Security Manager's Journal: Our network infrastructure has fallen far out of date

I've stumbled upon just how badly outdated my company's network infrastructure is. Our routers and switches are running old versions of firmware, along with some insecure services.

I've been sniffing around our environment in search of things like built-in administrator passwords and network vulnerabilities, and that search led me to the network devices themselves. I found that our routers and switches not only have built-in passwords that give full access to whoever knows them, but they also have default SNMP community strings, which are essentially passwords that can be used to change settings and security controls on those devices.

And that's not all. The SNMP service running on the network equipment is version 1, which is full of security flaws. Version 2 introduced some basic security capabilities, but it's not good enough by today's standards; our service needs to be upgraded to version 3. SSH, which is also used for remote management, is also version 1, again full of flaws. That service needs to be upgraded to SSH version 2 (which fixes the security issues in the first version). But wait, there's more -- the devices also run Web servers that provide a configuration GUI to the network administrators, and they are using the outdated SSL version 1 protocol. They need to be upgraded to SSL version 3 in order to fix various security flaws (version 2 was an improvement, but is now outdated and flawed as well).

On top of all that, our network devices are running various flavors of version 12 firmware, which is outdated. Version 15 is the latest. It seems that nobody has been updating our network infrastructure, which is of course not surprising at all. Unfortunately, this means a lot of work. In order to get everything up to date, a big project will have to be initiated.

Fortunately, I'm getting good support from our network team. The network infrastructure is critical to our entire IT environment, and a compromise could bring down the entire data center. Updating services and firmware carries other benefits besides just improved security. Our network administrators will also get some additional management capabilities that will make their lives easier in the long run. So they are in favor of updating to current versions -- in principle. But we need to figure out who's going to do all that work, and when it's going to happen.

The changes will need to be made after hours, since they will cause interruptions in service. And with hundreds of switches and routers on our network, the whole thing will take a long time. It's possible that we'll need to spend the better part of a year getting everything updated. I've engaged an internal project manager to start estimating the work and putting together a rough timeline based on the availability of network staff. I'm even considering bringing in consultants or contractors to do some of the actual installation work, since it is repetitive and not particularly difficult. As long as we have a way to put the equipment back the way it was in case anything goes seriously wrong during the updates, we should be OK. And with spare network equipment on hand, we can always replace devices if they become completely wrecked during the upgrades.

So for now, we'll continue planning our network updates. And keeping things up to date after our big catch-up will be the next challenge. Allowing our infrastructure to fall so far behind again would leave us vulnerable again, and it's just not a good idea from a management perspective as well. Like washing dishes, the work is more manageable if you do it regularly, instead of waiting for everything to pile up.

This week's journal is written by a real security manager, "J.F. Rice," whose name and employer have been disguised for obvious reasons. Contact him at jf.rice@engineer.com.

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