Do You Know What’s Hiding in the Cloud?

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The more complex an enterprise network is, the more difficult it becomes to be certain that everything is configured correctly and adheres to regulations and guidelines.

Many government agencies and institutions are looking to or have started to migrate to the cloud but all recognize that the transition from one environment to a very different one will not happen immediately. Even migrating applications to the cloud without changing them, aka “lift and shift,” involves the work of multiple people over days. Taking advantage of native cloud features, such as identity management, asset management or governance can take considerably longer.

As a result, organizations are finding themselves with a hybrid cloud approach. Last year, the Office of Management and Budget announced a Cloud Smart Strategy proposal that would help agencies migrate to the cloud safely and securely. In June, the White House Office of Management and Budget’s final version of the plan was published. These hybrid data centers or hybrid clouds are a combination of on-premise, public and private cloud services that interconnect with legacy infrastructure. They allow agencies to take advantage of the benefits of the cloud while hanging on to their legacy systems. But the mixture of different environments introduces challenges and complexities that can impact the resilience of their networks.

The more complex an enterprise network is, the more difficult it becomes to be certain that everything is configured correctly and adheres to regulations and guidelines. Cloud services add a further complexity: micro-segmentation. This is a method of creating secure zones at the workload level (endpoints in the cloud) to isolate them from each other. Unlike standard firewalls, micro-segmentation is both everywhere and nowhere all at the same time. Most of us know how challenging it is to maintain the rules on even one physical firewall. Micro-segmentation puts a virtual firewall on every endpoint.

When you connect your cloud to your legacy data center(s), your challenges start with things as simple as a map of connectivity from your legacy infrastructure to that cloud-based network. The cloud can’t tell you anything about your physical infrastructure and your physical infrastructure can’t tell you anything about what might be hiding in your cloud environment. To understand connectivity between the two, most network and cloud administrators use a combination of traceroutes, reviewing router access control lists and firewall rules, and going through spreadsheets of how devices should be configured and connected. It’s a labor-intensive task. What took relatively little time in legacy networks now takes anywhere from minutes to hours.

To answer basic connectivity questions in a reasonable amount of time, you’re going to need a way to view or model all your cyber terrain. An interactive model would allow you to validate your network segmentation in both cloud and legacy infrastructure, as well as across physical and virtual boundaries. And, because your hybrid cloud network is constantly changing, it’s best to update it on a continuous basis. A modeling capability will allow your cloud architects and your traditional networking teams to collaborate. It will normalize the two vastly different technologies into a common lexicon or map that shows—in a routing view—how traffic could flow. It creates a lingua franca.

Another advantage of modeling would be the ability to preplan the deployment of your hybrid network or the merging of two organizations. With a model in place as a reference point, you would able to rapidly identify misconfigurations from a security perspective before you go operational with your deployment, and, you would be able to assess the risks before you merge two networks. 

Something more than security is needed to defend any network, be it in the cloud or a physical space. Networks need measures that create and promote resilience throughout, and to do so, organizations must model their networks. The understanding you can get from a model would also significantly improve the digital resilience of your hybrid cloud network. Digital resilience is a comprehensive strategy across all IT functions and business processes designed to minimize the impact of cyberattacks and network interruptions. To be resilient, agencies’ and departments’ hybrid networks need to be hard for an adversary to penetrate. The defenders need to be able to detect the intrusions rapidly and have actionable knowledge that will allow them to respond rapidly. If the administrators of your cloud and legacy infrastructure teams are not aligned or working from a common viewpoint, your organization won’t know what comprises its hybrid environments. Without the lingua franca a model can provide, digital resilience is not easily achievable and critical systems will be at risk.

Wayne Lloyd is the federal chief technology officer and technical director at RedSeal.

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