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Geek Speak

17 Posts authored by: donthomas

Enterprise network architecture has certainly evolved, from flat networks where everything was interconnected, to hierarchical models with enhanced security now to a borderless world. Cloud, BYOD, telecommuting and the Internet of things have made the network perimeter effectively disappear. The one metric that has remained a priority in the network in spite of the changes is bandwidth and by extension the individual traffic flows that comprise it. Many enterprises have treated bandwidth like the elephant in the room, knowing they don’t have enough awareness of its details but not always having tools or time to analyze it. Here are a few reasons on why it is important to keep an eye on network traffic details.


End-User Satisfaction:

 

 

Customer satisfaction is what every organization strives for. With more and more commerce shifting online, website or e-store outages or failed transactions will encourage your customers to look elsewhere. Equally important is your employee - remember how frustrating it was to browse during the dial-up era? Your work force, be it the engineering, sales or marketing, demands frictionless access to do their jobs. Poor connectivity when trying to access resources from the data center or during telecommuting can affect employee satisfaction and productivity.


Application and Data Delivery:

 

 

Whether you choose on-premises, hosted or cloud for your applications, bandwidth plays a critical role in service delivery. There is no point in investing on high end servers or expensive cloud solutions if the applications cannot be accessed due to pegged bandwidth, often hogged by non-business applications. Looking at usage patterns can tell you who and what is using your bandwidth and also if your business applications have the right priority they need to traverse the network.


Security:

 

 

Beyond ensuing available bandwidth, analyzing usage patterns improve network security by helping spot possible security issues. Be it zero-day malware that breached your IDS/IPS, infected bots sending spam from your network, or even complex DDoS attacks, each leaves a very visible footprint on your network traffic. Keeping an eye on usage and traffic patterns can help detect network behavior anomalies that possibly can be security issues.


Branch Office Connectivity:

 

 

For many organizations remote offices are key to business in the regions where they operate. Then there are the DR sites, server farms, data centers, etc., all connected by limited WAN links. It is important to ensure that transactions such as accessing and sharing of resources and information, voice and video communications, and data backup is completed successfully when your organization has a geographically distributed architecture. Here again, traffic analysis and bandwidth monitoring plays a key role in ensuring connectivity between branches and other sites, ensuring access and business continuity.


What can you do?

 

 

When it comes to effective bandwidth monitoring and traffic analytics, the options available are device interface statistics via SNMP, packet analysis and flow analysis (NetFlow, J-Flow and sFlow). SNMP tells you fine details such as how much of your link is utilized and the speed of total traffic but gives no information on who or what was responsible for it. Packet analysis gives you the finest details possible at the packet level, but also requires expensive tools, span ports and huge storage resources. When you need to see the finer details of bandwidth but with none of the implications associated with packet analysis, technologies like NetFlow is your best bet.

 

 

NetFlow technology can report on who is using the bandwidth, the end-points, applications, ports and protocols involved, DSCP priority of conversations and time details of when something happened. Using NetFlow you can ensure appropriate bandwidth for critical business apps, discover users hogging the pipe, whether important applications have the right priority, and detect network behavior anomalies. Best of all, NetFlow is not resource intensive - you can store NetFlow data for extensive reporting windows without the need of large data storage solutions.

 

 

The only limitation to getting started with NetFlow data analysis is that you’ll need a tool to receive and digest the exported flow data from your existing routers.  Server based tools like SolarWinds Bandwidth Analyzer pack and others like standalone apps for your laptop, or even portable hand held network analyzers make this easy. Before you know it you’ll sort out the flow data, get reports on your bandwidth usage and if you export traffic details from multiple locations on your network you can even get a holistic view of your entire network.

 

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Most network admins might have faced a “finding Waldo” situation – where Waldo is an unknown device that sometimes appears in your reports or logs: in your ‘ACL Deny’ logs as using non-business applications, in your NetFlow report as a bandwidth hog, as a problematic server in the cluster, as an unapproved NAS device in your campus, or for some extra drama, as that “forgotten server”. And you have no idea who the user is, where the device is located or to what it is connected.


It is somewhere out there, part of a VLAN with multiple member ports, connected through all those “x, y and z layer switches”, in a daisy chain, and with the Ethernet cables behind the wall! You of course cannot locate such a device by walking around the office and datacenter, looking for that distinctive red and white striped shirt. So, Where’s Waldo?


The Traditional Method :


The first step for the network admin to take on finding an unknown IP Address in his reports or logs is to block it. This is necessary until you find out if the device is safe and approved or not. Though you can block traffic from its IP Address using ACLs, it definitely is not the best solution because it could be an IP could be from your network DHCP range. Due to possible security risks associated with such devices, it is imperative that you find where in the network the device is and the switch port to which it is connected.


The process starts with a ping! Login into your core switch and ping the unknown IP Address. This lets your core switch learn the MAC Address of the device and add an entry about it to its ARP table. You can then do an ARP lookup to find the IP to MAC mapping. The ARP table shows the MAC Address mapped to that IP as well as the port on the switch which points to the MAC address. Find what is connected to the port and if it is another switch, repeat the process till you find the device.


ARP Table.pngIf you happen to have Layer 3 as well as Layer 2 switches in your network, remember that an ARP table is available only on your Layer 3 switch whereas on a Layer 2 switch, you have to look up the MAC Address table. The reason is that an ARP table is used for Layer 3 to Layer 2 mapping which is needed only by a Layer 3 switch. On the other hand, the MAC Address table holds the mapping for Layer 2 to switch port, and that is usually seen on a Layer 2 switch. Once you reach the rogue device going through all the different layers and switches, you know what your action ought to be.


Now, to add a bonus difficulty level to the game –what if you don’t find the unknown device when you search for it in the morning, after seeing its IP Address in the logs? So, Where was Waldo?


The Alternative:


What we discussed is the traditional, widely-used, time-trusted and time consuming method for finding a rogue device from your network. There are alternatives like using scripts that grabs the output of “show arp” or “show mac address-table” from each switch at different time intervals and storing them as logs. Not the best and easiest again.


In an era of advanced threats, data theft and zero day malware, you cannot afford to play the waiting game. As soon as you see an unknown device in the network, you first need to block it from the network by shutting down the port it is connected to. Only then comes the part of trying to find who the device belongs to, whether it was an approved device or not and what was it actually doing in your network. Methods like manual or script based ARP and MAC Address table lookup are neither the fastest nor the easiest solution. And if this device is a bot taking part in a DDoS attack or sending out SPAM emails, you really need to act fast.


This is why network administrators should deploy tools that can help detect unauthorized network devices, shut down ports as soon as you find a rogue device, track suspicious activity or even create a whitelist for trusted devices. With a user device tracking tool for the network, you can be sure of finding unknown devices within minutes. So, There’s Waldo!


To overcome that bonus difficulty level we added, the tool should also be capable of storing history of the device, like where it was connected prior to disappearing. Even more importantly, if you see that the device is wreaking havoc in your network or if you think the device to be suspicious, rather than having to open putty, login into the switch, search the port and then perform the shutdown action from the switch, you should be able to do a remote shut down with a click from the tracking tool. And finally, if the tool can integrate with your DDI solution to help with IP Address management, even better!


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Remember to use a tool that is feature rich and meets all your requirements. You not only ensure that an unknown device will not be a hindrance to network uptime, you could also spend some time playing the real game. For more information on protecting your network, take a look at our “Detecting and Preventing Rogue Devices” whitepaper.


 

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