System Integrity

OpenStack Summit May 2014 – Security Insights

Oded Horovitz

Oded Horovitz

What an exciting event! This was my first time participating in the OpenStack Summit series, and the May 2014 summit was located in hot and rainy Atlanta

GA left me with sense of being part of something big, and a strong desire to participate in the upcoming event (and not just because of the Paris location). As you entered the event, you could see the sponsor wall proudly presenting PrivateCore among many great OpenStack companies.


The show floor was very busy, and the casual dress code suggested this is going to be a fun event, where I would get my fair share of geeking out time. As you can read below, I wasn’t disappointed.

OpenStack is a growing force as indicated by the bi-annual user-survey.  And the survey tracks Dev/QA, PoC, and Production deployment stages independently. Thank you OpenStack community for some great information!

Lets talk Security

Being a founder of a security company, I have a slight security bias, and the first two days offered a wealth of security-related talks. Below are some notes that I thought might be interesting to PrivateCore blog readers.

Russell Haering talk on Multi-Tenant Bare Metal Provisioning with Ironic triggered a set of question around firmware security. The problem presented by several attendees is the following: “how could one detect or prevent a bare metal tenant attempt to reflash the BIOS firmware or any other IO-device firmware?”.  My best recommendation for detecting firmware updates that will run on the main CPU is to take advantage of the Trusted Platform Module (TPM) chip on your servers to validate the firmware before any sensitive data touches the server. Our vCage Manager can be of help here. As for IO-device firmware, unfortunately, the answer is not as simple, and my design assumption is assume these IO-devices as malicious, and build your stack to defend against them.

Next was the Bryan D Payne talk on Security for Private OpenStack clouds. The talk was more of an open discussion with OpenStack operators rather than a presentation, providing the opportunity to hear back from the community about their best practices. What caught my attention was a comment from one of the security operators at Yahoo. His claim (if I understood correctly) was that they assume every guest VM will be compromised. So far no big news. Then he added that they assume compromised guest VMs will successfully escape to the hypervisor. Now that is some bold statement. Later he explained to me that through Nova message signing, even compromised hypervisors do not have much of a say on their Control Plane. Unfortunately, our conversation was interrupted, and I was left without understanding the full architecture, I hope to catch up with him back in the Bay Area.

While walking the expo floor I had a chance encounter at the demo theater with an interesting technology from HGST. OpenStackSummitATL-HGST As you can see, HGST is working on an open architecture, turning a hard-disk into a Linux server. The hard-disk has a dedicated CPU, memory and ethernet port. It runs Linux, and allows applications such as distributed file-system to run directly on the disk, saving CPU cycles, and all related trips on the server bus. My interest in this advancement relates to the possibility of turning this into an “hardware implant for script-kiddies”. In my blog earlier this year, I touched on a leaked NSA software implant called IRATEMONK – a firmware implant affecting many vendor hard-disk controllers, and allowing a stealthy MBR code injection. With the new work from HGST, anyone capable of writing a Linux application will likely be able to do the same. Technology innovation frequently happens without considering the security implications.

The Marketplace

As sponsors of the event we had a spaceOpenStackSummitATL-OH-AN-booth-small to present our warez, and had many lively discussions with the summit crowd. To my pleasant surprise, most attendees we spoke with understood TPMs, Intel Trusted Execution Technology (Intel TXT) and general Trusted Computing concepts. This resulted  in lots of deep discussions about implementation of the technology in their environment – the OpenStack crowd understood the value of system integrity controls that PrivateCore brings to OpenStack.

Peek into PrivateCore roadmap

If you had a chance to join Keith Basil TripleO talk, you should have noticed the slide OpenStackSummitATL-TripleO-KeithBshowcasing PrivateCore’s technology integration into OpenStack on OpenStack (TripleO). We have not publicly shared details of integration, but if you are interested learning how trusted computing plays directly into cloud deployment and management, please get in contact with us for a preview.

See you all at November’s OpenStack Summit in Paris!

Gartner Report Illuminates Server Security

Gartner’s analysts Joerg Fritsch and Mario de Boer published a comprehensive report covering server security on 31 March 2014 titled “The Feasibility of Host-Based Controls and the Evolution of Server Security”.  This report (G00260437) is a tour de force on all aspects of physical and virtual server security – if you are in the business of securing enterprise server infrastructure, you should get ahold of it and spend some quality time digesting it.  This report is a great example of the value of a Gartner IT Pro service subscription.

Todd Thiemann

Todd Thiemann

The report is holistic and touches on all aspects of server security, including anti-malware (AV), host-based intrusion prevention (IDS/IPS), application whitelisting, file integrity monitoring (FIM), privileged account monitoring and server integrity.

Something that we are proud of is the recognition given to PrivateCore vCage Manager as a leading solution for bootstrapping trust in private and public clouds.  As Gartner states in the report, “…bootstrapped trust comes in with a very moderate price tag, or it could even be a feature of products that are already deployed in the local data center, such as the HyTrust appliance, PrivateCore vCage Manager or OpenStack.”

Reading between the lines, I suspect the recent news regarding NSA’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO) unit is motivating more focus on system integrity.  As Oded pointed out in his January blog post, bad guys will eventually learn from the NSA TAO techniques for illicit gain.  The Gartner Server Security report lays out best practices in securing such systems.  As you look to implement such best practices described by Gartner, have a chat with us about maintaining Linux/OpenStack system integrity with PrivateCore vCage.