An Exploration of End-to-End Network Segmentation—Part II: Native Stealth

As I’ve said before, no one provider can completely eliminate network security risks. There is, however, a proven way to reduce risk and network exposure: end-to-end segmentation, which is comprised of hyper-segmentation, native stealth, and automated elasticity. In part I of this series, I explored the concept of hyper-segmentation. In a nutshell, hyper-segmentation involves using SPB (Shortest Path Bridging–802.1aq) to quickly and easily create virtual network segments that are completely isolated from one another. This enables network security tools to perform with greater efficiency, offering businesses full transparency into network activity.

Now imagine if you could create these virtual segments on the fabric infrastructure itself, meaning the topology used to carry the traffic would be completely invisible to any IP discovery or hacking. That’s exactly what we’re going to discuss here in part II: delivering a stealth network that keeps hackers in the dark. Let’s jump right in.

The Risk of IP Hopping

If you still rely on IP hopping, it’s likely a matter of time before someone enters your network and quickly discovers your full network topology, potentially without you knowing (if someone hasn’t already). I understand it can be difficult to grasp how a method that’s been in practice for nearly 30 years can be so unsecure, but remember: just because a methodology has been around for a long time doesn’t mean it’s conducive to today’s business requirements.

The problem with IP hopping is simple: once someone successfully enters a network using any kind of automated or reasonably sophisticated tool, they can begin discovering IP hop routes. These tools, when in the wrong hands, can allow attackers to gain full visibility into an organization’s IP architecture.

This means if a hacker successfully penetrates your firewall, they will within minutes be able to see all of your network topology and devices (and you thought Halloween was scary!). With this level of transparency, attackers can effortlessly detect where video surveillance is, for example, or where patient records are stored in order to begin impacting those devices, databases, nodes or systems.

This is one of the reasons so many companies hesitate to offer guest Wi-Fi services. It’s one of the easiest and lowest-risk ways for hackers to penetrate a company’s firewall and begin gaining network visibility. Remember, RF leaks out of building/walls; sit in parking lot near a building and et voilà!

Stealth Networks: Invisible to Hackers, Invincible for Companies

If you recall in part I, we discussed the importance of provisioning the network only at the point of services where offered and where that service is consumed by the end-user or device (IoT, as an example). In provisioning only at points of services—using an IP shortcut—the rest of the network essentially becomes a transport because we make use of Ethernet Switch Paths (ESPs) instead of typical IP hopping from node to node. This eliminates hackers’ dependencies on IP routes and allows them to only see entry and exit points. Everything else becomes stealth or invisible.

Remember the above example about penetrating the firewall through a Wi-Fi network? Let’s say this happens to a company that’s implemented an end-to-end segmentation solution. The hacker may successfully connect to the company’s physical infrastructure but, because of native stealth, they will only be able to see as far as that one segment. The attackers can’t hack what they can’t see. Meanwhile, organizations gain more controlled insight into where attackers are trying to do damage.

At the end of the day, you can’t stop hackers from penetrating your network, firewall, or gaining access to your building. If they do, however, end-to-end hyper-segmentation allows you to control what hackers see with peace of mind so that your customer databases, credit card numbers, etc. are securely isolated and undiscoverable. Hence, don’t expose your customer’s credit card information (PCI), patient records or others. Isolate that critical data in a secure virtual segment and run it over that ONE converged infrastructure. No more need for a separate physical network to meet your business security needs when you implement the right solution.

We’re almost done exploring the core of end-to-end segmentation. Elasticity is the final capability that completes this network security trifecta, and I dig into it in part III next week.

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Changing the Lagging Face of Public Safety with Smart Networking Solutions (Part 4)

In part I of this series, Avaya Vice President and Chief Technologist for Software-Defined Architecture Jean Turgeon opened up a much-needed conversation about the current state of public safety and E911. My colleagues Mark Fletcher and Markus Bornheim followed up with pieces on E911 response times, lack of location data and the technology available to solve these issues. Today, we’ll explore specific solutions that can change the game for public safety and emergency services.

