New F5 ASM Version 12.x Features Improve Performance

In today’s blog, we will discuss the newest features of F5’s Web Application Firewall (WAF), Application Security Manager (ASM). ASM has been around for quite some time, but with recent updates I thought it is worth discussion.

F5 Networks recently released version 12.1.1, the first long-term support release for version 12. If you haven’t read through the release notes, take a few minutes and do so. I am really excited by some of the most recent features and I would like to share some of them with you.

I was ecstatic to see Unified Policy Building in 12.0 because now you have one screen to view all learning suggestions. This makes it far easier to sort through. If your policy builds automatically or statically based on your custom thresholds, you now have only one screen to manage.

Following the style already set in ASM, there is a dropdown menu that allows you to select the policy for which you want to see suggestions. Tabbed across the top is also Enforcement Readiness, and they moved Learning and Blocking Settings here as well. This makes the overall flow better while making it easier to see which settings you have for each selected policy — no more bouncing around the mouseover menus.

Next up in 12.0 is Proactive Bot Defense. This is a set of additional features added to the Denial of Service (DoS) functions ASM already used. F5 added improved defense against unwanted browsers and browsing agents that are non-human initiated. CAPTCHA and javascript insertion does this, but with some caveats. If you use CORS (Cross-Origin Resource Sharing), like with AJAX calls, you will have issues and you should add those URLs to the bot whitelist.

F5 Networks also added malicious bot signatures. Now when you update your ASM application signatures, bot signatures are classified as malicious or benign. Just like with application signatures, you can create your bot signatures as well. You even have the ability to create signature sets with either malicious or benign classifications. This gives you greater control. Once created and applied via a “dos” profile, traffic is automatically classified and either accepted or discarded as configured.

Version 12.1 was not outshined by 12.0, and really cranked up the dial. It added more dos enhancements with the ability to track using device IDs. Now device IDs can use dos, brute force, and session hijacking. You can define bad behavior and set thresholds to classify traffic from them and either log or block them. F5 even extended Analytics to sort by these IDs. More reporting is always a good thing!

Using a similar set of metric definitions, you can now automatically blacklist IPs attacking your layer 7 resources and increase your dos footprint. This does not require use of IP intelligence or any other classification engine. This dos feature is through your config definitions. Adding IP intelligence, however, is a good thing in my opinion. I encourage you to look at it as more than just ASM.

Two huge new features in ASM are the ability to define methods per URL and support websockets per URL. In previous versions, methods were globally defined for an application. This is great news. For apps that might have only one page that support a POST, you can define it only for that page.

Websockets are new altogether. Websocket protocol allows client and server to stream data bidirectionally indefinitely. Websockets create a connection over HTTP, but then switch to a single TCP connection using message frames. This allows full duplex and low latency transport. Chances are you used these in your last internet chat. When you think of what could be hiding in one of those, protection really matters.

The last feature I want to mention is the ability for ASM to automatically detect and configure login pages in your application. If you have spent time parsing through someone else’s code to define a login page, you will welcome this feature. Now, that alone would be cool, but if you defined policy settings for brute force and session tracking, it will automatically add those options to the login forms it creates. This is a rockstar feature!

These are some of the main features ASM received in 12.0 and 12.1. There are still others like improved policy building, reduced policy building resource consumption, etc. Once again, if you have not reviewed the release notes, you should. I hope this generates a little interest in seeing what ASM has to offer now, and that you continue to find success in using F5 Networks Application Security Manager.

If you don’t already have ASM, consider what ASM can do for you. If you are already a Guidepoint Security customer and want to know more, reach out to your representative. If you are not a customer and would like to learn more, please feel free to contact us. We have several ASM certified engineers to answer your questions. For more information, email info@guidepointsecurity.com.

About GuidePoint Security
GuidePoint Security LLC provides innovative and valuable cyber security solutions and expertise that enable organizations to successfully achieve their mission. By embracing new technologies, GuidePoint Security helps clients recognize the threats, understand the solutions, and mitigate the risks present in their evolving IT environments. Headquartered in Herndon, Virginia, GuidePoint Security is a small business, and classification is with the System for Award Management (SAM). Learn more at: www.guidepointsecurity.com.

F5 Networks’ ASM: Secure Your Applications, Don’t Give Away Your Kingdom

It occurred to me while I was writing another blog that we need to talk about Web Application Firewalls (WAF). We think everyone should use one. Your current network and security infrastructure is the castle and drawbridge, whereas WAF is your portcullis. Not securing your applications is like giving away the keys to your kingdom.

