High Availability and Fault Tolerance

Most users that I’ve talked with are having a difficult time in differentiating these two kinds of systems. Hopefully, this article would give all of us some light on how these two different IT infrastructures are different from each other and hopefully would give light on how to deal and match these with their respective Service Level Agreements.                                                             Image

High Availability means that the infrastructure has been set so that it STILL GIVES OFF MINOR INTERRUPTIONS due to the following factors:

  • Components are not fully fault tolerant.
  • Components are designed and placed so that it is redundant with each of the component. An example of these are two database servers which are mirrored with each other, in which, if one fails, the other one handles the processing. The servers are not exactly fault tolerant or zero tolerant, but the downtime will be minimized, if the second server switches automatically or is switched manually, if the first server goes down.

In short, high availability is a mixture of several components which will handle the processing load, if the a similar component goes down. There could be a small downtime IF, the components were configured or set automatically, or even if the components are switched manually if a similar component goes down.

Normally, creating a high available structure would entail a user to always create two copies of everything, using two different equipment so that if the first goes down, the second goes on, until the first equipment is repaired or diagnosed.

Fault Tolerance on the other hand, is the same as Zero Tolerance, in which, if we dig in deeper, would mean, ZERO TOLERANCE to downtime. It simply means, that the infrastructure cannot go down or be unavailable. Normally, these infrastructure contain fault tolerant equipment that contain two motherboards, two hard disks, two power supplies, two memory modules that are integrated within a central resource unit (or what we call a chassis), in an active-active mode, meaning, both are working and replicating on real-time. This ensure that if a component goes down, the other one still continues to be working, therefore, eliminating the unavailability factor.

In reality, high availability components are cheaper per unit, but would be more expensive to implement because of:

  • Two units of equipment each.
  • Two licenses per equipment each.

On a per unit basis, the costs of equipment having a fault-tolerant mode, is more expensive, but implementations-wise, it would be cheaper because:

  • You would only get one fault-tolerant machine.
  • You would only pay one license per equipment, instead of two. Image
  • Easier to manage and to maintain.

However and whatever it goes, it would depend on each user and business needs to decide and choose if high availability or fault tolerance would best work on his scenario. But consider these:

  • If the business requires second by second updates on transactions, fault-tolerance is advised. Examples of these are banks and stock exchanges.
  • If the business do not do these, then probably, high availability is better.

But then consider the costs:

  • For high availability, the costs involved are: two units of each of the equipment/component of the infrastructure (example: two application servers, two database servers, two routers, two firewalls), all configured as redundant.
  • For high availability, you would need to license two application servers, two database servers, etc.)
  • Also for high availability, you would need skilled staff to manage the redundance of the servers. It would be very costly, if the business let’s say, manage redundant Oracle RAC servers.

Apparently, for these cases I’ve enumerated above, the cost of Fault Tolerant equipment pay for itself in the long run. Although the market has now recognized these facts and has now created solutions for the fault-tolerant requirements of each businesses, we still have not seen quite a handful of these products in the market today, except for a few server providers which offer 100% fault-tolerant solutions. Other manufacturers have also started introducing semi-fault tolerant solutions, but somehow, it may not be the solution that offers and promises a 100% availability promise.

Let’s wait for around two years more before the market matures on these.

LTE For Business Use

Hi readers, good to be back.   Image

The past few weeks, we have been bugged by several questions on the feasibility of having to use LTE-4G on their corporate networks. Here is our take on this.

LTE-4G, is not an entirely new technology. LTE, for those who are not familiar with it means Long Term Evolution. It is previously marketed as 4G or HSPDA. I don’t know the hype behind it, but it would be the mid to long term communications channel for mobile networks. It still uses the cellular network as its main point of connectivity and will be the standard for data communications for mobile users.

With regards to the questions that we have been encountering, I don’t think it will be feasible for business users to have it integrated within their main network that will be used as their main protocol for network connection. It would be best to check first the following factors that need reliable connections on internal business networks like:

  1. Strength of signal
  2. High availability requirements
  3. Functionality of the network.
  4. Availability of other connection options
  5. Availability of equipment that can be used to integrate the LTE network externally going to the internal network.