I recently went for my annual physical and had a conversation with the resident doctor about how technology is being used within the healthcare industry. After a few minutes, she made a comment that resonated with me, “I can’t believe in today’s digital age, we still use phones to make and confirm appointments.” You may be wondering what this has to do with public safety. Well, not surprisingly, this resident doctor (who is also a millennial) uses her smart device and data channels to interact with the world, and expects to use it for communicating with Emergency Services.

Given our world is moving rapidly toward more mobile-based smart devices and away from fixed phones, the big question everyone should ask themselves is, “What happens when I contact Emergency Services (911, 999, 112, etc.)?” Today, about 80% of calls coming into Emergency Services are from mobile or smart devices, yet the sad reality is Emergency Services doesn’t have the ability to interact with its citizens using data channels. Its voice channels only, which in 2016 is unacceptable!

Many PSAPs (Public Safety Access Points) are doing upgrades and modernization, but without the proper infrastructure and data networks much of it could be worthless. It’s time to start thinking about enabling robust end-to-end data networks within Emergency Services. These new data networks can be used for Inter Networked Agencies, allowing for overflow and interflow in order to handle mass call incidents and interact with smart devices or citizens.

Today only voice and telephones are used to interact with citizens as carriers are only providing a voice-based network to support calls to Emergency Services. PSAPs have no means to interact using data channels and apps like email, SMS, Web Services and more.

From a data perspective within many PSAPs today, you’ll find dispatchers and call takers likely having two separate systems on their desks, or a single system running a self-contained VDI (virtual desktop) software environment creating a virtual system. The main reason for keeping these two systems separate is because of the use of legacy architectures and the need for physical segregation of the systems and its respective data. One system (physical or virtual) is used for Emergency Services and is based on voice networks. A separate system (physical or virtual) uses a data network for internal communications like email, Internet, database access and more.

Now imagine a dispatcher speaking over the voice network to a citizen. If the dispatcher wants to interact with this person using the data network, they can’t because that system is strictly for internal use. The only channel they have available to interact with the citizen is voice on a dedicated network. The dispatcher (or call taker) can’t perform simple tasks like sending an SMS or email, or sharing a Web link or video showing the citizen how they might help themselves. So while they do have an internal system connected to a data network where they can browse the web, send emails and lookup information—it’s not on the PSAP Internet.

Moving forward, maintaining physical segregation of these networks through virtual services can be easy if leveraging technology like Avaya’s all-new end-to-end segmentation solution #EverywherePerimeter and its core capabilities of hyper-segmentation, stealth and elasticity (Jean Turgeon recently kicked off a three-part blog series that dives into each pillar. Read part I and part II). This new, all standards based, networking architecture can help address issues and provide the level of support and security required in a simplistic, yet secure fashion to bring technology to the PSAP.

ESINets are starting to be developed in parts of the U.S. as separate, parallel data networks within the PSAP, but this means potentially adding more costs, duplicating equipment/networks and adding complexity through firewalls and network administration. Additionally, long lead times are incurred when it comes to changes, adds and moves, ensuring there’s no disruption to the network services requiring long maintenance windows.

The ESINet, an IP based core network, still has security challenges because IP is the No. 1 hacked networking protocol in the world. Using Avaya stealth networking architecture to construct the ESINet allows you to build a single physical core data networking infrastructure for a greenfield network or to integrate with existing networks. With fabric, this network would be secure and invisible to IP hacking as the use of IP in the core isn’t required.

Using SPB (Shortest Path Bridging – the IEEE 802.1aq standard), once the Avaya core is built a multiple traditional core network infrastructures would not be needed. As Avaya uses a mesh-based architecture, full redundancy is achieved. Avaya’s hyper-segmentation technology can be used to create new VSNs (Virtual Service Networks). These VSNs are similar to creating virtual independent wires or networks. Since IP is not being used in the core, they can’t be seen by one another, which means data can’t be moved between each VSN independently, making them secure.

