstrated, this oversight can ...
Fact is, enterprises have significant legacy voice infrastructure that’s costly to replace with pure IP solutions. How can we bring this analog infrastructure into our shiny new cloud applications? There are proven methods to bind both legacy voice applications and traditional PSTN audio into cloud-based applications and services at a carrier scale. Some of the most successful implementations leverage WebRTC, WebSockets, SIP and other open source technologies. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Da...
Internet-of-Things discussions can end up either going down the consumer gadget rabbit hole or focused on the sort of data logging that industrial manufacturers have been doing forever. However, in fact, companies today are already using IoT data both to optimize their operational technology and to improve the experience of customer interactions in novel ways. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Gordon Haff, Red Hat Technology Evangelist, will share examples from a wide range of industries – includin...
Unless your company can spend a lot of money on new technology, re-engineering your environment and hiring a comprehensive cybersecurity team, you will most likely move to the cloud or seek external service partnerships. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Darren Guccione, CEO of Keeper Security, revealed what you need to know when it comes to encryption in the cloud.
We're entering the post-smartphone era, where wearable gadgets from watches and fitness bands to glasses and health aids will power the next technological revolution. With mass adoption of wearable devices comes a new data ecosystem that must be protected. Wearables open new pathways that facilitate the tracking, sharing and storing of consumers’ personal health, location and daily activity data. Consumers have some idea of the data these devices capture, but most don’t realize how revealing and...