Tag Archives: communications

Replacing macOS Server with Synology NAS

Post Syndicated from Roderick Bauer original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/replacing-macos-server-with-synology-nas/

Synology NAS boxes backed up to the cloud

Businesses and organizations that rely on macOS server for essential office and data services are facing some decisions about the future of their IT services.

Apple recently announced that it is deprecating a significant portion of essential network services in macOS Server, as they described in a support statement posted on April 24, 2018, “Prepare for changes to macOS Server.” Apple’s note includes:

macOS Server is changing to focus more on management of computers, devices, and storage on your network. As a result, some changes are coming in how Server works. A number of services will be deprecated, and will be hidden on new installations of an update to macOS Server coming in spring 2018.

The note lists the services that will be removed in a future release of macOS Server, including calendar and contact support, Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP), Domain Name Services (DNS), mail, instant messages, virtual private networking (VPN), NetInstall, Web server, and the Wiki.

Apple assures users who have already configured any of the listed services that they will be able to use them in the spring 2018 macOS Server update, but the statement ends with links to a number of alternative services, including hosted services, that macOS Server users should consider as viable replacements to the features it is removing. These alternative services are all FOSS (Free and Open-Source Software).

As difficult as this could be for organizations that use macOS server, this is not unexpected. Apple left the server hardware space back in 2010, when Steve Jobs announced the company was ending its line of Xserve rackmount servers, which were introduced in May, 2002. Since then, macOS Server has hardly been a prominent part of Apple’s product lineup. It’s not just the product itself that has lost some luster, but the entire category of SMB office and business servers, which has been undergoing a gradual change in recent years.

Some might wonder how important the news about macOS Server is, given that macOS Server represents a pretty small share of the server market. macOS Server has been important to design shops, agencies, education users, and small businesses that likely have been on Macs for ages, but it’s not a significant part of the IT infrastructure of larger organizations and businesses.

What Comes After macOS Server?

Lovers of macOS Server don’t have to fear having their Mac minis pried from their cold, dead hands quite yet. Installed services will continue to be available. In the fall of 2018, new installations and upgrades of macOS Server will require users to migrate most services to other software. Since many of the services of macOS Server were already open-source, this means that a change in software might not be required. It does mean more configuration and management required from those who continue with macOS Server, however.

Users can continue with macOS Server if they wish, but many will see the writing on the wall and look for a suitable substitute.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

For many people working in organizations, what is significant about this announcement is how it reflects the move away from the once ubiquitous server-based IT infrastructure. Services that used to be centrally managed and office-based, such as storage, file sharing, communications, and computing, have moved to the cloud.

In selecting the next office IT platforms, there’s an opportunity to move to solutions that reflect and support how people are working and the applications they are using both in the office and remotely. For many, this means including cloud-based services in office automation, backup, and business continuity/disaster recovery planning. This includes Software as a Service, Platform as a Service, and Infrastructure as a Service (Saas, PaaS, IaaS) options.

IT solutions that integrate well with the cloud are worth strong consideration for what comes after a macOS Server-based environment.

Synology NAS as a macOS Server Alternative

One solution that is becoming popular is to replace macOS Server with a device that has the ability to provide important office services, but also bridges the office and cloud environments. Using Network-Attached Storage (NAS) to take up the server slack makes a lot of sense. Many customers are already using NAS for file sharing, local data backup, automatic cloud backup, and other uses. In the case of Synology, their operating system, Synology DiskStation Manager (DSM), is Linux based, and integrates the basic functions of file sharing, centralized backup, RAID storage, multimedia streaming, virtual storage, and other common functions.

Synology NAS box

Synology NAS

Since DSM is based on Linux, there are numerous server applications available, including many of the same ones that are available for macOS Server, which shares conceptual roots with Linux as it comes from BSD Unix.

Synology DiskStation Manager Package Center screenshot

Synology DiskStation Manager Package Center

According to Ed Lukacs, COO at 2FIFTEEN Systems Management in Salt Lake City, their customers have found the move from macOS Server to Synology NAS not only painless, but positive. DSM works seamlessly with macOS and has been faster for their customers, as well. Many of their customers are running Adobe Creative Suite and Google G Suite applications, so a workflow that combines local storage, remote access, and the cloud, is already well known to them. Remote users are supported by Synology’s QuickConnect or VPN.

Business continuity and backup are simplified by the flexible storage capacity of the NAS. Synology has built-in backup to Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage with Synology’s Cloud Sync, as well as a choice of a number of other B2-compatible applications, such as Cloudberry, Comet, and Arq.

Customers have been able to get up and running quickly, with only initial data transfers requiring some time to complete. After that, management of the NAS can be handled in-house or with the support of a Managed Service Provider (MSP).

Are You Sticking with macOS Server or Moving to Another Platform?

If you’re affected by this change in macOS Server, please let us know in the comments how you’re planning to cope. Are you using Synology NAS for server services? Please tell us how that’s working for you.

The post Replacing macOS Server with Synology NAS appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Japan’s Directorate for Signals Intelligence

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/05/japans_director.html

The Intercept has a long article on Japan’s equivalent of the NSA: the Directorate for Signals Intelligence. Interesting, but nothing really surprising.

The directorate has a history that dates back to the 1950s; its role is to eavesdrop on communications. But its operations remain so highly classified that the Japanese government has disclosed little about its work ­ even the location of its headquarters. Most Japanese officials, except for a select few of the prime minister’s inner circle, are kept in the dark about the directorate’s activities, which are regulated by a limited legal framework and not subject to any independent oversight.

Now, a new investigation by the Japanese broadcaster NHK — produced in collaboration with The Intercept — reveals for the first time details about the inner workings of Japan’s opaque spy community. Based on classified documents and interviews with current and former officials familiar with the agency’s intelligence work, the investigation shines light on a previously undisclosed internet surveillance program and a spy hub in the south of Japan that is used to monitor phone calls and emails passing across communications satellites.

The article includes some new documents from the Snowden archive.

Serious vulnerabilities with OpenPGP and S/MIME

Post Syndicated from corbet original https://lwn.net/Articles/754370/rss

The efail.de site describes a set of
vulnerabilities in the implementation of PGP and MIME that can cause the
disclosure of encrypted communications, including old messages. “In a
nutshell, EFAIL abuses active content of HTML emails, for example
externally loaded images or styles, to exfiltrate plaintext through
requested URLs.

The EFF recommends
uninstalling email-encryption tools that automatically
decrypt email entirely. “Until the flaws
described in the paper are more widely understood and fixed, users should
arrange for the use of alternative end-to-end secure channels, such as
Signal, and temporarily stop sending and especially reading PGP-encrypted
email.

Virginia Beach Police Want Encrypted Radios

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/05/virginia_beach_.html

This article says that the Virginia Beach police are looking to buy encrypted radios.

Virginia Beach police believe encryption will prevent criminals from listening to police communications. They said officer safety would increase and citizens would be better protected.

Someone should ask them if they want those radios to have a backdoor.

IoT Inspector Tool from Princeton

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/05/iot_inspector_t.html

Researchers at Princeton University have released IoT Inspector, a tool that analyzes the security and privacy of IoT devices by examining the data they send across the Internet. They’ve already used the tool to study a bunch of different IoT devices. From their blog post:

Finding #3: Many IoT Devices Contact a Large and Diverse Set of Third Parties

In many cases, consumers expect that their devices contact manufacturers’ servers, but communication with other third-party destinations may not be a behavior that consumers expect.

We have found that many IoT devices communicate with third-party services, of which consumers are typically unaware. We have found many instances of third-party communications in our analyses of IoT device network traffic. Some examples include:

  • Samsung Smart TV. During the first minute after power-on, the TV talks to Google Play, Double Click, Netflix, FandangoNOW, Spotify, CBS, MSNBC, NFL, Deezer, and Facebook­even though we did not sign in or create accounts with any of them.
  • Amcrest WiFi Security Camera. The camera actively communicates with cellphonepush.quickddns.com using HTTPS. QuickDDNS is a Dynamic DNS service provider operated by Dahua. Dahua is also a security camera manufacturer, although Amcrest’s website makes no references to Dahua. Amcrest customer service informed us that Dahua was the original equipment manufacturer.

  • Halo Smoke Detector. The smart smoke detector communicates with broker.xively.com. Xively offers an MQTT service, which allows manufacturers to communicate with their devices.

  • Geeni Light Bulb. The Geeni smart bulb communicates with gw.tuyaus.com, which is operated by TuYa, a China-based company that also offers an MQTT service.

We also looked at a number of other devices, such as Samsung Smart Camera and TP-Link Smart Plug, and found communications with third parties ranging from NTP pools (time servers) to video storage services.

Their first two findings are that “Many IoT devices lack basic encryption and authentication” and that “User behavior can be inferred from encrypted IoT device traffic.” No surprises there.

Boingboing post.

Related: IoT Hall of Shame.

A Day in the Life of Michele, Human Resources Coordinator at Backblaze

Post Syndicated from Roderick Bauer original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/day-in-life-human-resources-coordinator/

Michele, HR Coordinator at Backblaze

Most of the time this blog is dedicated to cloud storage and computer backup topics, but we also want our readers to understand the culture and people at Backblaze who all contribute to keeping our company running and making it an enjoyable place to work. We invited our HR Coordinator, Michele, to talk about how she spends her day searching for great candidates to fill employment positions at Backblaze.

What’s a Typical Day for Michele at Backblaze?

After I’ve had a yummy cup of coffee — maybe with a honey and splash of half and half, I’ll generally start my day reviewing resumes and contacting potential candidates to set up an initial phone screen.

When I start the process of filling a position, I’ll spend a lot of time on the phone speaking with potential candidates. During a phone screen call we’ll chat about their experience, background and what they are ideally looking for in their next position. I also ask about what they like to do outside of work, and most importantly, how they feel about office dogs. A candidate may not always look great on paper, but could turn out to be a great cultural fit after speaking with them about their previous experience and what they’re passionate about.

Next, I push strong candidates to the subsequent steps with the hiring managers, which range from setting up a second phone screen, to setting up a Google hangout for completing coding tasks, to scheduling in-person interviews with the team.

At the end of the day after an in-person interview, I’ll check in with all the interviewers to debrief and decide how to proceed with the candidate. Everyone that interviewed the candidate will get together to give feedback. Is there a good cultural fit? Are they someone we’d like to work with? Keeping in contact with the candidates throughout the process and making sure they are organized and informed is a big part of my job. No one likes to wait around and wonder where they are in the process.

In between all the madness, I’ll put together offer letters, send out onboarding paperwork and links, and get all the necessary signatures to move forward.

On the candidate’s first day, I’ll go over benefits and the handbook and make sure everything is going smoothly in their overall orientation as they transition into their new role here at Backblaze!

What Makes Your Job Exciting?

  • I get to speak with many different types of people and see what makes them tick and if they’d be a good fit at Backblaze
  • The fast pace of the job
  • Being constantly kept busy with different tasks including supporting the FUN committee by researching venues and ideas for family day and the holiday party
  • I work on enjoyable projects like creating a people wall for new hires so we are able to put a face to the name
  • Getting to take a mini road trip up to Sacramento each month to check in with the data center employees
  • Constantly learning more and more about the job, the people, and the company

We’re growing rapidly and always looking for great people to join our team at Backblaze. Our team places a premium on open communications, being cleverly unconventional, and helping each other out.

Oh! We also offer competitive salaries, stock options, and amazing benefits.

Which Job Openings are You Currently Trying to Fill?

We are currently looking for the following positions. If you’re interested, please review the job description on our jobs page and then contact me at jobscontact@backblaze.com.

  • Engineering Director
  • Senior Java Engineer
  • Senior Software Engineer
  • Desktop and Laptop Windows Client Programmer
  • Senior Systems Administrator
  • Sales Development Representative

Thanks Michele!

The post A Day in the Life of Michele, Human Resources Coordinator at Backblaze appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Ransomware Update: Viruses Targeting Business IT Servers

Post Syndicated from Roderick Bauer original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/ransomware-update-viruses-targeting-business-it-servers/

Ransomware warning message on computer

As ransomware attacks have grown in number in recent months, the tactics and attack vectors also have evolved. While the primary method of attack used to be to target individual computer users within organizations with phishing emails and infected attachments, we’re increasingly seeing attacks that target weaknesses in businesses’ IT infrastructure.

