Tag Archives: Information Technology

Why You Shouldn’t Be Hosting Public DNS

As a former Unix engineer who managed my share of critical network services, one of the first things I do when evaluating an organization is to validate the health of infrastructure components such as NTP, RADIUS, and DNS. I’m often shocked by what I find. Although most people barely understand how these services work, when they break, it can create some troublesome technical issues or even a full meltdown. This is especially true of DNS.

Most problems with DNS implementations are caused by the fact that so few people actually understand how the protocol is supposed to work, including vendors.The kindest thing one can say about DNS is that it’s esoteric. In my IT salad days, I implemented and was responsible for managing the BIND 9.x infrastructure at an academic institution. I helped write and enforce the DNS request policy, cleaned up and policed the namespace, built and hardened the servers, compiled the BIND binaries and essentially guarded the architecture for over a decade. I ended up in this role because no one else wanted it. I took a complete mess of a BIND 4.x deployment and proceeded to untangle a ball of string the size New Zealand. The experience was an open source rite of passage, helping to make me the engineer and architect I am today.  I also admit to being a BIND fangirl, mostly because it’s the core software of most load-balancers and IPAM systems.

This history makes what I’m about to recommend even more shocking. Outside of service providers, I no longer believe that organizations should run their own public DNS servers. Most enterprises get along fine using Active Directory for internal authentication and name resolution, using a DNS provider such as Neustar, Amazon or Akamai to resolve external services. They don’t need to take on the risk associated with managing external authoritative DNS servers or even load-balancing most public services.

The hard truth is that external DNS is best left to the experts who have time for the care and feeding of it. One missed security patch, a mistyped entry, a system compromise; any of these could have a significant impact to your business. And unless you’re an IT organization, wouldn’t it be better to have someone else deal with that headache? Besides, as organizations continue to move their services to the cloud, why would you have the name resolution of those resources tied to some legacy, on-premise server? But most importantly, as DDoS attacks become more prevalent, UDP-based services are an easy target, especially DNS. Personally, I’d rather have a service provider deal with the agony of DDoS mitigation. They’re better prepared with the right (expensive) tools and plenty of bandwidth.

I write this with great sadness and it even feels like I’m relinquishing some of my nerd status. But never fear, I still have a crush on Paul Vixie and will always choose dig over nslookup.

 

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Don’t Let the Grinch Ruin Your Credit

Believe it or not, I actually like to educate my friends and acquaintances about technology. It makes my skeptical, shriveled, infosec heart grow a few sizes larger when I solve even the simplest problems, making someone’s life a little easier. So I was ecstatic to create and teach a free online-safety webinar for one of my favorite programs, AARP Tek Academy. While not as exciting as chasing down hackers or fighting a DDoS attack, it was a very rewarding experience.  And I didn’t have to argue with anyone about budgets or risk. So please share it with your Luddite friends this holiday season.

You can access the webinar here.

grinch_heart

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Why You’re Probably Not Ready for SDN

While it may seem as though I spend all my time inventing witty vendor snark to post in social media,  it doesn’t pay the bills. So I have a day-job as a Sr. Security Architect. But after coming up through the ranks in IT infrastructure, I often consider myself “architect first, security second.” I’m that rare thing,  an IT generalist. I actually spend quite a bit of time trying to stay current on all technology and SDN is one of many topics of interest for me. Especially since vendors are now trying to spin it as a security solution.

Software-defined networking (SDN) is still discussed as if it’s the secret sauce of the Internet. This despite Gartner placing it at the bottom of its Networking Hype Cycle due to “SDN fatigue” and the technology’s failure, thus far, to gain much traction in the enterprise.

 However, the magical SDN unicorn still manages to rear its head in strategy meetings under the new guise of hyper-convergence and the software-defined data center (SDDC). This is probably due to IT leadership’s continued yearning for cost savings, improved security and the achievement of a truly agile organization. But is SDN, with its added complexity and startling licensing costs, really the answer?
You can read the rest of the article here. And yes, there’s a registration wall.
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Ending the Tyranny of Expensive Security Tools

My obsession with talking about low-cost security tools all started with an article for TechTarget. It morphed into a session for Interop, then a sponsored webinar (by a vendor, go figure) and finally a longer mega-webinar for Ipspace.net. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent most of my time in the non-profit realm, but I simply hate spending money unnecessarily on products that replicate functionality of something my organization already owns. What follows is an excerpt of a post I wrote for Solarwinds on the topic.

