Hardware Today: Security, After the Breach

by Ben Freeman

You've taken great care to back up your data and secure the server room. But is this always enough? We look at two products -- one to secure the rack and one to protect backup tapes -- designed for after an intruder has picked the lock.

Security is a hot topic these days, and enterprises are constantly looking for better protection from viruses, spam, phishers, hackers, crackers, and terrorists. Physical security has taken a front seat in the past three years, although it isn't always as effective as its software counterpart when it comes to stopping thieves from slipping through the cracks (both literal and metaphorical) to gain access to the server room.

Of course, most data centers use some access control. Unfortunately, methods of compromise range from using raw force after hours to social engineering, where thieves use psychological savvy to gain entry in broad daylight. Once such breaches occur, enterprises that have employed security measures on the devices themselves still have a shot at keeping their data and hardware secure.

In the past, Hardware Today has looked at various tactics for keeping equipment secure to prevent a breach. We've covered security from a variety of perspectives, such as natural disaster recovery, preventing man-made security attacks, and SAN Storage Security.

This week, Hardware Today looks at two products that keep the server room secure once its perimeter has been breached: One bolsters protection for the actual rack; the other is a hardware-level encrypted tape drive.

Rack-Up Security

Technical furniture manufacturer SMC has added a layer of security to the rack itself with products such as the SmartCabinet II, a blanket name for technology that attaches to any of SMC's three rackmount cabinet enclosures: Multi-Rack, Platinum, and Premier.

"Smart" technology, SMC Vice President John Farris told ServerWatch, "consists of hardware mounted in the enclosure, a solenoid lock, a keypad wiring, and proprietary software." Although SmartCabinet II technology works only with SMC racks, the racks are configurable to allow servers of variable sizes. The Multi-Rack II, for example, works with any 19-inch E.I.A. standard hardware.Although SMC is not the only player in this space, with the SmartCabinet II, it boasts of being the only manufacturer to offer a "total management security solution," Farris said.

SMC claims getting into the rack undetected would be simply impossible. "SmartCabinet II can monitor, audit, and provide status reporting of your mission-critical enclosures," Farris said. Lest mission-critical servers attract mission-impossible thieves, the Smart Cabinet II includes proximity sensors and can be fitted with optional temperature sensors. Should an interloper suspend herself from the server room ceiling via Cat-5 cables to dodge an enterprise's touch-sensitive floors and reach the cabinet, the SmartCabinet II's built-in Ethernet connection will log any disturbances to a separate server and trigger alarms.

"Alarms go off for an unauthorized entry, unsecured door, door open beyond time allocated, and wrong PIN attempted," Farris said. While these may catch a thief in progress, they also offer value in the day-to-day administration of the data center by nipping administrator carelessness before servers are granted open house status.

For more run-of-the-mill concerns, the SmartCabinet II's secure PIN codes are configurable by cabinet or rack door, allowing different access permissions on different servers for different tasks. Wiring personnel can be granted only back cabinet door access, and software administrators only front door access. This limited access prevents software technicians from stealing hardware and wirers from hacking.

The SmartCabinet II starts at $2,500 and includes a Multi-Rack enclosure.

>> Paranoid About Backups?

Get Paranoid About Backups

As comprehensive a solution as SMC's might seem, it doesn't canvas the entire security landscape. One component it neglects is protection for backups. While it's pretty much a given that a thoroughly organized backup strategy is a necessity, its effectiveness at preventing some disasters may actually invite others.

Tape drives using hardware-level encryption, like the Paranoia line from Avax International, plug this gap. "It is quite amazing, the number of companies that have secure data centers, with all the servers in cages and secure access, who will backup their data to tape with no security and hand those tapes to some anonymous courier to transport to an off-site storage facility," Avax President Andrew Senior told ServerWatch. Encrypting tapes also prevents "borrowing," a euphemism for when tapes are swiped and returned without administrator knowledge.

Data encryption for tape backups isn't a novel idea. But Paranoia drives deliver two benefits over backup software data encryption. One is speed. "Paranoia in-line encryption does not require any CPU cycles and has zero impact on backup/restore speed," Senior said. While CPU speed is saved without a doubt, this statement presumably ignores the relative slowness inherent to the drive's sturdy Data Encryption Standard 3 (DES-3) encryption.

Paranoia's biggest differential, however, is bolstered security. The Paranoia drives combine a user-supplied encryption key with a hardware key. Without both key components, the tape can't be decrypted, and the keys are theft-aware. "If the Paranoia unit itself is stolen, the software key is lost after the unit has been without power for two minutes," Senior said, "so anyone wishing to steal the data would need the tape, the user key, and the specific Paranoia box in order to retrieve the data."

Avax also takes into account the unlikely possibility of a thief bringing a mobile power source to swipe the entire rack without sustained power loss: "If you are truly paranoid, you can set the key loss timeout to a few seconds," Senior said.

Two Paranoia levels are currently available: Paranoia and its more intense sibling, Paranoia2. Paranoia runs at 20 MB per second and uses standard DES-3 encryption. DES-3 encrypts data with three 64-bit keys for a total of 72 quadrillion possible keys, making it much more difficult to crack than simple DES encryption. The quadrillion digit trade-off is DES-3's slower overall speed.


The Paranoia2 model adds built-in compression before doubling the encryption in separate streams. The effect is a faster, more secure backup that retains backward compatibility with the Paranoia drive for improved ROI. "Paranoia2 uses unique interlaced Dual-DES and Dual-DES3 modes, which offer even greater levels of security," Senior said. Paranoia2 builds on its encryption security further by merging two unique keys from two 72 quadrillion key pools into a densely encrypted data stream.

Enterprises that require still more encryption may want to investigate AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) technology as it continues to grow in popularity beyond classified circles. Or they can compare the Paranoia2's encryption to AES. "The interlaced 3DES encryption of our Paranoia2 unit is at least as secure as AES," Senior claims.

Pricing on Paranoia drives begins at $9,500, and Paranoia2 is priced starting at $16,700.

Recommended Reading

For those thirsting to learn more about server security fundamentals, we recommend perusing the SANS Institute (SysAdmin, Audit, Network, Security) Web site, which provides a variety of security information. The University of Chicago's Network Security Center site, a university resource open to the public, provides various security tips for admins of all interest and skill levels and is good place for an initial dip in the security waters.

Keeping the server room secure often means steering between the too-paranoid Scylla and the too-lax Charybidis. Sticking with relatively reasonable measures will go a long way toward navigating to a secure medium.

This article was originally published on Monday Apr 12th 2004
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