CTERA, Cloud NAS on steroids

We attended SFD22 last week and one of the presenters was CTERA, (for more information please see SFD22 videos of their session) discussing their enterprise class, cloud NAS solution.

We’ve heard a lot about cloud NAS systems lately (see our/listen to our GreyBeards on Storage podcast with LucidLink from last month). Cloud NAS systems provide a NAS (SMB, NFS, and S3 object storage) front-end system that uses the cloud or onprem object storage to hold customer data which is accessed through the use of (virtual or hardware) caching appliances.

These differ from file synch and share in that Cloud NAS systems

  • Don’t copy lots or all customer data to user devices, the only data that resides locally is metadata and the user’s or site’s working set (of files).
  • Do cache working set data locally to provide faster access
  • Do provide NFS, SMB and S3 access along with user drive, mobile app, API and web based access to customer data.
  • Do provide multiple options to host user data in multiple clouds or on prem
  • Do allow for some levels of collaboration on the same files

Although admittedly, the boundary lines between synch and share and Cloud NAS are starting to blur.

CTERA is a software defined solution. But, they also offer a whole gaggle of hardware options for edge filers, ranging from smart phone sized, 1TB flash cache for home office user to a multi-RU media edge server with 128TB of hybrid disk-SSD solution for 8K video editing.

They have HC100 edge filers, X-Series HCI edge servers, branch in a box, edge and Media edge filers. These later systems have specialized support for MacOS and Adobe suite systems. For their HCI edge systems they support Nutanix, Simplicity, HyperFlex and VxRail systems.

CTERA edge filers/servers can be clustered together to provide higher performance and HA. This way customers can scale-out their filers to supply whatever levels of IO performance they need. And CTERA allows customers to segregate (file workloads/directories) to be serviced by specific edge filer devices to minimize noisy neighbor performance problems.

CTERA supports a number of ways to access cloud NAS data:

  • Through (virtual or real) edge filers which present NFS, SMB or S3 access protocols
  • Through the use of CTERA Drive on MacOS or Windows desktop/laptop devices
  • Through a mobile device app for IOS or Android
  • Through their web portal
  • Through their API

CTERA uses a, HA, dual redundant, Portal service which is a cloud (or on prem) service that provides CTERA metadata database, edge filer/server management and other services, such as web access, cloud drive end points, mobile apps, API, etc.

CTERA uses S3 or Azure compatible object storage for its backend, source of truth repository to hold customer file data. CTERA currently supports 36 on-prem and in cloud object storage services. Customers can have their data in multiple object storage repositories. Customer files are mapped one to one to objects.

CTERA offers global dedupe, virus scanning, policy based scheduled snapshots and end to end encryption of customer data. Encryption keys can be held in the Portals or in a KMIP service that’s connected to the Portals.

CTERA has impressive data security support. As mentioned above end-to-end data encryption but they also support dark sites, zero-trust authentication and are DISA (Defense Information Systems Agency) certified.

Customer data can also be pinned to edge filers, Moreover, specific customer (director/sub-directorydirectories) data can be hosted on specific buckets so that data can:

  • Stay within specified geographies,
  • Support multi-cloud services to eliminate vendor lock-in

CTERA file locking is what I would call hybrid. They offer strict consistency for file locking within sites but eventual consistency for file locking across sites. There are performance tradeoffs for strict consistency, so by using a hybrid approach, they offer most of what the world needs from file locking without incurring the performance overhead of strict consistency across sites. For another way to do support hybrid file locking consistency check out LucidLink’s approach (see the GreyBeards podcast with LucidLink above).

At the end of their session Aron Brand got up and took us into a deep dive on select portions of their system software. One thing I noticed is that the portal is NOT in the data path. Once the edge filers want to access a file, the Portal provides the credential verification and points the filer(s) to the appropriate object and the filers take off from there.

CTERA’s customer list is very impressive. It seems that many (50 of WW F500) large enterprises are customers of theirs. Some of the more prominent include GE, McDonalds, US Navy, and the US Air Force.

