Posts

When Firewalls & Traditional Segmentation Fail, What’s the Next Big Thing?

Ask many of today’s enterprise businesses what the most important factors are to remain competitive in their industry, and you’re likely to get an answer that includes both speed and innovation. There’s always another competitor snapping at your heels, and there aren’t enough hours in the day to get down your to-do lists. The faster you can go live with new features and updates, the better.

For many, this comes at a severely high price – security. If speed and innovation are the top items on the agenda, how can you balance this with keeping your sensitive information or critical assets safe? Of course, pushing security onto the back burner is never a solution, as increased risk, compliance and internal governance mandates will continually remind us.

A fellow cybersecurity evangelist Tricia Howard and I discussed this conundrum a while back. She came up with a terrific visual representation of this dilemma which can be seen in the Penrose Triangle, below. This diagram, also known as the ‘impossible triangle’ is an optical illusion. In this drawing, the two bottom points, speed and innovation, make the top point, security, seem like it’s further away – but it’s not.

penrose triangle

Penrose “Impossible” Triangle. Used in an analogy to modern IT challenges as proposed by cyber evangelist Tricia Howard.

First, let’s look at how organizations are achieving the speed and innovation corners of this triangle, and then we can see why securing our IT environments has become more of a challenge while still an ACHIEVABLE one.

Understanding the Cloud and DevOps Best Practices

There are two key elements to the DevOps process as we know it today. The first one is simplifying management by decoupling it from underlying platforms. Instead of managing each system/platform separately, DevOps and Cloud best practices seek solutions that provide an abstraction layer. Using this layer, enterprises can work across all systems, from legacy to future-focused, without impediment. It’s streamlining that has become essential in today’s enterprises which have everything from legacy, end of life operating systems and platforms, to modern virtualized environments, clouds and containers.

Secondly, DevOps and Cloud best practices utilize automated provisioning, management and autoscaling of workloads, allowing them to work faster and smarter. These are implemented through playbooks, scripts like Chef, Puppet and Ansible to name a few.

Sounds Great, but not for Traditional Segmentation Tools

These new best practices allow enterprises to push out new features quickly, remain competitive, and act at the speed of today’s fast-paced world. However, securing these by traditional security methods is all but impossible.

Historically, organizations would use firewalls, VLANs and ACLs for on-premises systems, and then virtualized firewalls and Security Groups in their cloud environments. Without an established external perimeter, with so many advanced cyberattacks, and with dynamic change happening all the time, these have now become yesterday’s solution. Here are just some of the problems:

  • Complex to manage: Having multiple systems just isn’t realistic. Using Firewalls, VLANs and ACLs on-premises and security groups in the cloud for example means that you have multiple systems to manage, which add to management complexity, are resource intensive and do not provide the seamless visibility required. The rule-sets vary, and can even contradict one another, and you don’t know if you have gaps that could leave you open to unnecessary risk.
  • Increased maintenance: Changes for these systems need to be carried out manually, and nothing less than automation is enough for today’s complex IT environments. You may have tens of thousands of servers or communication flows to handle, and it’s impossible to do this with the human touch.
  • Low visibility: For strong security, your business needs to be able to see down to process level, include user/identity and domain name information across all systems and assets. With a lack of basic visibility, your IT teams cannot understand application and user workflows or behavior. Any simple change could cause an outage or a problem that slows down business as usual.
  • Platform-specific: For example, VLANs do not work on the cloud, or Security Groups won’t help on-premises. To ensure you have wide coverage, you need a security solution that can visualize and control everything, from the most legacy infrastructure or bare metal servers all the way through to clouds, containers and serverless computing.
  • Coarse controls: The most common traditional segmentation tools are port and IP-based, despite today’s attackers going after processes, users or workloads for their attacks. Firewalls are innately perimeter controls, so cannot be placed between most traffic points. While companies attempt to fix this by re-engineering traffic flows, this is a huge effort that can become a serious bottleneck.

Introducing Software-Defined Segmentation: An Approach That Works with DevOps From the Start

With these challenges in mind, there are security solutions that take advantage of DevOps and cloud best practices, and allow us to build an abstraction layer that simplifies visibility and control across our environment in a seamless, streamlined fashion. One that allows us to take advantage of DevOps and cloud automation to gain speed as well.

