defined perimeter

Safe-T SDP- Why Rip and Replace your VPN?

Although organizations realize the need to upgrade their approach to user access control. The deployment of existing technologies is holding back the introduction of Software Defined Perimeter (SDP). A recent report carried out by the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) on the “State of Software Defined Perimeter” states that the main barrier to adopting SDP is the existing in-place security technologies.

One can understand the reluctance to take the leap. After all, VPNs have been a cornerstone of secure networking for over two decades. They do provide what they say; secure remote access. However, they have not evolved to appropriately secure our developing environment. In fact, the digital environment has changed considerably in recent times. There is a big push for the cloud, BYOD, and remote workers, thereby putting pressure on existing VPN architectures. As our environment evolves, the existing security tools and architectures must evolve also.

Undoubtedly, there is a common understanding of the benefits of adopting the zero-trust principles that SDP provides over traditional VPNs. But the truth that organizations want even safer, less disruptive, and less costly deployment models cannot be ignored. VPNs aren’t a solution that works for every situation. It is not enough to offer solutions that would involve ripping the existing architectures completely or even putting SDP on certain use cases. The barrier to adopting SDP involves finding a middle ground.


Safe-T; Providing the middle ground

Safe-T is aware of this need for a middle ground. Therefore, in addition to the standard SDP offering, Safe-T also offers this middle-ground, to help the customer on the “journey from VPN to SDP”, resulting in a safe path to SDP.

Now organizations do not need to rip and replace the VPN. SDP and VPNs can work together, thereby yielding a more robust security infrastructure. Having network security that can bounce you between IP address locations can make it very difficult for hackers to break in. Besides, if you already have a VPN solution that you are comfortable with, you can continue using it and pair it with Safe-T’s innovative SDP approach. By adopting this new technology you get equipped with a middle-ground that not only improves your security posture but also maintains the advantages of existing VPN.

Recently, Safe-T has released a new version of its SDP solution called ZoneZero that enhances VPN security by adding SDP capabilities. Adding SDP capabilities allows exposure and access to applications, and services. The access is granted only after assessing the trust, based on policies for an authorized user, location, and application. In addition, access is granted to the specific application or service, rather than the network, as you would provide with a VPN.

Deploying SDP on top of the existing VPN offers a customized and scalable zero-trust solution. It provides all the benefits of SDP while lowering the risks involved in adopting the new technology. Currently, Safe-T’s ZoneZero is the only SDP solution in the market with a primary focus on enhancing VPN security by adding zero trust capabilities, rather than replacing it.


The challenges of just using a traditional VPN

While VPNs have stood the test of time, today, we know that the true security architecture is based upon the concept of zero trust access. VPNs operating by themselves are unable to offer optimum security. Now, let’s examine some of the common shortfalls.

The VPN lacks in the sense that they are not equipped to grant access on a granular, case-by-case level. This is a major problem that SDP addresses. According to the traditional security setup, in order to get access to an application, you had to connect a user to a network. Whereas, the users that were not on the network, for example, remote workers, we needed to create a virtual network to place the user on the same network as the application.

To enable external access, organizations started to implement remote access solutions (RAS) to restrict user access and create secure connectivity. To provide application access, an inbound port is exposed to the public internet. However, this open port is visible to anyone on the internet and not just to remote workers.

From a security standpoint, the idea of network connectivity to access an application is likely to bring many challenges. We then moved to the initial layer of zero trust, which was to isolate different layers of security within the network. This provided a way to quarantine the applications that are not meant to be seen, as dark. But this leads to a sprawl of network and security devices.

For example, you could use inspection path control with a stack of hardware. This enabled the users to only access what they were allowed to, based on the blacklist security approach. Security policies provided a broad-level and overly permissive access. The attack surface was simply too wide. Also, the VPN just displays static configurations that have no meaning. For example, a configuration may state that this particular source can reach this destination by using this port number and policy.

However, with this configuration, the contextual configuration is not taken into consideration. There are just ports and IP addresses and the configuration offers no visibility into the network to see who, what, when, and how they are connecting with the device.

More than often, access policy models are coarse-grained, which provides users with more access than is required. This model does not follow the least privilege model. The VPN device provides only the network information and the static policy does not dynamically change based on the levels of trust.

Say, for example, the user’s anti-virus software is accidentally turned off or by malicious malware. Or maybe you want to re-authenticate when certain user actions are performed. In such cases, a static policy cannot dynamically detect this and change configuration on the fly. They should actually be able to express and enforce the policy configuration based on the identity, which takes into consideration both the user and the device.


The SDP acceptance

The new technology adoption rate can be slow initially. The primary reason could be the lack of understanding that what you have in place today, by itself, is not the best for your organization in the future. Maybe now is the time to stand back and ask if this is the future that we really want.