Security tools: sometimes it seems that we never have enough to keep up with the task of protecting the enterprise. Or, at least it seems that way when walking the exhibit floor at most technology conferences. There’s a veritable smorgasbord of tools available, and you could easily spend your entire day looking for the perfect solution for every problem.

But, the truth is, IT teams at most organizations simply don’t have the budget or resources to implement dedicated security tools to meet every need and technical requirement. They’re too busy struggling with Cloud migrations, SaaS deployments, network upgrades, and essentially “keeping the lights on.”

Have you ever actually counted all the security tools your organization already owns? In addition to the licensing and support costs, every new product requires something most IT environments are in short supply of these days—time.

Optimism fades quickly when you’re confronted by the amount of time and effort required to implement and maintain a security tool in most organizations. As a result, these products end up either barely functional or as shelfware, leaving you to wonder if it’s possible to own too many tools.

There has to be a better way.

Maybe it’s time to stop the buying spree and consider whether you really need to implement another security tool. The fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) that drives the need to increase the budget for improving IT security works for only so long. At some point, the enterprise will demand tangible results for the money spent.

Try a little experiment. Pretend that you don’t have any budget for security tools.  You might discover that your organization already owns plenty of products with functionality that can be used for security purposes.

You can read the rest of my rant here.

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Security Vs. Virtualization

Recently, I wrote an article for Network Computing about the challenges of achieving visibility in the virtualized data center.

Security professionals crave data. Application logs, packet captures, audit trails; we’re vampiric in our need for information about what’s occurring in our organizations. Seeking omniscience, we believe that more data will help us detect intrusions, feeding the inner control freak that still believes prevention is within our grasp. We want to see it all, but the ugly reality is that most of us fight the feeling that we’re flying blind.

In the past, we begged for SPAN ports from the network team, frustrated with packet loss. Then we bought expensive security appliances that used prevention techniques and promised line-rate performance, but were often disappointed when they didn’t “fail open,” creating additional points of failure and impacting our credibility with infrastructure teams.

So we upgraded to taps and network packet brokers, hoping this would offer increased flexibility and insight for our security tools while easing fears of unplanned outages. We even created full network visibility layers in the infrastructure, thinking we were finally ahead of the game.

Then we came face-to-face with the nemesis of visibility: virtualization. It became clear that security architecture would need to evolve in order to keep up.

You can read and comment on the rest of the article here.

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No More Mrs. Nice Guy

Time To Reclaim My Bitch Status.

I’m exhausted. I’m tired of working in a field that’s become a veritable wasteland for women. And while everyone seems to be discussing the absence of women in STEM fields, it’s really “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

I also know that even the men who care about this issue are on empathy overload. So where’s the disconnect? Why are we still stuck at the beginning of the conversation?

I think it’s because women have become classic enablers in a dysfunctional situation. Instead of standing our ground and demanding equal, gender-neutral treatment, we feel obligated to play by a different set of rules. We constantly work to gain approval, managing the discomfort of those around us by walking on eggshells, ultimately failing to realize that this behavior keeps us shackled to the past. Is anyone telling men to “Lean in?”

So go ahead and say it. I know you want to. BITCH. I’m not going crumble and run into the ladies room. I’m not going to weep into my monitor. I’ve decided to wear that Bitch Label as a badge of honor. Because as Tina Fey said, “Bitches get stuff done.” So screw Sheryl Sandberg’s polite, Lean-In Army. If that’s what you need to call me in order to feel less threatened,both men and women, then do it. I’m prepared to own it.

