In the Mix

Physical and virtual security must blend together to maintain high standards

With advancements in technology, the concept of security in data centers has changed dramatically over the years. As most operations are now performed remotely, physical security must blend with software-based auditing and logging mechanisms to maintain the same security level achieved in the past.

The need to know what users and administrators do on a company's network is increasingly important. In the past, the first step to increasing network security was to physically secure the data center where most servers and network devices reside. This included the traditional methods of using security cameras, password-protected locks, card or badge readers and security guards.

Today, these items still aid in recording and monitoring access and help track down administrators responsible for changes. But as technology becomes increasingly efficient, most day-to-day server management activities are performed outside the data center and such traditional mechanisms do not provide the same level of security anymore.

Remote Access Management
With advancements in remote management tools, activities that once were performed and recorded at the data center level may now happen from anywhere on the globe. These may include shell access (command-line based) through telnet and/or SSH, or even fully graphical access to the console (through X11, VNC, RDP and ICA). Users should focus on remote access and management performed on Windows(r) systems these seem to be the most common platforms used today. The main issue with this approach is the amount of time it takes to extract information from physical security monitoring systems and link them with software-based auditing tools.

In a Windows environment, the traditional way to remote access and manage Windows servers is using the remote desktop client (RDP), a tool developed by Microsoft to allow remote access to Windows servers. Another common protocol used is independent computing architecture (ICA), developed by Citrix Systems in the early 1990s, the de-facto standard for remote access to Citrix servers. With such tools, administrators can access and manage servers from their desktops without visiting the data center. IT staff can now perform such activities from anywhere, and that visual security layer provided at the data center level is not relevant anymore.

Monitoring Activity
To ensure remote access to data centers is still properly monitored, RDP and/or ICA access to servers must be recorded and stored for later auditing and playback. This guarantees that all activities performed or simple connection attempts on any Windows server (domain controllers, exchange servers or SQL servers) are not only monitored but also recorded. Such recording mechanisms bring that visual layer back to the picture when crossing information between traditional Windows logging and auditing mechanisms Windows auditing or event viewer logging and physical (now virtual) access to such data centers and systems.

The traditional tools used to monitor access to physical server rooms no longer capture all the ways servers can be accessed today. As technology evolves, data centers can now be accessed from anywhere. This makes it easy to see how the physical side of security on networks and systems now converges with the software side. Tools that intercept such remote connections facilitate access to information that was once obtained by crossing data collected by common auditing and logging software tools with data collected by physical security devices password protected locks or security cameras in a time-consuming way.

At such a fast pace, companies today may not have the time required to cross reference all this information to determine the solution to a problem or to pinpoint how a security breach was exploited. That is why a tool that blends these two layers physical and virtual security is now a necessity. It is still important to enforce security within data centers, but as remote server management becomes more widely used, it is necessary to also take measures to ensure the same level of security is being applied virtually.

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