How Ransomware Attacks Typically Work

In our previous posts on ransomware, we described the common vehicles used by hackers to infect organizations with ransomware viruses. Most often, downloaders distribute trojan horses through malicious downloads and spam emails. The emails contain a variety of file attachments, which if opened, will download and run one of the many ransomware variants. Once a user’s computer is infected with a malicious downloader, it will retrieve additional malware, which frequently includes crypto-ransomware. After the files have been encrypted, a ransom payment is demanded of the victim in order to decrypt the files.

What’s Changed With the Latest Ransomware Attacks?

In 2016, a customized ransomware strain called SamSam began attacking the servers in primarily health care institutions. SamSam, unlike more conventional ransomware, is not delivered through downloads or phishing emails. Instead, the attackers behind SamSam use tools to identify unpatched servers running Red Hat’s JBoss enterprise products. Once the attackers have successfully gained entry into one of these servers by exploiting vulnerabilities in JBoss, they use other freely available tools and scripts to collect credentials and gather information on networked computers. Then they deploy their ransomware to encrypt files on these systems before demanding a ransom. Gaining entry to an organization through its IT center rather than its endpoints makes this approach scalable and especially unsettling.

SamSam’s methodology is to scour the Internet searching for accessible and vulnerable JBoss application servers, especially ones used by hospitals. It’s not unlike a burglar rattling doorknobs in a neighborhood to find unlocked homes. When SamSam finds an unlocked home (unpatched server), the software infiltrates the system. It is then free to spread across the company’s network by stealing passwords. As it transverses the network and systems, it encrypts files, preventing access until the victims pay the hackers a ransom, typically between $10,000 and $15,000. The low ransom amount has encouraged some victimized organizations to pay the ransom rather than incur the downtime required to wipe and reinitialize their IT systems.

The success of SamSam is due to its effectiveness rather than its sophistication. SamSam can enter and transverse a network without human intervention. Some organizations are learning too late that securing internet-facing services in their data center from attack is just as important as securing endpoints.

The typical steps in a SamSam ransomware attack are:

1
Attackers gain access to vulnerable server
Attackers exploit vulnerable software or weak/stolen credentials.
2
Attack spreads via remote access tools
Attackers harvest credentials, create SOCKS proxies to tunnel traffic, and abuse RDP to install SamSam on more computers in the network.
3
Ransomware payload deployed
Attackers run batch scripts to execute ransomware on compromised machines.
4
Ransomware demand delivered requiring payment to decrypt files
Demand amounts vary from victim to victim. Relatively low ransom amounts appear to be designed to encourage quick payment decisions.

What all the organizations successfully exploited by SamSam have in common is that they were running unpatched servers that made them vulnerable to SamSam. Some organizations had their endpoints and servers backed up, while others did not. Some of those without backups they could use to recover their systems chose to pay the ransom money.

Timeline of SamSam History and Exploits

Since its appearance in 2016, SamSam has been in the news with many successful incursions into healthcare, business, and government institutions.

March 2016
SamSam appears

SamSam campaign targets vulnerable JBoss servers
Attackers hone in on healthcare organizations specifically, as they’re more likely to have unpatched JBoss machines.

April 2016
SamSam finds new targets

SamSam begins targeting schools and government.
After initial success targeting healthcare, attackers branch out to other sectors.

April 2017
New tactics include RDP

Attackers shift to targeting organizations with exposed RDP connections, and maintain focus on healthcare.
An attack on Erie County Medical Center costs the hospital $10 million over three months of recovery.
Erie County Medical Center attacked by SamSam ransomware virus

January 2018
Municipalities attacked

• Attack on Municipality of Farmington, NM.
• Attack on Hancock Health.
Hancock Regional Hospital notice following SamSam attack
• Attack on Adams Memorial Hospital
• Attack on Allscripts (Electronic Health Records), which includes 180,000 physicians, 2,500 hospitals, and 7.2 million patients’ health records.

February 2018
Attack volume increases

• Attack on Davidson County, NC.
• Attack on Colorado Department of Transportation.
SamSam virus notification

March 2018
SamSam shuts down Atlanta

• Second attack on Colorado Department of Transportation.
• City of Atlanta suffers a devastating attack by SamSam.
The attack has far-reaching impacts — crippling the court system, keeping residents from paying their water bills, limiting vital communications like sewer infrastructure requests, and pushing the Atlanta Police Department to file paper reports.
Atlanta Ransomware outage alert
• SamSam campaign nets $325,000 in 4 weeks.
Infections spike as attackers launch new campaigns. Healthcare and government organizations are once again the primary targets.

How to Defend Against SamSam and Other Ransomware Attacks

The best way to respond to a ransomware attack is to avoid having one in the first place. If you are attacked, making sure your valuable data is backed up and unreachable by ransomware infection will ensure that your downtime and data loss will be minimal or none if you ever suffer an attack.

In our previous post, How to Recover From Ransomware, we listed the ten ways to protect your organization from ransomware.

  1. Use anti-virus and anti-malware software or other security policies to block known payloads from launching.
  2. Make frequent, comprehensive backups of all important files and isolate them from local and open networks. Cybersecurity professionals view data backup and recovery (74% in a recent survey) by far as the most effective solution to respond to a successful ransomware attack.
  3. Keep offline backups of data stored in locations inaccessible from any potentially infected computer, such as disconnected external storage drives or the cloud, which prevents them from being accessed by the ransomware.
  4. Install the latest security updates issued by software vendors of your OS and applications. Remember to patch early and patch often to close known vulnerabilities in operating systems, server software, browsers, and web plugins.
  5. Consider deploying security software to protect endpoints, email servers, and network systems from infection.
  6. Exercise cyber hygiene, such as using caution when opening email attachments and links.
  7. Segment your networks to keep critical computers isolated and to prevent the spread of malware in case of attack. Turn off unneeded network shares.
  8. Turn off admin rights for users who don’t require them. Give users the lowest system permissions they need to do their work.
  9. Restrict write permissions on file servers as much as possible.
  10. Educate yourself, your employees, and your family in best practices to keep malware out of your systems. Update everyone on the latest email phishing scams and human engineering aimed at turning victims into abettors.

Please Tell Us About Your Experiences with Ransomware

Have you endured a ransomware attack or have a strategy to avoid becoming a victim? Please tell us of your experiences in the comments.

The post Ransomware Update: Viruses Targeting Business IT Servers appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

RDS for Oracle: Extending Outbound Network Access to use SSL/TLS

Post Syndicated from Surya Nallu original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/architecture/rds-for-oracle-extending-outbound-network-access-to-use-ssltls/

In December 2016, we launched the Outbound Network Access functionality for Amazon RDS for Oracle, enabling customers to use their RDS for Oracle database instances to communicate with external web endpoints using the utl_http and utl tcp packages, and sending emails through utl_smtp. We extended the functionality by adding the option of using custom DNS servers, allowing such outbound network accesses to make use of any DNS server a customer chooses to use. These releases enabled HTTP, TCP and SMTP communication originating out of RDS for Oracle instances – limited to non-secure (non-SSL) mediums.

To overcome the limitation over SSL connections, we recently published a whitepaper, that guides through the process of creating customized Oracle wallet bundles on your RDS for Oracle instances. By making use of such wallets, you can now extend the Outbound Network Access capability to have external communications happen over secure (SSL/TLS) connections. This opens up new use cases for your RDS for Oracle instances.

With the right set of certificates imported into your RDS for Oracle instances (through Oracle wallets), your database instances can now:

  • Communicate with a HTTPS endpoint: Using utl_http, access a resource such as https://status.aws.amazon.com/robots.txt
  • Download files from Amazon S3 securely: Using a presigned URL from Amazon S3, you can now download any file over SSL
  • Extending Oracle Database links to use SSL: Database links between RDS for Oracle instances can now use SSL as long as the instances have the SSL option installed
  • Sending email over SMTPS:
    • You can now integrate with Amazon SES to send emails from your database instances and any other generic SMTPS with which the provider can be integrated

These are just a few high-level examples of new use cases that have opened up with the whitepaper. As a reminder, always ensure to have best security practices in place when making use of Outbound Network Access (detailed in the whitepaper).

About the Author

Surya Nallu is a Software Development Engineer on the Amazon RDS for Oracle team.

Securing Elections

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/04/securing_electi_1.html

Elections serve two purposes. The first, and obvious, purpose is to accurately choose the winner. But the second is equally important: to convince the loser. To the extent that an election system is not transparently and auditably accurate, it fails in that second purpose. Our election systems are failing, and we need to fix them.

Today, we conduct our elections on computers. Our registration lists are in computer databases. We vote on computerized voting machines. And our tabulation and reporting is done on computers. We do this for a lot of good reasons, but a side effect is that elections now have all the insecurities inherent in computers. The only way to reliably protect elections from both malice and accident is to use something that is not hackable or unreliable at scale; the best way to do that is to back up as much of the system as possible with paper.

Recently, there have been two graphic demonstrations of how bad our computerized voting system is. In 2007, the states of California and Ohio conducted audits of their electronic voting machines. Expert review teams found exploitable vulnerabilities in almost every component they examined. The researchers were able to undetectably alter vote tallies, erase audit logs, and load malware on to the systems. Some of their attacks could be implemented by a single individual with no greater access than a normal poll worker; others could be done remotely.

Last year, the Defcon hackers’ conference sponsored a Voting Village. Organizers collected 25 pieces of voting equipment, including voting machines and electronic poll books. By the end of the weekend, conference attendees had found ways to compromise every piece of test equipment: to load malicious software, compromise vote tallies and audit logs, or cause equipment to fail.

It’s important to understand that these were not well-funded nation-state attackers. These were not even academics who had been studying the problem for weeks. These were bored hackers, with no experience with voting machines, playing around between parties one weekend.

It shouldn’t be any surprise that voting equipment, including voting machines, voter registration databases, and vote tabulation systems, are that hackable. They’re computers — often ancient computers running operating systems no longer supported by the manufacturers — and they don’t have any magical security technology that the rest of the industry isn’t privy to. If anything, they’re less secure than the computers we generally use, because their manufacturers hide any flaws behind the proprietary nature of their equipment.

We’re not just worried about altering the vote. Sometimes causing widespread failures, or even just sowing mistrust in the system, is enough. And an election whose results are not trusted or believed is a failed election.

Voting systems have another requirement that makes security even harder to achieve: the requirement for a secret ballot. Because we have to securely separate the election-roll system that determines who can vote from the system that collects and tabulates the votes, we can’t use the security systems available to banking and other high-value applications.

We can securely bank online, but can’t securely vote online. If we could do away with anonymity — if everyone could check that their vote was counted correctly — then it would be easy to secure the vote. But that would lead to other problems. Before the US had the secret ballot, voter coercion and vote-buying were widespread.

We can’t, so we need to accept that our voting systems are insecure. We need an election system that is resilient to the threats. And for many parts of the system, that means paper.

Let’s start with the voter rolls. We know they’ve already been targeted. In 2016, someone changed the party affiliation of hundreds of voters before the Republican primary. That’s just one possibility. A well-executed attack that deletes, for example, one in five voters at random — or changes their addresses — would cause chaos on election day.

Yes, we need to shore up the security of these systems. We need better computer, network, and database security for the various state voter organizations. We also need to better secure the voter registration websites, with better design and better internet security. We need better security for the companies that build and sell all this equipment.

Multiple, unchangeable backups are essential. A record of every addition, deletion, and change needs to be stored on a separate system, on write-only media like a DVD. Copies of that DVD, or — even better — a paper printout of the voter rolls, should be available at every polling place on election day. We need to be ready for anything.

Next, the voting machines themselves. Security researchers agree that the gold standard is a voter-verified paper ballot. The easiest (and cheapest) way to achieve this is through optical-scan voting. Voters mark paper ballots by hand; they are fed into a machine and counted automatically. That paper ballot is saved, and serves as a final true record in a recount in case of problems. Touch-screen machines that print a paper ballot to drop in a ballot box can also work for voters with disabilities, as long as the ballot can be easily read and verified by the voter.

