One of the first things to catch my eye this week at RSA was a press release by STEALTHbits on their latest Data Governance release. They're a long time player in DG and as a former employee, I know them fairly well. And where they're taking DG is pretty interesting.
The company has recently merged its enterprise Data (files/folders) Access Governance technology with its DLP-like ability to locate sensitive information. The combined solution enables you to locate servers, identify file shares, assess share and folder permissions, lock down access, review file content to identify sensitive information, monitor activity to look for suspicious activity, and provide an audit trail of access to high-risk content.
The STEALTHbits solution is pragmatic because you can tune where it looks, how deep it crawls, where you want content scanning, where you want monitoring, etc. I believe the solution is unique in the market and a number of IAM vendors agree having chosen STEALTHbits as a partner of choice for gathering Data Governance information into their Enterprise Access Governance solutions.
Learn more at the STEALTHbits website.
Monday, February 24
One of the first things to catch my eye this week at RSA was a press release by STEALTHbits on their latest Data Governance release. They're a long time player in DG and as a former employee, I know them fairly well. And where they're taking DG is pretty interesting.
I'm at the RSA Conference this week. I considered the point of view that perhaps there's something to be said for abstaining this year but ultimately my decision to maintain course was based on two premises: (1) RSA didn't know the NSA had a backdoor when they made the arrangement and (2) The conference division doesn't have much to do with RSA's software group.
Anyway, my plan is to take notes and blog or tweet about what I see. Of course, I'll primarily be looking at Identity and Access technologies, which is only a subset of Information Security. And I'll be looking for two things: Innovation and Uniqueness. If your company has a claim on either of those in IAM solutions, please try to catch my attention.
Thursday, February 6
As more people are using the phrase "third platform", I'll assume it needs no introduction or explanation. The
mobile workforce has been mobile for a few years now. And most organizations have moved critical services to cloud-based offerings. It's not a prediction, it's here.
The two big components of the third platform are mobile and cloud. I'll talk about both.
A few months back, I posed the question "Is MAM Identity and Access Management's next big thing?" and since I did, it's become clear to me that the answer is a resounding YES!
Today, I came across a blog entry explaining why Android devices are a security nightmare for companies. The pain is easy to see. OS Updates and Security Patches are slow to arrive and user behavior is, well... questionable. So organizations should be concerned about how their data and applications are being accessed across this sea of devices and applications. As we know, locking down the data is not an option. In the extended enterprise, people need access to data from wherever they are on whatever device they're using. So, the challenge is to control the flow of information and restrict it to proper use.
So, here's a question: is MDM the right approach to controlling access for mobile users? Do you really want to stand up a new technology silo that manages end-user devices? Is that even practical? I think certain technologies live a short life because they quickly get passed over by something new and better (think electric typewriters). MDM is one of those. Although it's still fairly new and good at what it does, I would make the claim that MDM is antiquated technology. In a BYOD world, people don't want to turn control of their devices over to their employers. The age of enterprises controlling devices went out the window with Blackberry's market share.
Containerization is where it's at. With App Containerization, organizations create a secure virtual workspace on mobile devices that enables corporate-approved apps to access, use, edit, and share corporate data while protecting that data from escape to unapproved apps, personal email, OS malware, and other on-device leakage points. For enterprise use-case scenarios, this just makes more sense than MDM. And many of the top MDM vendors have validated the approach by announcing MAM offerings. Still, these solutions maintain a technology silo specific to remote access which doesn't make much sense to me.
As an alternate approach, let's build MAM capabilities directly into the existing Access Management platform. Access Management for the third platform must accommodate for mobile device use-cases. There's no reason to have to manage mobile device access differently than desktop access. It's the same applications, the same data, and the same business policies. User provisioning workflows should accommodate for provisioning mobile apps and data rights just like they've been extended to provision Privileged Account rights. You don't want or need separate silos.
The same can be said, for cloud-hosted apps. Cloud apps are simply part of the extended enterprise and should also be managed via the enterprise Access Management platform.