If required, the data networking administrator could create IP based shortcuts between VSNs, if they choose to allow data to flow between specific virtual networks. Administrators may want to do this for a migration or in the case of call overflow scenarios, such as a mass call event. Once the ESINet core is built, we can essentially leverage this secure environment and dynamically create separate networks as needed. As an example, multiple virtual networks running over this single core can also provide services like:

  • Internal Secure Data Network
  • Video Network
  • Local PSAP Network
  • Regional Network
  • District Network
  • Even a Voice Network being carried over the Data Network

Each of these services can be protected at the perimeter using a firewall for an extra layer of security and would all look and operate like independent networks.

This provides PSAP operators with the two separate secure networks they need, saving tremendous amounts of money and complexity in the backend. All of this together, makes it less scary to staff who may not be networking savvy. Leveraging Avaya Fabric Extend or SD-WAN (wide area networking) solutions provides the benefit of using a single Avaya Fabric to extended beyond just a local agency. You can leverage these services to extend beyond a local data center or campus network to other locations around the globe with the look and feel of a single fabric.

How to Make the Most of IoT While Minimizing Security Risks

I was in London yesterday for IP Expo 2016. I had the pleasure of speaking with many customers and presenting a keynote about the security concerns raised by the Internet of Things (IoT). Below is a summary of what we discussed for those who weren’t able to join me or who did but need a refresh.

Adding millions of new devices, hardware endpoints, and billions of lines of code, along with more infrastructure to cope with this load is, unsurprisingly, creating a vast set of security challenges across all areas of the IoT—a set of challenges the scale of which we haven’t seen before.

Fortunately, the technology industry is working hard to address these issues, and from the network side there are many lessons we can apply from the Internet and BYOD-ready networks.

Let’s face it: the days of a fixed network edge, defined by office and a few home workers using corporate laptops is long gone. And we’ve been living the last several years with the borderless network—or as I like to call it, the Everywhere Perimeter. At Avaya, we’ve built on our fabric networking technology to create a solution that addresses this challenge, providing a layer that seamlessly manages segmentation, stealth and elasticity across the organization. (I recently introduced a series that talks at length about these three core pillars.) This approach makes securing the everywhere perimeter much more practical.

If all this sounds like gobbledygook, I can assure you it isn’t. Here’s an example of how it works: if an IP phone is plugged in, the voice network is automatically and securely extended. If a video surveillance camera is plugged in, the surveillance network is extended. When devices and objects are unplugged, the network retracts, eliminating potential back door entry points to the network. What this means is that organizations can hide much of their networks while protecting those elements that remain visible. The end result: you can’t hack what you can’t see, so businesses can avoid many of the conventional hooks and tools that hackers seek to exploit, while at the same time engaging with their customers and employees in an agile and timely manner via the IoT.

I invite you to learn more about elements of the IoT security that are beginning to impact businesses of all sizes. Take a look at this white paper, which offers a roadmap for implementing smart, multilevel security capabilities.


An Exploration of End-to-End Network Segmentation—Part I: Hyper-Segmentation

More than 90% of businesses say they have some sort of cybersecurity framework in place, but here’s the truth: a network security strategy will never be effective if a company’s underlying architecture isn’t what it needs to be. Traditional, hierarchical, client-server architecture is simply not built to support today’s next-generation network, or protect against the increased risk of exposure inherent in it (this is something I recently blogged about for the Huffington Post). This is like riding a horse and buggy down the freeway and expecting life-saving crash protection.

Cue the thousands of solution providers vying for market share, all selling the concept of failsafe network security. But let’s be honest: any provider that claims to offer foolproof security is only fooling you. Considering today’s rapid pace of innovation, we’ll hopefully see this day soon. Until then, not even the best provider can absolutely guarantee network security 24×7.