Finally, the tabulation and reporting systems. Here again we need more security in the process, but we must always use those paper ballots as checks on the computers. A manual, post-election, risk-limiting audit varies the number of ballots examined according to the margin of victory. Conducting this audit after every election, before the results are certified, gives us confidence that the election outcome is correct, even if the voting machines and tabulation computers have been tampered with. Additionally, we need better coordination and communications when incidents occur.

It’s vital to agree on these procedures and policies before an election. Before the fact, when anyone can win and no one knows whose votes might be changed, it’s easy to agree on strong security. But after the vote, someone is the presumptive winner — and then everything changes. Half of the country wants the result to stand, and half wants it reversed. At that point, it’s too late to agree on anything.

The politicians running in the election shouldn’t have to argue their challenges in court. Getting elections right is in the interest of all citizens. Many countries have independent election commissions that are charged with conducting elections and ensuring their security. We don’t do that in the US.

Instead, we have representatives from each of our two parties in the room, keeping an eye on each other. That provided acceptable security against 20th-century threats, but is totally inadequate to secure our elections in the 21st century. And the belief that the diversity of voting systems in the US provides a measure of security is a dangerous myth, because few districts can be decisive and there are so few voting-machine vendors.

We can do better. In 2017, the Department of Homeland Security declared elections to be critical infrastructure, allowing the department to focus on securing them. On 23 March, Congress allocated $380m to states to upgrade election security.

These are good starts, but don’t go nearly far enough. The constitution delegates elections to the states but allows Congress to “make or alter such Regulations”. In 1845, Congress set a nationwide election day. Today, we need it to set uniform and strict election standards.

This essay originally appeared in the Guardian.

Subverting Backdoored Encryption

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/04/subverting_back.html

This is a really interesting research result. This paper proves that two parties can create a secure communications channel using a communications system with a backdoor. It’s a theoretical result, so it doesn’t talk about how easy that channel is to create. And the assumptions on the adversary are pretty reasonable: that each party can create his own randomness, and that the government isn’t literally eavesdropping on every single part of the network at all times.

This result reminds me a lot of the work about subliminal channels from the 1980s and 1990s, and the notions of how to build an anonymous communications system on top of an identified system. Basically, it’s always possible to overlay a system around and outside any closed system.

How to Subvert Backdoored Encryption: Security Against Adversaries that Decrypt All Ciphertexts,” by Thibaut Horel and Sunoo Park and Silas Richelson and Vinod Vaikuntanathan.

Abstract: In this work, we examine the feasibility of secure and undetectable point-to-point communication in a world where governments can read all the encrypted communications of their citizens. We consider a world where the only permitted method of communication is via a government-mandated encryption scheme, instantiated with government-mandated keys. Parties cannot simply encrypt ciphertexts of some other encryption scheme, because citizens caught trying to communicate outside the government’s knowledge (e.g., by encrypting strings which do not appear to be natural language plaintexts) will be arrested. The one guarantee we suppose is that the government mandates an encryption scheme which is semantically secure against outsiders: a perhaps reasonable supposition when a government might consider it advantageous to secure its people’s communication against foreign entities. But then, what good is semantic security against an adversary that holds all the keys and has the power to decrypt?

We show that even in the pessimistic scenario described, citizens can communicate securely and undetectably. In our terminology, this translates to a positive statement: all semantically secure encryption schemes support subliminal communication. Informally, this means that there is a two-party protocol between Alice and Bob where the parties exchange ciphertexts of what appears to be a normal conversation even to someone who knows the secret keys and thus can read the corresponding plaintexts. And yet, at the end of the protocol, Alice will have transmitted her secret message to Bob. Our security definition requires that the adversary not be able to tell whether Alice and Bob are just having a normal conversation using the mandated encryption scheme, or they are using the mandated encryption scheme for subliminal communication.

Our topics may be thought to fall broadly within the realm of steganography: the science of hiding secret communication within innocent-looking messages, or cover objects. However, we deal with the non-standard setting of an adversarially chosen distribution of cover objects (i.e., a stronger-than-usual adversary), and we take advantage of the fact that our cover objects are ciphertexts of a semantically secure encryption scheme to bypass impossibility results which we show for broader classes of steganographic schemes. We give several constructions of subliminal communication schemes under the assumption that key exchange protocols with pseudorandom messages exist (such as Diffie-Hellman, which in fact has truly random messages). Each construction leverages the assumed semantic security of the adversarially chosen encryption scheme, in order to achieve subliminal communication.

E-Mailing Private HTTPS Keys

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/03/e-mailing_priva.html

I don’t know what to make of this story:

The email was sent on Tuesday by the CEO of Trustico, a UK-based reseller of TLS certificates issued by the browser-trusted certificate authorities Comodo and, until recently, Symantec. It was sent to Jeremy Rowley, an executive vice president at DigiCert, a certificate authority that acquired Symantec’s certificate issuance business after Symantec was caught flouting binding industry rules, prompting Google to distrust Symantec certificates in its Chrome browser. In communications earlier this month, Trustico notified DigiCert that 50,000 Symantec-issued certificates Trustico had resold should be mass revoked because of security concerns.

When Rowley asked for proof the certificates were compromised, the Trustico CEO emailed the private keys of 23,000 certificates, according to an account posted to a Mozilla security policy forum. The report produced a collective gasp among many security practitioners who said it demonstrated a shockingly cavalier treatment of the digital certificates that form one of the most basic foundations of website security.

Generally speaking, private keys for TLS certificates should never be archived by resellers, and, even in the rare cases where such storage is permissible, they should be tightly safeguarded. A CEO being able to attach the keys for 23,000 certificates to an email raises troubling concerns that those types of best practices weren’t followed.

I am croggled by the multiple layers of insecurity here.

BoingBoing post.

Intimate Partner Threat

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/03/intimate_partne.html

Princeton’s Karen Levy has a good article computer security and the intimate partner threat:

When you learn that your privacy has been compromised, the common advice is to prevent additional access — delete your insecure account, open a new one, change your password. This advice is such standard protocol for personal security that it’s almost a no-brainer. But in abusive romantic relationships, disconnection can be extremely fraught. For one, it can put the victim at risk of physical harm: If abusers expect digital access and that access is suddenly closed off, it can lead them to become more violent or intrusive in other ways. It may seem cathartic to delete abusive material, like alarming text messages — but if you don’t preserve that kind of evidence, it can make prosecution more difficult. And closing some kinds of accounts, like social networks, to hide from a determined abuser can cut off social support that survivors desperately need. In some cases, maintaining a digital connection to the abuser may even be legally required (for instance, if the abuser and survivor share joint custody of children).

Threats from intimate partners also change the nature of what it means to be authenticated online. In most contexts, access credentials­ — like passwords and security questions — are intended to insulate your accounts against access from an adversary. But those mechanisms are often completely ineffective for security in intimate contexts: The abuser can compel disclosure of your password through threats of violence and has access to your devices because you’re in the same physical space. In many cases, the abuser might even own your phone — or might have access to your communications data because you share a family plan. Things like security questions are unlikely to be effective tools for protecting your security, because the abuser knows or can guess at intimate details about your life — where you were born, what your first job was, the name of your pet.

Best Practices for Running Apache Kafka on AWS

Post Syndicated from Prasad Alle original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/big-data/best-practices-for-running-apache-kafka-on-aws/

This post was written in partnership with Intuit to share learnings, best practices, and recommendations for running an Apache Kafka cluster on AWS. Thanks to Vaishak Suresh and his colleagues at Intuit for their contribution and support.

Intuit, in their own words: Intuit, a leading enterprise customer for AWS, is a creator of business and financial management solutions. For more information on how Intuit partners with AWS, see our previous blog post, Real-time Stream Processing Using Apache Spark Streaming and Apache Kafka on AWS. Apache Kafka is an open-source, distributed streaming platform that enables you to build real-time streaming applications.

The best practices described in this post are based on our experience in running and operating large-scale Kafka clusters on AWS for more than two years. Our intent for this post is to help AWS customers who are currently running Kafka on AWS, and also customers who are considering migrating on-premises Kafka deployments to AWS.

AWS offers Amazon Kinesis Data Streams, a Kafka alternative that is fully managed.

Running your Kafka deployment on Amazon EC2 provides a high performance, scalable solution for ingesting streaming data. AWS offers many different instance types and storage option combinations for Kafka deployments. However, given the number of possible deployment topologies, it’s not always trivial to select the most appropriate strategy suitable for your use case.

In this blog post, we cover the following aspects of running Kafka clusters on AWS:

  • Deployment considerations and patterns
  • Storage options
  • Instance types
  • Networking
  • Upgrades
  • Performance tuning
  • Monitoring
  • Security
  • Backup and restore

Note: While implementing Kafka clusters in a production environment, make sure also to consider factors like your number of messages, message size, monitoring, failure handling, and any operational issues.

Deployment considerations and patterns

In this section, we discuss various deployment options available for Kafka on AWS, along with pros and cons of each option. A successful deployment starts with thoughtful consideration of these options. Considering availability, consistency, and operational overhead of the deployment helps when choosing the right option.

Single AWS Region, Three Availability Zones, All Active

One typical deployment pattern (all active) is in a single AWS Region with three Availability Zones (AZs). One Kafka cluster is deployed in each AZ along with Apache ZooKeeper and Kafka producer and consumer instances as shown in the illustration following.

In this pattern, this is the Kafka cluster deployment:

  • Kafka producers and Kafka cluster are deployed on each AZ.
  • Data is distributed evenly across three Kafka clusters by using Elastic Load Balancer.
  • Kafka consumers aggregate data from all three Kafka clusters.

Kafka cluster failover occurs this way:

  • Mark down all Kafka producers
  • Stop consumers
  • Debug and restack Kafka
  • Restart consumers
  • Restart Kafka producers

Following are the pros and cons of this pattern.

ProsCons
  • Highly available
  • Can sustain the failure of two AZs
  • No message loss during failover
  • Simple deployment

 

  • Very high operational overhead:
    • All changes need to be deployed three times, one for each Kafka cluster
    • Maintaining and monitoring three Kafka clusters
    • Maintaining and monitoring three consumer clusters

A restart is required for patching and upgrading brokers in a Kafka cluster. In this approach, a rolling upgrade is done separately for each cluster.

Single Region, Three Availability Zones, Active-Standby

Another typical deployment pattern (active-standby) is in a single AWS Region with a single Kafka cluster and Kafka brokers and Zookeepers distributed across three AZs. Another similar Kafka cluster acts as a standby as shown in the illustration following. You can use Kafka mirroring with MirrorMaker to replicate messages between any two clusters.

In this pattern, this is the Kafka cluster deployment:

  • Kafka producers are deployed on all three AZs.
  • Only one Kafka cluster is deployed across three AZs (active).
  • ZooKeeper instances are deployed on each AZ.
  • Brokers are spread evenly across all three AZs.
  • Kafka consumers can be deployed across all three AZs.
  • Standby Kafka producers and a Multi-AZ Kafka cluster are part of the deployment.

Kafka cluster failover occurs this way:

  • Switch traffic to standby Kafka producers cluster and Kafka cluster.
  • Restart consumers to consume from standby Kafka cluster.

Following are the pros and cons of this pattern.

ProsCons
  • Less operational overhead when compared to the first option
  • Only one Kafka cluster to manage and consume data from
  • Can handle single AZ failures without activating a standby Kafka cluster
  • Added latency due to cross-AZ data transfer among Kafka brokers
  • For Kafka versions before 0.10, replicas for topic partitions have to be assigned so they’re distributed to the brokers on different AZs (rack-awareness)
  • The cluster can become unavailable in case of a network glitch, where ZooKeeper does not see Kafka brokers
  • Possibility of in-transit message loss during failover

Intuit recommends using a single Kafka cluster in one AWS Region, with brokers distributing across three AZs (single region, three AZs). This approach offers stronger fault tolerance than otherwise, because a failed AZ won’t cause Kafka downtime.

Storage options

There are two storage options for file storage in Amazon EC2:

Ephemeral storage is local to the Amazon EC2 instance. It can provide high IOPS based on the instance type. On the other hand, Amazon EBS volumes offer higher resiliency and you can configure IOPS based on your storage needs. EBS volumes also offer some distinct advantages in terms of recovery time. Your choice of storage is closely related to the type of workload supported by your Kafka cluster.