Here in the Philippines, LTE is quite new and there are limited options available, based on carriers, signal strength and equipment. Yes, LTE would be best for mobile users going around the city using their LTE capable hand units or dongles, but I think that would be it. It may not be capable of transmitting high capacity data that is required in corporate networks as of the moment. It may not be that feasible in having your own internal T1 or even DSL networks to be migrated as of yet, sooner maybe, but now would not be the appropriate time until telcos have established stability and an appropriate service level standard for this method.

Hey! Is that a Cloud?

Nice to be back here after a long absense.

Well, part of our absense is mainly due to further studies that we have undertaken, including implementation on the results of these studies to our business model.

Also, I have been talking with lots of people on technologies and we think, one of the most misconcepted and misunderstood term in computing these days is CLOUD COMPUTING. 

What actually is CLOUD COMPUTING? Well, its NOT having your applications run on the Internet, it is also not accessing your own network via VPN on the Internet. If these definitions do not hold true, then what is actually CLOUD COMPUTING?

Per Wikipedia, CLOUD COMPUTING is the delivery of computing and storage capacity as a service. If as a service, what we mean is that it should be paid and not purchased. It means, running your applications, your infrastructure and your platform as though you are subscribing to it on a fixed or variable period. A CLOUD COMPUTING SERVICE is already there, up and running. All a user would have to do is to subscribe, given an access, and run. This concept is different from having your servers and your applications be opened on the Internet for your internal users. CLOUD COMPUTING also implies that the facility is there are you are sharing that facility with other subscribers, security or non-security issues nonwithstanding.

Most vendors are now leveraging the cloud, but actually, most of them are not familiar with the cloud, which adds to the confusion. But then again, only a few vendors would be best qualified to really be determined as a “valid” cloud provider. We will not be naming names here, but it would be up to the readers to really determine who is really telling the truth in terms of cloud marketing.

There are many things that we would want to discuss on CLOUD, but it would be better if we sub-divide these topics for future readings….Watch out for it…..

Disasters, Disasters, Disasters

Year 2011 came in with some notable natural and man-made calamities. The New Zealand earthquake, the Japan earthquake and tsunami, the Turkish earthquake, the Japan Nuclear Plant leaks, and so much more. Recently the Philippines was hit by a devastating flood which left thousands of people dead. Two years ago, a typhoon leashed at the nation’s capital, dumping out rains that were normally dumped for a month. Although casualties are not that high as compared to the casualties that were bought by the recent flash flood. 

One thing goes to mind. How will businesses continue in case of such calamities? How can consumers recover quickly? Remember, in calamities, the fastest way to recover is:

(a) immediate restoration of power

(b) immediate restoration of communication facilities

(c) immediate restoration of financial services

(d) immediate restoration of physical infrastructure like roads and bridges

(e) immediate delivery of supplies and services to the users

The answer to all of these is for all businesses to think of and develop their own contingency plans and business recovery plans. And in no such case that a contingency plan or a business recovery plan will work if it is not reviewed, tested and implemented properly. Contingency plans and business recovery plans are not limited to IT alone. It includes all parts of the enterprise resource activities, including supply chain management processes. It is not limited to hardware, networks, software or databases, it includes manual processes to enable employees of affected businesses to continue with their supposed to be tasks if the business is affected by such calamities. It may include handling of work, even of outside of the company’s premises, transfer of an IT system to other locations, handling of financials, alternative source and target channels and the like.  

I have read the other day that a Philippine senator filed a bill mandating businesses to have their own business and contingency plans. We think its a good idea. A calamity should not stop commerce and businesses and at the same time, a calamity should not stop consumers and customers from getting the kind of service they want.

It would be a pity for a business if they stop operating if they are affected by these calamities. It would mean loss of income, revenue and reputation.  There should always be a Plan B, a Plan C or even a Plan D, if these happens. 

The next question is: Are you ready?