There are, however, a few ways to safeguard your organization with a (near) impenetrable network that significantly minimizes security risks and reduces exposure. It all comes down to the technology you use and from whom you get that technology. At Avaya, we believe companies need to take a foundational approach to network security by implementing an end-to-end segmentation solution that inherently protects from the inside out. This approach consists of three core capabilities:

  • Hyper-Segmentation:

    The ability to create stealth segments that span the entire network.

  • Native Stealth:

    The characteristic of a hyper-segment that’s invisible to hackers.

  • Automated Elasticity:

    Extending and retracting hyper-segments access automatically.

The way we see it, endorsed by many cyber security experts, end-to-end segmentation is the holy grail of network security today. This critical level of protection should be as simple as safety is for a driver getting behind the wheel. All companies need to do is buckle up and enjoy the ride.

At Avaya, our goal is always the same: equip business leaders with the necessary skills, knowledge and know-how to do what’s ultimately best for their organizations. For IT leaders contemplating a better way to protect their networks, I’ve put together a three-part series that pulls back the veil on our all-new end-to-end segmentation solution and its core capabilities of hyper-segmentation, stealth and elasticity.

Ready to join me? If so, let’s kick things off by exploring the incredible concept of hyper-segmentation.

Out with the Old

A classic segmentation method, in which virtual local area networks (VLANs) are created, is one that companies have been using for 20+ years. This method involves isolating segments in order to maximize quality of service, ensuring one type of traffic doesn’t impact the other. In this case, each segment carries different traffic types that require different characteristics to deliver the desired quality of experience.

For example, one segment may carry real-time voice traffic while another would carry best-effort data traffic such as web browsing. This approach sounds simple, but there’s one big problem: as organizations grow, so too must their segments. This creates high levels of complexity and increases risk of failure, as VLANs used are subject to loops created by human errors while having to learn about each node that physically joins the virtual network.

So, these segments must inevitably grow in order to meet evolving network and application needs. As they do, they become increasingly difficult to troubleshoot and manage, leading to greater network strain and performance issues. At this point, a company’s only resolution is to create more smaller segments, which simply introduces more complexity into their already intricate network environments.

All the while, these network segments aren’t truly isolated from one another; rather, they’re communicating extensively when IP services are enabled. These are known as Layer 2 virtualized networks. To make matters worse, Layer 3 virtualization is also typically required when IP services need to be isolated from one another. Think of two departments or two tenants wanting to share a common networking infrastructure. At that point, the concept of VRF (Virtual Route Forwarding) needs to be introduced. Once again, each node participating in this Layer 3 virtualized network must be configured.

Hence, end to end segmentation is achieved by performing complex nodal configuration. Not very scalable when you think about it, yet it does work! Add to this other services such as multicast and you now have a fragile house of cards to deal with, as all these layers have interdependency. Because of this interdependency, this stack can (and will) collapse if just one layer is affected (think of how easy it is to knock down a house of cards with just a flick of the finger). Each layer depends on one another in order to keep the stack running and secure. For businesses relying on legacy architecture, this setup of multiple interdependent protocol layers can lead to tragic outcomes if even just one segment is affected. This is exactly what happened with the infamous 2013 Target breach. An HVAC vendor, external to Target, had authorized access to service the HVAC system. As the network was statically configured using VLANs, hackers were able to get into that HVAC virtual segment. But rather than being contained there (we’ll get to that shortly), they broke out of the HVAC segment and into the segment that hosts credit card data. So you see, in this environment, the inherent lack of security at layer 2 (e.g., HVAC segment) negatively impacted other layers — including the mission-critical apps that resided in them. Safe to say this is not the business outcome you want.

