Getting Beyond M&M SANs

By Drew Robb

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"Most SANs are like M&Ms" hard and crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.

This observation on Storage Area Network (SAN) design is from Clement Kent, the Chief Technical Officer of security firm Kasten Chase, Inc. He makes a vital point. Companies spend precious resources hardening the outer network shell with firewalls, passwords, certificates and keys, but the center, the actual data, is as insecure as ever. Let's take a look at what it takes to secure a SAN all the way from the edge to the core.

Keep the Shell Hard

Opening the enterprise data farm to company users in far-flung offices makes data more usable and more valuable, but far more vulnerable. Hackers and crackers continue to probe industrial defenses using new attack technology. Clearly, then, it is essential to deploy the latest developments in intrusion detection, firewalls, hardened switches and routers, and management systems. Storage administrators must not make the mistake of leaving everything to network personnel. At the very least, they must stay current with perimeter defense technology and wage a constant funding campaign for new tools and upgrades.

Harden the Core

Imagine the consequences if a criminal walked off with the daily backup tapes. Blackmail, class-action lawsuits and corporate train wrecks are real possibilities. Storage personnel must take the viewpoint that the bad guys will succeed sometime, so steps must be taken to minimize the value of what they obtain. This viewpoint is the first step toward real SAN security. If the data on the stolen backup tapes is encrypted, the criminal gains nothing and the company is safeguarded.

Storage encryption technology is not absolutely perfect, however, and SAN architects should not delude themselves by thinking otherwise. Given time and teraflops, a criminal can even beat 128-bit encryption. But storage encryption wraps the data in yet another protective layer and hardens the core of any SAN. Storage encryption appliances such as the Decru Data Fort, Kasten Chase Assurency SecureData and NeoScale Systems CryptoStor provide security without a costly performance hit. Using separate keys for data compartments can create an access control layer on top of the hardware zoning and LUN masking underneath.

Centralize Command

Security is everyone's responsibility, but unless one person is given the responsibility and authority to oversee all areas of corporate security, the company will have gaps in the coverage. A single appointed security manager can bridge the gap between network security and storage security specialists. Make the security manager the security policy approver, so that all conflicting procedures can be resolved and gaps between boundaries can be covered. Solicit input from Human Resources, so security policies have real teeth and unpleasant consequences for employees who slide off the straight and narrow. Obtain corporate buy-in to spread security awareness and responsibility to all parts of the company. This is vital as end-to-end SAN security does not come cheap.

Page 2: Audit OftenAudit Often

Conduct annual security audits to evaluate strengths, weaknesses and risk. There are good guidelines available from the Storage Security Industry Forum, a part of the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) See http://www.snia.org/ssif. Watch for new developments in network and storage security and new threats from outside and inside the firewalls. Some of the basics for every audit, as recommended by SNIA:

Harden the Wetware

The eternal fact is that security depends on what is going on between the human's two ears (the wetware). FBI statistics show that 50 to 80 percent of the security breaches originate inside the firewall. This means that if a company is attacked, the odds are that a co-worker is the culprit: a disgruntled employee, an industrial spy, or just someone foggy from medication and having a careless day.

Further, the keepers of the keys and the guards at the gate are all potential targets for the seduction tricks of industrial and international espionage. Regardless of how closely guarded organizational passwords and keys may be, security comes down to the old question of "Who will watch the Watchers?"

This is a tough look at security. Many companies simply are not ready to confront the "50% to 80%" statistic. Investing in hardware, software and badge readers is easier to understand and approve than addressing people problems. Yet the hard truth is that security crosses over into Corporate Ethics, Human Resources and Line Management.

Keeping people happy with their jobs and loyal to the company is the sunny side of Security. Demanding periodic drug tests and background screening of new employees is the darker side. In these difficult times of downsizing, suspended pay raises, and unpaid overtime, all levels of management must work creatively to maintain employee morale — including their own. Building high morale and loyalty in that wetware between the human ears goes a very long way towards transforming an M&M into a SAN that is a tough nut to crack.