The Year of the Breach

As the year is coming to a close, news headlines were dominated by reports of high-profile security attacks, some launched by “hacktivists” such as Anonymous and LULZSEC.

But something  larger was brewing. Amidst hacktivists’ attacks on Sony, HBGary and NATO, highly sophisticated, clandestine attackers—the kind with the rarefied expertise, deep pockets and specialized resources typically only seen in nation-state adversaries—were actively infiltrating a broad range of targets.

These attacks were different: they were patient, stealthy and leveraged a potent combination of technical skill and social savvy.  Some used clever social engineering to get a foothold into their target organizations, while others used zero-day vulnerabilities—previously unknown holes in software—to penetrate defenses. 

While advanced attacks have happened for years, IT security experts observed recent attacks had grown bolder and more frequent. Recent attacks were also highly targeted, customized, well-researched and, in many cases, employed both technical and social
components.

The term used to describe such complex, sophisticated attacks was
“advanced persistent threats” (APTs), but as IT security experts quickly pointed out, APTs were only as advanced as they needed to be to get the job done. A concrete definition is elusive and, as cautioned, “Defining it could limit us and lead us to be blindsided. We need to constantly revisit the characteristics because they’re always changing.”

Much of the day’s focus was on the techniques of highly organized attackers. such
advanced threats, which include APTs, span from corporate espionage to hacktivism.

This article distills certain key insights from those discussions and
aspires to advance the industry’s dialog on advanced threats, spur disruptive innovation and disseminate some of our learnings from some of the most seasoned professionals in information security.

From a Cookie-Cutter Approach to Adaptive

In 2000, the I LOVE YOU worm crippled more than 50 million Pcs. The delivery mechanism was simple but effective: an e-mail showed up in your in-box with a subject line of “iloveyou.” When people clicked on the e-mail’s attachment, titled “love-leTTer-Foryou,” they were infected with a computer worm. while the damage was significant, a
partial solution to this problem came in the form of antivirus software: a signature could be deployed to antivirus agents that would identify the file as malicious and arrest its actions.                                                                          
Today, generic malware is still profuse but signature-based defenses, at either the network or host layer, can greatly decrease the odds of infection. What makes recent
advanced threats different is their defiance of a signature. In the world of advanced threats, malware evolves quickly, and security experts have  described several cases of special-purpose malware custom-developed specifically for their targets. Some were
compiled within hours of launching the attack.

It became clear that enterprises targeted by highly organized attackers cannot depend on signature-based “bread and butter” security tools as a sole means of defence. While the payloads of some advanced threats were fairly standard, entry strategies were often custom tailored.

Attackers typically used social networking sites to gather intelligence and identify specific users within an organization. Some of the main infection vectors that cited were  e-mail, Skype and instant messages with malware payloads in the form of PDFs, compressed HTML, script files, executables and attachments.
customization of attack techniques extend through data exfiltration.

Advanced threats often use sophisticated methods for compressing, encrypting and transmitting data to other compromised organizations, leaving little evidence of the origin of the attack or the destination for stolen information. This move from generic to tailored, from cookie-cutter to adaptive, means that security organizations need to think beyond signatures and re-evaluate how effective their current defenses are.

Remember that people, not technology, were the Achilles heel in most defensive strategies.

People are the Weakest Link 
“People are the weakest link” is perhaps the biggest cliché in information security. Security experts have long understood that users make bad choices, click on links they shouldn’t and install malware through simple ruses.

Corporate IT departments deploy multiple controls to help deal with this threat: e-mail filtering solutions catch many attacks before they make it to users, malicious links are blocked by the network, network scanners look for malicious content, and host-based antivirus (the last line of defense) tries to stop what slips through the cracks.

This process works well for generic, shotgun attacks in that signatures can be updated quickly to immunize users. Advanced attackers, however, are now creating highly credible scenarios in which they convince users to click on dialog boxes warning of fake software updates, retrieve content from quarantined areas and act (unknowingly) on behalf of the attacker.