Oh and besides supporting potentially 1000s of sites, 100K users in the same name space, and they also have intrinsic support for multi-tenancy and offer cloud data migration services. For example, one can use Portal services to migrate cloud data from one cloud object storage provider to another.

They also mentioned they are working on supplying K8S container access to CTERA’s global file system data.

There’s a lot to like in CTERA. We hadn’t heard of them before but they seem focused on enterprise’s with lots of sites, boatloads of users and massive amounts of data. It seems like our kind of storage system.

Comments?

Swarm learning for distributed & confidential machine learning

Read an article the other week about researchers in Germany working with a form of distributed machine learning they called swarm learning (see: AI with swarm intelligence: a novel technology for cooperative analysis …) which was reporting on a Nature magazine article (see: Swarm Learning for decentralized and confidential clinical machine learning).

The problem of shared machine learning is particularly accute with medical data. Many countries specifically call out patient medical information as data that can’t be shared between organizations (even within country) unless specifically authorized by a patient.

So these organizations and others are turning to use distributed machine learning as a way to 1) protect data across nodes and 2) provide accurate predictions that uses all the data even though portions of that data aren’t visible. There are two forms of distributed machine learning that I’m aware of federated and now swarm learning.

The main advantages of federated and swarm learning is that the data can be kept in the hospital, medical lab or facility without having to be revealed outside that privileged domain BUT the [machine] learning that’s derived from that data can be shared with other organizations and used in aggregate, to increase the prediction/classification model accuracy across all locations.

How distributed machine learning works

Distributed machine learning starts with a common model that all nodes will download and use to share learnings. At some agreed to time (across the learning network), all the nodes use their latest data to re-train the common model and share new training results (essentially weights used in the neural network layers) with all other members of the learning network.

Shared learnings would be encrypted with TLS plus some form of homomorphic encryption that allowed for calculations over the encrypted data.

In both federated and swarm learning, the sharing mechanism was facilitated by a privileged block chain (apparently Etherium for swarm). All learning nodes would use this blockchain to share learnings and download any updates to the common model after sharing.

Federated vs. Swarm learning

The main difference between federated and swarm learning is that with federated learning there is a central authority that updates the model(s) and with swarm learning that processing is replaced by a smart contract executing within the blockchain. Updating model(s) is done by each node updating the blockchain with shared data and then once all updates are in, it triggers a smart contract to execute some Etherium VM code which aggregates all the learnings and constructs a new model (or at least new weights for the model). Thus no node is responsible for updating the model, it’s all embedded into a smart contract within the Etherium block chain. .

Buthow does the swarm (or smart contract) update the common model’s weights. The Nature article states that they used either a straight average or a weighted average (weighted by “weight” of a node [we assume this is a function of the node’s re-training dataset size]) to update all parameters of the common model(s).

Testing Swarm vs. Centralized vs. Individual (node) model learning

In the Nature paper, the researchers compared a central model, where all data is available to retrain the models, with one utilizing swarm learning. To perform the comparison, they had all nodes contribute 20% of their test data to a central repository, which ran the common swarm updated model against this data to compute an accuracy metric for the swarm. The resulting accuracy of the central vs swarm learning comparison look identical.

They also ran the comparison of each individual node (just using the common model and then retraining it over time without sharing this information to the swarm versus using the swarm learning approach. In this comparison the swarm learning approach alway seemed to have as good as if not better accuracy and much narrower dispersion.

In the Nature paper, the researchers used swarm learning to manage the machine learning model predictions for detecting COVID19, Leukemia, Tuberculosis, and other lung diseases. All of these used public data, which included PBMC (peripheral blood mono-nuclear cells) transcription data, whole blood transcription data, and X-ray images.

Swarm learning also provides the ability to onboard new nodes in the network. Which would supply the common model and it’s current weights to the new node and add it to the shared learning smart contract.

The code for the swarm learning can be downloaded from HPE (requires an HPE passport login [it’s free]). The code for the models and data processing used in the paper are available from github. All this seems relatively straight forward, one could use the HPE Swarm Learning Library to facilitate doing this or code it up oneself.

