Using Network Automation to Address Cybersecurity Threats

The widespread impact of the SolarWinds (Sunburst and Supernova) security hacks sent network teams scrambling to react, assess the impact and mitigate any potential damage. Organizations needed to conduct a forensic assessment phase to determine if they were affected then follow the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) emergency directive 21-01 to take steps to address a possible breach.

CISA has released an alert (CISA Alert AA20-352A) that recommends mitigation steps to take for SolarWinds Orion and to address potential vulnerabilities left in the network infrastructure by the threat actors. Organizations that have network automation in place are equipped to automate many of the CISA recommended mitigation actions for all network devices (router, switches, firewalls, etc.). An intent-based network automation software solution can aid an organization in quickly implementing these actions.

CISA Recommendation: Device configurations

  • Audit all network device configurations, stored or managed on the SolarWinds monitoring server, for signs of unauthorized or malicious configuration changes.
  • Audit the configurations found on network devices for signs of unauthorized or malicious configuration changes. Organizations should ensure they audit the current network device running configuration and any local configurations that could be loaded at boot time.

How Intent-based Network Automation Helps

  • Use configuration drift detection software to run a daily drift analysis and understand exactly what changes are being made on every network device configuration. We also recommend integrating Syslog to facilitate correlation with the user credentials that were used to make the change.
  • Use network audit software to run regular company policy audits to ensure the configurations remain compliant with an organization’s network configuration policies (on a per-feature basis). This is particularly important for network system security policies and firewall rules.
  • Use device management software to provide visibility on the operating system version running and the “up time” for an indicator if a device was potentially rebooted.

CISA Recommendation: Credential and security information reset

 Change all credentials being used to manage network devices, to include keys and strings used to secure network device functions (SNMP strings/user credentials, IPsec/IKE pre-shared keys, routing secrets, TACACS/RADIUS secrets, RSA keys/certificates, etc.).

How Intent-based Network Automation Helps

A configuration modeling application can be used to automate (at a minimum) configuration modeling policies for an intent-based, declarative method to intelligently implement any network configuration change, feature by feature. Identify your own policy (intended state) and the solution should be able to implement the changes to the network layer reliably and at scale. It should also be able to remove old/incorrect policies instead of just adding more and increasing the technical debt. In this example, network automation software is used to control and automate the maintenance of:

  • Authentication, including any TACACS/RADIUS/AAA configuration.
  • Automate your SNMP policies and use automation software to make any changes if removing access to the SolarWinds servers and changing SNMP servers.
  • Automate your Syslog policy and ensure every device is configured for the proper logging servers. CISA recommends storing logs for 180 days.
  • Automate and reset any static user credentials on each device.
  • Verify your routing policies (and any related ACLs) to ensure they have not been tampered with and remediate if necessary.
  • Use network automation to automate the deployment of new pre-shared keys and to update certificates

CISA Recommendation: Firmware and software validation

 Validate all network device firmware/software which was stored or managed on the SolarWinds monitoring server. Cryptographic hash verification should be performed on such firmware/software and matched against known good hash values from the network vendor. CISA recommends that, if possible, organizations download known good versions of firmware.

How Intent-based Network Automation Can Help: 

  • Use automation software to automate any upgrades/downgrades/patches which integrates a validation of the checksum (it should also be able to automate the check for Cisco device operating systems using API integration).
  • Use automation software to closely monitor the deployed versions of OSes running in your network. We strongly recommend tracking security vulnerabilities against all versions of network equipment operating systems. Apply patches and workarounds as needed to prevent future cyber-attacks.

These are just a few examples of how having network automation in place will help organizations assess and take action to mitigate any risk to their network and in turn protect their infrastructure and data. The above recommendations from CISA, while specific to a specific cybersecurity threat, are actually best practices that should be part of any IT security system.


Author's Bio

Mike Haugh, Gluware and Terry Slattery, NetCraftsmen

VP of Product Marketing, Gluware and Principal Architect, NetCraftsmen, respectively