What is Air-Gapping, and Why is it Essential for Security Purposes?
By Jerry Sanchez | Founder and Managing Partner of Framework Security
One of the most important things to protect against cyber-attacks are disconnected networks. Those who work in IT security refer to these as “air-gaps”, meaning there are no network interface controllers connected anywhere other than your secure computer systems with isolation from unsecured sources such as public internet or even local area networks nearby.
How does air-gapping work in the physical and digital worlds?
An air-gap can be created in the physical world by disconnecting a device from any network or power source. This makes it impossible for hackers to access the device or inject malware into it remotely. However, air gapping alone is not enough to completely protect a machine, as it can still be physically tampered with or infected with malware if not adequately secured.
In the digital world, an air-gap can be created by isolating a system from all other systems and networks. This can be done by disconnecting the system from the internet and storing it on an offline computer or server. Data can then only be accessed by physically transferring it from the offline system to an online system. While this approach is more secure than relying on physical security measures alone, it is not foolproof. Hackers can still potentially gain access to an offline system if they have physical access to it or if they can infect it with malware before it is disconnected from the internet.
What are some benefits of air-gapping in both the physical and digital worlds?
Perhaps one of the most underrated benefits of air-gapping is that it can greatly help improve security and protect data in the event of an attack, system failure, or other disaster. By physically separating data or a computer from the internet, it becomes much more difficult for hackers to gain access to sensitive information .
In addition, air gapping can also help to protect against power surges and other electrical problems. “Airgapped” computers have traditionally been used in high-security environments, such as military bases and government agencies, but are now being recommended to any organization that needs to protect their data, have regulatory demands to store data, or need to be able to recover quickly should they fall victim to a cyber attack.
What are some challenges with air-gapping in both the physical and digital worlds?
One of the challenges with air-gapping is that it can be difficult to maintain the separation between systems physically. For example, if a computer needs to be taken offline for repairs, there is a risk that sensitive data could be transferred to the repair person’s laptop. Another challenge is that air-gapped systems often need to be isolated from the network, making it challenging to administer updates and patches.
Additionally, air-gapped systems can be more vulnerable to insider threats, as it may be easier for malicious insiders to copy data onto removable media than to exfiltrate it over the network.
Finally, digital airgapped solutions are not perfect, and there have been several incidents where malware has been able to bridge the gap between air-gapped systems and the network. As a result, air-gapping is not a silver bullet solution for security alone, but it can be an important part of a robust defense-in-depth strategy when additional redundancy and encryption are involved
How can we overcome these challenges to ensure better security for our data and systems?
There are several ways to overcome these air-gap challenges. One is to use air-gapped bridge technologies that include data encryption during transit and at rest, which allow for secure communication between air-gapped systems and the outside world. Another approach is to use redundant offline and physically offsite backups and media sanitization, which can help to ensure that data remains accessible even if air-gapped systems are compromised.
By taking these steps, your organization can help to ensure better security for your data and systems with rapid recovery should your data become compromised by a cyber attack, insider threat, or disaster.
Jerry Sanchez provides Framework clients with the full suite of cybersecurity services, from risk assessments and virtual CISO services to emergency services and policy development. He is an industry-recognized expert in Cybersecurity and Cloud Computing with over 25 years in the technology sector. Jerry’s widely sought expertise has led to speaking engagements at various conferences and features in articles covering the IT industry and its impact on global business. View Jerry’s LinkedIn profile here.