Kafka provides built-in fault tolerance by replicating data partitions across a configurable number of instances. If a broker fails, you can recover it by fetching all the data from other brokers in the cluster that host the other replicas. Depending on the size of the data transfer, it can affect recovery process and network traffic. These in turn eventually affect the cluster’s performance.

The following table contrasts the benefits of using an instance store versus using EBS for storage.

Instance storeEBS
  • Instance storage is recommended for large- and medium-sized Kafka clusters. For a large cluster, read/write traffic is distributed across a high number of brokers, so the loss of a broker has less of an impact. However, for smaller clusters, a quick recovery for the failed node is important, but a failed broker takes longer and requires more network traffic for a smaller Kafka cluster.
  • Storage-optimized instances like h1, i3, and d2 are an ideal choice for distributed applications like Kafka.

 

  • The primary advantage of using EBS in a Kafka deployment is that it significantly reduces data-transfer traffic when a broker fails or must be replaced. The replacement broker joins the cluster much faster.
  • Data stored on EBS is persisted in case of an instance failure or termination. The broker’s data stored on an EBS volume remains intact, and you can mount the EBS volume to a new EC2 instance. Most of the replicated data for the replacement broker is already available in the EBS volume and need not be copied over the network from another broker. Only the changes made after the original broker failure need to be transferred across the network. That makes this process much faster.

 

 

Intuit chose EBS because of their frequent instance restacking requirements and also other benefits provided by EBS.

Generally, Kafka deployments use a replication factor of three. EBS offers replication within their service, so Intuit chose a replication factor of two instead of three.

Instance types

The choice of instance types is generally driven by the type of storage required for your streaming applications on a Kafka cluster. If your application requires ephemeral storage, h1, i3, and d2 instances are your best option.

Intuit used r3.xlarge instances for their brokers and r3.large for ZooKeeper, with ST1 (throughput optimized HDD) EBS for their Kafka cluster.

Here are sample benchmark numbers from Intuit tests.

ConfigurationBroker bytes (MB/s)
  • r3.xlarge
  • ST1 EBS
  • 12 brokers
  • 12 partitions

 

Aggregate 346.9

If you need EBS storage, then AWS has a newer-generation r4 instance. The r4 instance is superior to R3 in many ways:

  • It has a faster processor (Broadwell).
  • EBS is optimized by default.
  • It features networking based on Elastic Network Adapter (ENA), with up to 10 Gbps on smaller sizes.
  • It costs 20 percent less than R3.

Note: It’s always best practice to check for the latest changes in instance types.

Networking

The network plays a very important role in a distributed system like Kafka. A fast and reliable network ensures that nodes can communicate with each other easily. The available network throughput controls the maximum amount of traffic that Kafka can handle. Network throughput, combined with disk storage, is often the governing factor for cluster sizing.

If you expect your cluster to receive high read/write traffic, select an instance type that offers 10-Gb/s performance.

In addition, choose an option that keeps interbroker network traffic on the private subnet, because this approach allows clients to connect to the brokers. Communication between brokers and clients uses the same network interface and port. For more details, see the documentation about IP addressing for EC2 instances.

If you are deploying in more than one AWS Region, you can connect the two VPCs in the two AWS Regions using cross-region VPC peering. However, be aware of the networking costs associated with cross-AZ deployments.

Upgrades

Kafka has a history of not being backward compatible, but its support of backward compatibility is getting better. During a Kafka upgrade, you should keep your producer and consumer clients on a version equal to or lower than the version you are upgrading from. After the upgrade is finished, you can start using a new protocol version and any new features it supports. There are three upgrade approaches available, discussed following.

Rolling or in-place upgrade

In a rolling or in-place upgrade scenario, upgrade one Kafka broker at a time. Take into consideration the recommendations for doing rolling restarts to avoid downtime for end users.

Downtime upgrade

If you can afford the downtime, you can take your entire cluster down, upgrade each Kafka broker, and then restart the cluster.

Blue/green upgrade

Intuit followed the blue/green deployment model for their workloads, as described following.

If you can afford to create a separate Kafka cluster and upgrade it, we highly recommend the blue/green upgrade scenario. In this scenario, we recommend that you keep your clusters up-to-date with the latest Kafka version. For additional details on Kafka version upgrades or more details, see the Kafka upgrade documentation.

The following illustration shows a blue/green upgrade.

In this scenario, the upgrade plan works like this:

  • Create a new Kafka cluster on AWS.
  • Create a new Kafka producers stack to point to the new Kafka cluster.
  • Create topics on the new Kafka cluster.
  • Test the green deployment end to end (sanity check).
  • Using Amazon Route 53, change the new Kafka producers stack on AWS to point to the new green Kafka environment that you have created.

The roll-back plan works like this:

  • Switch Amazon Route 53 to the old Kafka producers stack on AWS to point to the old Kafka environment.

For additional details on blue/green deployment architecture using Kafka, see the re:Invent presentation Leveraging the Cloud with a Blue-Green Deployment Architecture.

Performance tuning

You can tune Kafka performance in multiple dimensions. Following are some best practices for performance tuning.

 These are some general performance tuning techniques:

  • If throughput is less than network capacity, try the following:
    • Add more threads
    • Increase batch size
    • Add more producer instances
    • Add more partitions
  • To improve latency when acks =-1, increase your num.replica.fetches value.
  • For cross-AZ data transfer, tune your buffer settings for sockets and for OS TCP.
  • Make sure that num.io.threads is greater than the number of disks dedicated for Kafka.
  • Adjust num.network.threads based on the number of producers plus the number of consumers plus the replication factor.
  • Your message size affects your network bandwidth. To get higher performance from a Kafka cluster, select an instance type that offers 10 Gb/s performance.

For Java and JVM tuning, try the following:

  • Minimize GC pauses by using the Oracle JDK, which uses the new G1 garbage-first collector.
  • Try to keep the Kafka heap size below 4 GB.

Monitoring

Knowing whether a Kafka cluster is working correctly in a production environment is critical. Sometimes, just knowing that the cluster is up is enough, but Kafka applications have many moving parts to monitor. In fact, it can easily become confusing to understand what’s important to watch and what you can set aside. Items to monitor range from simple metrics about the overall rate of traffic, to producers, consumers, brokers, controller, ZooKeeper, topics, partitions, messages, and so on.

For monitoring, Intuit used several tools, including Newrelec, Wavefront, Amazon CloudWatch, and AWS CloudTrail. Our recommended monitoring approach follows.

For system metrics, we recommend that you monitor:

  • CPU load
  • Network metrics
  • File handle usage
  • Disk space
  • Disk I/O performance
  • Garbage collection
  • ZooKeeper

For producers, we recommend that you monitor:

  • Batch-size-avg
  • Compression-rate-avg
  • Waiting-threads
  • Buffer-available-bytes
  • Record-queue-time-max
  • Record-send-rate
  • Records-per-request-avg

For consumers, we recommend that you monitor:

  • Batch-size-avg
  • Compression-rate-avg
  • Waiting-threads
  • Buffer-available-bytes
  • Record-queue-time-max
  • Record-send-rate
  • Records-per-request-avg

Security

Like most distributed systems, Kafka provides the mechanisms to transfer data with relatively high security across the components involved. Depending on your setup, security might involve different services such as encryption, Kerberos, Transport Layer Security (TLS) certificates, and advanced access control list (ACL) setup in brokers and ZooKeeper. The following tells you more about the Intuit approach. For details on Kafka security not covered in this section, see the Kafka documentation.

Encryption at rest

For EBS-backed EC2 instances, you can enable encryption at rest by using Amazon EBS volumes with encryption enabled. Amazon EBS uses AWS Key Management Service (AWS KMS) for encryption. For more details, see Amazon EBS Encryption in the EBS documentation. For instance store–backed EC2 instances, you can enable encryption at rest by using Amazon EC2 instance store encryption.

Encryption in transit

Kafka uses TLS for client and internode communications.

Authentication

Authentication of connections to brokers from clients (producers and consumers) to other brokers and tools uses either Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) or Simple Authentication and Security Layer (SASL).

Kafka supports Kerberos authentication. If you already have a Kerberos server, you can add Kafka to your current configuration.

Authorization

In Kafka, authorization is pluggable and integration with external authorization services is supported.

Backup and restore

The type of storage used in your deployment dictates your backup and restore strategy.

The best way to back up a Kafka cluster based on instance storage is to set up a second cluster and replicate messages using MirrorMaker. Kafka’s mirroring feature makes it possible to maintain a replica of an existing Kafka cluster. Depending on your setup and requirements, your backup cluster might be in the same AWS Region as your main cluster or in a different one.

For EBS-based deployments, you can enable automatic snapshots of EBS volumes to back up volumes. You can easily create new EBS volumes from these snapshots to restore. We recommend storing backup files in Amazon S3.

For more information on how to back up in Kafka, see the Kafka documentation.

Conclusion

In this post, we discussed several patterns for running Kafka in the AWS Cloud. AWS also provides an alternative managed solution with Amazon Kinesis Data Streams, there are no servers to manage or scaling cliffs to worry about, you can scale the size of your streaming pipeline in seconds without downtime, data replication across availability zones is automatic, you benefit from security out of the box, Kinesis Data Streams is tightly integrated with a wide variety of AWS services like Lambda, Redshift, Elasticsearch and it supports open source frameworks like Storm, Spark, Flink, and more. You may refer to kafka-kinesis connector.

If you have questions or suggestions, please comment below.


Additional Reading

If you found this post useful, be sure to check out Implement Serverless Log Analytics Using Amazon Kinesis Analytics and Real-time Clickstream Anomaly Detection with Amazon Kinesis Analytics.


About the Author

Prasad Alle is a Senior Big Data Consultant with AWS Professional Services. He spends his time leading and building scalable, reliable Big data, Machine learning, Artificial Intelligence and IoT solutions for AWS Enterprise and Strategic customers. His interests extend to various technologies such as Advanced Edge Computing, Machine learning at Edge. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his family.

 

 

The Challenges of Opening a Data Center — Part 2

Post Syndicated from Roderick Bauer original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/factors-for-choosing-data-center/

Rows of storage pods in a data center

This is part two of a series on the factors that an organization needs to consider when opening a data center and the challenges that must be met in the process.

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the different types of data centers, the importance of location in planning a data center, data center certification, and the single most expensive factor in running a data center, power.

In Part 2, we continue to look at factors that need to considered both by those interested in a dedicated data center and those seeking to colocate in an existing center.

Power (continued from Part 1)

In part 1, we began our discussion of the power requirements of data centers.

As we discussed, redundancy and failover is a chief requirement for data center power. A redundantly designed power supply system is also a necessity for maintenance, as it enables repairs to be performed on one network, for example, without having to turn off servers, databases, or electrical equipment.

Power Path

The common critical components of a data center’s power flow are:

  • Utility Supply
  • Generators
  • Transfer Switches
  • Distribution Panels
  • Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS)
  • PDUs

Utility Supply is the power that comes from one or more utility grids. While most of us consider the grid to be our primary power supply (hats off to those of you who manage to live off the grid), politics, economics, and distribution make utility supply power susceptible to outages, which is why data centers must have autonomous power available to maintain availability.

Generators are used to supply power when the utility supply is unavailable. They convert mechanical energy, usually from motors, to electrical energy.

Transfer Switches are used to transfer electric load from one source or electrical device to another, such as from one utility line to another, from a generator to a utility, or between generators. The transfer could be manually activated or automatic to ensure continuous electrical power.

Distribution Panels get the power where it needs to go, taking a power feed and dividing it into separate circuits to supply multiple loads.

A UPS, as we touched on earlier, ensures that continuous power is available even when the main power source isn’t. It often consists of batteries that can come online almost instantaneously when the current power ceases. The power from a UPS does not have to last a long time as it is considered an emergency measure until the main power source can be restored. Another function of the UPS is to filter and stabilize the power from the main power supply.

Data Center UPS

Data center UPSs

PDU stands for the Power Distribution Unit and is the device that distributes power to the individual pieces of equipment.

