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SSH firm aims to untangle crypto key hairball

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Infosec 2012 Secure Shell (SSH) certificate management – a key internet protocol used for remote access and file transfer for nearly 20 years now – can become quite a tangled issue if there isn't a clear management policy in place, and SSH Communications Security, one of the security exhibitors at Infosec, claims it has a solution.

SSH is often used for remote access and file transfer in countless organisations. The tech has been around since 1995 and has become a ubiquitous component in network systems in the 17 years since then. The protocol is used for the secure transfer of product and price lists, banking data and other classes of information. Often the technology comes bundled as a component of other software tools.

Typically organisations create a new key pair for every new application, authorised users and automated service account. Over time this has left organisations with sometimes hundreds of thousands of SSH key ‘pairs' but without a clear idea what they are used for or on which system. Key pairs ought to be updated at least every two years but there is easy way to do this and organisations are wary of retiring keys in case the process breaks the legacy system. Applications, user and service accounts each have public and private key pairs to communicate securely with target SSH servers.

SSH Communications Security is punting a management platform to help combat this.

“Enterprises' most critical data and applications are often transported and housed on SSH and OpenSSH servers," said Tatu Ylönen, chief exec of SSH Communications Security and inventor of SSH-1. "Those enterprises using public key authentication to manage access to those servers are faced with a significant challenge today in terms of knowing who and what may access those servers. This is not only a major security and compliance risk, however it is also a cost issue. Many organisations manage this function manually with little or no oversight.”

Enterprises sometimes approve access to key pairs through permissions in Active Directory, but that wouldn't stop a rogue employee who had access to key pairs at any time from abusing unrevoked access to key systems to cause damage. In addition, PCI-DSS auditors are beginning to take a closer interest in how firms manage their SSH key infrastructure, according to Ylönen. "As the scale of SSH deployment grows you get more problems because organisation have no visibility into who has access to what," Ylönen added. "Organisations might install thousands of new key pairs every year. More than half of their SSH keys would still be in use but organisations often don't know which they are."

SSH Communications Security is aiming to untangle this crypto key hairball through a User Key Management Tool. The module, which bolts into SSH's Information Integrity Platform, automates the process of identifying, organising and recycling SSH keys within a user's environment. It was launched at the RSA Conference in San Francisco back in February. It has gone though a number of trails since prior to its European showcase debut at this week's Infosecurity Europe Conference.

The key management tool comes as either software, a virtual appliance or a hardware appliance. All three form factors of the technology are capable of handling both SSH and OpenSSH keys. ®

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