Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Practicing Responsible SSL Inspection in an SD-WAN Environment

One benefit driving enterprise SD-WAN adoption is improved branch connectivity to cloud applications via direct internet access (DIA). When performed securely, DIA cuts bandwidth costs and ensures a consistent user experience.

Looking at an SD-WAN fabric, WAN aggregation may seem outdated as headquarters and core locations no longer need to serve as fortified gateways to the internet. Despite these architectural changes, core locations can excel as aggregation points for more challenging security operations, such as Transport Layer Security (TLS) decryption, often called by its more common name, Secure Socket Layer (SSL) inspection.

Security remains a top concern across the WAN. Enterprises want to detect the latest malware threats, yet the latest research shows that 70% of malware attacks are estimated to be hidden in encrypted TLStraffic that network and security teams cannot see. With encrypted internet traffic increasing, SSL inspection has been promoted a solution for finding hidden malware, but this is misleading for a number of reasons.

To Decrypt or Not

Though some SD-WAN vendors may tout their SSL inspection capabilities—such as hardware acceleration or off-loading—as evidence of product superiority, indiscriminate decryption across the WAN is not a sound practice. Decrypting sensitive traffic can violate privacy and data laws, and establishing whitelist policies to avoid violations is time-consuming and, at best, educated guesswork. Furthermore, many enterprise teams do not have the compute resources for wholesale SSL inspection, forcing them to suffer performance degradation as traffic enters the WAN.

Cisco addressed this challenge by developing a proprietary process known as Encrypted Traffic Analytics(ETA). With ETA enabled, Cisco SD-WAN platforms, such as the Integrated and Aggregated Services Routers (ISR and ASR), as well as the Enterprise Network Compute System (ENCS) hosting virtual devices, are able to categorize malicious traffic without performing decryption. Enabling ETA allows your SD-WAN fabric more precise network policies, where any traffic flagged as questionable can then be backhauled to core locations for responsible decryption.

This is a unique process we call SSL Aggregation.

Reasons to adopt SSL Aggregation

While Cisco SD-WAN enables industry-leading, zero-touch branch security capabilities, such as stateful firewalling, URL filtering, DNS monitoring, and Snort IPS, it is recommended to backhaul any traffic ETA flags as questionable to core locations for three main reasons:

◈ Greater physical space at core locations allows for more robust security layering, including products that are different from, or go beyond, what’s available through SD-WAN. A next-generation firewall (NGFW) with SSL Inspection, next-generation anti-virus (NGAV) that can detect fileless malware, or SIEM technology can help to remediate and log vulnerabilities after the malicious traffic is decrypted for inspection.

◈ Many enterprises manage thousands of branch office locations in their SD-WAN fabric. Even if SSL inspection capabilities exist at branch and remote office locations, the complexity of such data could overwhelm network and security teams. By consolidating malicious data flows into fewer ingress points, security management is simplified.

◈ Metadata created in conjunction with ETA can alert to zero-day threats that evade threat intelligence. Sending the flagged traffic to secure core locations is the safest practice when aiming to retain and utilizing data.

Given their superiority as secure hubs to isolate and examine malicious traffic, core locations make effective aggregation points for practicing responsible SSL inspection in an SD-WAN environment. Architecting this process is simple with Cisco.

Architecting SSL Aggregation

Cisco Tutorial and Material, Cisco Guides, Cisco Learning, Cisco Certifications

Combined with a Cisco Stealthwatch license, Cisco routing and compute platforms become ETA intelligent, able to identify potential hazards in encrypted traffic. The following Cisco platforms are recommended in a standard SSL Aggregation architecture:

Cisco Tutorial and Material, Cisco Guides, Cisco Learning, Cisco Certifications
◈ At the Branch: Deploying a 1000 or 4000 Series Integrated Services Router (ISR 1000; ISR 4000), or a 5000 Series Enterprise Network Compute System (ENCS 5000) will allow your branch locations to feed key telemetry data into Stealthwatch, enabling ETA across the SD-WAN fabric.

◈ Core/Colo/Campus/HQ: Because these core locations will receive high volumes of aggregated traffic, deploying 1000 Series Aggregated Services Router (ASR 1000) is recommended to handle increased flows. A Cisco Firepower Threat Defense (FTD) Next-Generation Firewall (NGFW) can decrypt the malicious traffic at the core and detect the threat.

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