Photo Credit(s):

Breaking IoT security

Earth globe within a locked cage

Read an article the other day (Researchers exploit low entropy of IoT devices to break RSA certificates) about researchers cracking IoT device security and breaking their public key encryption keys. The report focused on PKI and RSA certificates and IoT devices. The article mentioned the research paper describing the attack in more detail.

safe 'n green by Robert S. Donovan (cc) (from flickr)
safe ‘n green by Robert S. Donovan (cc) (from flickr)

RSA certificates publish a public key and the digital signature of the certificate and identify the device that owns the certificate.

What the researchers were able to show was that ~250K keys in IoT device RSA certificates were insecure. They were able to compromise the 250K RSA certificates using a single Microsoft Azure VM and about $3K of computer time.

It turns out that if two RSA certificate public keys share the same factor, it’s much easier to determine the greatest common devisor GCD) of the two public keys than it is to factor any one of them. And once you have the GCD of the two keys, it’s relatively trivial to determine the other factor in a public key. And that’s just what they did.

Public key infrastructure (PKI) encryption depends on asymmetric cryptography using a “public” key to encrypt messages (or to encrypt a one time key to be used in later encryption of messages) and the use of a “private” key to decrypt the message (or keys) and sign digital certificates. There are certificate authorities and a number of other elements used in PKI but the asymmetric cryptography at its heart, rests on the foundation of the difficulty in factoring large numbers but those large numbers need to be random and prime.

True randomness is hard

Just some of the recently donated seeds that are being added to the Reading Food Growing Network seed swap boxes, including some Polish gherkin seeds.

The problem starts with generating truly random numbers in a digital computer. Digital algorithms typically depend on a computer to perform the some set of instructions, in the same way and sequence so as to get the same answer every time we run the algorithm.

But if you want random numbers this predictability of always coming up with the same answer each time results in non-random numbers (or rather random numbers that are the same each time you run the algorithm). So to get around this, most random number generators can make use of a (random) seed which is used as an input to the algorithm to generate random numbers.

However, this seed needs to be a random number. But to create a random number it needs to be generated not with instructions but using something outside the digital computer. One approach noted above is to use a human typing keys to generate a random number to be used as a seed.

The researchers exploited the fact that most IoT devices don’t use a random (enough) seed for their PKI key generation. And they were able to use the GCD trick to figure out the factors to the PKI.

But the lack of true randomness (or entropy) is the real problem. Somehow, these devices need to have a cheap and effective way to generate a random seed. Until this can be found, they will be subject to these sorts of attacks.

… but not impossible to obtain

I remember in times past when tasked to create a public key-private key pair I had to type some random characters. The Public key encryption algorithm used the inter-character time interval of my typing to generate a random seed that was then used to generate the key pair used in the public key. I believe the two keys also need to be prime numbers.

Earth globe within a locked cage

Perhaps a better approach would be to assign them keys from a centralized key distributor. That way the randomness could be controlled by the (key) distributor.