Software-defined segmentation is built to address the challenges of traditional tools for the hybrid cloud and modern data center from the start. Just like with cloud or DevOps processes, the visibility and policy management is decoupled from the underlying platforms, working on an abstraction layer across all environments and operating systems. On one unique platform, organizations can gain deep visibility and control over their entire IT ecosystem, from legacy systems through to the most future-focused technology. The insight you receive is far more granular than with any traditional segmentation tools, allowing you to see at a glance the dependencies among applications, users, and workloads, making it simple to define and enforce the right policy for your business needs. These policies can be enforced by process, user identity, and FQDN, rather than relying on port and IP that will do little to thwart today’s advanced threats.

Software-defined segmentation follows the DevOps mindset in more ways than one. It incorporates the same techniques for efficiency, innovation and speed, such as automated provisioning, management, and autoscaling. Developers can continue to embrace a ‘done once, done right’ attitude, using playbooks and scripts such as Chef, Puppet and Ansible to speed up the process from end to end, and automate faster, rather than rely on manual moves, changes, adds or deletes.

Embrace the New, but Cover the Old

Software-defined segmentation is a new age for cybersecurity, providing a faster, more granular way for enterprises to protect their critical assets. Projects that in the past may have spanned many years can now be done in a matter of a few weeks with this new approach, quickly reducing risk and validating compliance.

If your segmentation solution is stuck in the past, you’re leaving yourself open to risk, making it far easier for hackers to launch an attack, and you’re unlikely to be living up to the necessary compliance mandates for your industry.

Instead, think about a new approach that, just like your DevOps practices, is decoupled from any particular infrastructure, and is both automatable and auto-scalable. On top of this, make sure that it provides equal visibility and control across the board in a granular way, so that speed and innovation can thrive, with security an equal partner in the triangle of success.

Securing modern data centers and clouds needs a whole new approach to segmentation. To learn more about it, check out our white paper.

Download now

Are you Prepared for a Rise in Nation State Attacks and Ransomware in 2020?

Once you know what you’re up against, keeping your business safe might be easier than you think. In this blog, we’re going to look at two kinds of cyber threats: nation state cyber attacks and ransomware. Neither is a new concern, but both are increasing in sophistication and prevalence. Many businesses feel powerless to protect against these events, and yet a list of relatively simple steps could keep you protected in the event of an attack.

Staying Vigilant Against Nation State Actors

According to the 2019 Verizon Data Breach study, nation state attacks have increased from 12 percent of attacks in 2017 to 23 percent in 2018.

One of the most important things to recognize about nation state attacks is that it is getting harder to ascertain where these attacks are coming from. Attackers learn to cleverly obfuscate their attacks through mimicking other state actor behavior, tools, and coding and through layers of hijacked, compromised networks. In some cases, they work through proxy actors. This makes the process of attribution very difficult. One good example is the 2018 Olympics in Pyongyang, where attackers launched the malware Olympic Destroyer. This took down the Olympic network’s wireless access points, servers, ticketing system, and even reporters Internet access for 12 hours, immediately prior to the start of the games. While at first, metadata in the malware was thought to attribute the attack to North Korea, this was actually down to manipulations of the code. Much later, researchers realized it was of Russian origin.

These ‘false flag’ attacks have a number of benefits for the perpetrators. Firstly, the real source of the threat may never be discovered. Secondly, even if the correct attribution is eventually found, the news cycle has died down, the exposure is less, and many people may not believe the new evidence.

This has contributed to nation state actors feeling confident to launch larger and more aggressive attacks, such as Russian attacks on Ukrainian power grids and communications, or the Iranian cyber-attack APT 33, that recently took down more than 30,000 Saudi oil production laptops and servers.

Ransomware often Attacks the Vulnerable, including Local Government and Hospitals

State sponsored attacks have the clout to do damage where it hurts the most, as seen by the two largest ransomware attacks ever experienced, WannaCry and NotPetya. These were created using what was allegedly a stolen US NSA tool kit called EternalBlue, as well as a French password stealer called Mimikatz.

This strength, combined with the tight budgets and flat networks of local governments and healthcare systems, is a recipe for catastrophe. Hospitals in particular are known for having flat networks and medical devices based on legacy and end-of-life operating systems. According to some estimates, hospitals are the targets of up to 70% of all ransomware incidents. The sensitive nature of PII and health records and the direct impact on safety and human life makes the healthcare industry a lucrative target for hackers looking to get their ransom paid by attacking national infrastructure.

