ACG Research

ACG Research
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Friday, February 24, 2012

The Top Five Security Considerations for Software Defined Networks

While there is a lot of interest in the potential of Software Defined Networks, there are only a handful of actual production networks out there right now. Why? One reason is because of the security risks associated with deploying the existing technology. The following are the top five areas that need to be addressed to improve the security of this new architecture:

Secure the Controller: By separating the control and management plane from the data plane, the “brains” of the network are centralized, which theoretically enables you to make changes to improve the speed, efficiency and potentially security of your network, with just a few clicks. Because the controllers that manage the network can be used to do anything, it also means securing them is of paramount concern.

Depending to whom you talk to, “putting all your eggs in one basket” so to speak, with all the brains of the network in the Controller can be seen as bad, representing a big target and vulnerability, or good, enabling the concentration of protection efforts on one thing. (Note, it may not be that dissimilar to DNS servers today, which are hugely disruptive if taken down or compromised; however, most network administrators feel fairly comfortable in their ability to protect the DNS servers in their network.)

Protect the Controller: Protecting the availability of the controller is also critical. Commercial solutions must easily enable redundancy to reduce the impact a compromise on one controller can have on the entire network.

Establish Trust Between the Controller and the Applications and Devices: Ensuring the integrity of anything that communicates with the controller is a critical first step in making sure the network is running as it should. There must be strong, mutual authentication for the applications that run on it, as well as the switches, routers and servers it controls. Also the communications channel needs to be secure to prevent attacks, such as man-in-the-middle.

Create Robust Policy Framework: Checks and balances are needed to ensure the network is operating as it should. When changes to the controller are made, there needs to be a framework in place to ensure they are in line with corporate policies and don’t open up security risks or knock the organization out of compliance.

Forensics and Remediation: Just as in any network, understanding what is going on or what happened is vital to being able to make changes that strengthen your overall security posture and better protect you from future threats.

Most likely these risks will be addressed as the technology matures and more commercial offerings are made available to the market, but it’s important to keep in mind what needs to happen before wide-scale, production deployments can be considered.

Sarah will be speaking at “What Every Business Executive and Investor Needs to Know about SDN and OpenFlow”

Sarah Sorensen


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