Security and Authentication for Remote Power Switch Applications

A remote power switch can provide a network administrators with a valuable tool for switching, metering and rebooting power to remote network equipment; often allowing administrators to deal with problems at remote equipment sites without the need to travel to the site in person. But in order for a remote power switch to be truly useful, it must also support adequate security and authentication measures in order to protect power control and reboot functions from unauthorized use.

All remote power switch products will provide at least basic password security, but given the critical nature of remote power switching functions, a truly effective remote power switching solution must offer several layers of security and authentication for network communication, and also additional security for dial-up power switching applications. Obviously, it’s nearly impossible to ensure that access to any network device is 100% secure and resistant to all types of security threats, but in most cases a remote power switch that supports both basic security features such as password protection and a user directory, as well as popular remote authentication protocols, will provide adequate security for most remote power switching applications.

A multi-level user’s directory offers many features that will both ensure a basic level of security, and also allow administrators to set access rights for authorized users. Typically, a multi-level user’s directory enables administrators to define an account name and password for each user, plus allows each user to be assigned specific command access rights and determines which means each user will be allowed to employ when establishing communication with the switch. For example, a multi-level user directory might be used to enable a given user to access power switching commands, but also restrict that same user from changing configuration parameters on the remote power switch. Likewise, the multi-level user directory could be configured to allow a user to access command mode via SSH or Telnet, but prevent that user from accessing command mode via web browser.

A secure remote power switch should also support several different authentication protocols in order to ensure better compatibility with the communication needs of a wide variety of different types of users. Support for popular remote authentication protocols such as TACACS+, RADIUS, LDAP and Kerberos generally insures compatibility with most potential remote power switch users.

In addition to basic security and authentication measures, a full-featured remote power switch will often offer other security features such as an IP address filter, an invalid access lockout feature and a cryptographic module. An IP address filter allows administrators to set up specific IP addresses that are always allowed to access the remote power switch or define IP addresses or ranges of IP addresses that are prohibited from establishing a connection to the remote power switch, regardless of whether a valid password is entered.

An invalid access lockout feature is especially useful for preventing attacks by a random password generator. When properly configured, an invalid access lockout feature will count unsuccessful password attempts made via serial port, SSH, Telnet or web, and then lock the corresponding port or protocol when a user-defined threshold of invalid access attempts is reached.

A cryptography module helps to ensure that messages and login information sent to the remote power switch cannot be intercepted and interpreted by unauthorized personnel. In order to be truly effective, the remote power switch should provide a cryptographic module that is FIPS 140-2 validated.

Due to the very open nature of dial-up communication, it is both important and difficult to ensure that remote power switch functions are protected from unauthorized access. A username/password prompt is a good start, but given the potential for harm caused by unauthorized access to a remote power switch, additional measures are also needed. In some cases, callback security or dial-back security can provide a sort of low-tech authentication protocol for dial-up communication. When a callback security feature is present, users who attempt to access command mode via dial-up will not immediately be granted access to command functions. After a valid username/password is entered, the callback security feature will then disconnect and call the user back at a phone number that has been predefined (via the multi-level user directory) for the user account indicated by the username/password entered. If desired, the callback security feature can also be configured to prompt the user to re-enter username/password information upon callback.

Any network application that includes communication with devices at off-site data centers or remote network equipment cabinets can benefit from the remote power switching and reboot functions provided by a remote power switch. A remote power switch can save time and money by enabling administrators to reboot and switch devices at remote sites without the need for an expensive, time-consuming service call. But as the old saying goes, “with great power, comes great responsibility,” and if you’re in the process of implementing a remote power switching solution, it pays to do the research to make certain that you choose a remote power switch that provides adequate security and authentication features to protect vital power switching functions from unauthorized access.

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