There are other approaches that depend on the sensors available to an IoT device. If the device has a camera or mic, taking raw data from the camera or sound sensor and doing a numerical transform on them may suffice. Strain gauges, liquid levels, temperature, humidity, wind speed, etc. all of these devices have something which senses the world around them and many of these are, at their base, analog sensors. Reading and converting some portion of these analog signals from raw analog to a digital random seed could be very effective way to generate true(r) randomness.

~~~~

The paper has much more information about the attack and their results if your interested. They said that ~50% of the compromised devices were from a large network supplier. Such suppliers probably also have a vast majority of devices deployed. Still it’s troubling, nonetheless.

Until changes are made to IoT devices, they will continue to be insecure. Not as much of a problem when they are read only sensors but when the information they sense is used by robots or other automation to make decisions about actions, then having insecure IoT becomes a safety issue.

This is not the first time such an attack was attempted and each time, it’s been very successful. That alone should be cause for alarm. But IoT and similar devices are hard to patch in the field and their continuing insecurity may be more of a result of the difficulty of updating a large install base than anything else.

Photo Credit(s):

IT in space

Read an article last week about all the startup activity that’s taking place in space systems and infrastructure (see: As rocket companies proliferate … new tech emerges leading to a new space race). This is a consequence of cheap(er) launch systems from SpaceX, Blue Origin, Rocket Lab and others.

SpaceBelt, storage in space

One startup that caught my eye was SpaceBelt from Cloud Constellation Corporation, that’s planning to put PB (4X library of congress) of data storage in a constellation of LEO satellites.

The LEO storage pool will be populated by multiple nodes (satellites) with a set of geo-synchronous access points to the LEO storage pool. Customers use ground based secure terminals to talk with geosynchronous access satellites which communicate to the LEO storage nodes to access data.

Their main selling points appear to be data security and availability. The only way to access the data is through secured satellite downlinks/uplinks and then you only get to the geo-synchronous satellites. From there, those satellites access the LEO storage cloud directly. Customers can’t access the storage cloud without going through the geo-synchronous layer first and the secured terminals.

The problem with terrestrial data is that it is prone to security threats as well as natural disasters which take out a data center or a region. But with all your data residing in a space cloud, such concerns shouldn’t be a problem. (However, gaining access to your ground stations is a whole different story.

AWS and Lockheed-Martin supply new ground station service

The other company of interest is not a startup but a link up between Amazon and Lockheed Martin (see: Amazon-Lockheed Martin …) that supplies a new cloud based, satellite ground station as a service offering. The new service will use Lockheed Martin ground stations.

Currently, the service is limited to S-Band and attennas located in Denver, but plans are to expand to X-Band and locations throughout the world. The plan is to have ground stations located close to AWS data centers, so data center customers can have high speed, access to satellite data.

There are other startups in the ground station as a service space, but none with the resources of Amazon-Lockheed. All of this competition is just getting off the ground, but a few have been leasing idle ground station resources to customers. The AWS service already has a few big customers, like DigitalGlobe.

One thing we have learned, is that the appeal of cloud services is as much about the ecosystem that surrounds it, as the service offering itself. So having satellite ground stations as a service is good, but having these services, tied directly into other public cloud computing infrastructure, is much much better. Google, Microsoft, IBM are you listening?

Data centers in space

Why stop at storage? Wouldn’t it be better to support both storage and computation in space. That way access latencies wouldn’t be a concern. When terrestrial disasters occur, it’s not just data at risk. Ditto, for security threats.

Having whole data centers, would represent a whole new stratum of cloud computing. Also, now IT could implement space native applications.

If Microsoft can run a data center under the oceans, I see no reason they couldn’t do so in orbit. Especially when human flight returns to NASA/SpaceX. Just imagine admins and service techs as astronauts.

And yet, security and availability aren’t the only threats one has to deal with. What happens to the space cloud when war breaks out and satellite killers are set loose.

Yes, space infrastructure is not subject to terrestrial disasters or internet based security risks, but there are other problems besides those and war that exist such as solar storms and space debris clouds. .

