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2/11
2016
Terry Slattery

Network Field Day 11: Skyport Systems Offers a Promising New Form Of Server Security

Skyport showed their SkySecure Center at Network Field Day 11 and I was impressed with what they showed. My problem with security is that it tends to be like sticking a finger in a leaky dike, or it is like poking at a bowl of JELL-O. Nothing you can do is really secure and you have to be 100% accurate or the bad guys get around your efforts. SkySecure is different in that it starts with fundamentals: verifiably secure hardware, BIOS, and the container for running a VM. Nothing special needs to be done to the VM, because security is provided by the platform.

The SkySecure hardware platform verifies that their platform is running known-good hardware, known-good firmware, known-good software, and known-good applications. This includes BIOS and I/O support firmware. Of course, you need to know that the original hardware support firmware is unchanged as installed. The VMs that run on their platform must communicate through their encapsulating systems, preventing one VM from bypassing external firewalls when communicating with another VM. Because the trust boundary for inter-VM communications goes through the SkySecure, it is easy to see what goes into and out of each VM. There is no question about whether some communications was able to bypass a firewall – everything is visible. This is different than any other security system I’ve seen.

SkySecure is able to log all communications with each VM, even to the extent of sending a PCAP file to external tools like Wireshark or Application Performance Management systems. This export capability facilitates troubleshooting of slow applications as well as verifying the content of any communications with a VM.

The Deployment Model

Their systems are more expensive than running your own hardware, so what makes this a compelling proposition? Well, what about applications that you can’t afford to have compromised, like DNS, a badge reading system, a video recording system, a corporate email server, or a credit card storage system? Another excellent use is to build out a DMZ, which is exposed to all sorts of external attacks. How about securing critical process control systems? The only thing their system needs is power and an Ethernet connection, making it easy to install the hardware.

The encapsulation of the VM basically builds a software-defined DMZ around the VM. System configuration and policies are easily constructed, making it easy to turn up a system. With their knowledge of many systems, SkySecure has policy templates that can simplify the deployment of an application that they have seen before.

I liked their ability to see all communications into and out of a VM as a way to determine what ports and protocols an application uses. For example, with healthcare clients, we often are faced with leaving security open because the vendors can’t tell us what ports and protocols their applications use. With SkySecure, it is easy to see all the communications and quickly build policies that match the application’s requirements. I could easily see building the core of a healthcare Electronic Health Record system around SkySecure.

The Bottom Line

I was favorably impressed with the SkySecure functionality. It is a new approach to server and application security that makes sense. They have done a good job of making this level of security easy to implement. I think they have a winner.

Terry Slattery

Terry Slattery

Principal Architect

Terry Slattery is a Principal Architect at NetCraftsmen, an advanced network consulting firm that specializes in high-profile and challenging network consulting jobs. Terry is currently working on network management, SDN, business strategy consulting, and interesting legal cases. He is the founder of Netcordia, inventor of NetMRI, has been a successful technology innovator in networking during the past 20 years, and is co-inventor on two patents. He has a long history of network consulting and design work, including some of the first Cisco consulting and training. As a consultant to Cisco, he led the development of the current Cisco IOS command line interface. Prior to Netcordia, Terry founded Chesapeake Computer Consultants, which became a Cisco premier training and consulting partner. At Chesapeake, he co-invented and patented the v-LAB system to provide hands-on access to real hardware for the hands-on component of internetwork training classes. Terry co-authored the successful McGraw-Hill text "Advanced IP Routing in Cisco Networks," is the second CCIE (1026) awarded, and is a regular speaker at Enterprise Connect and Interop. He currently blogs at TechTarget, No Jitter and our very own NetCraftsmen.

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