IT: Appliance sprawl – Where is the concern?

Over the past few years you have seen an increasing drumbeat in the IT community to server consolidation through Virtualization with all the trumpeted promises of cheaper, greener, more flexible customer focused data centers with never a wasted CPU cycle. It is a siren song to all IT personnel and quite frankly it actually looks like it delivers on a great many of the promises.

Interestingly enough, while reduced CPU wastage, increased flexibility, fewer vendors are all being trumpeted for servers there continues to be little thought provided to purchasing hardware appliances willy-nilly. Hardware appliances started out as specialized devices built or configured in a certain way to maximize performance – A SAN device is a good example, you might want high speed dual port Ethernet and a huge disk capacity with very little requirement for a beefy CPU or memory. These make sense to be appliances. Increasingly however an appliance is a standard Dell or rack mounted rack mounted system with an application installed on it, usually on a special Linux distribution. The advantages to the appliance vendor are many and obvious — a single configuration to test, increased customer lockin, and a tidy up sell potential as the customer finds their event volume growing. From the customer perspective it suffers all the downsides that IT has been trying to get away from – specialized hardware that cannot be re-purposed, more, locked-in hardware vendors, excess capacity or not enough, wasted power from all the appliances running, the list goes on and on and contains all the very things that have caused the move to virtualization. And the major benefit for appliances? Easy to install seems to be the major one. So to provision a new machine, install software might take an hour or so – the end-user is saving that and the downstream cost of maintaining a different machine type eats that up in short order.

Shortsighted IT managers still manage to believe that, even as they move aggressively to consolidate Servers, it is still permissible to buy an appliance even if it is nothing but a thinly veiled Dell or HP Server. This appliance sprawl represents the next clean-up job for IT managers, or will simply eat all the savings they have realized in server consolidation. Instead of 500 servers you have 1 server and 1000 hardware appliances – what have you really achieved? You have replaced relationships with multiple hardware vendors with multiple appliance vendors and worse when a server blew-up at least it was all Windows/Intel configurations so in general so you could keep the applications up and running. Good luck doing that with a proprietary appliance. This duality in IT organizations reminds me somewhat of people that go to the salad bar and load up on the cheese, nuts, bacon bits and marinated vegetables, then act vaguely surprised when the salad bar regimen has no positive effect.

-Steve Lafferty

100 Log Management Uses #49 Wireless device control (CAG control 14)

We now arrive at CAG Control 14. – Wireless Device Control. For this control specialty WIDS scanning tools are the primary defense, that and a lot of configuration policy. This control is primarily a configuration problem not a log problem. Log Management helps  in all the standard ways — collecting and correlating data, monitoring for signs of attack etc. Using EventTracker’s Change component, configuration data in the registry and file system of the client devices can also be collected and alerted on. Generally depending on how one sets the configuration policy, when a change is made it will generate either a log entry or a change in the registry or file system. In this way EventTracker provides a valuable means of enforcement.

By Ananth

Can you count on dark matter?

Eric Knorr, the Editor in Chief over at InfoWorld has been writing about “IT Dark Matter” which he defines as system device and application logs. Turns out half of enterprise data is logs or so-called Dark Matter. Not hugely surprising and certainly good news for the data storage vendors and hopefully for SIEM vendors like us! He described these logs or dark matter as “widely distributed and hidden” which got me thinking. The challenge with blogging is that we have to reduce fairly complex concepts and arguments into simple claims otherwise posts end up being on-line books. The good thing in that simplification, however, is that often gives a good opportunity to point out other topics of discussion.

There are two great challenges in log management – the first is being able to provide the tools and knowledge to make the log data readily available and useful, which leads to Eric’s comment on how Dark Matter is “Hidden” as it is simply too hard to mine without some advanced equipment. The second challenge, however, is preserving the record – making sure it is accurate, complete and unchanged. In Eric’s blog this Dark Matter is “widely distributed” and there is an implied assumption that this Dark Matter is just there to be mined – that the Dark Matter will and does exist and even more so, it is accurate. In reality it is, for all practical purposes, impossible to have logs widely distributed and expect them to be complete and accurate – this fatally weakens their usefulness.

Let’s use a simple illustration we all know well in computer security — almost the first thing a hacker will do once they penetrate a system is shut down logging, or as soon as they finish whatever they are doing, delete or alter the logs. Let’s use the analogy of video surveillance at your local 7/11. How useful would it be if you left the recording equipment out in the open at the cash register unguarded – not real useful, right? When you do nothing to secure the record, the value of the record is compromised, and the more important the record the more likely it is to be compromised or simple deleted.

This is not to imply that there are not useful nuggets to be mined even if the records are distributed. Without attempting to secure and preserve the logs, logs become the trash heap of IT. Archeologists spend much of their time digging through the trash of civilizations to figure out how people lived. Trash is an accurate indication of what really happened simply because 1) it was trash and had no value and 2) no one worried that someone 1000 years later was going to dig it up. It represents a pretty accurate, if fragmentary, picture of day to day existence. But don’t expect to find treasure, state secrets or individual records in the trash heap however. The usefulness of the record is 1) a matter of luck that the record was preserved and 2) directly inverse to the interest of the creating parties to modify it.

 Steve Lafferty

Security threats from well-meaning employees, new HIPAA requirements SMB flaw

The threat within: Protecting information assets from well-meaning employees Most information security experts will agree that employees form the weakest link when it comes to corporate information security. Malicious insiders aside, well-intentioned employees bear responsibility for a large number of breaches today. Whether it’s a phishing scam, a lost USB or mobile device that bears sensitive data, a social engineering attack or downloading unauthorized software, unsophisticated but otherwise well-meaning insiders have the potential of unknowingly opening company networks to costly attacks.

100 Log Management Uses #48 Control of ports, protocols and services (CAG control 13)

Today we look at CAG Control 13 – limitation and control of Ports, Protocols and Services. Hackers search for these kinds of things — software installs for example may turn on services the installer never imagined may be vulnerable, and it is critical to limit new ports being opened or services installed. It is also a good idea to monitor for abnormal or new behavior that indicates that something has escaped internal controls — for instance a system suddenly broadcasting or receiving network traffic on a new Port is something suspicious that should be investigated, new installs or new Services being run is also worth investigation — we will take a look at how Log Management can help you monitor for such occurrences.

By Ananth

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