In the end, it’s important to have multiple, non-overlapping risk profiles for your IT infrastructure. That is each IT deployment, may be subject to one set of risks but those sets are disjoint with another IT deployment option. IT in space, that is subject to solar storms, space debris, and satellite killers is a nice complement to terrestrial cloud data centers, subject to natural disasters, internet security risks, and other earth-based, man made disasters.

On the other hand, a large, solar storm like the 1859 one, could knock every data system on the world or in orbit, out. As for under the sea, it probably depends on how deep it was submerged!!

Photo Credit(s): Screen shots from SpaceBelt youtube video (c) SpaceBelt

Screens shot from AWS Ground Station as a Service sign up page (c) Amazon-Lockheed

Screen shots from Microsoft’s Under the sea news feature (c) Microsoft

Blockchains at IBM

Earth globe within a locked cage

img_6985-2I attended IBM Edge 2016 (videos available here, login required) this past week and there was a lot of talk about their new blockchain service available on z Systems (LinuxONE).

IBM’s blockchain software/service  is based on the open source, Open Ledger, HyperLedger project.

Blockchains explained

1003163361_ba156d12f7We have discussed blockchain before (see my post on BlockStack). Blockchains can be used to implement an immutable ledger useful for smart contracts, electronic asset tracking, secured financial transactions, etc.

BlockStack was being used to implement Private Key Infrastructure and to implement a worldwide, distributed file system.

IBM’s Blockchain-as-a-service offering has a plugin based consensus that can use super majority rules (2/3+1 of members of a blockchain must agree to ledger contents) or can use consensus based on parties to a transaction (e.g. supplier and user of a component).

BitCoin (an early form of blockchain) consensus used data miners (performing hard cryptographic calculations) to determine the shared state of a ledger.

There can be any number of blockchains in existence at any one time. Microsoft Azure also offers Blockchain as a service.

The potential for blockchains are enormous and very disruptive to middlemen everywhere. Anywhere ledgers are used to keep track of assets, information, money, etc, that undergo transformations, transitions or transactions as they are further refined, produced and change hands, can be easily tracked in blockchains.  The only question is can these assets, information, currency, etc. be digitally fingerprinted and can that fingerprint be read/verified. If such is the case, then blockchains can be used to track them.

New uses for Blockchain

img_6995IBM showed a demo of their new supply chain management service based on z Systems blockchain in action.  IBM component suppliers record when they shipped component(s), shippers would record when they received the component(s), port authorities would record when components arrived at port, shippers would record when parts cleared customs and when they arrived at IBM facilities. Not sure if each of these transitions were recorded, but there were a number of records for each component shipment from supplier to IBM warehouse. This service is live and being used by IBM and its component suppliers right now.

Leanne Kemp, CEO Everledger, presented another example at IBM Edge (presumably built on z Systems Hyperledger service) used to track diamonds from mining, to cutter, to polishing, to wholesaler, to retailer, to purchaser, and beyond. Apparently the diamonds have a digital bar code/fingerprint/signature that’s imprinted microscopically on the diamond during processing and can be used to track diamonds throughout processing chain, all the way to end-user. This diamond blockchain is used for fraud detection, verification of ownership and digitally certify that the diamond was produced in accordance of the Kimberley Process.

Everledger can also be used to track any other asset that can be digitally fingerprinted as they flow from creation, to factory, to wholesaler, to retailer, to customer and after purchase.

Why z System blockchains

What makes z Systems a great way to implement blockchains is its securely, isolated partitioning and advanced cryptographic capabilities such as z System functionality accelerated hashing, signing & securing and hardware based encryption to speed up blockchain processing.  z Systems also has FIPS-140 level 4 certification which can provide the highest security possible for blockchain and other security based operations.

From IBM’s perspective blockchains speak to the advantages of the mainframe environments. Blockchains are compute intensive, they require sophisticated cryptographic services and represent formal systems of record, all traditional strengths of z Systems.

Aside from the service offering, IBM has made numerous contributions to the Hyperledger project. I assume one could just download the z Systems code and run it on any LinuxONE processing environment you want. Also, since Hyperledger is Linux based, it could just as easily run in any OpenPower server running an appropriate version of Linux.

Blockchains will be used to maintain the system of record of the future just like mainframes maintained the systems of record of today and the past.

Comments?

 

NetApp updates their StorageGRID Webscale solution