Attackers have become dangerously adroit at using our weaknesses and behaviors against us. Attackers are creatively leveraging people inside the company to help accomplish their goals. “Internet scams are supposed to be sloppy, but they work.”

Advanced threats defy that stereotype. Experts put a fine  point on it: “The perimeter is not a firewall; it’s our users. They don’t treat their computer as an adversary; they treat it as a tool—an extension of themselves—so they don’t question what it tells them.”

Addressing the people problem will take more than technology. Organizations need to
drive a sense of personal responsibility for security among employees.

Attackers Aim for Advantage, Not Infamy

Advanced attacks are typically not the product of hobbyists. These attacks often require months of planning, mapping out internal networks by looking at the fringes.

The reconnaissance can go much further: targeting key employees, deconstructing their life by scouring social media, custom-crafting an attack so that it is stealthy, patient, and very effective.

Cybercriminals, the ones who look to steal credit card numbers and other
commoditized and sellable data, have become increasingly sophisticated but advanced
attacks are different. Increasingly, they focus on espionage—stealing specialized data
that may be of high value and strategic importance to the commissioning entity, which
can be foreign governments, rival corporations and organized crime groups. The entities behind advanced attacks literally mean business.

Also, entities perpetrating many advanced attacks are substantively different from the
hacktivists groups that have attracted attention in recent times. Hacktivists want to
embarrass and expose their targets’ activities, taking pride in publishing their conquests.

Many advanced attackers, in contrast, have the goal of stealth. They do not want to be
discovered or seek publicity.

Now some advanced threats are now masquerading as hacktivist attacks, with the goal being to confuse forensics and place blame on groups that are often eager to accept it. This pattern makes it difficult to size the scale of advanced threats: a willing scapegoat makes post-incident attribution particularly problematic.

The New Normal: Act as Though You Are Already Hacked  

The events of the year have shown that determined adversaries can always find exploits through people and in complex IT environments. It’s not realistic to keep
adversaries out. Organizations should plan and act as though they have already been breached.

Three foundational principles of security are compartmentalization, defense in depth and least privilege. in combination, these three tenets dictate that if one system (or person) is compromised, it should not result in a compromise of the entire system.

While simple in concept, these tenets have proven complicated to implement in practice. Organizations have long relied on the notion of a “perimeter,” where a big thick wall—in the form of firewalls and gateway defenses—guards the organization, with good guys (insiders) on one side of the wall and attackers on the other.

Security perimeters are now considered a construct of the past. Boundaries are nearly
impossible to define in modern organizations. The inclusion of partially trusted users
such as customers, suppliers, contractors, service providers, cloud vendors and others
have made organization boundaries very porous. Beyond the eradication of traditional
organizational boundaries, the consumerization of IT has brought a rash of unmanaged
devices into the enterprise and exposed the organization to services (and suppliers) that are opaque.

IT consumerization has also blurred the line between the business lives and
the personal lives of employees. We have moved from the illusion of a perimeter-driven defense to living in a state of compromise.

Accepting that some systems, some people, and some services may already be under the control of attackers changes information security strategy. it forces a return to the core principles of compartmentalization, defense-in-depth, and least privilege.

Organizations need to focus on closing the exposure window and limiting damage through efforts to compartmentalize systems, stop sensitive data egress and contain malfeasance. This new model also demands that we rethink old habits of sharing sensitive corporate information—such as source code, product plans and strategic roadmaps—using collaborative processes that presume perimeter defenses can keep attackers out.

Security improves through greater situational awareness: gaining the ability to
understand what’s happening beyond our network boundaries to detect threats on the horizon. Organizations get smarter by looking beyond their infrastructure and observing  the ecosystem. The ecosystem approach to security relies on organizations actively sharing information with other organizations about threats. It also demands greater visibility into the security of suppliers and service providers within one’s supply chain.

The key is to know what digital assets are important to protect, where they reside, who
has access to them and how to lock them down in the event of a breach. This ability to
tighten the net before and during an attack is key, and it requires a mature process for
incident handling. Incident response should not be considered exclusively a security
function. Instead, it is an organizational competency that must be developed and
continually honed well before an attack occurs. if organizations are planning responses
as an attack unfolds, they are too late. A competency approach allows remediation
activities to kick in automatically—like a reflex.