As attackers become increasingly brazen, and go after organizations that are weak-placed to stand up to the threat, it’s more important than ever that national infrastructure thinks about security, and takes steps to handle these glaring gaps.

Shoring Up Your Defenses is Easier Than You Think

The party line often seems to be that attackers are getting smarter and more insidious, and data centers are too complex to handle this threat. It’s true that today’s networks are more dynamic and interconnected, and that new attack vectors and methods to hide these risks are cropping up all the time. However, what businesses miss, is the handful of very achievable and even simple steps that can help to limit the impact of an attack, and perhaps even prevent the damage occurring in the first place.

Here’s what enterprises can do:

  • Create an Incident Response Plan: Make sure that anyone can understand what to do in case of an incident, not just security professionals. Think about the average person on your executive board, or even your end users. You need to assume that a breach or a ransomware attack will happen, you just don’t know when. With this mindset, you’ll be more likely to create a thorough plan for incident response, including drills and practice runs.
  • Protect your Credentials: This starts with utilizing strong passwords and two-factor authentication, improving the posture around credentials in general. On top of this, the days of administrative rights are over. Every user should have only the access they need, and no further. This stops bad actors from escalating privileges and moving laterally within your data center, taking control of your devices.
  • Think Smart on Security Hygiene: Exploits based on the Eternal Blue tool kit – the Microsoft SMB v1 vulnerability, were able to cause damage because of a patch that had been released by Microsoft by May 2017. Software vulnerabilities can be avoided through patching, vulnerability testing, and certification.
  • Software-Defined Segmentation: If we continue the mindset that an attack will occur, it’s important to be set up to limit the blast radius of your breach. Software-defined segmentation is the smartest way to do this. Without any need to make infrastructure changes, you can isolate and protect your critical applications. This also works to protect legacy or end-of-life systems that are business critical but cannot be secured with existing modern solutions, a common problem in the healthcare industry. Also unlike VLANs and cloud security groups these take no physical infrastructure changes and take hours not months to implement.

Following this Advice for Critical Infrastructure

This advice is a smart starting point for national infrastructure as well as enterprises, but it needs more planning and forethought. When it comes to critical infrastructure, your visibility is essential, especially as you are likely to have multiple platforms and geographies. The last thing you want is to try to make one cohesive picture out of multiple platform-specific disparate solutions.

It’s also important to think about modern day threat vectors. Today, attacks can come through IP connected IoT devices or networks, and so your teams need to be able to detect non-traditional server compute nodes.

Incident response planning is much harder on a governmental or national level, and therefore needs to be taken up a notch in preparation. You may well need local, state, and national participation and buy-in for your drills, including law enforcement and emergency relief in case of panic or disruption. How are you going to communicate and share information on both a local and international scale, and who will have responsibility for what areas of your incident response plan?

Learning from the 2018 Olympics

Attacks against local government, critical infrastructure and national systems such as healthcare are inevitable in today’s threat landscape. The defenses in place, and the immediate response capabilities will be the difference between disaster and quick mitigation.

The 2018 Olympics can serve as proof. Despite Russia’s best attempts, the attack was thwarted within 12 hours. A strong incident response plan was put into place to find the malware and come up with signatures and remediation scripts within one hour. 4G access points had been put in place to provide networking capabilities, and the machines at the venue were reimaged from backups.

We can only hope that Qatar 2022 is already rehearsing as strong an incident response plan for its upcoming Olympics, especially with radical ‘semi-state actors’ in the region such as the Cyber Caliphate Army and the Syrian Electronic Army who could act as a proxy for a devastating state actor attack.

We Can Be Just as Skilled as the Attackers

The attitude that ‘there’s nothing we can do’ to protect against the growth in nation state attacks and ransomware threats is not just unhelpful, it’s also untrue. We have strong security tools and procedures at our disposal, we just need to make sure that we put these into place. These steps are not complicated, and they don’t take years or even months to implement. Staying ahead of the attackers is a simple matter of taking these steps seriously, and using our vigilance to limit the impact of an attack when it happens.

Want to understand more about how software defined segmentation can make a real difference in the event of a cyber attack? Check out this webinar.

Portfolio Items