grid001NetApp announced a new version of their object storage solution, the StorageGRID WebScale 10.3.

At a former employer, I first talked with StorageGRID (Bycast at the time) a decade or so ago. At that time, they were focused on medical and healthcare verticals and had a RAIN (redundant array of independent nodes) storage solution.  It has come a long way.

StorageGRID Business is booming

On the call, NetApp announced they sold 50PB of StorageGRID in FY’16 with 20PB of that in the last quarter and also reported 270% Y/Y revenue growth, which means they are starting to gain some traction in the marketplace. Are we seeing an acceleration of object storage adoption?

As you may recall, StorageGRID comes in a software only solution that runs on just about any white box server with DAS or as two hardware appliances: the SG5612 (12 drive); and the SG5660 (60 drive) nodes. You can mix and match any appliance with any white box software only solution, they don’t have to have the same capacity or performance. But all nodes need network and controller/admin node(s) access.

StorageGRID past

grid002Somewhere during Bycast’s journey they developed support for tape archives and information lifecycle management (ILM) for objects. The previous generation, StorageGrid 10.2 had a number of features, including:

  • S3 cloud archive support that allowed objects to be migrated to AWS S3 as they were no longer actively accessed
  • NAS bridge support that allowed CIFS/SMB or NFS access to StorageGRID objects, which could also be read as S3 objects for easier migration to/from object storage;
  • Hierarchical erasure coding option that was optimized for efficiently storing large objects;
  • Node level erasure coding support that can be used to rebuild data for node drive failures, without having to go outside the node data retrieval;
  • Object byte-granular range read support that allowed users to read an object at any byte offset without requiring rebuild;
  • Support for OpenStack Swift API that made StorageGRID objects natively available to any OpenStack service; and
  • Software support for running as Docker containers or as a VM under VMware ESX, or OpenStack KVM that allowed StorageGRID software to run just about anywhere.

StorageGRID present and future

grid003But customers complained StorageGRID was too complex to install and update which required too much hand holding by NetApp professional services. StorageGRID Webscale 10.3 was targeted to address these deficiencies. Some of the features in StorageGrid 10.3, include:

  • Radically simplified, more modern UI, new dashboard and policy wizard/editor, so that it’s a lot easier to manage the StorageGRID. All features of the UI are also available via RESTfull API access and the UI is the same for white box, software only implementations as well as appliance configurations.
  • Simplified automated installation scripts, so that installations that used to take multiple steps, separate software installs and required professional services support, now use a full-solution software stack install, take only minutes and can be done by the customers alone;
  • S3 object versioning support, so that objects can have multiple versions, limited via the UI, if needed, but provide a snapshot-like capability for S3 data that protects against object accidental deletion.
  • grid004ILM policy change predictions/modeling, so that admins can now see how changes to ILM policies will impact StorageGRID.
  • Even more flexibility in DAS storage, so that future StorageGRID configurations can support 10TB drives and 6TB FIPS-140 drive encryption support, which adds to the current drive capacity and data security options already available in StorageGRID.

To top it all off, StorageGRID 10.3 improves performance for both small (30KB) and large (300MB) object get/puts.

  • Small S3 Load Data Router (LDR, 1-thread) object performance has improved ~4X for both PUTs and GETs; and
  • Large S3 LDR (1-thread) object performance has improved ~2X for PUTs and ~4X for GETs.

Object storage market heating up

grid005Apparently, service providers are adopting object storage to  provide competition to AWS, Azure and Google cloud storage for backup and storage archives as well as for DR as a service. Also, many media and other customers managing massive data repositories are turning to object storage to support their multi-site, very large file libraries.  And as more solution vendors support S3 object protocols for data access and archive, something like StorageGRID can become their onsite-offsite storage alternative.

And Amazon, Azure and Google are starting to realize that most enterprise customers are not going to leap to the cloud for everything they do. So, some sort of hybrid solution is needed for the long term. Having an on premises and off premises object storage solution that can also archive/migrate data to the cloud is a great hybrid alternative that takes enterprises one step closer to the cloud.

Comments?

AWS vs. Azure security setup for Linux

Strange Clouds by michaelroper (cc) (from Flickr)
Strange Clouds by michaelroper (cc) (from Flickr)

I have been doing some testing with both Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS) these last few weeks and have observed a significant difference in the security setups for both of these cloud services, at least when it comes to Linux compute instances and cloud storage.