All the money and time you have spent on the existing technologies are not evolving at pace with today’s digital environment. This indicates the necessity for new capabilities to be added. These get translated into different meanings based on the CIO and CTO roles of an organization. The CTOs are passionate to embrace new technologies and invest in the future. They are always on the lookout to take advantage of new and exciting opportunities in technology. However, the CIO looks at things in a different manner. Usually, the CIO wants to stay with the known and is reluctant to change even in case of loss of service. Their sole aim is to keep the lights on.

This shines the torch on the need to find the middle ground. And that middle-ground is to adopt a new technology that has endless benefits for your organization. The technology should be able to satisfy the CTO group while also taking every single precaution and not disrupting the day-to-day operations.


  • The push by the marketers

There is a clash between what is needed and what the market is pushing. The SDP industry standard is to encourage the customers to rip and replace their VPN in order to deploy their SDP solution. But the customers have invested in a comprehensive VPN and are reluctant to replace it.

The SDP market initially pushed for a rip and replace model, which would eliminate the use of traditional security tools and technologies. This should not be the recommended case since the SDP functionality can overlap with the VPNs. Although the existing VPN solutions have their drawbacks there should be an option to use the SDP in parallel. Thereby, offering the best of both worlds.


How does Safe-T address this?

Safe-T understands that there is a need to go down the SDP path, but you may be reluctant to do a full or partial VPN replacement. So let’s take your existing VPN architecture and add the SDP capability to it.

The solution is placed after your VPN. The existing VPN communicates with Safe-T ZoneZero which will do the SDP functions after your VPN device. From an end user’s perspective, they will continue to use their existing VPN client. In both cases, the users operate as normal. There are no behavior changes and the users can continue using their VPN client.

For example, they authenticate with the existing VPN as before. But the VPN communicates with SDP for the actual authentication process as opposed to communicating with, for example, the Active Directory (AD).

What do you get from this? From an end-user’s perspective, their day-to-day process does not change. Also, instead of placing the users on your network as you would with a VPN, they are switched over to application-based access. Even though they are using a traditional VPN to connect, they are still getting the full benefits of SDP.

This is a perfect stepping stone on the path toward SDP. Significantly, it provides a solid bridge to an SDP deployment. It will lower the risk and cost of the new technology adoption with minimal infrastructure changes. It removes the pain caused by deployment.


The ZoneZero™ deployment models

Safe-T offers two deployment models; ZoneZero Single-Node and Dual-Node.

With the single-node deployment, a ZoneZero virtual machine is located between the external firewall/VPN and the internal firewall. All VPN is routed to the ZoneZero virtual machine and it controls which traffic continues to flow into the organization.

In the dual-node deployment model, the ZoneZero virtual machine is located between the external firewall/VPN and the internal firewall. And an access controller is in one of the LAN segments, behind the internal firewall.

In both cases, the user opens the IPSEC or SSL VPN client and enters the credentials. The credentials are then retrieved by the existing VPN device and passed over RADIUS or API to ZoneZero for authentication.

SDP is charting the course to a new kind of network and security architecture. But at this time, a middle ground can reduce the risks associated with the deployment. The only viable option is to run the existing VPN architectures in parallel with SDP. This way, you get all the benefits of SDP with minimal disruption.


Zero Trust Access

Safe-T; A Progressive Approach to Zero Trust Access

The foundations that support our systems are built with connectivity and not security as an essential feature. TCP connects before it authenticates. Security policy and user access based on IP lack context and allow architectures that exhibit overly permissive access. Most likely, this will result in a brittle security posture enabling the need for Zero Trust Access. Our environment has changed considerably, leaving traditional network and security architectures vulnerable to attack. The threat landscape is unpredictable. We are getting hit by external threats from all over the world. However, the environment is not just limited to external threats. There are insider threats also within a user group, and insider threats, across user group boundaries.

Therefore, we need to find ways to decouple security from the physical network and also decouple application access from the network. To do this, we need to change our mindset and invert the security model. Software-Defined Perimeter (SDP) is an extension of zero trust which presents a revolutionary development. It provides an updated approach that current security architectures fail to address. SDP is often referred to as Zero Trust Access (ZTA). Safe-T’s package of the access control software is called: Safe-T Zero+. Safe-T offers a phased deployment model, enabling you to progressively migrate to zero-trust network architecture while lowering the risk of technology adoption. Safe-T’s Zero+ model is flexible to meet today’s diverse hybrid I.T requirements. It satisfies the zero-trust principles that are used to combat today’s network security challenges.


