legacy systems in hybrid data center security

The Risk of Legacy Systems in a Modern-Day Hybrid Data Center

If you’re still heavily reliant on legacy infrastructure, you’re not alone. In many industries, legacy servers are an integral part of ‘business as usual’ and are far too complex or expensive to replace or remove.

Examples include Oracle databases that run on Solaris servers, applications using Linux RHEL4, or industry-specific legacy technology. Think about legacy AIX machines that often manage the processing of transactions for financial institutions, or end of life operating systems such as Windows XP that are frequently used as end devices for healthcare enterprises. While businesses do attempt to modernize these applications and infrastructure, it can take years of planning to achieve execution, and even then might never be fully successful.

When Legacy Isn’t Secured – The Whole Data Center is at Risk

When you think about the potential risk of legacy infrastructure, you may go straight to the legacy workloads, but that’s just the start. Think about an unpatched device that is running Windows XP. If this is exploited, an attacker can gain access directly to your data center. Security updates like this recent warning about a remote code execution vulnerability in Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP should show us how close this danger could be.

Gaining access to just one unpatched device, especially when it is a legacy machine, is relatively simple. From this point, lateral movement can allow an attacker to move deeper inside the network. Today’s data centers are increasingly complex and have an intricate mix of technologies, not just two binary categories of legacy and modern, but future-focused and hybrid such as public and private clouds and containers. When a data center takes advantage of this kind of dynamic and complex infrastructure, the risk grows exponentially. Traffic patterns are harder to visualize and therefore control, and attackers are able to move undetected around your network.

Digital Transformation Makes Legacy More Problematic

The threat that legacy servers pose is not as simple as it was before digital transformation. Modernization of the data center has increased the complexity of any enterprise, and attackers have more vectors than ever before to gain a foothold into your data centers and make their way to critical applications of digital crown jewels.

Historically, an on-premises application might have been used by only a few other applications, probably also on premises. Today however, it’s likely that it will be used by cloud-based applications too, without any improvements to its security. By introducing legacy systems to more and more applications and environments, the risk of unpatched or insecure legacy systems is growing all the time. This is exacerbated by every new innovation, communication or advance in technology.

Blocking these communications isn’t actually an option in these scenarios, and digital transformation makes these connections necessary regardless. However, you can’t embrace the latest innovation without securing business-critical elements of your data center. How can you rapidly deploy new applications in a modern data center without putting your enterprise at risk?

Quantifying the Risk

Many organizations think they understand their infrastructure, but don’t actually have an accurate or real-time visualization of their IT ecosystem. Organizational or ‘tribal’ knowledge about legacy systems may be incorrect, incomplete or lost, and it’s almost impossible to obtain manual visibility over a modern dynamic data center. Without an accurate map of your entire network, you simply can’t quantify what the risks are if an attack was to occur.

Once you’ve obtained visibility, here’s what you need to know:

  1. The servers and endpoints that are running legacy systems.
  2. The business applications and environments where the associated workloads belong.
  3. The ways in which the workloads interact with other environments and applications. Think about what processes they use and what goals they are trying to achieve.

Once you have this information, you then know which workloads are presenting the most risk, the business processes that are most likely to come under attack, and the routes that a hacker could use to get from the easy target of a legacy server, across clouds and data centers to a critical prized asset. We often see customers surprised by the ‘open doors’ that could lead attackers directly from an insecure legacy machine to sensitive customer data, or digital crown jewels.

Once you’ve got full visibility, you can start building a list of what to change, which systems to migrate to new environments, and which policy you could use to protect the most valuable assets in your data center. With smart segmentation in place, legacy machines do not have to be a risky element of your infrastructure.

Micro-segmentation is a Powerful Tool Against Lateral Movement

Using micro-segmentation effectively reduces risk in a hybrid data center environment. Specific, granular security policy can be enforced, which works across all infrastructure – from legacy servers to clouds and containers. This policy limits an attacker’s ability to move laterally inside the data center, stopping movement across workloads, applications, and environments.

If you’ve been using VLANs up until now, you’ll know how ineffective they are when it comes to protecting legacy systems. VLANs usually place all legacy systems into one segment, which means just one breach puts them all in the line of fire. VLANs rely on firewall rules that are difficult to maintain and do not leverage sufficient automation. This often results in organizations accepting loose policy that leaves it open to risk. Without visibility, security teams are unable to enforce tight policy and flows, not only among the legacy systems themselves, but also between the legacy systems and the rest of a modern infrastructure.

One Solution – Across all Infrastructure

Many organizations make the mistake of forgetting about legacy systems when they think about their entire IT ecosystem. However, as legacy servers can be the most vulnerable, it’s essential that your micro-segmentation solution works here, too. Covering all infrastructure types is a must-have for any company when choosing a micro-segmentation vendor that works with modern data centers. Even the enterprises who are looking to modernize or replace their legacy systems may be years away from achieving this, and security is more important than ever in the meantime.

Say Goodbye to the Legacy Challenge

Legacy infrastructure is becoming harder to manage. The servers and systems are business critical, but it’s only becoming harder to secure and maintain them in a modern hybrid data center. Not only this, but the risk, and the attack surface are increasing with every new cloud-based technology and every new application you take on.

Visibility is the first important step. Security teams can use an accurate map of their entire network to identify legacy servers and their interdependencies and communications, and then control the risks using tight micro-segmentation technology.

Guardicore Centra can cover legacy infrastructure alongside any other platform, removing the issue of gaps or blind spots for your network. Without fear of losing control over your existing legacy servers, your enterprise can create a micro-segmentation policy that’s future-focused, with support for where you’ve come from and built for today’s hybrid data center.

Interested in learning more about implementing a hybrid cloud center security solution?

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