First, let me state at the outset, all of my security setups for both AWS and Amazon was done through using the AWS console or the Azure (classic) portal. I believe anything that can be done with the portal/console for both AWS and Azure can also be done in the CLI or the REST interface. I only used the portal/console for these services, so can’t speak to the ease of using AWS’s or Azure’s CLI or REST services.

For AWS

EC2 instance security is pretty easy to setup and use, at least for Linux users:

  • When you set up an (Linux) EC2 instance you are asked to set up a Public Key Infrastructure file (.pem) to be used for SSH/SFTP/SCP connections. You just need to copy this file to your desktop/laptop/? client system. When you invoke SSH/SFTP/SCP, you use the “-i” (identity file) option and specify the path to the (.PEM) certificate file. The server is already authorized for this identity. If you lose it, AWS services will create another one for you as an option when connecting to the machine.
  • When you configure the AWS instance, one (optional) step is to configure its security settings. And one option for this is to allow connections only from ‘my IP address’, how nice. You don’t even have to know your IP address, AWS just figures it out for itself and configures it.

That’s about it. Unclear to me how well this secures your EC2 instance but it seems pretty secure to me. As I understand it, a cyber criminal would need to know and spoof your IP address to connect to or control remotely the EC2 instance. And if they wanted to use SSH/SFTP/SCP they would either have to access to the identity file. I don’t believe I ever set up a password for the EC2 instance.

As for EBS storage, there’s no specific security associated with EBS volumes. Its security is associated with the EC2 instance it’s attached to. It’s either assigned/attached to an EC2 instance and secured there, or it’s unassigned/unattache. For unattached volumes, you may be able to snapshot it (to an S3 bucket within your administration control) or delete it (if it’s unattached, but for either of these you have to be an admin for the EC2 domain.

As for S3 bucket security, I didn’t see any S3 security setup that mimicked the EC2 instance steps outlined above. But in order to use AWS automated billing report services for S3, you have to allow the service to have write access to your S3 buckets. You do this by supplying an XML-like security policy, and applying this to all S3 buckets you wish to report on (or maybe it’s store reports in). AWS provides a link to the security policy page which just so happens to have the XML-like file you will need to do this. All I did was copy this text and insert it into a window that was opened when I said I wanted to apply a security policy to the bucket.

I did find that S3 bucket security, made me allow public access (I think, can’t really remember exactly) to the S3 bucket to be able to list and download objects from the bucket from the Internet. I didn’t like this, but it was pretty easy to turn on. I left this on. But this PM I tried to find it again (to disable it) but couldn’t seem to locate where it was.

From my perspective all the AWS security setup for EC2 instances, storage, and S3 was straightforward to use and setup, it seemed pretty secure and allowed me to get running with only minimal delay.

For Azure

First, I didn’t find the more modern, new Azure portal that useful but then I am a Mac user, and it’s probably more suitable for Windows Server admins. The classic portal was as close to the AWS console as I could find and once I discovered it, I never went back.

Setting up a Linux compute instance under Azure was pretty easy, but I would say the choices are a bit overwhelming and trying to find which Linux distro to use was a bit of a challenge. I settled on SUSE Enterprise, but may have made a mistake (EXT4 support was limited to RO – sigh). But configuring SUSE Enterprise Linux without any security was even easier than AWS.

However, Azure compute instance security was not nearly as straightforward as in AWS. In fact, I could find nothing similar to securing your compute instance to “My IP” address like I did in AWS. So, from my perspective my Azure instances are not as secure.

I wanted to be able to SSH/SFTP/SCP into my Linux compute instances on Azure just like I did on AWS. But, there was no easy setup of the identity file (.PEM) like AWS supported. So I spent some time, researching how to create a Cert file with the Mac (didn’t seem able to create a .PEM file). Then more time researching how to create a Cert file on my Linux machine. This works but you have to install OpenSSL, and then issue the proper “create” certificate file command, with the proper parameters. The cert file creation process asks you a lot of questions, one for a pass phrase, and then for a network (I think) phrase. Of course, it asks for name, company, and other identification information, and at the end of all this you have created a set of cert files on your linux machine.

