A SAN is often implemented as a dedicated network that is considered to be a secure network. However, the nature of a SAN is that it is a shared network. This involves some serious security risks, that should be evaluated when using an iSCSI based SAN. Some vendors consider an iSCSI network save when it is implemented as a dedicated switches network (Dell EqualLogic. Securing storage area networks with iSCSI. EqualLogic Inc., 2008.). They consider it virtually impossible to snoop or inject packets in a switched network. We all know this is not the case. If this is true, why do we use firewalls, ids and tons of other security measures? Even if iSCSI runs on an isolated network, and only the management interface of the storage devices are connected to a shared/general-purpose network, security is just as good as the hosts that are connected to the dedicated network. A single compromised host connected to the dedicated iSCSI network can attack the storage devices to get access to LUNs for other hosts.

When implementing an iSCSI network you should be aware of the security risks that this imposes on the environment. To estimate the risk, awareness of the methods that can be used to secure iSCSI is paramount. The iSCSI protocol allows for the following security measures to prevent unintended or unauthorized access to storage resources:

  • Authorization
  • Authentication
  • Encryption

Because iSCSI setups are generally shared environments access to the storage elements (LUNs) by unauthorized initiators should be blocked. Authorization is implemented by means of the iQN. The iQN is the initiator node name (iSCSI Qualified Name), this can be seen as a mac-address. During an audit, storage systems must demonstrate controls to ensure that a server under one regime cannot access the storage assets of a server under another.
Typically, iSCSI storage arrays explicitly map initiators to specific target LUNs; an initiator authenticates not to the storage array, but to the specific storage asset it intends to use.

As an added security method, the iSCSI protocol allows initiators and targets to use CHAP to authenticate each other. This prevents simple access by spoofing the iQN. And last, because iSCSI runs on IP, IPSec can be used to secure and encrypt the data flowing between the client (initiator) and the storage server (target).

Now that we know there are multiple ways to secure access to the storage resouces, you might conclude that iSCSI must be safe and secure to use. Unfortunately this is not evident. There are several flaws in the iSCSI security design:

  • iQN’s are trusted, but are easy to spoof, sniff and guessed
  • iSCSI authorization is the only required security method, and this uses only the iQN
  • Authentication is disabled by default
  • Authentication is (mostly) only implemented as CHAP
  • IPSec is difficult to implement

Because iQN’s are manually configured in the iSCSI driver on the client, it is easy to change them. To get access to a LUN that is only protected by a iQN restriction, you can sniff the communication to get the iQN, or guess the iQN as it is often a default string (eg.: iqn.1991-05.com.microsoft.hostname), configure the iscsi driver to use this name and get access to the LUN.

The CHAP protocol is basically the only authentication mechanism that is supported by iSCSI vendors. The protocol allows for other mechanisms like Kerberos. The CHAP protocol is not a protocol know for its strong security on shared networks. The CHAP protocol is vulnerable to dictionary attacks, spoofing, or reflection attacks. Because the security issues with CHAP are well known, the RFC even mentions ways to deal with the limitations of CHAP (http://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc3720#section-8.2.1).

While IPSec could stop or reduce most of the security issues outlined above, it is hard to implement and manage. Therefor not many administrators will feel the need to use it. It should not only be possible to make a secure network, it should also be made easy.

To reduce the risk, and make your iSCSI network as safe as possible, you should do the following:

  • Enable mutual (incoming/outgoing) authentication
  • Follow advice to secure CHAP
  • Enable CRC checksums
  • Do not only rely on iQN for authorization
  • Enable IPSec (if performance allows it)

Also vendors/distributors should enable authentication by default, and add other authentication mechanisms to the iSCSI target and initiator software.


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