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Hardening Security through Programmability in the Network

We are blessed with being able to witness the dawn of the age of network programmability.

Despite claims that there exists (or will, look out!) a mythical "god box" for the enterprise data center, capable of performing every data center function imaginable, it remains, well, mythical. Efforts to effectively secure the data center and the applications it delivers therefore requires a collaborative approach between best-of-breed technologies.

But if collaboration across functional IT groups - development, operations, network and security - remains as elusive as nirvana, then collaboration across products has traditionally been seen as likely as sighting the Loch Ness Monster. The arrival of cloud and more recently SDN has changed that, not only encouraging but requiring changes in collaboration capabilities in order to remain considered best-of-breed.

And thus we are blessed with being able to witness the dawn of the age of network programmability.

Promises abound, but real benefits - and implementations - are often hard to find. And if you go looking for examples in the realm of security, you're going to scrounge even harder to find real examples of just how programmability is going to change the game.

Look no further, my friend, for an excellent example can be found here, today, in this post.

Hardened Security and Performance Can Coexist with F5 and Sourcefire

For those of you not familiar with Sourcefire, the recently-acquired-by-Cisco security provider offers two industry leading products: Sourcefire Next Generation IPS (NGIPS) and the FirePOWER Platform. The former provides advanced threat protection, integrating real-time context, intelligent security policy automation and unprecedented performance. Sourcefire NGIPS takes advantage of the best hardware technology in the industry, providing IPS inspected throughput options ranging from 50Mbps to 40+Gbps, providing market- leading performance with greater energy efficiency.

Together, F5 and Sourcefire have validated a deployment architecture that help customers secure critical networks, applications and end-points while achieving optimal performance. This architecture results in a remediation capability that allows critical security events such as malware (FireAMP) and IPS/IDS events to initiate rule configuration for F5 security services, leveraging both the data and control plane programmability interfaces of F5 Synthesis Software Defined Application Services (SDAS). .

F5 Security Services for NGIPS Design
The integration between Sourcefire NGIPS and F5 Synthesis High Performance Services Fabric (HPSF) is enabled through F5's open API, iControl, and its data path programmatic interface, iRules. Because of its topological location in most application architectures, F5 HPSF maintains a strategic point of control. This means all application requests are fielded by F5 Software Defined Application Services (SDAS) such as availability, security and identity and access control.

sourcefire-big-ip-blog

As requests are received, they are first pre-screened for DDoS attacks by F5 SDAS. Then, depending on the policy, the requests are load balanced to a pool of Sourcefire sensors. If the requests are determined to be clean and safe, they are routed back through F5 SDAS and on to the appropriate application.

Sourcefire leverages a correlation rules engine that allows a variety of actions in response to security events. Rules can be very simple or be more powerful by including multiple conditions and qualifiers. Actions include the ability automatically configure rules for F5 security services, such as blocking a device that is originating an attack, or exhibiting some other form of suspicious or unwanted behavior.

Event types supported by the remediation engine include:

  • IPS Events
  • FireAMP (malware) Events
  • Compliance Events
  • Connection Events

Thus, if the Sourcefire sensors detect a problem, they can initiate action using F5's control plane API, iControl, to inject an iRule into the data path that will block the IP address of the client sending the requests.

This kind of integration enables a best-of-breed architectural approach to protecting both the network and the applications it is tasked with delivering. It enables the intelligence of a next-generation IPS to detect anomalies and attacks to be leveraged strategically to defend against and prevent the impact of the advanced threats that have become more and more pervasive.

By enabling immediate remediation actions by programmatically updating F5 security services upon detection of a problem, the entire data center ecosystem is better protected, without compromising on performance.

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More Stories By Lori MacVittie

Lori MacVittie is responsible for education and evangelism of application services available across F5’s entire product suite. Her role includes authorship of technical materials and participation in a number of community-based forums and industry standards organizations, among other efforts. MacVittie has extensive programming experience as an application architect, as well as network and systems development and administration expertise. Prior to joining F5, MacVittie was an award-winning Senior Technology Editor at Network Computing Magazine, where she conducted product research and evaluation focused on integration with application and network architectures, and authored articles on a variety of topics aimed at IT professionals. Her most recent area of focus included SOA-related products and architectures. She holds a B.S. in Information and Computing Science from the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University.

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Lori MacVittie is a subject matter expert on emerging technology responsible for outbound evangelism across F5's entire product suite. MacVittie has extensive development and technical architecture experience in both high-tech and enterprise organizations, in addition to network and systems administration expertise. Prior to joining F5, MacVittie was an award-winning technology editor at Network Computing Magazine where she evaluated and tested application-focused technologies including app security and encryption-related solutions. She holds a B.S. in Information and Computing Science from the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University, and is an O'Reilly author.
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