|By Matthew McKenna||
|August 6, 2016 05:00 PM EDT||
The Blind Spot of the Security Industry: SSH User Keys
More than 95 percent of the world's enterprises rely on SSH user keys to provide administrators and developers an effective means of gaining encrypted access to critical infrastructure: operating systems, applications, payment processing systems, databases, human resource and financial systems, routers, switches, firewalls and other network devices. It is a lifeline of traffic flow within our data centers, our cloud environments and how our third-party vendors and supply chain access our environments. It has done its job quietly and efficiently over the last two decades. Unfortunately, the access that SSH has been providing, in particular the access SSH user keys provide, has gone largely unmanaged - to an epic degree.
There's an unfortunate parallel here to a recent Oscar-winning film based on the events that took down Wall Street in 2008: The Big Short. Iconoclastic investor Michael Burry discovered that the subprime home loans market was headed for default. He bet more than $1 billion against the housing industry - an unprecedented move. Sadly, for everyone but him and his investors, Burry was right.
Just as Wall Street had the blind spot when it came to subprime loans, the security industry has a blind spot regarding SSH protocol and SSH user keys. In fact, there are three parallels between the movie's plot and the current state of SSH management:
- Lack of understanding about the problem and its severity
- How challenging oversight of the problem is
- How significant the impact or consequences are of not addressing the problem
A Real and Far-Reaching Problem
The SSH protocol is not well understood by the majority of people, much like the subprime loan market. In fact, very few understand in sufficient detail the underlying critical access it is providing to our most important infrastructure. In this case, however, ignorance is not bliss.
For instance, in a typical financial enterprise with 20,000 Unix/Linux servers, one can expect to find up to 4 million SSH user keys providing interactive and machine-to-machine-based access. In many cases, 10 to 20 percent of these keys provide root-level access and cannot be associated to an owner within the enterprise. Root-level access is the highest level of privilege at an operating system level. It is not just a compliance and risk issue. It is an issue of resilience that has the opportunity to impact the potential downtime of critical services within operations.
Oversight and Governance Are Difficult or Non-Existent
Chiefly because SSH has long been seen as an encryption protocol rather than a means of access, this problem has gone unnoticed for a long time. As a result, it has not been considered as a part of the access governance processes and frameworks. In fact, up until October 2015, there were no NIST guidelines related to the best practices associated with SSH user key-based access.
HIPAA, SOX, PCI and other regulatory guidelines do mention access controls, such as least privilege and segregation of duties, but none of them specifically address SSH user keys as a form of access that needs to be controlled. Is this due to a lack of understanding of SSH or an unwillingness to open Pandora's Box?
In terms of the lack oversight and governance of SSH user key-based access, there are three technical aspects that must be considered. First, SSH user keys are the only form of access a user can provision themselves without oversight or control. Unlike passwords, an administrator, developer or third-party vendor can provision themselves with access to your critical infrastructure or automate a process or file transfer. This process of provisioning, de-provisioning and recertification of SSH user key-based access is infrequently if never addressed in the IAM frameworks of enterprises.
The second consideration is that SSH user keys don't have expiration dates, in contrast to certificates. This means that SSH user key-based access continues to exist, even after an application is decommissioned or a user leaves the company.
And the third consideration: an SSH user key does not need to be associated to a user account. This means a key will not necessarily establish the identity of the user associated with it. When an SSH user key is generated, the identity that associated is not connected.
Taken together, here's what these considerations mean. A user can provision SSH user key-based access themselves without oversight to my most critical infrastructure. This key-based access does not expire. It's not clear which identity it's associated with, and there are millions of these across an enterprise, which no one has an inventory of, and they are providing access to the most critical systems.
The Ramifications Are Significant
There is an additional cause for concern in addition to the lack of understanding of the technical aspects of the SSH protocol and the lack of regulatory oversight and governance of SSH user key-based access. SSH is the malicious actor's (either a rogue insider or hacker) tool of choice, and it is the primary means by which they move laterally within an enterprise to gain access to new assets and further elevate privilege, as well as how they exfiltrate data and assets from an organization. In fact, LightCyber's Cyberweapons 2016 Report indicates that in over 50 percent of the cases, the SSH protocol is the tool of choice to gain this lateral movement across the assets of an enterprise.
It's also important to factor in the reality that bad actors are aware that SSH user keys are not being managed. As a result, they go after private keys to gain access to assets. From there, they will often create new key pairs, which will generate them access to the outside directly or move those assets automatically to servers in the cloud. This is all achieved using something called "port forwarding" via "SSH tunneling," which would allow the malicious actor to extract this data via the encryption itself, rendering firewalls ineffective.
