OpenStack Cloud Security Moves Forward

At the OpenStack Summit Boston, security experts talked about cloud security misconceptions and what's working well in cloud security today.

OpenStack Security

When it comes to understanding security in the cloud and specifically security in OpenStack clouds, there are many factors to consider. In a panel session moderated by eWEEK at the OpenStack Summit in Boston, leaders from across different elements of the OpenStack security spectrum provided insight and recommendations on cloud security.

Security is a broad term in the OpenStack context and isn't just one single item. There is the OpenStack Security Project, which has a mission to help build tools and processes that help to secure OpenStack and its various projects. There is also the Vulnerability Management Team (VMT) that handles vulnerabilities for OpenStack project. Security in OpenStack is also reflected in various OpenStack projects, including notably Project Barbican for security key management. Finally there is just general security for cloud deployment by operators, which includes secure configuration and monitoring.

"One of the things that has been really cool in the last few cycles is the adoption of Bandit," Douglas Mendizábal, former project technical leader (PTL) of Barbican, said. "Bandit is one of the security team's tools and it does static code analysis, and I think the community has been very receptive about Bandit testing their codebases."

OpenStack Foundation Infrastructure Engineer Jeremy Stanley works with the VMT and said that he's thankful for the additional security analysis performed by the OpenStack Security project over the course of the last year.

"At the VMT, we have a relatively restricted set of projects we have that we feel comfortable handling vulnerabilities for and providing advisories," Stanley said. "We need some additional level of vetting for new projects that want our assistance."

Stanley said the OpenStack Security Project has a security analysis process that helps both specific projects and the VMT understand the sensitive areas of projects and where risks exist. By having that analysis, the VMT is now in a better position to understand impact when a potential vulnerability occurs.

Dave McCowan, principal engineer for cloud security as Cisco and the current PTL for Barbican, finds the documentation for securely deploying OpenStack very helpful for reducing risk.

"When you deploy your cloud, you have to secure every layer if you're going to be successful," McCowan said. 

Major Hayden, principal architect at Rackspace, said it's important to implement and deploy the various OpenStack projects properly.

"There is certainly a way you could just go and deploy 200 VMs [virtual machines] and put them all on the same network and use the same SSH key. That's not good, and you're going to have a bad time," Hayden said. "If you use projects and networking properly, segregating the different things that you deploy, I think you'll have a good experience."

A misconception about cloud security is that administrators can simply set up a cloud securely and then forget about it, McCowan added. He emphasized that ongoing security takes ongoing monitoring and updating with all elements of a cloud deployment.

There has also been a misconception that applications can't easily be secured in the cloud because the infrastructure is managed by someone else, according to Mendizábal. That's not the case, he said, as there are a lot of good tools now to help organizations secure cloud workloads.

The panelists all generally agreed that while OpenStack has a strong security focus that does not mean that all OpenStack deployments are secure by default. If an organization downloaded a plain vanilla upstream implementation of OpenStack, there would still be steps that would need to be taken to reduce risk.

McCowan noted that prior to installing a cloud it's helpful to make design choices to make sure there aren't open interfaces and that Transport Layer Security (TLS) is properly implemented. Hayden added that many of the deployment distributions and vendors in OpenStack provide a set of secure defaults that make choices intended to reduce risk. In the final analysis, each individual organization needs to make configuration choices that make sense for their own environment.

"All systems are always vulnerable, so yes, when you deploy OpenStack or any software you are vulnerable," Stanley said. "There is a lot you can do about it, and security is not a binary state; you're always trying to balance security with convenience."

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.