Network

After power, the networking connections to the data center are of prime importance. Can the data center obtain and maintain high-speed networking connections to the building? With networking, as with all aspects of a data center, availability is a primary consideration. Data center designers think of all possible ways service can be interrupted or lost, even briefly. Details such as the vulnerabilities in the route the network connections make from the core network (the backhaul) to the center, and where network connections enter and exit a building, must be taken into consideration in network and data center design.

Routers and switches are used to transport traffic between the servers in the data center and the core network. Just as with power, network redundancy is a prime factor in maintaining availability of data center services. Two or more upstream service providers are required to ensure that availability.

How fast a customer can transfer data to a data center is affected by: 1) the speed of the connections the data center has with the outside world, 2) the quality of the connections between the customer and the data center, and 3) the distance of the route from customer to the data center. The longer the length of the route and the greater the number of packets that must be transferred, the more significant a factor will be played by latency in the data transfer. Latency is the delay before a transfer of data begins following an instruction for its transfer. Generally latency, not speed, will be the most significant factor in transferring data to and from a data center. Packets transferred using the TCP/IP protocol suite, which is the conceptual model and set of communications protocols used on the internet and similar computer networks, must be acknowledged when received (ACK’d) and requires a communications roundtrip for each packet. If the data is in larger packets, the number of ACKs required is reduced, so latency will be a smaller factor in the overall network communications speed.

Latency generally will be less significant for data storage transfers than for cloud computing. Optimizations such as multi-threading, which is used in Backblaze’s Cloud Backup service, will generally improve overall transfer throughput if sufficient bandwidth is available.

Those interested in testing the overall speed and latency of their connection to Backblaze’s data centers can use the Check Your Bandwidth tool on our website.
Data center telecommunications equipment

Data center telecommunications equipment

Data center under floor cable runs

Data center under floor cable runs

Cooling

Computer, networking, and power generation equipment generates heat, and there are a number of solutions employed to rid a data center of that heat. The location and climate of the data center is of great importance to the data center designer because the climatic conditions dictate to a large degree what cooling technologies should be deployed that in turn affect the power used and the cost of using that power. The power required and cost needed to manage a data center in a warm, humid climate will vary greatly from managing one in a cool, dry climate. Innovation is strong in this area and many new approaches to efficient and cost-effective cooling are used in the latest data centers.

Switch's uninterruptible, multi-system, HVAC Data Center Cooling Units

Switch’s uninterruptible, multi-system, HVAC Data Center Cooling Units

There are three primary ways data center cooling can be achieved:

Room Cooling cools the entire operating area of the data center. This method can be suitable for small data centers, but becomes more difficult and inefficient as IT equipment density and center size increase.

Row Cooling concentrates on cooling a data center on a row by row basis. In its simplest form, hot aisle/cold aisle data center design involves lining up server racks in alternating rows with cold air intakes facing one way and hot air exhausts facing the other. The rows composed of rack fronts are called cold aisles. Typically, cold aisles face air conditioner output ducts. The rows the heated exhausts pour into are called hot aisles. Typically, hot aisles face air conditioner return ducts.

Rack Cooling tackles cooling on a rack by rack basis. Air-conditioning units are dedicated to specific racks. This approach allows for maximum densities to be deployed per rack. This works best in data centers with fully loaded racks, otherwise there would be too much cooling capacity, and the air-conditioning losses alone could exceed the total IT load.

Security

Data Centers are high-security facilities as they house business, government, and other data that contains personal, financial, and other secure information about businesses and individuals.

This list contains the physical-security considerations when opening or co-locating in a data center:

Layered Security Zones. Systems and processes are deployed to allow only authorized personnel in certain areas of the data center. Examples include keycard access, alarm systems, mantraps, secure doors, and staffed checkpoints.

Physical Barriers. Physical barriers, fencing and reinforced walls are used to protect facilities. In a colocation facility, one customers’ racks and servers are often inaccessible to other customers colocating in the same data center.

Backblaze racks secured in the data center

Backblaze racks secured in the data center

Monitoring Systems. Advanced surveillance technology monitors and records activity on approaching driveways, building entrances, exits, loading areas, and equipment areas. These systems also can be used to monitor and detect fire and water emergencies, providing early detection and notification before significant damage results.

Top-tier providers evaluate their data center security and facilities on an ongoing basis. Technology becomes outdated quickly, so providers must stay-on-top of new approaches and technologies in order to protect valuable IT assets.

To pass into high security areas of a data center requires passing through a security checkpoint where credentials are verified.

Data Center security

The gauntlet of cameras and steel bars one must pass before entering this data center

Facilities and Services

Data center colocation providers often differentiate themselves by offering value-added services. In addition to the required space, power, cooling, connectivity and security capabilities, the best solutions provide several on-site amenities. These accommodations include offices and workstations, conference rooms, and access to phones, copy machines, and office equipment.

Additional features may consist of kitchen facilities, break rooms and relaxation lounges, storage facilities for client equipment, and secure loading docks and freight elevators.

Moving into A Data Center

Moving into a data center is a major job for any organization. We wrote a post last year, Desert To Data in 7 Days — Our New Phoenix Data Center, about what it was like to move into our new data center in Phoenix, Arizona.

Desert To Data in 7 Days — Our New Phoenix Data Center

Visiting a Data Center

Our Director of Product Marketing Andy Klein wrote a popular post last year on what it’s like to visit a data center called A Day in the Life of a Data Center.

A Day in the Life of a Data Center

Would you Like to Know More about The Challenges of Opening and Running a Data Center?

That’s it for part 2 of this series. If readers are interested, we could write a post about some of the new technologies and trends affecting data center design and use. Please let us know in the comments.

Here's a tip!Here’s a tip on finding all the posts tagged with data center on our blog. Just follow https://www.backblaze.com/blog/tag/data-center/.

Don’t miss future posts on data centers and other topics, including hard drive stats, cloud storage, and tips and tricks for backing up to the cloud. Use the Join button above to receive notification of future posts on our blog.

The post The Challenges of Opening a Data Center — Part 2 appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Best Practices for Running Apache Cassandra on Amazon EC2

Post Syndicated from Prasad Alle original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/big-data/best-practices-for-running-apache-cassandra-on-amazon-ec2/

Apache Cassandra is a commonly used, high performance NoSQL database. AWS customers that currently maintain Cassandra on-premises may want to take advantage of the scalability, reliability, security, and economic benefits of running Cassandra on Amazon EC2.

Amazon EC2 and Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS) provide secure, resizable compute capacity and storage in the AWS Cloud. When combined, you can deploy Cassandra, allowing you to scale capacity according to your requirements. Given the number of possible deployment topologies, it’s not always trivial to select the most appropriate strategy suitable for your use case.

In this post, we outline three Cassandra deployment options, as well as provide guidance about determining the best practices for your use case in the following areas:

  • Cassandra resource overview
  • Deployment considerations
  • Storage options
  • Networking
  • High availability and resiliency
  • Maintenance
  • Security

Before we jump into best practices for running Cassandra on AWS, we should mention that we have many customers who decided to use DynamoDB instead of managing their own Cassandra cluster. DynamoDB is fully managed, serverless, and provides multi-master cross-region replication, encryption at rest, and managed backup and restore. Integration with AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) enables DynamoDB customers to implement fine-grained access control for their data security needs.

Several customers who have been using large Cassandra clusters for many years have moved to DynamoDB to eliminate the complications of administering Cassandra clusters and maintaining high availability and durability themselves. Gumgum.com is one customer who migrated to DynamoDB and observed significant savings. For more information, see Moving to Amazon DynamoDB from Hosted Cassandra: A Leap Towards 60% Cost Saving per Year.

AWS provides options, so you’re covered whether you want to run your own NoSQL Cassandra database, or move to a fully managed, serverless DynamoDB database.

Cassandra resource overview

Here’s a short introduction to standard Cassandra resources and how they are implemented with AWS infrastructure. If you’re already familiar with Cassandra or AWS deployments, this can serve as a refresher.

ResourceCassandraAWS
Cluster

A single Cassandra deployment.

 

This typically consists of multiple physical locations, keyspaces, and physical servers.

A logical deployment construct in AWS that maps to an AWS CloudFormation StackSet, which consists of one or many CloudFormation stacks to deploy Cassandra.
DatacenterA group of nodes configured as a single replication group.

A logical deployment construct in AWS.

 

A datacenter is deployed with a single CloudFormation stack consisting of Amazon EC2 instances, networking, storage, and security resources.

Rack

A collection of servers.

 

A datacenter consists of at least one rack. Cassandra tries to place the replicas on different racks.

A single Availability Zone.
Server/nodeA physical virtual machine running Cassandra software.An EC2 instance.
TokenConceptually, the data managed by a cluster is represented as a ring. The ring is then divided into ranges equal to the number of nodes. Each node being responsible for one or more ranges of the data. Each node gets assigned with a token, which is essentially a random number from the range. The token value determines the node’s position in the ring and its range of data.Managed within Cassandra.
Virtual node (vnode)Responsible for storing a range of data. Each vnode receives one token in the ring. A cluster (by default) consists of 256 tokens, which are uniformly distributed across all servers in the Cassandra datacenter.Managed within Cassandra.
Replication factorThe total number of replicas across the cluster.Managed within Cassandra.

Deployment considerations

One of the many benefits of deploying Cassandra on Amazon EC2 is that you can automate many deployment tasks. In addition, AWS includes services, such as CloudFormation, that allow you to describe and provision all your infrastructure resources in your cloud environment.

We recommend orchestrating each Cassandra ring with one CloudFormation template. If you are deploying in multiple AWS Regions, you can use a CloudFormation StackSet to manage those stacks. All the maintenance actions (scaling, upgrading, and backing up) should be scripted with an AWS SDK. These may live as standalone AWS Lambda functions that can be invoked on demand during maintenance.

You can get started by following the Cassandra Quick Start deployment guide. Keep in mind that this guide does not address the requirements to operate a production deployment and should be used only for learning more about Cassandra.

Deployment patterns

In this section, we discuss various deployment options available for Cassandra in Amazon EC2. A successful deployment starts with thoughtful consideration of these options. Consider the amount of data, network environment, throughput, and availability.

  • Single AWS Region, 3 Availability Zones
  • Active-active, multi-Region
  • Active-standby, multi-Region

Single region, 3 Availability Zones

In this pattern, you deploy the Cassandra cluster in one AWS Region and three Availability Zones. There is only one ring in the cluster. By using EC2 instances in three zones, you ensure that the replicas are distributed uniformly in all zones.

To ensure the even distribution of data across all Availability Zones, we recommend that you distribute the EC2 instances evenly in all three Availability Zones. The number of EC2 instances in the cluster is a multiple of three (the replication factor).

This pattern is suitable in situations where the application is deployed in one Region or where deployments in different Regions should be constrained to the same Region because of data privacy or other legal requirements.

ProsCons

●     Highly available, can sustain failure of one Availability Zone.

●     Simple deployment

●     Does not protect in a situation when many of the resources in a Region are experiencing intermittent failure.

 

Active-active, multi-Region

In this pattern, you deploy two rings in two different Regions and link them. The VPCs in the two Regions are peered so that data can be replicated between two rings.

We recommend that the two rings in the two Regions be identical in nature, having the same number of nodes, instance types, and storage configuration.

This pattern is most suitable when the applications using the Cassandra cluster are deployed in more than one Region.

ProsCons

●     No data loss during failover.

●     Highly available, can sustain when many of the resources in a Region are experiencing intermittent failures.

●     Read/write traffic can be localized to the closest Region for the user for lower latency and higher performance.

●     High operational overhead

●     The second Region effectively doubles the cost

 

Active-standby, multi-region

In this pattern, you deploy two rings in two different Regions and link them. The VPCs in the two Regions are peered so that data can be replicated between two rings.

However, the second Region does not receive traffic from the applications. It only functions as a secondary location for disaster recovery reasons. If the primary Region is not available, the second Region receives traffic.

We recommend that the two rings in the two Regions be identical in nature, having the same number of nodes, instance types, and storage configuration.

This pattern is most suitable when the applications using the Cassandra cluster require low recovery point objective (RPO) and recovery time objective (RTO).

ProsCons

●     No data loss during failover.

●     Highly available, can sustain failure or partitioning of one whole Region.

●     High operational overhead.

●     High latency for writes for eventual consistency.

●     The second Region effectively doubles the cost.

