Blog Archives

“Ugly Yellow Box” bought by private equity firm

Security is BIG business, probably even bigger than storage and with more “sex” appeal and pazzazz! My friends are owners of 2 of the biggest security distributors in town, so I know. I am not much of a security guy, but I reason I write about Bluecoat is that this company has something close to my heart.

In the early 2000, NetApp used to have a separate division that is not storage. They have a product called NetCache, which is a web proxy solution. It was a pretty decent product and one of the competitors we frequently encounter on the field was an “ugly yellow box” called CacheFlow. Whenever we see an “ugly yellow box” in a rack, we will immediately know that it was a CacheFlow box. NetApp competed strongly with Cache Flow, partly because their CEO and founder, Brian NeSmith, as we NetAppians were told, was ex-NetApp. And there was some animosity between Brian and NetApp, up to the point that I recalled NetApp’s CEO then, Dan Warmenhoven, declaring that “NetApp will bury CacheFlow!“, or something of that nature. At that point, in the circa of 2001-2002, CacheFlow was indeed in a bit of a rut as well. They suffered heavy losses and was near bankcruptcy. A old news from Forbes confirmed Brian NeSmith’s near-bankcruptcy adventure.

CacheFlow survived the rut, changed their name to Bluecoat Systems, and changed their focus from Internet caching to security. Know why they are know as “Bluecoat”? They are the policemen of the Internet, and policemen are men in blue coats. I found an old article from Network World about their change.  And they decided not to paint their boxes yellow anymore. 😉

Eventually, it was CacheFlow who triumphed over NetApp. And the irony was NetApp eventually sold the NetCache unit and its technology to BlueCoat in 2006. And hence, that my account of the history of Bluecoat.

Yesterday, Bluecoat was on the history books again, but for a better reason. A private equity firm, Thoma Bravo, has put in USD$1.3 billion to acquire Bluecoat. News here and here.

Have a happy Sunday 😀

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No more Huawei-Symantec

Huawei-Symantec is no more. Last night, Huawei, the China telecom giant has bought the remaining 49% of Symantec shares for USD530 million.

The joint venture was initially set up in 2007 to focus on 3S – Server, Storage and Security. With the consolidation under one owner, and one name, Huawei will continue to focus on the 3S. And since Huawei owns telco as well, a lot of the 3S solutions will come into play and it is likely that Huawei will become a cloud player as well.

iSCSI old CHAP

For folks working on iSCSI, especially the typical implementation engineers, they like to have things easy. “Let’s get this thing working so that I can go home” and usually done without the ever important CHAP (Challenge Handshake Authentication Protocol) enabled and configured.

We are quite lax when it comes to storage security and have always assumed that storage security is inherent in most setup, especially Fibre Channel. Well, let me tell you something, buddy. IT’S NOT! Even Fibre Channel has inherent vulnerability; it’s just that not many technical folks know about the 5 layers of Fibre Channel and it doesn’t mean that Fibre Channel is secure.

As the world turns to more iSCSI implementations, the fastest and easiest way to get a iSCSI connection is to do it without CHAP in the LAN, and CHAP authentication is not enabled by default. And this is happening in the IP world, not Fibre Channel, where there are more sniffers and hackers lurking. But even with CHAP applied, there are ways that CHAP can be broken and iSCSI security can be compromised easily. Below is the typical Windows iSCSI connection screenshot.

First of all, CHAP communication goes through back and forth in the network in clear-text, and the packets are easily captured. Then the hacker can take its own sweet time brute forcing to obtain the CHAP’s encrypted password, challenge and username.

iSCSI communication happens over the popular TCP port of 3260. This gives the hacker a good idea what he/she is able to do. They could sniff out the packets that is going through the wire from their computer but the hacker probably won’t do that. They would use another computer, one that has been compromised and trusted in the network.

From this compromised computer, the hackers would initiate a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack. They can easily redirect the iSCSCI packets to this compromised computer to further their agenda. I found a nice diagram from SearchStorage about the iSCSI MITM attack and I shared it below.

A highly popular utility used in MITM attacks is one called Cain and Abel. Using a technique called ARP Cache Poisoning or ARP Poison Routing (APR), the compromised computer is able to intercept the iSCSI communication between the iSCSI initiator and the iSCSI target. The intercepted iSCSI packets can then be analyzed by Wireshark, the free and open source packet analyzer.

