Security Dependencies

To me, systems security is not all about the configuration but it is mostly about design. Staying away from attacks and keeping the environment safe pretty much depends on how the security engineer designs a system. There are a lot of things that play very important roles in bringing security to systems. One of the most important things that should be paid a great amount of attention to is security dependencies.

A security dependency occurs when the security of a system is dependent on the security of another system. This is the case in almost all networks with all these unified systems deployed in each of them. Take Active Directory for instance. In an AD environment there are so many different services which get authenticated and authorized with the Domain Controller. What does it mean? This simply means that the security of all those systems running those services are dependent on the security of the Domain Controller. Once the DC is hacked, the whole network with all those services which are dependent on the DC will be in danger.

This way of thinking will give the security designer a very good view on their design. They pretty much know what they need to begin their design with. They know exactly what kind of data must be stored on each server and how this data is going to be used by the other servers. This way of clarifying things will give the designer a better view on how to relate services and servers.

We generally have two types of dependencies:

Acceptable dependency: In this type of dependency, a less sensitive service or server is dependent on a more sensitive server or service. For example the security of a client PC is dependent on the security of a DC in an AD network.

Unacceptable dependency: In this type of dependency, a more sensitive service or server is dependent on a less sensitive server or service. As a simple example, you can take a DC running Windows Server 2008 R2 in a part of a network being protected by another server running Windows Server 2003 running Routing and Remote Access Service with a basic firewall. This is where we should think again about our design:

Should we run the AD database on a Windows Server 2008 R2 server and protect it from the outside attacks using a Windows Server 2003 or the other way around???!!!

Or maybe we should go a head with a totally different design by adding another Windows Server 2008 R2 to the network.

Thinking about virtualization technologies we get to the same point. The point here is that all the virtual machines (VMs) are dependent on the security of the Hypervisor. With a basic configuration of Hyper-V the whole virtualized environment could be exposed to attacks and once the host is hacked, the other VMs will be at risk but yet again there are ways to make some changes in this kind of dependency and mitigate the attacks. In this post I have explained one of those ways.

All in all, security dependency always exists in our network and systems but what really matters is the level of this dependency and seeing exactly what is dependent on what? In those situations that we have to make a choice, it’s very important to analyze different choices that we have and then choose the one which makes the less sensitive server dependent on the more sensitive one if there is no way to eliminate the whole dependency.


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