Storage options

In on-premises deployments, Cassandra deployments use local disks to store data. There are two storage options for EC2 instances:

Your choice of storage is closely related to the type of workload supported by the Cassandra cluster. Instance store works best for most general purpose Cassandra deployments. However, in certain read-heavy clusters, Amazon EBS is a better choice.

The choice of instance type is generally driven by the type of storage:

  • If ephemeral storage is required for your application, a storage-optimized (I3) instance is the best option.
  • If your workload requires Amazon EBS, it is best to go with compute-optimized (C5) instances.
  • Burstable instance types (T2) don’t offer good performance for Cassandra deployments.

Instance store

Ephemeral storage is local to the EC2 instance. It may provide high input/output operations per second (IOPs) based on the instance type. An SSD-based instance store can support up to 3.3M IOPS in I3 instances. This high performance makes it an ideal choice for transactional or write-intensive applications such as Cassandra.

In general, instance storage is recommended for transactional, large, and medium-size Cassandra clusters. For a large cluster, read/write traffic is distributed across a higher number of nodes, so the loss of one node has less of an impact. However, for smaller clusters, a quick recovery for the failed node is important.

As an example, for a cluster with 100 nodes, the loss of 1 node is 3.33% loss (with a replication factor of 3). Similarly, for a cluster with 10 nodes, the loss of 1 node is 33% less capacity (with a replication factor of 3).

 Ephemeral storageAmazon EBSComments

IOPS

(translates to higher query performance)

Up to 3.3M on I3

80K/instance

10K/gp2/volume

32K/io1/volume

This results in a higher query performance on each host. However, Cassandra implicitly scales well in terms of horizontal scale. In general, we recommend scaling horizontally first. Then, scale vertically to mitigate specific issues.

 

Note: 3.3M IOPS is observed with 100% random read with a 4-KB block size on Amazon Linux.

AWS instance typesI3Compute optimized, C5Being able to choose between different instance types is an advantage in terms of CPU, memory, etc., for horizontal and vertical scaling.
Backup/ recoveryCustomBasic building blocks are available from AWS.

Amazon EBS offers distinct advantage here. It is small engineering effort to establish a backup/restore strategy.

a) In case of an instance failure, the EBS volumes from the failing instance are attached to a new instance.

b) In case of an EBS volume failure, the data is restored by creating a new EBS volume from last snapshot.

Amazon EBS

EBS volumes offer higher resiliency, and IOPs can be configured based on your storage needs. EBS volumes also offer some distinct advantages in terms of recovery time. EBS volumes can support up to 32K IOPS per volume and up to 80K IOPS per instance in RAID configuration. They have an annualized failure rate (AFR) of 0.1–0.2%, which makes EBS volumes 20 times more reliable than typical commodity disk drives.

The primary advantage of using Amazon EBS in a Cassandra deployment is that it reduces data-transfer traffic significantly when a node fails or must be replaced. The replacement node joins the cluster much faster. However, Amazon EBS could be more expensive, depending on your data storage needs.

Cassandra has built-in fault tolerance by replicating data to partitions across a configurable number of nodes. It can not only withstand node failures but if a node fails, it can also recover by copying data from other replicas into a new node. Depending on your application, this could mean copying tens of gigabytes of data. This adds additional delay to the recovery process, increases network traffic, and could possibly impact the performance of the Cassandra cluster during recovery.

Data stored on Amazon EBS is persisted in case of an instance failure or termination. The node’s data stored on an EBS volume remains intact and the EBS volume can be mounted to a new EC2 instance. Most of the replicated data for the replacement node is already available in the EBS volume and won’t need to be copied over the network from another node. Only the changes made after the original node failed need to be transferred across the network. That makes this process much faster.

EBS volumes are snapshotted periodically. So, if a volume fails, a new volume can be created from the last known good snapshot and be attached to a new instance. This is faster than creating a new volume and coping all the data to it.

Most Cassandra deployments use a replication factor of three. However, Amazon EBS does its own replication under the covers for fault tolerance. In practice, EBS volumes are about 20 times more reliable than typical disk drives. So, it is possible to go with a replication factor of two. This not only saves cost, but also enables deployments in a region that has two Availability Zones.

EBS volumes are recommended in case of read-heavy, small clusters (fewer nodes) that require storage of a large amount of data. Keep in mind that the Amazon EBS provisioned IOPS could get expensive. General purpose EBS volumes work best when sized for required performance.

Networking

If your cluster is expected to receive high read/write traffic, select an instance type that offers 10–Gb/s performance. As an example, i3.8xlarge and c5.9xlarge both offer 10–Gb/s networking performance. A smaller instance type in the same family leads to a relatively lower networking throughput.

Cassandra generates a universal unique identifier (UUID) for each node based on IP address for the instance. This UUID is used for distributing vnodes on the ring.

In the case of an AWS deployment, IP addresses are assigned automatically to the instance when an EC2 instance is created. With the new IP address, the data distribution changes and the whole ring has to be rebalanced. This is not desirable.

To preserve the assigned IP address, use a secondary elastic network interface with a fixed IP address. Before swapping an EC2 instance with a new one, detach the secondary network interface from the old instance and attach it to the new one. This way, the UUID remains same and there is no change in the way that data is distributed in the cluster.

If you are deploying in more than one region, you can connect the two VPCs in two regions using cross-region VPC peering.

High availability and resiliency

Cassandra is designed to be fault-tolerant and highly available during multiple node failures. In the patterns described earlier in this post, you deploy Cassandra to three Availability Zones with a replication factor of three. Even though it limits the AWS Region choices to the Regions with three or more Availability Zones, it offers protection for the cases of one-zone failure and network partitioning within a single Region. The multi-Region deployments described earlier in this post protect when many of the resources in a Region are experiencing intermittent failure.

Resiliency is ensured through infrastructure automation. The deployment patterns all require a quick replacement of the failing nodes. In the case of a regionwide failure, when you deploy with the multi-Region option, traffic can be directed to the other active Region while the infrastructure is recovering in the failing Region. In the case of unforeseen data corruption, the standby cluster can be restored with point-in-time backups stored in Amazon S3.

Maintenance

In this section, we look at ways to ensure that your Cassandra cluster is healthy:

  • Scaling
  • Upgrades
  • Backup and restore

Scaling

Cassandra is horizontally scaled by adding more instances to the ring. We recommend doubling the number of nodes in a cluster to scale up in one scale operation. This leaves the data homogeneously distributed across Availability Zones. Similarly, when scaling down, it’s best to halve the number of instances to keep the data homogeneously distributed.

Cassandra is vertically scaled by increasing the compute power of each node. Larger instance types have proportionally bigger memory. Use deployment automation to swap instances for bigger instances without downtime or data loss.

Upgrades

All three types of upgrades (Cassandra, operating system patching, and instance type changes) follow the same rolling upgrade pattern.

In this process, you start with a new EC2 instance and install software and patches on it. Thereafter, remove one node from the ring. For more information, see Cassandra cluster Rolling upgrade. Then, you detach the secondary network interface from one of the EC2 instances in the ring and attach it to the new EC2 instance. Restart the Cassandra service and wait for it to sync. Repeat this process for all nodes in the cluster.

Backup and restore

Your backup and restore strategy is dependent on the type of storage used in the deployment. Cassandra supports snapshots and incremental backups. When using instance store, a file-based backup tool works best. Customers use rsync or other third-party products to copy data backups from the instance to long-term storage. For more information, see Backing up and restoring data in the DataStax documentation. This process has to be repeated for all instances in the cluster for a complete backup. These backup files are copied back to new instances to restore. We recommend using S3 to durably store backup files for long-term storage.

For Amazon EBS based deployments, you can enable automated snapshots of EBS volumes to back up volumes. New EBS volumes can be easily created from these snapshots for restoration.

Security

We recommend that you think about security in all aspects of deployment. The first step is to ensure that the data is encrypted at rest and in transit. The second step is to restrict access to unauthorized users. For more information about security, see the Cassandra documentation.

Encryption at rest

Encryption at rest can be achieved by using EBS volumes with encryption enabled. Amazon EBS uses AWS KMS for encryption. For more information, see Amazon EBS Encryption.

Instance store–based deployments require using an encrypted file system or an AWS partner solution. If you are using DataStax Enterprise, it supports transparent data encryption.

Encryption in transit

Cassandra uses Transport Layer Security (TLS) for client and internode communications.

Authentication

The security mechanism is pluggable, which means that you can easily swap out one authentication method for another. You can also provide your own method of authenticating to Cassandra, such as a Kerberos ticket, or if you want to store passwords in a different location, such as an LDAP directory.

Authorization

The authorizer that’s plugged in by default is org.apache.cassandra.auth.Allow AllAuthorizer. Cassandra also provides a role-based access control (RBAC) capability, which allows you to create roles and assign permissions to these roles.

Conclusion

In this post, we discussed several patterns for running Cassandra in the AWS Cloud. This post describes how you can manage Cassandra databases running on Amazon EC2. AWS also provides managed offerings for a number of databases. To learn more, see Purpose-built databases for all your application needs.

If you have questions or suggestions, please comment below.


Additional Reading

If you found this post useful, be sure to check out Analyze Your Data on Amazon DynamoDB with Apache Spark and Analysis of Top-N DynamoDB Objects using Amazon Athena and Amazon QuickSight.


About the Authors

Prasad Alle is a Senior Big Data Consultant with AWS Professional Services. He spends his time leading and building scalable, reliable Big data, Machine learning, Artificial Intelligence and IoT solutions for AWS Enterprise and Strategic customers. His interests extend to various technologies such as Advanced Edge Computing, Machine learning at Edge. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his family.

 

 

 

Provanshu Dey is a Senior IoT Consultant with AWS Professional Services. He works on highly scalable and reliable IoT, data and machine learning solutions with our customers. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his family and tinkering with electronics & gadgets.

 

 

 

The Challenges of Opening a Data Center — Part 1

Post Syndicated from Roderick Bauer original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/choosing-data-center/

Backblaze storage pod in new data center

This is part one of a series. The second part will be posted later this week. Use the Join button above to receive notification of future posts in this series.

Though most of us have never set foot inside of a data center, as citizens of a data-driven world we nonetheless depend on the services that data centers provide almost as much as we depend on a reliable water supply, the electrical grid, and the highway system. Every time we send a tweet, post to Facebook, check our bank balance or credit score, watch a YouTube video, or back up a computer to the cloud we are interacting with a data center.

In this series, The Challenges of Opening a Data Center, we’ll talk in general terms about the factors that an organization needs to consider when opening a data center and the challenges that must be met in the process. Many of the factors to consider will be similar for opening a private data center or seeking space in a public data center, but we’ll assume for the sake of this discussion that our needs are more modest than requiring a data center dedicated solely to our own use (i.e. we’re not Google, Facebook, or China Telecom).

Data center technology and management are changing rapidly, with new approaches to design and operation appearing every year. This means we won’t be able to cover everything happening in the world of data centers in our series, however, we hope our brief overview proves useful.

What is a Data Center?

A data center is the structure that houses a large group of networked computer servers typically used by businesses, governments, and organizations for the remote storage, processing, or distribution of large amounts of data.

While many organizations will have computing services in the same location as their offices that support their day-to-day operations, a data center is a structure dedicated to 24/7 large-scale data processing and handling.

Depending on how you define the term, there are anywhere from a half million data centers in the world to many millions. While it’s possible to say that an organization’s on-site servers and data storage can be called a data center, in this discussion we are using the term data center to refer to facilities that are expressly dedicated to housing computer systems and associated components, such as telecommunications and storage systems. The facility might be a private center, which is owned or leased by one tenant only, or a shared data center that offers what are called “colocation services,” and rents space, services, and equipment to multiple tenants in the center.

A large, modern data center operates around the clock, placing a priority on providing secure and uninterrrupted service, and generally includes redundant or backup power systems or supplies, redundant data communication connections, environmental controls, fire suppression systems, and numerous security devices. Such a center is an industrial-scale operation often using as much electricity as a small town.

Types of Data Centers

There are a number of ways to classify data centers according to how they will be used, whether they are owned or used by one or multiple organizations, whether and how they fit into a topology of other data centers; which technologies and management approaches they use for computing, storage, cooling, power, and operations; and increasingly visible these days: how green they are.

