'Jump boxes' improve security, if you set them up right

It's a good idea to set up an ultrasecure computer as a bridge to log on to other PCs, but serious protections must be in place

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Control network connectivity

Both the originating computer and the jump box should be tightly secured as to what computers can connect to them and what computers they can connect to. You can use routers, VLANs, firewalls, IPSec, or any other method you want. But you want to disable the world (that is, hackers) from being able to easily connect to the jump box or the originating computer.

Restrict the programs that can run

This can be difficult because admins usually work on the fly to troubleshoot, diagnose, and make things function. They often need a myriad of tools to do their jobs. But if you can't control what programs they can use, it's that much easier for the bad guys to run what they want.

Make sure your policies stipulate that admins can install only work-related tools and nothing should be installed that requires weakened security (for example, plain-text passwords). I'm also a big fan of application control ("whitelisting") programs. Use whitelisting to control what programs can or can't run on the originating computer and jump box.

Restrict accounts

Restrict which user accounts can access the originating computers and jump boxes; those accounts should be limited to the jump computers plus the other computers to which they connect. Admins should not be able to connect to the jump boxes and other servers they administrate with the same credentials they use to access their normal workstation or other computers.

Use the latest operating systems and applications

The most current programs have the best default security. For example, in the Microsoft Windows world, Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 have many pass-the-hash attack mitigations. The same is true of any OS or application: The latest is the most secure.

Virtualization may be the ticket

Many environments prefer to virtualize jump boxes and assign each virtualized instance to a particular admin's one-to-one mapping. That way, if a malicious activity occurs, it's easier to track, audit, and clean up. If you use virtualization, make sure the VM host has controls to prevent easy compromise (such as unauthorized copying of a virtual disk).

Enable strong logging

Lastly, implement strong, detailed logging on jump boxes and originating computers. Often, I don't recommend generating every possible log event, but ultrasecure computers like jump boxes and originating computers should generate lots of log info. That way, if something goes wrong, you can better track and explore.

The bottom line is that jump boxes can reduce computer security risk, but not without special treatment and procedures. If you just set up a box and declare it your "jump box," but don't make it ultrasecure, you're living in a fantasy world. Improved security takes work.

This story, "'Jump boxes' improve security, if you set them up right," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Keep up on the latest developments in network security and read more of Roger Grimes' Security Adviser blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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