VMware Cloud Well-Architected Framework: Secure Pillar – Managing Administrative Access for Oracle Cloud VMware Solution

Managing Administrative Access

Protecting the management interfaces of infrastructure is critical, as virtual and cloud administrators have enormous power over workloads and data. Core information security practices such as least privilege, separation of duties, and defense-in-depth are important to deny attackers access to environments.

Virtual Private Network (VPN)

VPN provides an encrypted end-to-end path over untrusted networks using IPsec. Security is always a tradeoff, and IPsec VPNs trade security for performance, limited by available CPU and network capacity inside the SDDC.

IPsec VPNs rely on Path MTU Discovery, which in turn may require relevant ICMP protocol messages (IPv4 type 3, IPv6 type 2) to be permitted. This is a general best practice for networks, as blocking all ICMP messages to disable ICMP echo (“ping”) causes the collateral loss of other important network messages like Fragmentation Needed, Time Exceeded, and more. Path MTU Discovery is important for automatic network optimization of most modern operating systems. Workarounds such as MSS Clamping add complexity and rigidity to an environment and may not be the best solution.

Deploying a VPN to connect to an SDDC involves other decisions about network topology and will depend on the network capabilities and topologies of the SDDC and other sites. Route-based VPNs use the BGP routing protocol to exchange information about networks between sites. This adds both complexity and flexibility, and the design of these networks is beyond the scope of this document. With simpler IP addressing schemes and network deployments the Policy-Based VPN options are possible. Layer 2 VPN connectivity allows for migrations into the cloud without re-addressing a workload, by extending an on-premises network, but requires the NSX Autonomous Edge appliance to be deployed in the local cloud.

VPNs between sites with dynamic addresses may require additional design considerations or operational process work. If the dynamic address changes then the VPN connection will not be functional until the SDDC is updated for the remote site’s new public IP address.

Ideas to consider:

  • Use IKEv2 with a GCM-based cipher with as high a bitrate as can support the required performance levels.
  • Use Diffie Hellman Elliptical Curve groups (19, 20 or 21), with the highest group number of those that can support the required performance (generally based on the total number of tunnels).
  • Enable Perfect Forward Secrecy where supported on both sides of the VPN connection. Enabling it on one side only may initially work but will disconnect after a preset amount of time.
  • Use a long, randomly generated pre-shared key, or if available, certificate-based authentication.
  • If the BGP endpoint is on a different device from the IPSec VPN, or there is a possibility of access to the BGP network being used, then a BGP Secret should be configured on both endpoints to prevent route hijacking.

Management Appliance Access & Authentication

An SDDC will have a number of appliances that manage different aspects of the infrastructure.

Ideas to consider:

  • Use private DNS resolution for vCenter & HCX Manager so that these appliances are accessed from the on-premises network. SRM, vSphere Replication & NSX Manager only support private DNS and private IP connectivity, although NSX Manager can be accessed through the VMC console as well.
  • Link an on-premises identity source to vCenter using either the Cloud Gateway appliance or an LDAP connection, to use existing accounts for access to vCenter.
  • Adding individual user accounts to the Administrators group, rather than importing an Active Directory group, helps separate authorization from authentication, reducing attack vectors in case of Active Directory compromise.
  • Use tiered access models where everyday tasks can be handled by regular accounts/group access, but any privileged access should use a separate account, individually added to the vCenter group.
  • If HCX has been enabled on the SDDC, remove any unused Public IPs (for example if HCX is being connected over a Direct Connect).
  • Access to management components should not depend solely on IP address restrictions, as the compromise of an administrator desktop often also includes the compromise of the administrator’s credentials, too. A bastion host or “jump box” solution may be implemented with multi-factor authentication. The Management Gateway firewall should then have appropriate restrictions on management services, allowing only the bastion host access.

    Appropriate hardening and monitoring should be applied to bastion hosts, including considerations for the compromise of an organizations central Active Directory or authentication source. Use of separate administrator accounts is also recommended as a way to help identify the presence of attackers. The compromise of an administrator’s regular desktop account would not automatically lead to the compromise of infrastructure, and may force the attacker to generate login failures which can be monitored.
  • Limit connectivity to the SDDC’s ESXi hosts for destinations using the services required:
  • vMotion can be proxied through HCX for a controlled, secure channel.
  • VM Remote Console access is proxied through vCenter Server. Direct access to ESXi hosts by VM administrators is not required nor desired. Workload administrators should access guest OSes using Remote Desktop console functionality, or through direct SSH to the guest OS. This helps simplify firewall rulesets and access control for both the workload and the infrastructure.
  • IPFix data will originate from SDDC ESXi hosts, and traffic should be restricted through the on-premises firewall to only the IPFix collectors.
  • Port Mirroring traffic also originates from the SDDC ESXi hosts in a GRE tunnel, and traffic should be restricted through the on-premises firewall to only the necessary ERSPAN destinations.
  • vSphere Replication traffic will originate from the SDDC ESXi hosts and traffic should be restricted through the on-premises (or destination SDDC Management gateway) firewall to only the necessary vSphere Replication appliances where VMs are being protected.  

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