What is a WAF?

WAFs are the first and last line of defense for your application. A WAF takes over at layer 4 of the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model, moves up to layer 7, and looks at the request, response, and payload. It validates data and the package it’s carried in, and its authenticity. In essence, a WAF applies a set of security rules to all aspects of an HTTP conversation.

The difference from your next-generation firewalls (NGFW) and IDS/IPS units, which only inspect packet-by-packet, is that a WAF digs into HTTP content and conversations, and validates the content request, response, and payload against white and black lists. Using predefined signatures or behavioral baselines, the WAF takes appropriate countermeasures based on configured policy elements. WAFs also include enhanced logging, alerting, connection intermediation, and even content manipulation to mitigate the impacts of attacks, mislead attackers, or inject content designed to raise confidence levels for WAF detection mechanisms.

A WAF validates traffic and payloads by learning the way the application should work, prevents bad input or manipulations, and prevents dangerous query/responses. A WAF maintains HTTP RFC compliance on all aspects of the session, and enforces session rules and session flows. It is a multifaceted tool.

F5 Networks Application Security Manager (ASM), in my opinion, is the right tool for the job. It is a tool that complements the F5 Global Traffic Manager (GTM) and Local Traffic Manager (LTM) devices you already use. To illustrate this, let us look at the traffic flow.

First, the GTM picks up the DNS request. Utilizing GTM, you can create a high-speed query frontend with DNS Express and can secure that zone with DNSSEC. GTM also evaluates your DNS request and traffic-shapes your response based on a host of criteria and settings, sending your session on to the network.

Sure, you have a firewall at your internet edge. It might even be next-gen, performs packet inspection, and has some signatures to eliminate some bad traffic. The same might also be true of your IPS/IDS, but these are packet-by-packet inspections and not the whole HTTP conversation (for the most part) and bad traffic gets by.

Here is where the F5 picks up and starts defending. LTM gets the traffic first and blocks malicious IPs, sorts out countries you may or may not want, defends against DDoS, and mitigates ciphers that are too weak or broken, all while restricting IP/port/landing page. LTM also traffic shapes it handoff to the next level, ASM.

ASM starts slow and builds in levels based on policy. It receives that traffic and checks if it matches the defined site. Then it checks to see if it is a new session. From there, it starts checking everything. It checks against signatures, RFC compliance, session-tracking info, methods, request timing, number of requests, header information, etc. And this is only the initial request. We haven’t even gotten to response!

ASM comes with quick-start policy templates for a ton of popular application templates like Exchange, Sharepoint, PeopleSoft, SAP, etc. If one of those doesn’t fit your build, ASM ships with an auto-policy builder. Fire this up and you turn your ASM device into Sherlock Holmes. It watches traffic pass through and automatically starts writing its own suggestions. When those suggestions get enough hits, ASM makes them into policy. The longer it runs, the better the policy.

If you change the application or add to it, it automatically picks that up and starts the building piece again. You can even build policy without affecting users. By keeping it out of blocking mode, you can mature the policy and reduce the likelihood that false alarms will create negative impact for users.

The ASM comes with other cool features, too, such as preventing forceful browsing, where attackers try to gain access to pages not part of the site that might have admin access. You can keep users from bookmarking deep into the app and redirect them to login pages you defined first to define flow. This keeps the application more secure and enables the organization to track sessions to support security, problem resolution, and compliance use-cases.

With this information, you can restrict application access to secondary login pages or other admin-related content by enforcing application flows and protect against webscraping. Brute force protection will even keep those login pages safe by adding a layer of protection including limiting login attempts, identifying automated attacks and more for these critical security entry points for the application.

DataGuard is an awesome feature as well. It protects sensitive fields like credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, and other administrator-defined sensitive data from passing through clear text. Instead, it utilizes masking to overwrite these values in responses with ‘****’. ASM will also mask these in the logs so you don’t have to worry about admins having access to that info as well.

There are so many other features, including signatures and security responses for common web application security threats such as cross-site request forgery (CSRF), cross-site scripting (XSS), clickjacking, cookie manipulation, etc. Any of these topics, as well as the mechanisms ASM utilizes to protect against them, would be worthy of their own blog post.  