There's been a lot of buzz in the IAM industry about managing access (and providing SSO) to cloud services. There have even been a number of niche vendors pop-up that provide that as their primary value proposition. But, the core technologies for these stand-alone solutions is nothing new. In most cases, it's basic federation. In some cases, it's ESSO-style form-fill. But there's no magic to delivering SSO to SaaS apps. In fact, it's typically easier than SSO to enterprise apps because SaaS infrastructures are newer and support newer standards and protocols (SAML, REST, etc.)
I guess if I had to boil this down, I'm really just trying to dispel the myths about mobile and cloud solutions. When you get past the marketing jargon, we're still talking about Access Management and Identity Governance. Some of the new technologies are pretty cool (containerization solves some interesting, complex problems related to BYOD). But in the end, I'd want to manage enterprise access in one place with one platform. One Identity, One Platform. I wouldn't stand up a IDaaS solution just to have SSO to cloud apps. And I wouldn't want to introduce an MDM vendor to control access from mobile devices.
The third platform simply extends the enterprise beyond the firewall. The concept isn't new and the technologies are mostly the same. As more and newer services adopt common protocols, it gets even easier to support increasingly complex use-cases. An API Gateway, for example, allows a mobile app to access legacy mainframe data over REST protocols. And modern Web Access Management (WAM) solutions perform device fingerprinting to increase assurance and reduce risk while delivering an SSO experience. Mobile Security SDKs enable organizations to build their own apps with native security that's integrated with the enterprise WAM solution (this is especially valuable for consumer-facing apps).
And all of this should be delivered on a single platform for Enterprise Access Management. That's third-platform IAM.
Thursday, November 21
Mobile Application Management is making waves. Recent news from Oracle, IBM, and Salesforce highlight the market interest. It's a natural extension of what you've been hearing at Identity trade shows over the past few years (and this year's Gartner IAM Summit was no exception). The third platform of computing is not a future state. It's here. And Identity and Access solutions are adapting to accommodate the new use case scenarios. ...onward and upward.
[Update - interesting discussion of the IAM technology stack for mobile by SIMIEO]
Tuesday, July 2
This morning, Dave Kearns of KuppingerCole revived an old conversation started by my friend Matt Pollicove of CTI back in 2006 about the potential need for an Identity Officer. I had some comments then, but I wanted to add another thought now that I'm older and a little wiser.
One of the things I've noticed over recent years is that big, brand name companies who are well-respected for their primary business and their ability to execute on internal IT projects have many little "messes" related to technology that nobody talks about. A mess could be a mistake (bad purchase, wrong implementer) or it could be something that started out OK and grew into a mess over time. One of the common messes out there is related to interconnectivity of various IAM solutions.
It looks like this: One group within the company bought Oracle or IBM for user account management and built a complex infrastructure around it that they're afraid to touch. Another bought SailPoint or Aveksa - maybe both - and incorporated 40% of the intended applications then the project stalled out. A third group is using Ping for Federation with partners while a fourth runs Microsoft FIM and ADFS to support other partners.
I recently spoke to the "Lead Architect for IAM" at one of the world's top banks. With a title like that, I figured he'd be in the middle of orchestrating the various interdependencies between IAM systems. When I mentioned an IAM brand name that I knew they had deployed, he said something like, "oh no, that's a different group". He knew it existed but didn't know much more about it.
In the above scenario, one obvious consideration is that there's time and money spent purchasing and implementing these technologies which have overlapping functionality. It's wasteful and inefficient. But there's a bigger problem with that scenario than cost and maintenance.
When the business wants to enable some new venture (new partnership, new regulation, M&A, etc.) it's extremely difficult to adapt to new requirements because of all the little messes that would need to be cleaned up. And which group should lead the effort? The access certification system is the newest and its owners have some political pull. But the provisioning system is larger, more established, and now supports the desired certification scenarios. Each of the four or five IAM systems has valuable data. How do you bring it all together to meet the immediate need?