This kind of activity takes place right within our defensive structures. Why? Because we don't know who owns the keys to attain that encrypted access and because we are not able to look inside the encryption of those sessions. The potential impact is clear. We lose our data - or worse, our customer's data. We lose our intellectual property. We lose our reputation, we lose our brand and, in turn, we lose revenue and shareholder value.
The financial implications are clear here, but there's another implication that's at least as serious: operational resilience. The potential downtime in critical systems, should SSH user key-based access to those systems be compromised, is a concern we need to seriously consider. Our disaster recovery systems, which are failovers to our production systems, often share identical SSH user keys that ensure the processes of those systems fail over in an identical manner. This means that any compromised keys in production environments can also equally affect the failover to disaster recovery systems.
Clear Parallels Pointing to Danger
Let's circle back to the similarities between what's going on with SSH user key management and the events leading up to the housing crisis. The parallels are uncanny. There's a lack of market understanding around the power of the SSH protocol and the criticality of the access it provides to our infrastructures. There's a gap in regulatory and governing oversight of how this SSH user key-based access should be monitored, provisioned, de-provisioned and recertified. There's an encrypted protocol, which malicious actors use as their tool of choice to extend their access and reach within our enterprises, create backdoors and exfiltrate data. As a result, there's a potential financial, operational and brand impact that can conservatively be described as significant to our businesses.
Poor SSH user key management may not send all organizations using SSH into a rapid downward spiral that obliterates most of them, but it can still result in devastating damage to any organization that's ignored this issue.
The explosion of new web/cloud/IoT-based applications and the data they generate are transforming our world right before our eyes. In this rush to adopt these new technologies, organizations are often ignoring fundamental questions concerning who owns the data and failing to ask for permission to conduct invasive surveillance of their customers. Organizations that are not transparent about how their systems gather data telemetry without offering shared data ownership risk product rejection, regu...
Apr. 23, 2017 05:30 PM EDT Reads: 726
SYS-CON Events announced today that Twistlock, the leading provider of cloud container security solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Twistlock is the industry's first enterprise security suite for container security. Twistlock's technology addresses risks on the host and within the application of the container, enabling enterprises to consistently enforce security policies, monitor...
Apr. 23, 2017 03:30 PM EDT Reads: 3,251
Automation is enabling enterprises to design, deploy, and manage more complex, hybrid cloud environments. Yet the people who manage these environments must be trained in and understanding these environments better than ever before. A new era of analytics and cognitive computing is adding intelligence, but also more complexity, to these cloud environments. How smart is your cloud? How smart should it be? In this power panel at 20th Cloud Expo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, pane...
Apr. 23, 2017 03:15 PM EDT Reads: 1,804
Blockchain is a shared, secure record of exchange that establishes trust, accountability and transparency across supply chain networks. Supported by the Linux Foundation's open source, open-standards based Hyperledger Project, Blockchain has the potential to improve regulatory compliance, reduce cost and time for product recall as well as advance trade. Are you curious about Blockchain and how it can provide you with new opportunities for innovation and growth? In her session at 20th Cloud Exp...
Apr. 23, 2017 02:45 PM EDT Reads: 1,359
@ThingsExpo has been named the Most Influential ‘Smart Cities - IIoT' Account and @BigDataExpo has been named fourteenth by Right Relevance (RR), which provides curated information and intelligence on approximately 50,000 topics. In addition, Right Relevance provides an Insights offering that combines the above Topics and Influencers information with real time conversations to provide actionable intelligence with visualizations to enable decision making. The Insights service is applicable to eve...
Apr. 23, 2017 02:15 PM EDT Reads: 2,324
SYS-CON Events announced today that Grape Up will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct. 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Grape Up is a software company specializing in cloud native application development and professional services related to Cloud Foundry PaaS. With five expert teams that operate in various sectors of the market across the U.S. and Europe, Grape Up works with a variety of customers from emergi...
Apr. 23, 2017 02:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,560
SYS-CON Events announced today that Hitachi, the leading provider the Internet of Things and Digital Transformation, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Hitachi Data Systems, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hitachi, Ltd., offers an integrated portfolio of services and solutions that enable digital transformation through enhanced data management, governance, mobility and analytics. We help globa...