I hope this blog has sparked a little more interest in your traffic and maybe even a hard look into the available security measures you can take. If you are already a Guidepoint Security customer, reach out to your representative to learn more. If you are not a customer and would like to learn more, please feel free to reach out to us. We have several ASM certified engineers to answer your questions. For more information, email info@guidepointsecurity.com.

About GuidePoint Security
GuidePoint Security LLC provides innovative and valuable cyber security solutions and expertise that enable organizations to successfully achieve their mission. By embracing new technologies, GuidePoint Security helps clients recognize the threats, understand the solutions, and mitigate the risks present in their evolving IT environments. Headquartered in Herndon, Virginia, GuidePoint Security is a small business, and classification is with the System for Award Management (SAM). Learn more at: www.guidepointsecurity.com.

Use Cases Demonstrate How F5 Analytics Can Increase Visibility Into Your Applications

In a previous blog post, I introduced you to F5 Analytics and how it can enable you to gain more visibility into your F5 application delivery controller infrastructure. (If you missed part one, you can check it out here.) This blog post continues where I left off and provides two more exciting use cases for you to explore.

Viewing application page load times

This is a ground-breaking feature that really makes F5 stand out from its competition. Basically, this information is useful for tracking user experience by displaying how long it takes for your application web pages to load on client-side browsers.

Client-side browsers must meet the following requirements:

  • Support navigation timing by W3C
  • Accept cookies from visited application sites
  • Enable JavaScript® for the visited application sites

The BIG-IP Client Side Performance Monitoring (CSPM) feature generates the page load time data. According to F5 Networks, “To calculate the client-side load time for a web resource, the CSPM feature injects a piece of JavaScript code into the HTTP response that it sends to the client. When the client browser executes the JavaScript, it calculates the specific timing values needed by the CSPM feature, and reports those values back to the BIG-IP system in a cookie.”

There are three requirements for CSPM injection in an HTTP response. They are:

  • HTTP content is not compressed
  • HTTP content-type is text/html
  • HTTP content contains an HTML <head> tag

Application page load times are viewable in the F5 Analytics charts. Alerts are configured there as well. Page load time is measured by how long in milliseconds it takes for an end-user to make a request for a web page until the web page finishes loading on the client-side browser. Think of how amazing this is! You’re literally reaching out to your end-user, wherever he or she may be, and gathering statistics of their experience just by enabling a checkbox.

Troubleshooting applications by capturing traffic

This is typically used only for troubleshooting an active issue. I don’t recommend setting this up and leaving it on for eternity. This is not traffic capture like a tcpdump would do, but more of a layer-seven-type capture. I’ll explain that later.

The information captured is stored locally or remotely via syslog or a SIEM, like Splunk. If captured locally, the system stores the first 1,000 transactions. If using a VIPRION system, the system stores the first 1,000 transactions times the number of blades in the system. I recommend capturing the transactions remotely to syslog or Splunk where you are only limited by the storage of the remote destination.

So, what did I mean by layer-seven-type capture? Well, instead of capturing raw data like a tcpdump would, you can capture actual traffic, such as requests, responses, or both. The data contained by those may include:

  • None
  • Headers
  • Body
  • All

You can configure a traffic filter for captured traffic to include filtering by:

  • Virtual servers
  • Nodes
  • Response status codes
  • HTTP methods
  • URL
  • User agent
  • Client IP addresses
  • Request containing string
  • Response containing string

As you can see, this is different than doing a tcpdump and exporting to Wireshark for analysis, which may be fine for certain cases. My point here is to show you a new tool that you can use for troubleshooting an issue with your F5 BIG-IP application delivery controller environment that may rapidly provide you with more relevant data to solve an issue.

I hope this post stimulates your interest in F5 Analytics. It is a powerful (and free) tool to use in your F5 BIG-IP application delivery controller infrastructure.

In addition to F5 Analytics, there are many features available with F5’s application delivery controllers that can enhance your investment, increase your return on investment, and improve end-user experience. If you would like to learn more, GuidePoint’s security professionals have years of experience with F5 application delivery controllers, as well as integrating them with other solutions. We can help you develop a customized security plan to best meet your organization’s needs.

If you’re a GuidePoint client and have questions about F5 Analytics, please reach out directly to your personal contact or email us at info@guidepointsecurity.com. If your organization wants to learn more about F5 Analytics and if it’s the right tool for you, let us know. You can find out more about GuidePoint and our services at www.guidepointsecurity.com.