I probably don't need to spell out where an Identity Officer could have made a positive impact in the above scenario. Reduced cost, reduced overhead, greater flexibility, speed to implement. I think Dave is on to something by reviving this topic. As a doctor of IAM, he's taking a holistic look at the identity needs of organizations. It's not just about technology or workflows. It's also about understanding executive ownership and aligning IAM with business needs. Organizational structure is a big part of that conversation.
Tuesday, January 29
I've written plenty of posts about the various use-cases for virtual directory technology over the years. But, I came across another today that I thought was pretty interesting.
Think about enterprise security from the viewpoint of the CISO. There are numerous layers of overlapping security technologies that work together to reduce risk to a point that's comfortable. Network security, endpoint security, identity management, encryption, DLP, SIEM, etc. But even when these solutions are implemented according to plan, I still see two common gaps that need to be taken more seriously.
One is control over unstructured data (file systems, SharePoint, etc.). The other is back door access to application databases. There is a ton of sensitive information exposed through those two avenues that aren't protected by the likes of SIEM solutions or IAM suites. Even DLP solutions tend to focus on perimeter defense rather than who has access. STEALTHbits has solutions to fill the gaps for unstructured data and for Microsoft SQL Server so I spend a fair amount of time talking to CISOs and their teams about these issues.
While reading through some IAM industry materials today, I found an interesting write-up on how Oracle is using its virtual directory technology to solve the problem for Oracle database customers. Oracle's IAM suite leverages Oracle Virtual Directory (OVD) as an integration point with an Oracle database feature called Enterprise User Security (EUS). EUS enables database access management through an enterprise LDAP directory (as opposed to managing a spaghetti mapping of users to database accounts and the associated permissions.)
By placing OVD in front of EUS, you get instant LDAP-style management (and IAM integration) without a long, complicated migration process. Pretty compelling use-case. If you can't control direct database permissions, your application-side access controls seem less important. Essentially, you've locked the front door but left the back window wide open. Something to think about.
Wednesday, January 16
Active Directory Migration ChallengesOver the past decade, Active Directory (AD) has grown out of control. It may be due to organizational mergers or disparate Active Directory domains that sprouted up over time, but many AD administrators are now looking at dozens of Active Directory forests and even hundreds of AD domains wondering how it happened and wishing it was easier to manage on a daily basis.
One of the top drivers for AD Migrations is enablement of new technologies such as unified communications or identity and access management. Without a shared and clearly articulated security model across Active Directory domains, it’s extremely difficult to leverage AD for authentication to new business applications or to establish the related business rules that may be based on AD attributes or security group memberships.
Domain consolidation is not a simple task. Whether you're moving from one platform to another, doing some AD security remodeling, or just consolidating domains for improved management and reduced cost, there are numerous steps, lots of unknowns and an overwhelming feeling that you might be missing something. Sound familiar?
One of the biggest fears in Active Directory migration projects is that business users will lose access to their critical resources during the migration. To reduce the likelihood of that occurring, many project leaders choose to enable a dirty migration; they enable historical SIDs which carry old credentials and group memberships from the source domain and apply them to the new domain. Unfortunately, enabling historical SIDs proliferates one of the main challenges that initially drove the migration project. The dirty migration approach maintains the various security models that have been implemented over the years making AD difficult to manage and near impossible to understand who has what rights across the environment.
Clean Active Directory MigrationsThe alternative to a dirty migration is to disallow historical SIDs and thereby enable a clean migration where rights are applied as-needed in an easy-to-manage and well articulated security model. Security groups are applied on resources according to an intentional model that is defined up-front and permissions are limited to a least-privilege model where only those who require rights actually get them.
All consolidation or migration projects aren't the same. The motivations differ, the technologies differ, and the Active Directory organizational structure and assets differ wildly. Most solutions on the market provide point A to point B migrations of Active Directory assets. This type of migration often contributes to making the problem worse over time. There's nothing wrong with using an Active Directory tool to help you perform an AD forest or domain migration, but knowing which assets to move and how to structure or even restructure them in the target domain is critical.