Apr. 23, 2017 01:45 PM EDT Reads: 1,777
SYS-CON Events announced today that Juniper Networks (NYSE: JNPR), an industry leader in automated, scalable and secure networks, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Juniper Networks challenges the status quo with products, solutions and services that transform the economics of networking. The company co-innovates with customers and partners to deliver automated, scalable and secure network...
Apr. 23, 2017 01:15 PM EDT Reads: 4,663
SYS-CON Events announced today that CA Technologies has been named "Platinum Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, and 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place in November in Silicon Valley, California.
Apr. 23, 2017 01:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,915
Developers want to create better apps faster. Static clouds are giving way to scalable systems, with dynamic resource allocation and application monitoring. You won't hear that chant from users on any picket line, but helping developers to create better apps faster is the mission of Lee Atchison, principal cloud architect and advocate at New Relic Inc., based in San Francisco. His singular job is to understand and drive the industry in the areas of cloud architecture, microservices, scalability ...
Apr. 23, 2017 01:00 PM EDT Reads: 3,156
Back in February of 2017, Andrew Clay Schafer of Pivotal tweeted the following: “seriously tho, the whole software industry is stuck on deployment when we desperately need architecture and telemetry.” Intrigue in a 140 characters. For me, I hear Andrew saying, “we’re jumping to step 5 before we’ve successfully completed steps 1-4.”
Apr. 23, 2017 12:45 PM EDT Reads: 1,274
@DevOpsSummit has been named the ‘Top DevOps Influencer' by iTrend. iTred processes millions of conversations, tweets, interactions, news articles, press releases, blog posts - and extract meaning form them and analyzes mobile and desktop software platforms used to communicate, various metadata (such as geo location), and automation tools. In overall placement, @DevOpsSummit ranked as the number one ‘DevOps Influencer' followed by @CloudExpo at third, and @MicroservicesE at 24th.
Apr. 23, 2017 11:30 AM EDT Reads: 2,432
SYS-CON Events announced today that SoftLayer, an IBM Company, has been named “Gold Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York, New York. SoftLayer, an IBM Company, provides cloud infrastructure as a service from a growing number of data centers and network points of presence around the world. SoftLayer’s customers range from Web startups to global enterprises.
Apr. 23, 2017 09:45 AM EDT Reads: 1,816
As pervasive as cloud technology is -- and as persuasive as the arguments are for using it -- the cloud has its limits. Some companies will always have security concerns about storing data in the cloud and certain high-transaction applications will always be better suited for on-premises storage. Those statements were among the bottom-line takeaways delivered at Cloud Expo this week, a three day, bi-annual event focused on cloud technologies, adoption and associated challenges.
Apr. 23, 2017 08:15 AM EDT Reads: 3,702
Multiple data types are pouring into IoT deployments. Data is coming in small packages as well as enormous files and data streams of many sizes. Widespread use of mobile devices adds to the total. In this power panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists will look at the tools and environments that are being put to use in IoT deployments, as well as the team skills a modern enterprise IT shop needs to keep things running, get a handle on all this data, and deli...
Apr. 23, 2017 07:45 AM EDT Reads: 1,862
Quickly find the root cause of complex database problems slowing down your applications. Up to 88% of all application performance issues are related to the database. DPA’s unique response time analysis shows you exactly what needs fixing - in four clicks or less. Optimize performance anywhere. Database Performance Analyzer monitors on-premises, on VMware®, and in the Cloud, including Amazon® AWS and Azure™ virtual machines.
Apr. 23, 2017 07:15 AM EDT Reads: 1,491
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.
Apr. 23, 2017 04:45 AM EDT Reads: 2,780
SYS-CON Events announced today that Super Micro Computer, Inc., a global leader in compute, storage and networking technologies, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Supermicro (NASDAQ: SMCI), the leading innovator in high-performance, high-efficiency server technology, is a premier provider of advanced server Building Block Solutions® for Data Center, Cloud Computing, Enterprise IT, Hadoop/...
Apr. 23, 2017 04:00 AM EDT Reads: 1,733
Amazon has gradually rolled out parts of its IoT offerings in the last year, but these are just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to optimizing their back-end AWS offerings, Amazon is laying the ground work to be a major force in IoT – especially in the connected home and office. Amazon is extending its reach by building on its dominant Cloud IoT platform, its Dash Button strategy, recently announced Replenishment Services, the Echo/Alexa voice recognition control platform, the 6-7 strategic...
Apr. 23, 2017 03:45 AM EDT Reads: 4,684
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...
Apr. 23, 2017 03:30 AM EDT Reads: 514