Data centers can be loosely classified into three types according to who owns them and who uses them.

Exclusive Data Centers are facilities wholly built, maintained, operated and managed by the business for the optimal operation of its IT equipment. Some of these centers are well-known companies such as Facebook, Google, or Microsoft, while others are less public-facing big telecoms, insurance companies, or other service providers.

Managed Hosting Providers are data centers managed by a third party on behalf of a business. The business does not own data center or space within it. Rather, the business rents IT equipment and infrastructure it needs instead of investing in the outright purchase of what it needs.

Colocation Data Centers are usually large facilities built to accommodate multiple businesses within the center. The business rents its own space within the data center and subsequently fills the space with its IT equipment, or possibly uses equipment provided by the data center operator.

Backblaze, for example, doesn’t own its own data centers but colocates in data centers owned by others. As Backblaze’s storage needs grow, Backblaze increases the space it uses within a given data center and/or expands to other data centers in the same or different geographic areas.

Availability is Key

When designing or selecting a data center, an organization needs to decide what level of availability is required for its services. The type of business or service it provides likely will dictate this. Any organization that provides real-time and/or critical data services will need the highest level of availability and redundancy, as well as the ability to rapidly failover (transfer operation to another center) when and if required. Some organizations require multiple data centers not just to handle the computer or storage capacity they use, but to provide alternate locations for operation if something should happen temporarily or permanently to one or more of their centers.

Organizations operating data centers that can’t afford any downtime at all will typically operate data centers that have a mirrored site that can take over if something happens to the first site, or they operate a second site in parallel to the first one. These data center topologies are called Active/Passive, and Active/Active, respectively. Should disaster or an outage occur, disaster mode would dictate immediately moving all of the primary data center’s processing to the second data center.

While some data center topologies are spread throughout a single country or continent, others extend around the world. Practically, data transmission speeds put a cap on centers that can be operated in parallel with the appearance of simultaneous operation. Linking two data centers located apart from each other — say no more than 60 miles to limit data latency issues — together with dark fiber (leased fiber optic cable) could enable both data centers to be operated as if they were in the same location, reducing staffing requirements yet providing immediate failover to the secondary data center if needed.

This redundancy of facilities and ensured availability is of paramount importance to those needing uninterrupted data center services.

Active/Passive Data Centers

Active/Active Data Centers

LEED Certification

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a rating system devised by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) for the design, construction, and operation of green buildings. Facilities can achieve ratings of certified, silver, gold, or platinum based on criteria within six categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation and design.

Green certification has become increasingly important in data center design and operation as data centers require great amounts of electricity and often cooling water to operate. Green technologies can reduce costs for data center operation, as well as make the arrival of data centers more amenable to environmentally-conscious communities.

The ACT, Inc. data center in Iowa City, Iowa was the first data center in the U.S. to receive LEED-Platinum certification, the highest level available.

ACT Data Center exterior

ACT Data Center exterior

ACT Data Center interior

ACT Data Center interior

Factors to Consider When Selecting a Data Center

There are numerous factors to consider when deciding to build or to occupy space in a data center. Aspects such as proximity to available power grids, telecommunications infrastructure, networking services, transportation lines, and emergency services can affect costs, risk, security and other factors that need to be taken into consideration.

The size of the data center will be dictated by the business requirements of the owner or tenant. A data center can occupy one room of a building, one or more floors, or an entire building. Most of the equipment is often in the form of servers mounted in 19 inch rack cabinets, which are usually placed in single rows forming corridors (so-called aisles) between them. This allows staff access to the front and rear of each cabinet. Servers differ greatly in size from 1U servers (i.e. one “U” or “RU” rack unit measuring 44.50 millimeters or 1.75 inches), to Backblaze’s Storage Pod design that fits a 4U chassis, to large freestanding storage silos that occupy many square feet of floor space.

Location

Location will be one of the biggest factors to consider when selecting a data center and encompasses many other factors that should be taken into account, such as geological risks, neighboring uses, and even local flight paths. Access to suitable available power at a suitable price point is often the most critical factor and the longest lead time item, followed by broadband service availability.

With more and more data centers available providing varied levels of service and cost, the choices increase each year. Data center brokers can be employed to find a data center, just as one might use a broker for home or other commercial real estate.

Websites listing available colocation space, such as upstack.io, or entire data centers for sale or lease, are widely used. A common practice is for a customer to publish its data center requirements, and the vendors compete to provide the most attractive bid in a reverse auction.

Business and Customer Proximity

The center’s closeness to a business or organization may or may not be a factor in the site selection. The organization might wish to be close enough to manage the center or supervise the on-site staff from a nearby business location. The location of customers might be a factor, especially if data transmission speeds and latency are important, or the business or customers have regulatory, political, tax, or other considerations that dictate areas suitable or not suitable for the storage and processing of data.

Climate

Local climate is a major factor in data center design because the climatic conditions dictate what cooling technologies should be deployed. In turn this impacts uptime and the costs associated with cooling, which can total as much as 50% or more of a center’s power costs. The topology and the cost of managing a data center in a warm, humid climate will vary greatly from managing one in a cool, dry climate. Nevertheless, data centers are located in both extremely cold regions and extremely hot ones, with innovative approaches used in both extremes to maintain desired temperatures within the center.

Geographic Stability and Extreme Weather Events

A major obvious factor in locating a data center is the stability of the actual site as regards weather, seismic activity, and the likelihood of weather events such as hurricanes, as well as fire or flooding.

Backblaze’s Sacramento data center describes its location as one of the most stable geographic locations in California, outside fault zones and floodplains.

Sacramento Data Center

Sometimes the location of the center comes first and the facility is hardened to withstand anticipated threats, such as Equinix’s NAP of the Americas data center in Miami, one of the largest single-building data centers on the planet (six stories and 750,000 square feet), which is built 32 feet above sea level and designed to withstand category 5 hurricane winds.

Equinix Data Center in Miami

Equinix “NAP of the Americas” Data Center in Miami

Most data centers don’t have the extreme protection or history of the Bahnhof data center, which is located inside the ultra-secure former nuclear bunker Pionen, in Stockholm, Sweden. It is buried 100 feet below ground inside the White Mountains and secured behind 15.7 in. thick metal doors. It prides itself on its self-described “Bond villain” ambiance.

Bahnhof Data Center under White Mountain in Stockholm

Usually, the data center owner or tenant will want to take into account the balance between cost and risk in the selection of a location. The Ideal quadrant below is obviously favored when making this compromise.

Cost vs Risk in selecting a data center

Cost = Construction/lease, power, bandwidth, cooling, labor, taxes
Risk = Environmental (seismic, weather, water, fire), political, economic

Risk mitigation also plays a strong role in pricing. The extent to which providers must implement special building techniques and operating technologies to protect the facility will affect price. When selecting a data center, organizations must make note of the data center’s certification level on the basis of regulatory requirements in the industry. These certifications can ensure that an organization is meeting necessary compliance requirements.

Power

Electrical power usually represents the largest cost in a data center. The cost a service provider pays for power will be affected by the source of the power, the regulatory environment, the facility size and the rate concessions, if any, offered by the utility. At higher level tiers, battery, generator, and redundant power grids are a required part of the picture.

Fault tolerance and power redundancy are absolutely necessary to maintain uninterrupted data center operation. Parallel redundancy is a safeguard to ensure that an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system is in place to provide electrical power if necessary. The UPS system can be based on batteries, saved kinetic energy, or some type of generator using diesel or another fuel. The center will operate on the UPS system with another UPS system acting as a backup power generator. If a power outage occurs, the additional UPS system power generator is available.

Many data centers require the use of independent power grids, with service provided by different utility companies or services, to prevent against loss of electrical service no matter what the cause. Some data centers have intentionally located themselves near national borders so that they can obtain redundant power from not just separate grids, but from separate geopolitical sources.

Higher redundancy levels required by a company will of invariably lead to higher prices. If one requires high availability backed by a service-level agreement (SLA), one can expect to pay more than another company with less demanding redundancy requirements.

Stay Tuned for Part 2 of The Challenges of Opening a Data Center

That’s it for part 1 of this post. In subsequent posts, we’ll take a look at some other factors to consider when moving into a data center such as network bandwidth, cooling, and security. We’ll take a look at what is involved in moving into a new data center (including stories from Backblaze’s experiences). We’ll also investigate what it takes to keep a data center running, and some of the new technologies and trends affecting data center design and use. You can discover all posts on our blog tagged with “Data Center” by following the link https://www.backblaze.com/blog/tag/data-center/.

The second part of this series on The Challenges of Opening a Data Center will be posted later this week. Use the Join button above to receive notification of future posts in this series.

The post The Challenges of Opening a Data Center — Part 1 appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Signed Malware

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/02/signed_malware.html

Stuxnet famously used legitimate digital certificates to sign its malware. A research paper from last year found that the practice is much more common than previously thought.

Now, researchers have presented proof that digitally signed malware is much more common than previously believed. What’s more, it predated Stuxnet, with the first known instance occurring in 2003. The researchers said they found 189 malware samples bearing valid digital signatures that were created using compromised certificates issued by recognized certificate authorities and used to sign legitimate software. In total, 109 of those abused certificates remain valid. The researchers, who presented their findings Wednesday at the ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security, found another 136 malware samples signed by legitimate CA-issued certificates, although the signatures were malformed.

The results are significant because digitally signed software is often able to bypass User Account Control and other Windows measures designed to prevent malicious code from being installed. Forged signatures also represent a significant breach of trust because certificates provide what’s supposed to be an unassailable assurance to end users that the software was developed by the company named in the certificate and hasn’t been modified by anyone else. The forgeries also allow malware to evade antivirus protections. Surprisingly, weaknesses in the majority of available AV programs prevented them from detecting known malware that was digitally signed even though the signatures weren’t valid.

After Section 702 Reauthorization

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/01/after_section_7.html

For over a decade, civil libertarians have been fighting government mass surveillance of innocent Americans over the Internet. We’ve just lost an important battle. On January 18, President Trump signed the renewal of Section 702, domestic mass surveillance became effectively a permanent part of US law.

Section 702 was initially passed in 2008, as an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. As the title of that law says, it was billed as a way for the NSA to spy on non-Americans located outside the United States. It was supposed to be an efficiency and cost-saving measure: the NSA was already permitted to tap communications cables located outside the country, and it was already permitted to tap communications cables from one foreign country to another that passed through the United States. Section 702 allowed it to tap those cables from inside the United States, where it was easier. It also allowed the NSA to request surveillance data directly from Internet companies under a program called PRISM.

The problem is that this authority also gave the NSA the ability to collect foreign communications and data in a way that inherently and intentionally also swept up Americans’ communications as well, without a warrant. Other law enforcement agencies are allowed to ask the NSA to search those communications, give their contents to the FBI and other agencies and then lie about their origins in court.

In 1978, after Watergate had revealed the Nixon administration’s abuses of power, we erected a wall between intelligence and law enforcement that prevented precisely this kind of sharing of surveillance data under any authority less restrictive than the Fourth Amendment. Weakening that wall is incredibly dangerous, and the NSA should never have been given this authority in the first place.

Arguably, it never was. The NSA had been doing this type of surveillance illegally for years, something that was first made public in 2006. Section 702 was secretly used as a way to paper over that illegal collection, but nothing in the text of the later amendment gives the NSA this authority. We didn’t know that the NSA was using this law as the statutory basis for this surveillance until Edward Snowden showed us in 2013.

Civil libertarians have been battling this law in both Congress and the courts ever since it was proposed, and the NSA’s domestic surveillance activities even longer. What this most recent vote tells me is that we’ve lost that fight.

Section 702 was passed under George W. Bush in 2008, reauthorized under Barack Obama in 2012, and now reauthorized again under Trump. In all three cases, congressional support was bipartisan. It has survived multiple lawsuits by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the ACLU, and others. It has survived the revelations by Snowden that it was being used far more extensively than Congress or the public believed, and numerous public reports of violations of the law. It has even survived Trump’s belief that he was being personally spied on by the intelligence community, as well as any congressional fears that Trump could abuse the authority in the coming years. And though this extension lasts only six years, it’s inconceivable to me that it will ever be repealed at this point.

