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Putting all of Your Eggs in One Basket - or How NOT to do Layoffs

Published: 2011-08-17
Last Updated: 2011-08-17 15:08:43 UTC
by Rob VandenBrink (Version: 1)
8 comment(s)

The recent story about Jason Cornish, a disgruntled employee of pharmaceutical company Shionogi is getting a lot of attention this week.  In a nutshell, he resigned after a dispute with management, and was kept on as a consultant for a few months after.

The story then goes that he logged into the network remotely (ie - VPN'd in using his legitimate credentials), then logged into a "secret vSphere console" (I'd call "foul" on that one - there would be no reason to have a "secret" console - my guess is he used the actual corporate vCenter console or used a direct client against ESX, which you can download from any ESX server, so he had rights there as well) then proceeded to delete a large part of the company infrastructure (88 servers in the story I read).  The company was offline for "a number of days", and Jason is now facing charges.

This diary isn't about the particulars of this case, it's much more of a common occurrence than you might think.  We'll talk a bit about what to do, a bit about what NOT to do, and most important, we'd love to hear your insights and experiences in this area.

First of all, my perspective ...
Separation of duties is super-critical.  Unless you are a very small shop, your network people shouldn't have your windows domain admin account, and vice versa.  In a small company this can be a real challenge - if you've only got 1 or two people in IT, we generally see a single password that all the admins have.  Separation of duties is simple to do in vmWare vSphere - for instance, you can limit the ability to create or delete servers to the few people who should have that right.  If you have web administrators or database administrators who need access to the power button, you can give them that and ONLY that.  

Hardening your infrastructure is also important.  Everything from Active Directory to vSphere to Linux have a "press the enter key 12 times" default install. Unfortunately, in almost all cases, this leaves you with a single default administrator account on every system, with full access to everything.  Hardening hosts will generally work hand-in-hand with separation of duties, in most cases the default / overall administator credentials are left either unused or deleted.  In the case of network or virtual infrastructure, you'll often back-end it to an enterprise directory, often Active Directory via LDAP (or preferably LDAPs), Kerberos or RADIUS.  This can often be a big help if you have audits integrated into your change control process (to verify who made a particular change, or to track down who made an unauthorized change)

HR processes need to be integrated with IT.  This isn't news to most IT folks.  They need to know when people are hired to arrange for credentials and hardware.  But much more important, IT needs to be involved in termination.  They need to collect the gear, revoke passwords and the like, in many cases during the exit interview.  When an IT admin is layed off, fired or otherwise terminated, it's often a multi-person effort to change all the passwords - domain admin credentials, passwords for local hosts, virtual infrastructure admins, and the myriad of network devices (routers, switches, firewalls, load balancers, etc).  If you've integrated your authentication back to a common directory, this can be a very quick process (delete or disable one account).  In this case, a known disgruntled employee was kept on after termination as a consultant with admin rights.   You would think that if HR as aware of this, or any corporate manager knew of it for that matter, that common sense would kick in, and the red flags would be going up well before they got to the point of recovering a decimated infrastructure.  Yea, I know the proverb about common sense not being so common, but still ....

Backups are important. 
It's ironic that I'm spelling this out in the diary adjacent to the one on the fallout from the 2003 power outage where we talk about how far we've come in BCP (Business Continuity Planing), but it's worth repeating.  Being out for "a number of days" is silly in a virtual environment - it should be *easy* to recover, that's one of the reasons people virtualize.  It's very possible, and very often recommended, that all servers in a virtual infrastructure (Hyper-V, XEN, vmWare, KVM whatever), be imaged off to disk each day - the ability and APIs for this are available in all of them.  The images are then spooled off to tape, which is a much slower process.  This would normally mean that if a server is compromised or in this case deleted, you should be able to recover that server in a matter of minutes (as fast as you can spin the disks).  This assumes that you have someone left in the organization that knows how to do this (see the next section).

Don't give away the keys.  Organizations need to maintain a core level of technical competancy. This may seem like an odd thing for me to say (I'm a consultant), but you need actual employees of the company who "own" the passwords, and have the skills to do backups, restores, user creation, all those core business IT tasks that are on the checklist of each and every compliance regulation.  In a small shop, it's common for IT to give consultants their actual administrative credentials, but it's much more common these days to get named accounts so that activity can be tracked, these accounts are often time limited either for a single day or the duration of the engagement.

I'd very much like to see a discussion on this - what processes do you have in place, or what processes have you seen in other organizations to deal with IT "root level" users - how are they brought on board, how are they controlled day-to-day, and how are things handled as they leave the organization?  I'm positive that I've missed things, please help fill in the blanks !

If I'm off-base on any of my recommendations or comments above, by all means let me know that too !

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Rob VandenBrink
Metafore

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