Cloud Security Authors: Elizabeth White, John Katrick, Pat Romanski, Rostyslav Demush, Yeshim Deniz

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
Digital Transformation and Disruption, Amazon Style - What You Can Learn. Chris Kocher is a co-founder of Grey Heron, a management and strategic marketing consulting firm. He has 25+ years in both strategic and hands-on operating experience helping executives and investors build revenues and shareholder value. He has consulted with over 130 companies on innovating with new business models, product strategies and monetization. Chris has held management positions at HP and Symantec in addition to ...
Cloud-enabled transformation has evolved from cost saving measure to business innovation strategy -- one that combines the cloud with cognitive capabilities to drive market disruption. Learn how you can achieve the insight and agility you need to gain a competitive advantage. Industry-acclaimed CTO and cloud expert, Shankar Kalyana presents. Only the most exceptional IBMers are appointed with the rare distinction of IBM Fellow, the highest technical honor in the company. Shankar has also receive...
Enterprises have taken advantage of IoT to achieve important revenue and cost advantages. What is less apparent is how incumbent enterprises operating at scale have, following success with IoT, built analytic, operations management and software development capabilities - ranging from autonomous vehicles to manageable robotics installations. They have embraced these capabilities as if they were Silicon Valley startups.
Poor data quality and analytics drive down business value. In fact, Gartner estimated that the average financial impact of poor data quality on organizations is $9.7 million per year. But bad data is much more than a cost center. By eroding trust in information, analytics and the business decisions based on these, it is a serious impediment to digital transformation.
The standardization of container runtimes and images has sparked the creation of an almost overwhelming number of new open source projects that build on and otherwise work with these specifications. Of course, there's Kubernetes, which orchestrates and manages collections of containers. It was one of the first and best-known examples of projects that make containers truly useful for production use. However, more recently, the container ecosystem has truly exploded. A service mesh like Istio addr...
Predicting the future has never been more challenging - not because of the lack of data but because of the flood of ungoverned and risk laden information. Microsoft states that 2.5 exabytes of data are created every day. Expectations and reliance on data are being pushed to the limits, as demands around hybrid options continue to grow.
Business professionals no longer wonder if they'll migrate to the cloud; it's now a matter of when. The cloud environment has proved to be a major force in transitioning to an agile business model that enables quick decisions and fast implementation that solidify customer relationships. And when the cloud is combined with the power of cognitive computing, it drives innovation and transformation that achieves astounding competitive advantage.
Digital Transformation: Preparing Cloud & IoT Security for the Age of Artificial Intelligence. As automation and artificial intelligence (AI) power solution development and delivery, many businesses need to build backend cloud capabilities. Well-poised organizations, marketing smart devices with AI and BlockChain capabilities prepare to refine compliance and regulatory capabilities in 2018. Volumes of health, financial, technical and privacy data, along with tightening compliance requirements by...
As IoT continues to increase momentum, so does the associated risk. Secure Device Lifecycle Management (DLM) is ranked as one of the most important technology areas of IoT. Driving this trend is the realization that secure support for IoT devices provides companies the ability to deliver high-quality, reliable, secure offerings faster, create new revenue streams, and reduce support costs, all while building a competitive advantage in their markets. In this session, we will use customer use cases...
The IoT Will Grow: In what might be the most obvious prediction of the decade, the IoT will continue to expand next year, with more and more devices coming online every single day. What isn’t so obvious about this prediction: where that growth will occur. The retail, healthcare, and industrial/supply chain industries will likely see the greatest growth. Forrester Research has predicted the IoT will become “the backbone” of customer value as it continues to grow. It is no surprise that retail is ...
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 settlement products to hedge funds and investment banks. After, he co-founded a revenue cycle management company where he learned about Bitcoin and eventually Ethereal. Andrew's role at ConsenSys Enterprise is a mul...
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.
DevOpsSummit New York 2018, colocated with CloudEXPO | DXWorldEXPO New York 2018 will be held November 11-13, 2018, in New York City. Digital Transformation (DX) is a major focus with the introduction of DXWorldEXPO within the program. Successful transformation requires a laser focus on being data-driven and on using all the tools available that enable transformation if they plan to survive over the long term. A total of 88% of Fortune 500 companies from a generation ago are now out of bus...
With 10 simultaneous tracks, keynotes, general sessions and targeted breakout classes, @CloudEXPO and DXWorldEXPO are two of the most important technology events of the year. Since its launch over eight years ago, @CloudEXPO and DXWorldEXPO have presented a rock star faculty as well as showcased hundreds of sponsors and exhibitors! In this blog post, we provide 7 tips on how, as part of our world-class faculty, you can deliver one of the most popular sessions at our events. But before reading...
DXWorldEXPO LLC announced today that "Miami Blockchain Event by FinTechEXPO" has announced that its Call for Papers is now open. The two-day event will present 20 top Blockchain experts. All speaking inquiries which covers the following information can be submitted by email to [email protected] Financial enterprises in New York City, London, Singapore, and other world financial capitals are embracing a new generation of smart, automated FinTech that eliminates many cumbersome, slow, and expe...
Cloud Expo | DXWorld Expo have announced the conference tracks for Cloud Expo 2018. Cloud Expo will be held June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, and November 6-8, 2018, at the Santa Clara Convention Center, Santa Clara, CA. Digital Transformation (DX) is a major focus with the introduction of DX Expo within the program. Successful transformation requires a laser focus on being data-driven and on using all the tools available that enable transformation if they plan to survive ov...
DXWordEXPO New York 2018, colocated with CloudEXPO New York 2018 will be held November 11-13, 2018, in New York City and will bring together Cloud Computing, FinTech and Blockchain, Digital Transformation, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, AI, Machine Learning and WebRTC to one location.
DXWorldEXPO LLC announced today that ICOHOLDER named "Media Sponsor" of Miami Blockchain Event by FinTechEXPO. ICOHOLDER give you detailed information and help the community to invest in the trusty projects. Miami Blockchain Event by FinTechEXPO has opened its Call for Papers. The two-day event will present 20 top Blockchain experts. All speaking inquiries which covers the following information can be submitted by email to [email protected] Miami Blockchain Event by FinTechEXPO also offers s...
DXWorldEXPO | CloudEXPO are the world's most influential, independent events where Cloud Computing was coined and where technology buyers and vendors meet to experience and discuss the big picture of Digital Transformation and all of the strategies, tactics, and tools they need to realize their goals. Sponsors of DXWorldEXPO | CloudEXPO benefit from unmatched branding, profile building and lead generation opportunities.
Dion Hinchcliffe is an internationally recognized digital expert, bestselling book author, frequent keynote speaker, analyst, futurist, and transformation expert based in Washington, DC. He is currently Chief Strategy Officer at the industry-leading digital strategy and online community solutions firm, 7Summits.