So what do we do? If we can’t fight this particular statutory authority, where’s the new front on surveillance? There are, it turns out, reasonable modifications that target surveillance more generally, and not in terms of any particular statutory authority. We need to look at US surveillance law more generally.

First, we need to strengthen the minimization procedures to limit incidental collection. Since the Internet was developed, all the world’s communications travel around in a single global network. It’s impossible to collect only foreign communications, because they’re invariably mixed in with domestic communications. This is called “incidental” collection, but that’s a misleading name. It’s collected knowingly, and searched regularly. The intelligence community needs much stronger restrictions on which American communications channels it can access without a court order, and rules that require they delete the data if they inadvertently collect it. More importantly, “collection” is defined as the point the NSA takes a copy of the communications, and not later when they search their databases.

Second, we need to limit how other law enforcement agencies can use incidentally collected information. Today, those agencies can query a database of incidental collection on Americans. The NSA can legally pass information to those other agencies. This has to stop. Data collected by the NSA under its foreign surveillance authority should not be used as a vehicle for domestic surveillance.

The most recent reauthorization modified this lightly, forcing the FBI to obtain a court order when querying the 702 data for a criminal investigation. There are still exceptions and loopholes, though.

Third, we need to end what’s called “parallel construction.” Today, when a law enforcement agency uses evidence found in this NSA database to arrest someone, it doesn’t have to disclose that fact in court. It can reconstruct the evidence in some other manner once it knows about it, and then pretend it learned of it that way. This right to lie to the judge and the defense is corrosive to liberty, and it must end.

Pressure to reform the NSA will probably first come from Europe. Already, European Union courts have pointed to warrantless NSA surveillance as a reason to keep Europeans’ data out of US hands. Right now, there is a fragile agreement between the EU and the United States ­– called “Privacy Shield” — ­that requires Americans to maintain certain safeguards for international data flows. NSA surveillance goes against that, and it’s only a matter of time before EU courts start ruling this way. That’ll have significant effects on both government and corporate surveillance of Europeans and, by extension, the entire world.

Further pressure will come from the increased surveillance coming from the Internet of Things. When your home, car, and body are awash in sensors, privacy from both governments and corporations will become increasingly important. Sooner or later, society will reach a tipping point where it’s all too much. When that happens, we’re going to see significant pushback against surveillance of all kinds. That’s when we’ll get new laws that revise all government authorities in this area: a clean sweep for a new world, one with new norms and new fears.

It’s possible that a federal court will rule on Section 702. Although there have been many lawsuits challenging the legality of what the NSA is doing and the constitutionality of the 702 program, no court has ever ruled on those questions. The Bush and Obama administrations successfully argued that defendants don’t have legal standing to sue. That is, they have no right to sue because they don’t know they’re being targeted. If any of the lawsuits can get past that, things might change dramatically.

Meanwhile, much of this is the responsibility of the tech sector. This problem exists primarily because Internet companies collect and retain so much personal data and allow it to be sent across the network with minimal security. Since the government has abdicated its responsibility to protect our privacy and security, these companies need to step up: Minimize data collection. Don’t save data longer than absolutely necessary. Encrypt what has to be saved. Well-designed Internet services will safeguard users, regardless of government surveillance authority.

For the rest of us concerned about this, it’s important not to give up hope. Everything we do to keep the issue in the public eye ­– and not just when the authority comes up for reauthorization again in 2024 — hastens the day when we will reaffirm our rights to privacy in the digital age.

This essay previously appeared in the Washington Post.

Task Networking in AWS Fargate

Post Syndicated from Nathan Peck original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/compute/task-networking-in-aws-fargate/

AWS Fargate is a technology that allows you to focus on running your application without needing to provision, monitor, or manage the underlying compute infrastructure. You package your application into a Docker container that you can then launch using your container orchestration tool of choice.

Fargate allows you to use containers without being responsible for Amazon EC2 instances, similar to how EC2 allows you to run VMs without managing physical infrastructure. Currently, Fargate provides support for Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS). Support for Amazon Elastic Container Service for Kubernetes (Amazon EKS) will be made available in the near future.

Despite offloading the responsibility for the underlying instances, Fargate still gives you deep control over configuration of network placement and policies. This includes the ability to use many networking fundamentals such as Amazon VPC and security groups.

This post covers how to take advantage of the different ways of networking your containers in Fargate when using ECS as your orchestration platform, with a focus on how to do networking securely.

The first step to running any application in Fargate is defining an ECS task for Fargate to launch. A task is a logical group of one or more Docker containers that are deployed with specified settings. When running a task in Fargate, there are two different forms of networking to consider:

  • Container (local) networking
  • External networking

Container Networking

Container networking is often used for tightly coupled application components. Perhaps your application has a web tier that is responsible for serving static content as well as generating some dynamic HTML pages. To generate these dynamic pages, it has to fetch information from another application component that has an HTTP API.

One potential architecture for such an application is to deploy the web tier and the API tier together as a pair and use local networking so the web tier can fetch information from the API tier.

If you are running these two components as two processes on a single EC2 instance, the web tier application process could communicate with the API process on the same machine by using the local loopback interface. The local loopback interface has a special IP address of 127.0.0.1 and hostname of localhost.

By making a networking request to this local interface, it bypasses the network interface hardware and instead the operating system just routes network calls from one process to the other directly. This gives the web tier a fast and efficient way to fetch information from the API tier with almost no networking latency.

In Fargate, when you launch multiple containers as part of a single task, they can also communicate with each other over the local loopback interface. Fargate uses a special container networking mode called awsvpc, which gives all the containers in a task a shared elastic network interface to use for communication.

If you specify a port mapping for each container in the task, then the containers can communicate with each other on that port. For example the following task definition could be used to deploy the web tier and the API tier:

{
  "family": "myapp"
  "containerDefinitions": [
    {
      "name": "web",
      "image": "my web image url",
      "portMappings": [
        {
          "containerPort": 80
        }
      ],
      "memory": 500,
      "cpu": 10,
      "esssential": true
    },
    {
      "name": "api",
      "image": "my api image url",
      "portMappings": [
        {
          "containerPort": 8080
        }
      ],
      "cpu": 10,
      "memory": 500,
      "essential": true
    }
  ]
}

ECS, with Fargate, is able to take this definition and launch two containers, each of which is bound to a specific static port on the elastic network interface for the task.

Because each Fargate task has its own isolated networking stack, there is no need for dynamic ports to avoid port conflicts between different tasks as in other networking modes. The static ports make it easy for containers to communicate with each other. For example, the web container makes a request to the API container using its well-known static port:

curl 127.0.0.1:8080/my-endpoint

This sends a local network request, which goes directly from one container to the other over the local loopback interface without traversing the network. This deployment strategy allows for fast and efficient communication between two tightly coupled containers. But most application architectures require more than just internal local networking.

External Networking

External networking is used for network communications that go outside the task to other servers that are not part of the task, or network communications that originate from other hosts on the internet and are directed to the task.

Configuring external networking for a task is done by modifying the settings of the VPC in which you launch your tasks. A VPC is a fundamental tool in AWS for controlling the networking capabilities of resources that you launch on your account.

When setting up a VPC, you create one or more subnets, which are logical groups that your resources can be placed into. Each subnet has an Availability Zone and its own route table, which defines rules about how network traffic operates for that subnet. There are two main types of subnets: public and private.

Public subnets

A public subnet is a subnet that has an associated internet gateway. Fargate tasks in that subnet are assigned both private and public IP addresses:


A browser or other client on the internet can send network traffic to the task via the internet gateway using its public IP address. The tasks can also send network traffic to other servers on the internet because the route table can route traffic out via the internet gateway.

If tasks want to communicate directly with each other, they can use each other’s private IP address to send traffic directly from one to the other so that it stays inside the subnet without going out to the internet gateway and back in.

Private subnets

A private subnet does not have direct internet access. The Fargate tasks inside the subnet don’t have public IP addresses, only private IP addresses. Instead of an internet gateway, a network address translation (NAT) gateway is attached to the subnet:

 

There is no way for another server or client on the internet to reach your tasks directly, because they don’t even have an address or a direct route to reach them. This is a great way to add another layer of protection for internal tasks that handle sensitive data. Those tasks are protected and can’t receive any inbound traffic at all.

In this configuration, the tasks can still communicate to other servers on the internet via the NAT gateway. They would appear to have the IP address of the NAT gateway to the recipient of the communication. If you run a Fargate task in a private subnet, you must add this NAT gateway. Otherwise, Fargate can’t make a network request to Amazon ECR to download the container image, or communicate with Amazon CloudWatch to store container metrics.

Load balancers

If you are running a container that is hosting internet content in a private subnet, you need a way for traffic from the public to reach the container. This is generally accomplished by using a load balancer such as an Application Load Balancer or a Network Load Balancer.

ECS integrates tightly with AWS load balancers by automatically configuring a service-linked load balancer to send network traffic to containers that are part of the service. When each task starts, the IP address of its elastic network interface is added to the load balancer’s configuration. When the task is being shut down, network traffic is safely drained from the task before removal from the load balancer.

To get internet traffic to containers using a load balancer, the load balancer is placed into a public subnet. ECS configures the load balancer to forward traffic to the container tasks in the private subnet:

This configuration allows your tasks in Fargate to be safely isolated from the rest of the internet. They can still initiate network communication with external resources via the NAT gateway, and still receive traffic from the public via the Application Load Balancer that is in the public subnet.

Another potential use case for a load balancer is for internal communication from one service to another service within the private subnet. This is typically used for a microservice deployment, in which one service such as an internet user account service needs to communicate with an internal service such as a password service. Obviously, it is undesirable for the password service to be directly accessible on the internet, so using an internet load balancer would be a major security vulnerability. Instead, this can be accomplished by hosting an internal load balancer within the private subnet:

With this approach, one container can distribute requests across an Auto Scaling group of other private containers via the internal load balancer, ensuring that the network traffic stays safely protected within the private subnet.

Best Practices for Fargate Networking

Determine whether you should use local task networking

Local task networking is ideal for communicating between containers that are tightly coupled and require maximum networking performance between them. However, when you deploy one or more containers as part of the same task they are always deployed together so it removes the ability to independently scale different types of workload up and down.

In the example of the application with a web tier and an API tier, it may be the case that powering the application requires only two web tier containers but 10 API tier containers. If local container networking is used between these two container types, then an extra eight unnecessary web tier containers would end up being run instead of allowing the two different services to scale independently.

A better approach would be to deploy the two containers as two different services, each with its own load balancer. This allows clients to communicate with the two web containers via the web service’s load balancer. The web service could distribute requests across the eight backend API containers via the API service’s load balancer.

Run internet tasks that require internet access in a public subnet

If you have tasks that require internet access and a lot of bandwidth for communication with other services, it is best to run them in a public subnet. Give them public IP addresses so that each task can communicate with other services directly.

If you run these tasks in a private subnet, then all their outbound traffic has to go through an NAT gateway. AWS NAT gateways support up to 10 Gbps of burst bandwidth. If your bandwidth requirements go over this, then all task networking starts to get throttled. To avoid this, you could distribute the tasks across multiple private subnets, each with their own NAT gateway. It can be easier to just place the tasks into a public subnet, if possible.

Avoid using a public subnet or public IP addresses for private, internal tasks

If you are running a service that handles private, internal information, you should not put it into a public subnet or use a public IP address. For example, imagine that you have one task, which is an API gateway for authentication and access control. You have another background worker task that handles sensitive information.

The intended access pattern is that requests from the public go to the API gateway, which then proxies request to the background task only if the request is from an authenticated user. If the background task is in a public subnet and has a public IP address, then it could be possible for an attacker to bypass the API gateway entirely. They could communicate directly to the background task using its public IP address, without being authenticated.

Conclusion

Fargate gives you a way to run containerized tasks directly without managing any EC2 instances, but you still have full control over how you want networking to work. You can set up containers to talk to each other over the local network interface for maximum speed and efficiency. For running workloads that require privacy and security, use a private subnet with public internet access locked down. Or, for simplicity with an internet workload, you can just use a public subnet and give your containers a public IP address.

To deploy one of these Fargate task networking approaches, check out some sample CloudFormation templates showing how to configure the VPC, subnets, and load balancers.

If you have questions or suggestions, please comment below.