Protecting the Castle: Business'changing security landscapes

Vincent J. Simonowicz, CIO, City of Rock Hill, SC
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Vincent J. Simonowicz, CIO, City of Rock Hill, SC

Vincent J. Simonowicz, CIO, City of Rock Hill, SC

The challenge every business and enterprise has, is to protect their domains given the changing environments, enhanced security threats and melding of cloud services. As we are pushed to embrace the cloud services and applications, our data is spread all over the world and we are losing command and control over it; it’s the preverbal ‘surrendering the keys to our kingdom’ to the IT gods of the industry. So the question stands, how do we protect our enterprise from the technology sprawl, the cyber threats and general loss of privacy and control? Can everything just be outsourced without concern?

  The focus should be security and segmentation first; monitoring and control second; and culminate with excellent service delivery​  

As a municipality, any city has the equivalent of running at least a dozen independent, but related companies. If you look at each of the services provided, all the data service needs are essentially the same, but the purposes are grossly different. From public safety, to utility management, to public services, public works, City Administration , tax authority, economic development, Parks-Rec&Tourism, etc. Each of these groups have unique governance, regulatory, and operational needs, all requiring tight security and control over the data collected, processed, and stored. So as traditional IT services and data management, give way to mobility, cloud and general proliferation of open shares, how does an IT department protect that which has no boundaries any longer?

The answer to this riddle is that the City of Rock Hill, SC started a program several years ago to basically take on the challenge of becoming a Municipal Private Cloud Service (MPCS). To accomplish this task we needed to understand the critical functions of the enterprise, the data and data servicing requirements, the players in the field, along with the means to change the entire architecture and data handling processes within our domain. On the top of this MPCS master plan sits the need to fully understand the cyber security environment and provide a solid architecture around segmentation and security isolation.

MPCS required the City to revisit the network architecture design, but in doing so first and foremost focus on the security foundation first, instead of just connectivity. To do this there had to be a means to hyper-segment the network, control and isolate broadcast domains beyond the traditional VLAN structuring; so SPB (Shortest Path Bridging protocol) was selected. The layer two and three Virtual Service network clustering combined with a powerful routing, firewalling and NAC solutions now presents a complex maze for any potential hacker or cyber assault to find. This does not mean that we won’t still face a cyber-attack, but it does mean that if there is an attack, the attacked won’t have far to crawl around in our network. This architectural change, although expensive and time consuming to implement gave the City the platform to build multi-tenant solutions that grants controlled visibility and data sharing without the enterprise wide cyber vulnerabilities of old.

In MPCS, the general concept builds on the SPB protocol foundation, but then is structured into a VSN channels and series of internal firewalls and network monitors, segregating the Server farms and services to the targeted audiences. We are currently working on multi-homed ISP services that present redundant paths and load balancing to improve the services experience for our customers. This especially helped us in the realm of our Police Department which has the most difficult regulatory constrains under CJIS (Criminal Justice Information Services) Regulations, but also still needs to be open to explore all the dark places that lie in cyber spaces. With this MPCS structure, we are able to give the full services necessary to run the PD, but not open the entire enterprise to any PD potential vulnerabilities. Over the past few years, we have been hit by a multitude of attacks by one means or another, but were able, thus far to walk away with only the affect felt by the injection point workstations.

The next piece to this puzzle was in the command and control of the user population, which is centered around Microsoft’s Active Directory controls and ADFS. AD gives us a role and policy based control point to further sculpt and control a single sign on environment; another word, who gets on and where do they get to go. A primary concern when structuring this design was the need to have instantaneous control over the access from a single control method.

Lastly, the MPCS structure included the redesign of our server farms and switching to accommodate the dynamic nature and changing business needs of our enterprise and provide the next critical function of a MPCS structure: High Availability (HA). By converting all our services into this virtual environment we added the next layer to the maze that gives us scalability, isolation and HA. Across our data centers, we can roll, move or isolate any of our core service functions to adapt to most situations and provide the maintenance access without interruption of services. Being able to granularly segment and isolate any application is critical to the design objectives because with it, we can deliver the services in the right dosage that gives our customers a quality and secure experience.

Once the design and structuring was completed we quickly build out the monitoring and control mechanisms for the enterprise using SNMP traps, probes and pattern modeling tools to give us granular visibility into the performance and activities within the enterprise. These tools also provided a second benefit in that we can tune and improve the efficiency of our data services delivered.

It is not possible to explain the complexity of this design in a few paragraphs, but it suffices to outline that in this new IT paradigm, organizations who still wish to insource their operations for the security, control, cost containment and efficiency will need to fully redesign and retool there enterprise. The focus should be security and segmentation first; monitoring and control second; and culminate with excellent service delivery.

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