Fires in the West

For years, I was a network builder for the Department of Defense, which uses large, high-end, fast networks. The most effective security mechanism for separation of sensitive information was implemented with a physical solutionan airgap. If you want to protect one network from another, just don't connect them together. Worms such as Blaster taught us that many networks that supposedly were not connected to the Internet actually were in one way or another, but if you audit carefully and never allow an exception, airgaps work.

The problem with an airgap is the two networks cannot interoperate, a concept directly in contradiction with the Internet philosophy and electronic business. The past few years have been a bad time for the U.S. West, as rain has been minimal, with fires starting earlier and earlier each year it seems. One of the most effective tools for managing fires is a firebreak; it isn't as powerful as an airgap (sometimes the fire will bridge it), but segmenting the forest into zones is a powerful technique. The information technology analog for a firebreak is to segment the internal network. This can be done with internal intelligent Network Intrusion Prevention Switches (NIPS), with some elbow grease using current generation switches and applying access control to VLANs, or with low-cost appliance-type firewalls used on the internal network. It can even be done manually using anomaly IDS to detect switch ports heating up, which is usually a signature of a worm, and shutting down the switch. Segmenting internal networks with "firebreaks" allows us to have the interoperability and reduce the risk of losing all our internal systems to a destructive worm "wildfire."

This book discusses a number of perimeter and internal network designs. Some are more focused on security, whereas others are focused on performance. Some focus on uptime and help you to understand how to choose these designs based on your organization's requirements.


One of the reasons that early airplanes were so dangerous is that a large number of them were hand built. Even if the planes were built in a factory, after a couple of years, they might as well be hand built because of the number of times they were repaired and modified.

Can you see how similar the early airplanes are to our server and desktop operating systems? We all agree that patching to reduce the vulnerability footprint is critical, but if no two servers are alike, exactly how do you test the patch? Repeatable builds give an IT shop a major increase in security just like factory-built aircraft.

So do appliance firewalls. They are factory built, plug and go. It's not guaranteed that their OS is hardened, but you do know that the OS on the appliance is factory built, consistent, and probably stripped of unneeded programs. These low-cost appliances are very useful for segmenting an internal network.

    Inside Network Perimeter Security
    Inside Network Perimeter Security (2nd Edition)
    ISBN: 0672327376
    EAN: 2147483647
    Year: 2005
    Pages: 230

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