As Wireshark is capturing and analyzing the iSCSI packets, all the iSCSI communication that is happening between the initiator and the target is read in clear-text. The IQN number, the username are in clear-text as well. As Wireshark follows the TCP stream, the hacker will be looking out for a variable called “CHAP_N=iscsisecurity” and followed by “CHAP_R which equates to the encrypted password in the CHAP authentication. It will probably be in hexadecimal and begins with “Ox….“.

Voila, your encrypted iSCSI password, which now can be hacked in brute-force offline. It’s that easy folks!

Either way, having configured CHAP enabled is still better than no authentication at all (which most of us are likely to do during iSCSI setup). There are other ways to make the iSCSI communication more secure and IPSec is one of the considerations. But usually, we as techies have to balance between security and performance and we would end up choosing performance, relaxing the security bit.

But the exposure of iSCSI in the IP world is something we should think more about. Instead of having the easy way out, at least enable CHAP, old chap. OK?

NFS version 4

NFS has been around for almost 20 years and is the de-facto network file sharing protocol for Unix and Linux systems. There has been much talk about NFS, especially in version 2 and 3 and IT guys used to joke that NFS stands for “No F*king Security”.

NFS version 4 was different, borrowing ideas from Windows CIFS and Carnegie Mellon’s Andrew File System. And from its inception 11 years ago in IETF RFC 3010 (revised in 2003 with IETF RFC 3530), the notable new features of NFSv4 are:

Performance enhancement – One key enhancement is the introduction of the COMPOUND RPC procedure which allows the NFS client to group together a bunch of file operations into a single request to the NFS server. This not only reduces the network round-trip latency, but also reduces the small little chatters of the smaller file operations.

Removing the multiple daemons in NFSv3 – NFSv3 uses various daemons/services and various protocols to do the work. There isportmapper (TCP/UDP 111) which provides the port numbers for mounting and NFS services. There’s the mountd (arbitrary port byportmapper) service that does the mounting of NFS exports for the NFS clients. There’s nfsd on TCP/UDP 2049and so on. The command ‘rpcinfo -p’ below shows all the ports and services related to NFS

There are other features as well such as

Firewall friendly – The use ofportmapper dishing out arbitrary ports made it difficult for the firewall. NFSv4 changed that by consolidating most of the TCP/IP services into well-known ports which the security administrator can define in the firewall.

Stateful – NFSv3 is stateless and it does not maintain the state of the NFS clients. NFSv4 is stateful and implements a mandatory locking and delegation mechanisms. Leases for locks from the servers to the clients was introduced. A lease is a time-bounded grant for the control of the state of a file and this is implemented through locks.

Mandated Strong Security Architecture – NFSv4 requires the implementation of a strong security mechanism that is based on crytography. Previously the strongest security flavour was AUTH_SYS, which is level 1 clearance.

 "The AUTH_SYS security flavor uses a host-based authentication model
where the client asserts the user's authorization identities using small
integers as user and group identity representations (this is EXACTLY how NFSv3
authenticates by default). Because of the small integer authorization ID
representation, AUTH_SYS can only be used in a name space where all clients and
servers share a uidNumber and gidNumber translation service. A shared translation
service is required because uidNumbers and gidNumbers are passed in the RPC 
credential; there is no negotiation of namespace in AUTH_SYS."

NFSv4 security mechanism is based on RPCSEC_GSS, a level 6 clearance. RPCSEC_GSS is an API that is more than an authentication mechanism. It performs integrity checksum and encryption in the entire RPC request and response operations. This is further progressed with the integration of Kerberos v5 for user authentication. This is quite similar to Windows CIFS Kerberos implementation, providing a time-based ticket to gain authentication.

In addition to that, there are many other cool, new features with NFSv4. There was a further extension to NFSv4 last year, in 2010, when NFSv4.1 was added in IETF RFC5661. As quoted in Wikipedia – NFSv4.1 “aims to provide protocol support to take advantage of clustered server deployments including the ability to provide scalable parallel access to files distributed among multiple servers (pNFS extension).

NFSv4 has much to offer. The future is bright.