Pix Plz from xkcd.com

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Being the Security Asshole

Yes, I have become a security asshole. The one who says “no” to a technology. But I say it because of risk, and not just security risk.  And I’m angry, because my “no” is a last resort after many struggles with developer, engineering and operations teams in organizations that struggle to get the basics right.

I try to work with teams to build a design. I bring my own architecture documents and diagrams, which include Powerpoint presentations with talking points. I create strategy road maps explaining my vision for the security architecture in an organization. I detail our team’s progress and explain how we want to align with the rest of enterprise strategy and architecture. I stress that our team exists to support the business.

What do I get in return? Diagrams so crude, they could be drawn in crayon or made with Legos. They usually don’t even have IP addresses or port numbers. I have to argue with sysadmins about whether Telnet is still an acceptable protocol in 2015. I’m subjected to rehashed Kool-Aid about how some product is going to rescue the organization even though I found significant vulnerabilities during the assessment, which the vendor doesn’t want to fix.

And if this means that you hate me, fine. I’ll be the asshole. I’ll embrace it. But at least I can have a clear conscience, because I’ve done my best to safeguard the organization that’s paying me.

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Meetings: the First Horseman of the Apocalypse

While browsing the Interweb for daily threat intelligence this morning*, I found an interesting research paper, “Meetings and More Meetings: The Relationship Between Meeting Load and the Daily Well-Being of Employees.” Anyone with some amount of seniority in IT is familiar with the concept of “death by meeting,” so I was excited to find scientific research (!) confirming that meetings are the soul-sucking creation of Satan.

Meetings are an integral part of organizational life; however, few empirical studies have systematically examined the phenomenon and its effects on employees. By likening work meetings to interruptions and daily hassles, the authors proposed that meeting load (i.e., frequency and time spent) can affect employee well-being. For a period of 1 week, participants maintained daily work diaries of their meetings as well as daily self-reports of their well-being. Using hierarchical linear modeling analyses, the authors found a significant positive relationship between number of meetings attended and daily fatigue as well as subjective workload (i.e., more meetings were associated with increased feelings of fatigue and workload).

No shit, Dick Tracy. Every morning I check my calendar with trepidation, wondering how much of my day will be wasted watching pointless Powerpoint presentations, the “jazz hands” of the modern workplace. How often will I be forced to feign attention as leadership drones on about strategy? Then I realized that civilization will not be destroyed by weapons of mass destruction or global warming, but with meetings. As T.S. Eliot said,

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

It seems appropriate to end with an xkcd comic on the topic.

Meeting from xkcd.com

*Who am I kidding, I was watching silly videos like “The Running of the Pugs.” I blame Adobe Flash, not just for being insecure, but as the harbinger of time-wasting.

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Mythology and the OPM Hack

Seems like every security “thought leader” on the planet has commented on the OPM hack, so I might as well join in.

Although the scope of the breach is huge, there’s nothing all that new here. In fact, it’s depressing how familiar the circumstances sound to those of us who work as defenders in an enterprise. For the moment, ignore attribution, because it’s a distraction from the essential problem. OPM was failing security kindergarten. They completely neglected the basics of rudimentary security: patching vulnerabilities, keeping operating systems upgraded, multi-factor authentication for accessing critical systems, intrusion detection.

Being on a security team in an organization often means that your cries of despair land on deaf ears. Much like a mythical figure named Cassandra. She was the daughter of the Trojan king Priam and greatly admired by Apollo, who gave her the gift of prophecy. When she spurned his affections, he converted the gift into a curse. While her predictions were still true, no one would believe them.

As a recent Washington Post story reminded us, many in security have been predicting this meltdown since the 90’s. Now that IT has become a critical component of most organizational infrastructures, there’s more at stake and we’re finally getting the attention we’ve been demanding. But it may be too late in the game, leaving worn out security pros feeling like the Trojan War’s patron saint of “I told you so’s,” Cassandra.

Cassandra on TVM

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Tootsie Roll Pop Security

Recently, it occurred to me that the security of most organizations is like a Tootsie Roll Pop. Hard and crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on this inside. One bite and you easily get to the yummy center.

How many licks does it take to get to the crown jewels of your organization: your data?

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