Air-gapped data protection is becoming commonplace: This trend of deploying security measures involves physically isolating a computer or network from all external connections, including the internet and other networks. To adequately architect and deploy an air-gapped system, it is important to keep the goal in mind which is to create a secure, offline environment, resistant to cyber-attacks and other external threats.
One of the primary benefits of air-gapped systems is that they are significantly more challenging for bad actors to access and comprise. Removing the connection to the internet or other networks makes it more difficult for cybercriminals to access sensitive data or systems. This makes the air-gapped systems ideal for storing and processing sensitive data and restoration activities. There are several types of air-gapped data protection systems available today.
- The method to provide a physical air gap is disconnecting all external cables and devices, such as Ethernet cables, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth access to equipment. This creates a physical barrier between the computer or network and the outside world, which makes it much harder for hackers to gain access.
- A more comprehensive and adaptable process involves hardware air gaps utilizing specialized hardware, such as firewalls and network isolation systems. These solutions are designed to prohibit incoming and outgoing traffic that is not explicitly authorized and can be configured to allow or block traffic based on a variety of criteria, such as the source or destination of the traffic, the type of traffic (e.g., out of band management, NTP, SSH, etc.), or the port that the traffic is using.
- Virtual air gaps, which are more common, involve software or virtualization technologies, such as virtual machines or containers (docker), to create an isolated secure environment. This can be useful for defending systems that need to be connected to public or private networks, as it allows organizations to create a safe, isolated environment within the more extensive network. Hybrid air gaps involve combining different air-gapped systems to create a multi-layered security system. For example, an organization might use a physical air gap in combination with a hardware air gap and a virtual air gap to create a hardened security posture.
It’s important to note that while air-gapped systems can effectively protect against internal and external threats like environmental access, an insider could physically access and compromise a vulnerable system via USB or an unprotected network port. Therefore, any air-gapped method should be used with other security measures, such as one-time authentication using secure servers, access controls for both environmental and network, and 24-by-7 SOC monitoring, to provide a comprehensive security posture.
Overall, air-gapped data protection is an important security measure that can help organizations protect sensitive data and critical infrastructure from internal and external threats. By isolating systems, you can reduce the risk landscape of breaches and direct cyber-attacks and ensure that their systems are more resilient and secure. However, it’s essential to consider the trade-offs of using air-gapped systems. While they can provide a higher level of security, they often are more expensive to implement and maintain than other security measures. Organizations need to evaluate the increased complexity of accessing air-gapped systems against the needs and capabilities of the business. Some organizations may need to be more flexible and adaptable to changing business requirements other considerations may also play into the viability of air-gapped systems, for example, systems that are not easily accessible; connected to the internet or other networks may pose special challenges when considering the viability of air-gapped technologies
Ultimately, the decision to use an air-gapped system should be based on a thorough risk assessment and consideration of the specific needs and requirements of the organization. By carefully evaluating the risks and benefits of air-gapped data protection, organizations can determine the best security measures for protecting their sensitive data and critical systems.