June 25, 2022

First off, let’s clarify some definitions as we begin this post. Hybrid IT or hybrid IT computing refers to the tech and physical systems used to manage, process and store data in cloud-based AND on-prem data centers. As ITProToday adeptly explains it:

“Hybrid IT is an IT strategy that involves the use of cloud-based resources and on-premises or legacy environments at the same time. In other words, a business that uses hybrid IT might run some applications or host some data in the public cloud, while others reside in a private data center.

That probably sounds a lot like hybrid cloud, which also involves using public cloud and on-prem environments concurrently. However, the key difference between hybrid cloud and hybrid IT is that in hybrid cloud, public cloud and on-prem resources are managed through the same control plane. Modern hybrid cloud frameworks like Azure Arc and Google Anthos make this easy to do. They allow users to deploy and manage workloads both on-prem and on public cloud infrastructure using the same set of public cloud APIs and management tools.

 In contrast, in hybrid IT, a company’s cloud resources and on-prem resources function as separate domains. Under a hybrid IT model, you would use an entirely different set of tools to deploy and manage your on-prem workloads from those that you run in the cloud.”

Meanwhile, hybrid work simply refers to the evolving nature of the post-pandemic labor market, where employees have gotten a taste of working from home and don’t really want to return to the office environment, and companies are realizing the advantages of work-from-home scenarios, but also want their employees to have face-time with other employees and supervisors. A compromise is thus developing in many organizations where employees work from home a few days per week and work from the office a few days per week. The work-from-home wave is in full force and it is changing how we work and how we enable work.

Both of these developments together are causing unexpected complications and increased strain when it comes to data center security, at a time in IT history when malware, bad actors, cyber-terrorists and hackers are more aggressive than ever before while IT is relied upon more than ever before.

A very recent article from InfoWorld by David Linthicum explains this “perfect storm” scenario eloquently.

“Have you ever heard the saying ‘Locking the door but leaving the window unlatched’? It means that your security is only as good as the weakest link. This applies to IT as well. How does legacy system security compare to cloud security? Google away and you’ll find that survey after survey says cloud security is superior or far superior to security on more traditional systems in data centers….

During the past 10 years, R&D spending on public cloud–based security has surpassed investment in more traditional platforms by a lot, both by third-party vendors and of course, the public cloud providers themselves (hyperscalers). Money normally spent on updating and improving legacy security has been funneled to cloud-based anything. You can’t blame the security technology providers. They need to focus on emerging markets to keep revenue moving upward. However, there is an unintended consequence of this focus on cloud; namely, the lack of attention to legacy systems where as much as 80% of business data is stored today, depending on the company…

The trouble is that while we focus on attacks coming into the enterprise from the outside, we miss attacks that leverage a connected system, or inter-system attacks. In this case, we miss easy access to the legacy platform, which is connected to the cloud-based platform but is unlikely to have the same defenses around inter-system security… Thus, legacy systems become the preferred path of hacker attacks, in an indirect way to get to cloud-based systems and data. Breaking into the legacy system is an easier way to access systems and data within public clouds…This is not new. Home computers have been attacked via smart TVs because they have more lax security. Internet of Things devices, such as robots on a factory floor, have been leveraged to gain access to other internal systems.”

An article from DataCenter Knowledge supports and amplifies these concerns with a bit more of a data-center-damage-control focus.

“Earlier this year, researchers at cybersecurity firm Cyble found more than 20,000 instances of data center infrastructure management systems exposed to the Internet… Attackers who are able to get access to DCIM systems can manipulate cooling systems, for example, which can cause servers to overheat and suffer damage. They can also disrupt backup processes or upload malicious backup files. If uninterruptible power supply systems have dashboards accessible over the Internet, then attackers can turn off the UPS.

‘When it comes to data center infrastructure, our approach is – if it’s connected, it’s a potential vulnerability,’ said Chris Caruso, CISO at Cyxtera Technologies, global data center and colocation provider.

And it’s just not its own systems that data centers must keep an eye on, Caruso said. ‘Providers must also work closely with third-party vendors to ensure those partners are doing their best to protect their systems and networks,’ he noted. It is also important for managers to stay on top of the latest developments in cybersecurity, he said, since ‘the threat landscape is always evolving.’

Data center managers can get threat intelligence from various sources, he said, including the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

So besides the peril to enterprise data centers from careless or unaware at-home workers accidentally giving their access to bad actors and viruses, the very connections from outdated on-prem data centers to cloud-based data centers pose a threat thanks to enterprising hackers, as do IoT devices and smart home devices with lower levels of IT security built into them.

What strategy can an IT manager implement with regard to these growing threats and opportunities for cyber-mayhem? We recommend a serious and thorough audit of your data center security protocols and processes as the first step. There are good consultants and companies out in the marketplace who can help you with this undertaking – Altus is one of them! Offering data center security consulting as one of our core data center services, we’re ready to be of assistance to keep your information, facilities and business reputation safe. Reach-out to us and let’s have a conversation on your needs.

Please visit InfoWorld here to read the complete article on legacy systems and their current role in the jeopardy facing data center operations.