The Road Ahead

The reality of advanced threats demands a disruptive approach to defense—one where
enterprises can be agile and thrive in a contested environment. This approach must be
applied holistically: approaching advanced threat defense not as a discrete function but
as a natural consequence of robust but agile security.

Many of the holes that exist today come from an unmanageably complex iT infrastructure. Given that information security is a “weakest link” problem, only through understanding our assets, processes and endpoints do we have a chance at effective defense. Unraveling complexity and fielding a successful defense means that we also need to think creatively about the range of attacker motivations, which can extend far beyond data theft.

With every new technology, we have the ability to weave security into its fabric, to begin anew. We are at the start of an industry-wide move to cloud-based services and systems. We stand on the precipice of a sea-change in technology. There is a new mantra that goes within the industry saying “If we can’t get it right with cloud, shame on us.”

Today more than ever, security is an ecosystem problem in which every constituent has a responsibility. Attackers are collaborating, sharing information, going after the supply chain, co-opting careless insiders and evading our long relied-upon defenses. we need disruptive collaboration and innovation in defense. Through collaboration, information sharing and increasing our agility, we can successfully fend off APTs and other advanced threats.

Happy Holidays! And a blessed new year to all!

 

Duqu

Security experts are warning of a new malware threat that it says could be a precursor to the next Stuxnet. 

The new threat, dubbed W32.Duqu, is a remote access Trojan (RAT) that appears to have been written by the authors of Stuxnet, or at least by someone who has access to Stuxnet source code, Symantec said in a report released today.

It was confirmed that Duqu is a threat nearly identical to Stuxnet, but with a completely different purpose. Duqu’s purpose is to steal data from manufactures of industrial control systems that can then be used to craft attacks against entities using such systems.

Analysis shows that the Trojan is “highly targeted” at a limited number of organizations. Though Duqu uses a lot of the same code as Stuxnet, its payload is completely different.

While Stuxnet is designed to sabotage industrial control systems, Duqu is simply a Trojan with remote access capabilities that appears to have been created specifically to gather information about industrial control systems.

News of the new Trojan is sure to reinforce concerns about targeted cyberattacks against the industrial control systems used in critical infrastructures, such as power plants, water treatment facilities and chemical plants.

The Stuxnet worm , which some security researchers call the most sophisticated malware program ever written, has already affected industrial control systems in many countries.

The worm is noteworthy as the first piece of malware known to have morphed into physical destruction of a resource,

Attackers have used Duqu to install keystroke loggers and network enumerators for stealing information that can be used in future attacks. The attackers are looking for information such as design documents that could help them mount a future attack on an industrial control system.

Duqu has already been used to carry out attacks against a handful of companies that manufacture industrial control systems.

In at least one case, the attackers were unsuccessful in their attempts to steal such data. But information is not yet available on all cases where Duqu has been used to launch an attack.

Attacks using Duqu and its variants may have been going on since last December 2010 based on a review of file-compilation times. Duqu cannot replicate or propagate on its own, Haley said. It is configured to run for 36 days after which it removes itself from the infected machine.

Note that Duqu’s propagation techniques are still unknown, there is nothing in Duqu that says it comes from USB, or look for a network share and take me there.
It just sits there and works as a remote access tool.

The new malware is named Duqu because it creates files with filenames having the prefix “DQ”.

The Trojan consists of three files — a driver file, a dynamic link library and a configuration file. The files need to be installed by a separate executable which has not yet been recovered.

Besides the link between Duqu and Stuxnet, there is no other information on who might be behind the Trojan.

Duqu uses HTTP and HTTPS to communicate with a command & control server hosted in somewhere in India.

Attackers have been using the C&C server to download key loggers, network enumerators and other information stealing programs. The stolen information is stored on a “lightly encrypted’ file and then uploaded back to the server.

reference : Symantec