Network Challenges

  • Connect First and Then Authenticate

TCP has a weak security foundation. When clients want to communicate and have access to an application: they first set up a connection. It is only after the connect stage has been carried out, can the authentication stage be accomplished. Unfortunately, with this model, we have no idea who the client is until they have completed the connect phase. There is a possibility that the requesting client is not trustworthy.


  • The Network Perimeter

We began with static domains, whereby internal and external segments are separated by a fixed perimeter. Public IP addresses are assigned to the external host and private addresses to the internal. If a host is assigned a private IP, it is thought to be more trustworthy than if it has a public IP address. Therefore, trusted hosts operate internally, while untrusted operate externally to the perimeter. Here, the significant factor that needs to be considered is that IP addresses lack user knowledge to assign and validate trust.

Today, I.T has become more diverse since it now supports hybrid architectures with a variety of different user types, humans, applications, and the proliferation of connected devices. Cloud adoption has become the norm these days since there is an abundance of remote workers accessing the corporate network from a variety of devices and places.

The perimeter approach no longer reflects the typical topology of users and servers accurately. It was actually built for a different era where everything was inside the walls of the organization. However, today, organizations are increasingly deploying applications in the public clouds that are located in geographical locations. These are the locations that are remote from an organization’s trusted firewalls and the perimeter network. This certainly stretches the network perimeter.

We have a fluid network perimeter where data and users are located everywhere. Hence, now we operate in a completely new environment. But the security policy controlling user access is built for static corporate-owned devices, within the supposed trusted LAN


  • Lateral Movements

A major concern with the perimeter approach is that it assumes a trusted internal network. However, evidently, 80% of threats are from internal malware or a malicious employee that will often go undetected.

Besides, with the rise of phishing emails, an unintentional click will give a bad actor broad-level access. And once on the LAN, the bad actors can move laterally from one segment to another. They are likely to navigate undetected between, or within the segments.

Eventually, the bad actor can steal the credentials and use them to capture and exfiltrate valuable assets. Even social media accounts can be targeted for data exfiltration since they are not often inspected by the firewall as a file transfer mechanism.


  • Issues with the Virtual Private Network (VPN)

What is happening with traditional VPN access is that the tunnel creates an extension between the client’s device and the application’s location. The VPN rules are static and do not dynamically change with the changing levels of trust on a given device. They provide only network information which is a crucial limitation.

Therefore, from a security standpoint, the traditional method of VPN access enables the clients to have broad network-level access. This makes the network susceptible to undetected lateral movements. Also, the remote users are authenticated and authorized but once permitted to the LAN they have coarse-grained access. This obviously creates a high level of risk as undetected malware on a user’s device can spread to an inner network.

Another significant challenge is that VPNs generate administrative complexity and cannot easily handle cloud, or multiple network environments. They require the installation of end-user VPN software clients and knowing where the application that they are accessing is located. Users would have to make changes to their VPN client software to gain access to the applications situated at different locations. In a nutshell, traditional VPNs are complex for administrators to manage and for users to operate.

With public concern over surveillance, privacy, and identity theft growing, an increasing number of people are turning to VPNs to help keep them safer online. But where should you start when choosing the best VPN for your needs?

Also, poor user experience is most likely to occur as you need to backhaul the user traffic to a regional data center. This adds latency and bandwidth costs.

In recent years, torrenting has started to become increasingly popular amongst computer users who wish to download files such as movies, books, and songs. Without having a VPN, this could risk your privacy and security. It is also important to note that you should be very careful when it comes to downloading files to your computer as they could cause more harm than good. 


Can Zero Trust Access be the Solution?

The main principle that ZTA follows is that nothing should be trusted. This is regardless of whether the connection is originating inside or outside the network perimeter. Reasonably, today we have no reason to trust any user, device, or application, some companies may try and decrease accessibility with the use of programs like office 365 distribution group to allow and disallow users and devices’ specific network permissions. You know that you cannot protect what you cannot see but the fact that you also cannot attack what you cannot see also holds true. ZTA makes the application and the infrastructure completely undetectable to unauthorized clients, thereby creating an invisible network.

Preferably, application access should be based on contextual parameters, such as who/where the user is located, the judgment of the security stance of the device, and then a continuous assessment of the session should be performed. This moves us from network-centric to user-centric, providing a connection-based approach to security. Security enforcement should be based on user context and include policies that matter to the business. It should be unlike a policy based on subnets that have no meaning. The authentication workflows should include context-aware data, such as device ID, geographic location, and the time and day when the user requests access.