Enabling a clean migration and transforming the Active Directory security model requires a few steps to be followed. It starts with assessment and cleanup of the source Active Directory environments. You should assess what objects are out there, how they’re being used, and how they’re currently organized. Are there dormant user accounts or unused computer objects? Are there groups with overlapping membership? Are there permissions that are unused or inappropriate? Are there toxic or high-risk conditions in the environment? This type of intelligence enables visibility into which objects you need to move, how they're structured, how the current domain compares to the target domain, and where differences exist in GPO policies, schema, and naming conventions. The dormant and unused objects as well as any toxic or high-risk conditions can be remediated so that those conditions aren’t propagated to the target environment.
Once the initial assessment and cleanup is complete, a gap-analysis should be performed to understand where the current state differs from the intended model. Where possible, the transformation should be automated. Security groups can be created, for example, based on historical user activity so that group membership is determined by actual need. This is a key requirement for numerous legal regulations.
The next step is to perform a deep scan into the Active Directory forests and domains that will be consolidated and look at server-level permissions and infrastructure across Active Directory, File Systems, Security Policies, SharePoint, SQL Server, and more. This enables the creation of business rules that will transform existing effective permissions into the target model while adhering to new naming conventions and group utilization. Much of this transformation should be automated to avoid human error and reduce effort.
Maintaining a Clean Active DirectoryOnce the migration or consolidation project is complete and adherence to the intended security model has been enforced, it’s vital that a program is in place to maintain Active Directory in its current state. There are a few capabilities that can help achieve this goal.
First, a mandatory periodic audit should be enforced. Security Group owners should confirm that groups are being used as-intended. Resource owners should confirm that the right people have the right level of access to their resources. Business managers should confirm that their people have access to the right resources. These reviews should be automated and tracked to ensure that these reviews are completely thoroughly and on-time.
Second, tools should be implemented that provide visibility into the environment answering questions as they come up. When a security administrator needs to see how a user is being granted rights to something they should perhaps not have, they’ll need tools that provide answers in a timely fashion.
Third, a system-wide scan should be conducted regularly to identify any toxic or high-risk conditions that occur over time. For example, if a user account becomes dormant, notification should be sent out according to business rules. Or if a group is nested within itself perhaps ten layers deep, you want an automated solution to discover that condition and provide related reporting.
Finally, to ensure adherence to Active Directory security policies, a real-time monitoring solution should be put in place to enforce rules, prevent unwanted changes via event blocking, and to maintain an audit trail of critical administrative activity.
Complete visibility across the entire Active Directory infrastructure enables a clean AD domain consolidation while making life easier for administrators, improving security, and enabling adoption of new technologies
About the AuthorMatt Flynn has been in the Identity & Access Management space for more than a decade. He’s currently a Product Manager at STEALTHbits Technologies where he focuses on Data & Access Governance solutions for many of the world’s largest, most prestigious organizations. Prior to STEALTHbits, Matt held numerous positions at NetVision, RSA, MaXware, and Unisys where he was involved in virtually every aspect of identity-related projects from hands-on technical to strategic planning. In 2011, SYS-CON Media added Matt to their list of the most powerful voices in Information Security.
Active Directory (AD) plays a central role in securing networked resources. It typically serves as the front gate allowing access to the network environment only when presented with valid credentials. But Active Directory credentials also serve to grant access to numerous resources within the environment. For example, AD group memberships are commonly used to manage access to unstructured data resources such as file systems and SharePoint sites. And a growing number of enterprise applications leverage AD credentials to grant access to their resources as well.
Active Directory Event Monitoring ChallengesMonitoring and reporting on Active Directory accounts, security groups, access rights, administrative changes, and user behavior can feel like a monumental task. Event monitoring requires an understanding of which events are critical, where those events occur, what factors might indicate increased risk, and what technologies are available to capture those events.