The goal, then, is to greatly simplify the way segmentation can be achieved. I guess you could say, let’s manage less and, in doing so, better converge, sustain and control the network. Right? Well, sort of. This “less is more” approach can also lead to network complexities. Hear me out: fewer segments to manage means greater risk in terms of network performance and outages. Without a certain level of segment isolation, one misbehaving device, human error or system glitch can create instability to the entire network. In other words, you should be cautious about putting all of your eggs in one basket (one huge virtual segment).

Are there any other options? Well, MPLS has been designed to deliver what many considered “true” end-to-end virtualization. However, does it really deliver what companies need? It’s true that MPLS does offer end-to-end virtualization, but it’s still based on a restrictive nodal labeling methodology with even more layers of protocols. Obviously, end-users don’t notice this, as this complexity is expertly masked by providers or IT using highly sophisticated provisioning tools. These tools allow them to quickly deploy an end-to-end virtualized network while hiding all backend complexity. It’s a powerful and scalable solution, yet in the end built on a similar and unfortunately more complex foundation.

In with the New

Now I want to clarify that there’s nothing necessarily wrong with MPLS. Many large organizations still run on an MPLS model they deployed long ago. This is fine if you have the skill set and have made the investment in provisioning tools. What businesses are beginning to realize, however, is that they need to better support the dynamic changes happening not just within the data center, but where all data is consumed by mobile users and other devices. Nothing is static anymore. They must be able to add new services on the fly, make changes to existing services within minutes and build new network segments on demand across the entire enterprise. Remember, end users and IoT devices don’t sit in the data center!

You simply can’t deny that today’s business environment looks drastically different than it did 20+ years ago. So, why would we still rely on legacy segmentation methods from that period? The only way to flexibly and securely meet today’s network needs is to deploy a solution that eliminates nodal configuration and yet achieves true segmentation. Hyper-segmentation does just this by using the concept of end-to-end Virtual Services Networks (VSNs). This enables businesses to provision their networks only at specific points of service. In other words, where the service is offered and where the service is being consumed by end users or device(s). That’s it! The core becomes an automated and intelligent virtualized transport.

By eliminating nodal configuration, companies are able to drastically reduce complexity and create hundreds—even thousands—of agile and secure virtual segments that are completely isolated from one another (meaning no communication by default). This allows companies to decide if they want to establish communication between segments, verses having to prevent it. With hyper-segmentation, segments can be quickly created (and easily provisioned) without the need for time-consuming or error-prone network nodal configurations.

This result is achieved because of the technology’s ability to isolate segments by default on one secure, converged network. This transforms network protection by allowing security tools to focus on performing the specific functions they’re implemented for, verses having to serve as a barrier between segments to prevent chatter. In this way, hyper-segmentation allows companies to gain maximum transparency into how their networks are behaving in order to quickly prevent, identify and mitigate security incidents.

Remember Target? With hyper-segmentation, the hackers would have been contained to the HVAC segment (in other words, isolated there). All other segments would have been invisible (natively stealth) to them. It doesn’t matter how skilled of a hacker they are. You can’t hack what you can’t see.

In this new world, multilayer protocols exist only because we must maintain backwards inter-operability with the legacy model, but new virtualized services can be delivered with just one protocol. No more house of cards, unless you absolutely need it!

Now if your company depends on MPLS, you may be thinking, “Where does this leave me?” Here’s my advice: leave your MPLS network environment as static as possible so you can embrace the dynamic configuration of hyper-segmentation and leverage its strength of provisioning at the point-of-service only. In doing so, you’ll benefit from some of the next-generation segmentation technology without having to forklift your current investment as hyper-segments can now traverse any IP WAN solutions including IP MPLS or SD-WAN solutions from vendors such as FatPipe. In the end, it’s now up to you to decide how you want to implement end-to-end hyper-segmentation. No more dependency on the service provider’s to configure and extend a service (VLAN, VRF, DC inter-connect, etc.) across the WAN … you now control your own destiny!

Now on to the next question: what role does native stealth play in end-to-end segmentation? Learn more in Part II next week.