It’s not good enough to provide network access. We must provide granular application access with a dynamic segment of 1. Here, an application microsegment gets created for every request that comes in. Micro-segmentation creates the ability to control access by subdividing the larger network into small secure application micro perimeter internal to the network. This abstraction layer puts a lockdown on lateral movements. In addition, zero trust access also implements a policy of least privilege by enforcing controls that enable the users to have access only to the resources they need to perform their tasks.


Characteristics of Safe-T

Safe-T has 3 main pillars to provide a secure application and file access solution with:

1) An architecture that implements zero trust access,

2) A proprietary secure channel that enables users to remotely access/share sensitive files and

3) User behavior analytics.

Safe-T’s SDP architecture is designed to substantially implement the essential capabilities delineated by the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) architecture. Safe-T’s Zero+ is built using these main components:

The Safe-T Access Controller is the centralized control and policy enforcement engine that enforces end-user authentication and access. It acts as the control layer, governing the flow between end-users and backend services.

Secondly, the Access Gateway acts as a front-end to all the backend services published to an untrusted network. The Authentication Gateway presents to the end-user in a clientless web browser. Hence, a pre-configured authentication workflow is provided by the Access Controller. The authentication workflow is a customizable set of authentication steps, such as 3rd party IDPs (Okta, Microsoft, DUO Security, etc.). In addition, it has built-in options, such as captcha, username/password, No-Post, and OTP.


Safe-T Zero+ Capabilities

The Safe-T Zero+ capabilities are in line with zero trust principles. With Safe-T Zero+, clients requesting access must go through authentication and authorization stages before they can access the resource. Any network resource that has not passed these steps is blackened. Here, URL rewriting is used to hide the backend services.

This reduces the attack surface to an absolute minimum and follows the Safe-T’s axiom: If you can’t be seen, you can’t be hacked. In a normal operating environment, for the users to get access to services behind a firewall, they have to open ports on the firewall. This presents security risks as a bad actor could directly access that service via the open port and exploit any vulnerabilities of the service.

Another paramount capability of Safe-T Zero+ is that it implements a patented technology called reverse access to eliminate the need to open incoming ports in the internal firewall. This also eliminates the need to store sensitive data in the demilitarized zone (DMZ). It has the ability to extend to on-premise, public, and hybrid cloud, supporting the most diverse hybrid and meeting the I.T requirements. Zero+ can be deployed on-premises, as part of Safe-T’s SDP services, or on AWS, Azure, and other cloud infrastructures, thereby protecting both cloud and on-premise resources.

Zero+ provides the capability of user behavior analytics that monitors the actions of protected web applications. This allows the administrator to inspect the details of anomalous behavior. Thence, forensic assessment is easier by offering a single source for logging.

Finally, Zero+ provides a unique, native HTTPS-based file access solution for the NTFS file system, replacing the vulnerable SMB protocol. Besides, users can create a standard mapped network drive in their Windows explorer. This provides a secure, encrypted, and access-controlled channel to shared backend resources.


Deployment Strategy

Safe-T customers can exclusively select an architecture that meets their on-premise or cloud-based requirements.


There are 3 options:

i) The customer deploys three VMs: 1) Access Controller, 2) Access Gateway, and 3) Authentication Gateway. The VMs can be deployed on-premises in an organization’s LAN, on Amazon Web Services (AWS) public cloud, or on Microsoft’s Azure public cloud.

ii) The customer deploys the 1) Access Controller VM and 2) Access Gateway VM on-premises in their LAN. The customer deploys the Authentication Gateway VM on a public cloud, such as AWS or Azure.

iii) The customer deploys the Access Controller VM on-premise in the LAN and Safe-T deploys and maintains two VMs 1) Access Gateway and 2) Authentication Gateway; both hosted on Safe-T’s global SDP cloud service.


ZTA Migration Path

Today, organizations recognize the need to move to zero trust architecture. However, there is a difference between recognition and deployment. Also, new technology brings with it considerable risks. Chiefly, traditional Network Access Control (NAC) and VPN solutions fall short in many ways, but a rip and replace model is a very aggressive approach.

To begin the transition from legacy to ZTA, you should look for a migration path that you feel comfortable with. Maybe you want to run a traditional VPN in parallel or in conjunction with your SDP solution and only for a group of users for a set period of time. A probable example could be: choosing a server used primarily by experienced users, such as DevOps or QA personnel. This ensures that the risk is minimal if any problem occurs during the phased deployment of SDP access in your organization.

A recent survey carried out by the CSA indicates that SDP awareness and adoption are still in an early stage. However, when you do go down the path of ZTA, vendor selection which provides an architecture that matches your requirements is the key to successful adoption. For example, look for SDP vendors who allow you to continue using your existing VPN deployment while adding

SDP/ZTA capabilities on top of your VPN. This could sidestep the possible risks involved if you switch to completely new technology.