Understanding which events to ignore is as important and knowing which are critical to capture. You don't need immediate alerts on every AD User or Group change which takes place but you want visibility into critical high-risk changes: Who is adding AD user accounts? ...adding a user to an administrative AD group? ...making Group Policy (GPO) changes?
Active Directory administrators face a complex challenge that requires visibility into events as well as infrastructure to ensure proper system functionality. A complete AD monitoring solution doesn't stop at user and group changes. It also looks at Domain Controller status: which services are running, disk space issues, patch levels, and similar operational and infrastructure needs. There are numerous technical requirements to get that level of detail.
AD administrators require full access in the environment which presents another set of challenges. How do you enable administrators to do their job while controlling certain high-risk activity such as snooping on sensitive data or accidentally making GPO changes to important security policies? Monitoring Active Directory effectively includes either preventing unintended activities through change blocking or deterring activities through visible monitoring and alerting.
Monitoring Active Directory EffectivelyEffective audit and monitoring solutions for Active Directory address the numerous challenges discussed above by providing a flexible platform that covers typical scenarios out-of-the-box without customization but also allows extensibility to accommodate the unique requirements of the environment.
Data collection is the cornerstone of any Active Directory monitoring and audit solution. Collection must be automated, reliable, and non-intrusive on the target environment. Data that can be collected remotely without agents should be. But, when requirements call for at-the-source monitoring, for example when you want to see WHO did it, what machine they came from, capture before-and-after values, or block certain activities, a real-time agent should be available to accommodate those needs. The data collection also needs to scale to the environment’s size and performance requirements.
Once data has been collected, both batch and real-time per-event analysis are required to meet common requirements. For example, you may want an alert on changes to administrative groups but you don’t want alerts on all group changes. Or you may want a report that highlights all empty groups or groups with improper nesting conditions. This analysis should provide intelligence out-of-the-box based on industry expertise and commonly requested reporting. But it should also enable unique business questions to be answered. Every organization uses Active Directory in unique ways and custom reporting is an extremely common requirement.
Finally, once data collection and analysis phases have been completed, AD monitoring solutions should provide a flexible reporting interface that provides access to the intelligence that has been cultivated. As with collection and analysis, the reporting functionality should include commonly requested reports with no customization but should also enable report customization and extensibility. Reporting should include web-accessible reports, search and filtering, access to the raw and post-analysis data, and email or other alerting.
An effective Active Directory monitoring solution provides deep insight on all things Active Directory. It should enable user, group and GPO change detection as well as reporting on anomalies and high-risk conditions. It should also provide deep analysis on users, groups, OUs, computer objects, and Active Directory infrastructure. Because the types of reports required by different teams (such as security and operations) may differ, it may be prudent to provide slightly different interfaces or report sets for the various intended audiences.
When real-time monitoring of Active Directory Users, Groups, OUs, and other changes (including activity blocking) are important, the solution should provide advanced filtering and response on nearly all Active Directory events as well as an audit trail of changes and attempts with all relevant information.
Benefits of Active Directory MonitoringThe three most common business drivers for Active Directory monitoring are improved security, improved audit response, and simplified administration. Active Directory audit and monitoring solutions make life easier for administrators while improving security across the network environment. This is especially important as AD becomes increasingly integrated into enterprise applications.
Some common use-cases include:
- Monitor Active Directory user accounts for create, modify and delete events. Capture the user account making the change along with the affected account information, changed attributes, time stamp, and more. This monitoring capability acts independent of the Security Event log and is non-reputable.
- Monitor Active Directory group memberships and provide reports and/or alerts in real time when memberships change on important groups such as the Domain Admins group.
- Report on failed attempts in addition to successful attempts. Filter on specific types of events and ignore others.
- Report on Active Directory dormant accounts, empty groups, unused groups, large groups, and other high-risk conditions to empower administrators with actionable information.
- Automate event response based on policy with email alerts, remediation processes, or record the event to a file or database.