About GuidePoint Security

GuidePoint Security LLC provides innovative and valuable cyber security solutions and expertise that enable organizations to successfully achieve their mission. By embracing new technologies, GuidePoint Security helps clients recognize the threats, understand the solutions, and mitigate the risks present in their evolving IT environments. Headquartered in Herndon, Virginia, GuidePoint Security is a small business, and classification is  with the System for Award Management (SAM). Learn more at: www.guidepointsecurity.com.

F5 Analytics: Increasing Visibility Into Your Applications

Have you ever wanted to learn more about what your F5 BIG-IP application delivery infrastructure is doing? Sure, there are basic statistics like throughput, number of sessions, and active connections, but as layer four load balancers have evolved into layer seven application delivery controllers, shouldn’t the available performance metrics evolve as well?

In this blog post, I want to bring visibility to a great tool included in every F5 Networks BIG-IP platform. That tool is the F5 Analytics module (otherwise known as Application, Visibility, and Reporting or simply AVR). It’s already included with BIG-IP, you just need to provision it and set it up. (One quick note on provisioning, you should provision the AVR module with “minimum” resources.)

So, what is F5 Analytics? Well, it is a fantastic new way of discovering more information about your applications and infrastructure through graphical charts, and you can drill down for more specific details about performance-related statistics.

F5 Networks provides excellent documentation on the features and configuration of F5 Analytics on its support site, but I want to point out a few of the use cases. I hope to highlight its feature set so you can incorporate it into your own F5 BIG-IP application delivery controller infrastructure.

Troubleshooting applications by capturing statistics

This core F5 Analytics functionality is suitable for everyday use. F5 Analytics is configurable to capture a variety of great statistics. They include metrics, such as:

  • Max TPS and throughput
  • Page load time
  • User sessions

And entities, such as:

  • URLs
  • Countries
  • Client IP addresses
  • Client subnets
  • Response codes
  • User agents
  • HTTP methods

All of these metrics and entities are viewable in the administrative GUI. For instance, if a user calls in and says an application is broken, you can filter the transaction statistics by client IP address and then narrow the filter by virtual server and time period to view the actual request/response metadata. It is pretty cool to troubleshoot a problem with an application just by drilling down into some graphs to isolate the issue. In addition to collecting statistics locally on BIG-IP, you can collect data remotely via syslog or a SIEM, such as Splunk and view the data there.

Investigating server latency

This is F5 Analytics key feature and may provide valuable information to your server and application teams. F5 Analytics measures server latency in milliseconds from the time the request reaches the BIG-IP, for it to proceed to the application server, and return a response to the BIG-IP system.

In my experience as a BIG-IP administrator, one of the most common misconceptions was that the LTM was somehow adding latency to server response times. Fingerpointing was often directed at the LTM, and I frequently had to run tcpdumps to exonerate the LTM as the culprit of server latency.

In addition to providing server latency statistics, F5 Analytics provides the ability to set an alert threshold in milliseconds and issue an alert via syslog, SNMP, or via email. This information helps to proactively track latency issues with web servers, application servers, database servers, etc. This is a big deal because you can now isolate where slower components may exist in your web stack all from a simple GUI.

I hope this posts stimulates an interest in F5 Analytics. It is a powerful (and free) tool to use in your F5 BIG-IP application delivery controller infrastructure.

In addition to F5 Analytics, there are many features available with F5’s application delivery controllers that can enhance your investment, increase your return on investment, and improve end-user experience. If you would like to learn more, GuidePoint’s security professionals have years of experience with F5 application delivery controllers, as well as integrating them with other solutions. We can help you develop a customized security plan to best meet your organization’s needs.

If you’re a GuidePoint client and have questions about F5 Analytics, please reach out directly to your personal contact or email us at info@guidepointsecurity.com. If your organization wants to learn more about F5 Analytics and if it’s the right tool for you, let us know. You can find out more about GuidePoint and our services at www.guidepointsecurity.com.

Check out part two of this series on F5 Analytics here.

About GuidePoint Security

GuidePoint Security LLC provides innovative and valuable cyber security solutions and expertise that enable organizations to successfully achieve their mission. By embracing new technologies, GuidePoint Security helps clients recognize the threats, understand the solutions, and mitigate the risks present in their evolving IT environments. Headquartered in Herndon, Virginia, GuidePoint Security is a small business, and classification is with the System for Award Management (SAM). Learn more at: www.guidepointsecurity.com.