But there’s a counterpart to the .pem file that needs to be on the server to authorize access. This counterpart needs to be placed in a special (.ssh/authorized) directory and I believe needs to be signed by the client needing to be authorized. But I didn’t know if the .cert, .csr, .key or .pem file needed to be placed there and I had no idea how to” sign it”. After spending about a day and a half  on all this, I decided to abandon the use of an identity file and just use a password. I believe this provides less security than an identity file.

As for BLOB storage, it was pretty easy to configure a PageBlob for use by my compute instances. It’s security seemed to be tied to the compute instance it was attached to.

As for my PageBlob containers, there’s a button on the classic portal to manage access keys to these. But it said once generated, you will need to update all VMs that access these storage containers with the new keys. Not knowing how to do that. I abandoned all security for my container storage on Azure.

So, all in all, I found Azure a much more manual security setup for Linux systems than AWS and in the end, decided to not even have the same level of security for my Linux SSH/SFTP/SCP services that I did on AWS. As for container security, I’m not sure if there’s any controls on the containers at this point. But I will do some more research to find out more.

In all fairness, this was trying to setup a Linux machine on Azure, which appears  more tailored for Windows Server environments. Had I been in an Active Directory group, I am sure much of this would have been much easier. And had I been configuring Windows compute instances instead of Linux, all of this would have also been much easier, I believe.

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All in all, I had fun using AWS and Azure services these last few weeks, and I will be doing more over the next couple of months. So I will let you know what else I find as significant differences between AWS and Azure. So stay tuned.

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Learning to live with lattices or say goodbye to security

safe 'n green by Robert S. Donovan (cc) (from flickr)
safe ‘n green by Robert S. Donovan (cc) (from flickr)

Read an article the other day in Quantum Magazine: A tricky path to quantum encryption about the problems that will occur in current public key cryptology (PKC) schemes when quantum computing emerges over the next five to 30 years.  With advances in quantum computing our current PKC scheme that depends on the difficulty of factoring large numbers will be readily crackable. At that time, all current encrypted traffic, used by banks, the NSA, the internet, etc. will no longer be secure.

NSA, NIST, & ETSI looking at the problem

So there’s a search on for quantum-resistant cryptology (see this release from ETSI [European Telecommunications Standard Institute], this presentation from NIST [{USA} National Institute of Standards &Technology], and this report from Schneier on Security on NSA’s [{USA} National Security Agency] Plans for Post-Quantum world ). There are a number of alternatives being examined by all these groups but the most promising at the moment depends on multi-dimensional (100s of dimensions) mathematical lattices.

Lattices?

According to Wikipedia a lattice is a 3-dimensional space of equidistant points. Apparently, for security reasons, they had to increase the number of dimensions significantly beyond 3.

A secret is somehow inscribed in a route (vector) through this 500-dimensional lattice between two points: an original  point (the public key) in the lattice and another arbitrary point, somewhere nearby in the lattice. The problem from a cryptographic sense is that finding a route, in a 500 dimensional lattice, is a difficult task when you only have one of the points.

But can it be efficient for digital computers of today to use?

So the various security groups have been working on divising efficient algorithms for multi-dimensional public key encryption over the past decade or so. But they have run into a problem.

Originally, the (public) keys for a 500-dimensional lattice PKC were on the order of MBs, so they have been restricting the lattice computations to utilize smaller keys and in effect reducing the complexity of the underlying lattice. But in the process they have now reduced the security of the lattice PKC scheme. So they are having to go back to longer keys, more complex lattices and trying to ascertain which approach leaves communications secure but is efficient enough to implement by digital computers and communications links of today.

Quantum computing

The problem is that quantum computers provide a much faster way to perform certain calculations like factoring a number. Quantum computing can speed up this factorization, by on the order of the square root of a number, as compared to normal digital computing of today.

Its possible that similar quantum computing calculations for lattice routes between points could also be sped up by an equivalent factor.  So even when we all move to lattice based PKC, it’s still possible for quantum computers to crack the code hopefully, it just takes longer.

So the mathematics behind PKC will need to change over the next 5 years or so as quantum computing becomes more of a reality. The hope is that this change will will at least keep our communications secure, at least until the next revolution in computing comes along, or quantum computing becomes even faster than that envisioned today.

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