13.4 Introduction to Information Security

Information is an organization’s most valuable asset. This information, including intellectual property, personal identities, and financial transactions, is regularly processed and stored in storage systems, which are accessed through the network. As a result, storage is now more exposed to various security threats that can potentially damage business-critical data and disrupt critical services. Organizations deploy various tools within their infrastructure to protect these assets. These tools must be deployed on various infrastructure assets to protect the information. The commonly used infrastructure assets are
  • Servers (which processes information)
  • Storage (which stores information)
  • Network (which carries information) 

As organizations are adopting next generation emerging technologies, in which cloud is a core element, one of the key concerns they have is ‘trust’. Trust depends on the degree of control and visibility available to the information’s owner. Therefore, securing storage infrastructure has become an integral component of the storage management process in modern IT datacenters. It is an intensive and necessary task, essential to manage and protect vital information.

Information Security Overview

Information security includes a set of practices that protect information and information systems from unauthorized disclosure, access, use, destruction, deletion, modification, and disruption. Information security involves implementing various kinds of safeguards or controls, in order to lessen the risk of an exploitation or a vulnerability in the information system which could otherwise cause a significant impact to organization’s business. From this perspective, security is an ongoing process, not static, and requires continuous revalidation and modification. Securing the storage infrastructure begins with understanding the goals of information security.

Information Security Overview
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Goals of  information security

The goal of information security is to provide
  • Confidentiality
  • Integrity
  • Availability
Confidentiality provides the required secrecy of information to ensure that only authorized users have access to data. Integrity ensures that unauthorized changes to information are not allowed. The objective of ensuring integrity is to detect and protect against unauthorized alteration or deletion of information. Availability ensures that authorized users have reliable and timely access to servers, storage, network, application, and data resources. Ensuring confidentiality, integrity, and availability are the primary objective of any IT security implementation. These are supported through the use of authentication, authorization, and auditing processes.
  • Authentication is a process to ensure that ‘users’ or ‘assets’ are who they claim to be by verifying their identity credentials. A user may be authenticated by a single-factor or multi-factor method. Single-factor authentication involves the use of only one factor, such as a password. Multi-factor authentication uses more than one factor to authenticate a user.
  • Authorization refers to the process of determining whether and in what manner, a user, device, application, or process is allowed to access a particular service or resource. For example, a user with administrator’s privileges is authorized to access more services or resources compared to a user with non-administrator privileges. Authorization should be performed only if authentication is successful. The most common authentication and authorization controls, used in a data center environment are Windows Access Control List (ACL), UNIX permissions, Kerberos, and Challenge-Handshake Authentication Protocol (CHAP). It is essential to verify the effectiveness of security controls that are deployed with the help of auditing. 
  • Auditing refers to the logging of all transactions for the purpose of assessing the effectiveness of security controls. It helps to validate the behaviour of the infrastructure components, and to perform forensics, debugging, and monitoring activities.

Information Security Considerations

Risk assessment
An organization might wants to safeguard the asset from threat agents (attackers) who seek to abuse the assets. Risk arises when the likelihood of a threat agent (an attacker) to exploit the vulnerability arises. Therefore, the organizations deploy various countermeasures to minimize risk by reducing the vulnerabilities.

Also Read: Introduction to Storage Infrastructure Management

Risk assessment is the first step to determine the extent of potential threats and risks in an infrastructure. The process assesses risk and helps to identify appropriate controls to mitigate or eliminate risks. Organizations must apply their basic information security and risk-management policies and standards to their infrastructure. Some of the key security areas that an organization must focus on while building the infrastructure are: authentication, identity and access management, data loss prevention and data breach notification, governance, risk, and compliance (GRC), privacy, network monitoring and analysis, security information and event logging, incident management, and security management. 

Assets and Threats
Information is one of the most important assets for any organization. Other assets include hardware, software, and other infrastructure components required to access the information. To protect these assets, organizations deploy security controls. These security controls have two objectives. The first objective is to ensure that the resources are easily accessible to authorized users. The second objective is to make it difficult for potential attackers to access and compromise the system. The effectiveness of a security control can be measured by two key criteria. One, the cost of implementing the system should be a fraction of the value of the protected data. Two, it should cost heavily to a potential attacker, in terms of money, effort, and time, to compromise and access the assets.

Also Read: Unified Storage Systems Overview

Threats are the potential attacks that can be carried out on an IT infrastructure. These attacks can be classified as active or passive. Passive attacks are attempts to gain unauthorized access into the system. Passive attacks pose threats to confidentiality of information. Active attacks include data modification, denial of service (DoS), and repudiation attacks. Active attacks pose threats to data integrity, availability, and accountability.

Vulnerability is a weakness of any information system that an attacker exploits to carry out an attack. The components that provide a path enabling access to information are vulnerable to potential attacks. It is important to implement adequate security controls at all the access points on these components.

Attack surface, attack vector, and work factor are the three factors to consider when assessing the extent to which an environment is vulnerable to security threats. Attack surface refers to the various entry points that an attacker can use to launch an attack, which includes people, process, and technology. For example, each component of a storage infrastructure is a source of potential vulnerability. An attacker can use all the external interfaces supported by that component, such as the hardware and the management interfaces, to execute various attacks. These interfaces form the attack surface for the attacker. Even unused network services, if enabled, can become a part of the attack surface. An attack vector is a step or a series of steps necessary to complete an attack. For example, an attacker might exploit a bug in the management interface to execute a snoop attack. Work factor refers to the amount of time and effort required to exploit an attack vector.

Also Read: Taking Backup and Archive to Cloud Storage

Having assessed the vulnerability of the environment, organizations can deploy specific control measures. Any control measures should involve all the three aspects of infrastructure: people, process, and technology, and their relationship. To secure people, the first step is to establish and assure their identity. Based on their identity, selective controls can be implemented for their access to data and resources. The effectiveness of any security measure is primarily governed by the process and policies. The processes should be based on a thorough understanding of risks in the environment, should enable recognizing the relative sensitivity of different types of data, and help determine the needs of various stakeholders to access the data. Without an effective process, the deployment of technology is neither cost-effective nor aligned to organizations’ priorities.

Security Controls
Finally, the controls that are deployed should ensure compliance with the processes, policies, and people for its effectiveness. These security controls are directed at reducing vulnerability by minimizing the attack surfaces and maximizing the work factors. These controls can be technical or non-technical. Technical controls are usually implemented at server, network, and storage level, whereas non-technical controls are implemented through administrative and physical controls. Administrative controls include security and personnel policies or standard procedures to direct the safe execution of various operations. Physical controls include setting up physical barriers, such as security guards, fences, or locks. Controls are categorized as preventive, detective, and corrective.
  • Preventive: Avoid problems before they occur
  • Detective: Detect a problem that has occurred
  • Corrective: Correct the problem that has occurred
Organizations should deploy defense-in-depth strategy when implementing these controls.

Defence in depth
An organization should deploy multiple layers of defense throughout the infrastructure to mitigate the risk of security threats, in case one layer of the defense is compromised. This strategy is referred to as defense-in-depth. This strategy may also be thought of as a “layered approach to security” because there are multiple measures for security at different levels. Defense-in-depth increases the barrier to exploitation—an attacker must breach each layer of defenses to be successful—and thereby provides additional time to detect and respond to an attack. This potentially reduces the scope of a security breach. However, the overall cost of deploying defense-in-depth is often higher compared to single-layered security controls. An example of defense-in-depth could be a virtual firewall installed on a hypervisor when there is already a network-based firewall deployed within the same environment. This provides additional layer of security reducing the chance of compromising hypervisor’s security if network-level firewall is compromised.

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