If you’re a consummate security professional, or just a technology geek, you probably maintain your own home lab. It is probably a combination of laptops, servers, and more likely than not, a flavor or two of hypervisors to host multiple virtual machines. Running on these systems could be a variety of operating systems, end of life technologies, and probably a few beta releases. Your network is probably flat, has minimal (if any) access control lists, no segmentation, and you are dependent on your home based firewall and router for network access translation, port forwarding, and perimeter defensive.
Few security professionals have the opportunity to upgrade to commercial grade products (unless you are a vendor or plan to shell out cash) and unfortunately many of the best practices we follow at work are just ignored at home. This includes everything from logging in as root or administrator and never changing passwords. While these bad behaviors can be justified with simple comments like: “I am the only one who uses the lab,” or, “I have never had a problem,” there are some real risks that these labs face. Fortunately, none of these have been attributed (yet) to a successful or notable breach, but they do represent an attack vector that should garner some attention.
Average home users that access the corporate infrastructure have been targeted for years and solutions from network access control to virtual private networks have provided some relief. So as a security professional, what are some good tips to protect your home labs outside of the obvious best practices? I recommend the following:
While I cringe at any environment that does not cycle their passwords frequently, it is a realization for home labs that this happens quite infrequently (if ever). So, make it a point to change your passwords soon but more importantly do not use the same password on every root, administrator, or standard user account. Password reuse is a huge problem and if your lab is compromised, a reused password makes lateral movement very easy to accomplish. In addition – keeping with the password reuse concept – do not use any passwords that exist in your corporate or personal environments (email or social media). It is no wonder so many CEO’s are having their social media accounts hacked due to password reuse.
2) Security Updates
For the vast majority of security professionals, the information technology operations team maintains patches and security updates for our systems. At home, we tend to get a little sloppier in keeping systems properly patched. The easiest thing to do is set all systems to auto update (when possible) and set a basic schedule (Friday night at 2 am, for example) for systems to download, install, and reboot. If you set the updates to manual, then you are at a disadvantage since you probably do not have a patch management system (at home) and do not spend time every month patching systems manually. If you want to assess what your potential risks are, free tools like Retina Community
can give you a perspective.
While home labs generally run a variety of systems and applications, there is generally no reason for them to communicate with your Xbox, iPad, or other IoT devices. Unfortunately, segmentation and WiFi IP isolation are not always available with home-based gear. Some simple solutions to isolate devices are:
- Using Host Only or NAT for network adapter settings when running workstation virtualization products like VMware Workstation or Virtual Box
- Purchasing a managed switch like a NetGear Web Managed Switch to create separate subnets for different devices and simple ACL lists
- Creating multiple virtual networks within your hypervisor to manage instances and isolate test environments
- If you have a network tap or mirrored port on your switch, consider setting up a guest with WireShark or Snort. Inspecting your traffic periodically is a just a good idea to see where your home lab is communicating too. If you are looking for a good inexpensive TAP, check out DualComm’s Gigabyte Network Port Mirror.
Let’s be honest, at home we are the worst at doing this. While we may backup our precious photos and videos, we do much worse with our test labs and systems. Similar to security updates, I recommend just automating the process. For MacOS systems, this is easy and nearly bullet proof with Time Machine. Windows 10 fortunately has just as good technology and any local drive or UNC path can be a target. Unfortunately, older operating systems and network gear are not so convenient.
- For virtual images, I recommend periodically cloning them to an external USB backup drive. Vmware Workstation and Fusion Pro make this easy by connecting to an ESXi server and cloning an instance to your local system or external USB hard disk.
- For network gear, I recommend using the backup config utility available in most devices every time I make a change. This is a simple step to remember and could save you a ton of trouble if the device ever dies or becomes corrupt.
- For physical systems, honestly, I do not have a foolproof method. Depending on the device, I clone the disk to an image file to backing up key files in the cloud. This is why I prefer virtual instances whenever possible.
For this routine to work, I also recommend setting a simple schedule based on day light savings time, quarterly, or even monthly to check everything end to end. I know that sounds crazy but a few hours on a scheduled basis is great way to make sure that your home based lab is operating correctly and not a security risk.
As security professionals, we generally maintain our own labs and must learn a little from development and operations to ensure they are running properly and securely. I hope these tips help you ensure your lab does not become a liability for your organization.