In the last months and years we have seen multiple DDoS attacks based on amplification techniques (DNS, NTP, Chargen, SSDP)
A new amplification attack was spotted in the last week of February (25th – 27th of February).
It is, by far, the strongest amplification attack we had and it is based on the Memcached protocol running on UDP port 11211.
Sources at CloudFlare state the attack reached 257Gbps.
Why the Memcached Protocol?
The answer is simple, it supports UDP which is stateless (which is necessary for amplification attacks), it lacks any form of authentication, and when it turns out it provides excellent ratio in amplification (the difference between the size of the trigger packet and the response).
Amplification ratio in the attack was around x10000 times but the protocol itself is capable of x51200.
The attack stats detected on CloudFlare show UDP datagrams with 1400B size. The number of packets peaked to 23Mpps which measures to the reported total 257Gbps of bandwidth. And that is a lot, it can cause very serious outages.
How does an amplification attack work and how it can be prevented?
To successfully lunch an amplification attack you need 3 components:
- Capability to spoof IP packets, meaning access to a high-bandwidth pipe on ISP that does not do a solid job in securing anti-spoofing
- Application/Protocol that is amplification friendly – UDP based, no authentication, protocol allowing large responses to be created based on small requests
- Reflector servers running a suitable protocol – These are servers that are reachable from Internet and that are going to respond to requests
How does the attack work?
The attackers send a large number of very small requests from a high-bandwidth pipe behind ISP(s), that allow ip spoofing, destined at a large list of publicly accessible application servers. The attacker is spoofing the source IP on all these requests to the target public IP address. All servers are made to respond with much larger packets to the requests, wrongfully directing all that traffic towards the unsuspecting target. The idea is to cripple either the target server/device or to congest its internet pipe, both causing Denial of Service.
How can Amp Attacks be prevented?
If any of the three components outlined above is not available, then there is no way to perform a successful Amplification attack.
Simple steps can make a bit difference.
- ISP should always adhere to the strict anti-spoofing rules and allow outbound traffic only from sources belonging to their IP ranges.
- Developers should think about security when creating new applications and protocols. UDP should be avoided unless low-latency is needed, and if UDP is used, the protocol should have some form of authentication and should never allow a reply to a request ratio bigger than 1. Meaning all replies should be smaller or equal to the request that generate them.
- Administrators should correctly “firewall” their servers and allow access to the services to whomever needs them; and not the whole Internet. Certain types of responses might be blocked from within the application or at Firewall level.
Malware is evolving constantly. The threat landscape is so dynamic that yesterday’s news is not news today. The malware business is a full-blown industry that can easily size up with the IT security industry.
Recent major security breaches:
NiceHash, the largest Bitcoin mining marketplace, has been hacked, which resulted in the theft of more than 4,700 Bitcoins worth over $57 million (at the time of breach) – more than 70 million now. The breach is reported to have happened via vulnerability on their website.
Teamviewer vulnerability – critical vulnerability discovered in the software that could allow users sharing a desktop session to gain complete control of the other’s PC without permission.
By using naked inline hooking and direct memory modification, in addition, the PoC allows users to harness control of the mouse without altering settings and permissions.
Uber – Uber’s October 2016 data breach affected some 2.7 million UK users, it has now been revealed. Uber did not disclose until now and paid a ransom (100k USD). Lawsuits to follow. Information held by a third-party cloud service provider used by Uber was accessed by the two hackers.
PayPal subsidiary breach – ID Theft for 1.6 Million Customers. PayPal Holdings Inc. said that a review of its recently acquired company TIO Networks showed evidence of unauthorized access to the company’s network, including some confidential parts where the personal information of TIO’s customers were stored.
Numerous unidentified security vulnerabilities were found in the platform (bugs that lead to security related vulnerabilities). Evidence of a breach discovered. Forensics are under way.
Equifax – breach allowed 15.2 million UK records to be made public (and 145 Million US records). Bad guys used a known vulnerability in an internet accessible service for initial penetration.
Recent Apple Root vulnerability – Any Mac system running macOS High Sierra 10.13.1 or 10.13.2 beta was vulnerable. There was no real exploit, you just typed root for username and keep the password empty and keep pressing enter and after several tries you are logged in with root rights. A logic error existed in the validation of credentials or simply a bug.
Making malware today has become more available. Malware development processes does not differentiate much from any software development, people use online available sources for much of the code, and will combine it together to their liking and purpose. A lot of the bad guys would also release the code for their creations which can later be changed and further modified (example Petya and NotPetya). Even code stolen from the government cyber agencies is now used in modern malware (example EternalBlue use in multiple malware as a way of effective horizontal spread – used in WannaCry).
Another typical trend in malware these days is to be modular. It will install and run multiple services on the infected host in specific order after the initial infection.
1st stage – there is always the initial infection – usual methods here are unpatched vulnerability of a running service or in the cases of more advanced malware – the use of Zero-Day vulnerability. Example here is the EternalBlue exploit of the SMBv1 service. Usually the delivery of the exploit is via Internet on accessible services or once inside the organization, horizontally meaning within the internal networks of the organization. That stage ends with having temporary access to the system and dropping off the malware in questions
2nd stage – privilege escalation – will try to gather credentials from the infected device in different ways – cracking the specific files on the system that holds the accounts, trying to locate account information on the local drives, or even brute-forcing credentials. These credentials will be leveraged for either privilege escalation on that machine or access to other similar machines on the network and infecting them.
3rd stage – installing a backdoor. Making sure the access is permanent
4th stage – doing the job. Downloading all necessary pieces of malware to finish the job. If that is a crypto virus it will download the tools to encrypt the sensitive files, also change desktop or even download application to show the user the ransom note, a tool to clean keys and traces of the encryption etc.
5th stage – spread, can be done again by using vulnerable services within the organization or by leveraging any credentials that are discovered in the privilege escalating process and using legit sys admin management channels such as WMI and PSExec. Sometimes the spread can be done before or simultaneously with the 4th stage as not to warn the organization of its presence before it managed to infect multiple systems.
Types of malware:
It is very hard to categorize malware these days. Most traditional classification such as: virus, worm, trojan, backdoor does not really cut it anymore as most modern malware shares the features of all of them (again example WannaCry, it is a virus, it is a worm as it spreads itself and it is a backdoor as it does install a hidden unauthorized way into the compromised system, and on top of that does encryption).
Ransomware – attacks aimed at making money by forcing victims to pay for accessing again their personal files
DDoS attacks – attacks aimed at crippling or disabling services at the victim
Attacks aimed at stealing sensitive information – attacks aimed at spying on users and gathering sensitive data – credentials, S/N, banking details, impersonating info (DOB etc.), private communications etc
Zombie/Botnet – attacks that rely on the collective resources of multiple compromised hosts that are managed by a central C&C (command and control). Can be used for multiple things, DDoS, span relay, stealing sensitive information from users
APT attacks – Advanced Persistent Attacks. Specially crafted attacks, usually used in nation-state cyber activities. Example could be the attack versus Iranian Nuclear Program
IoT related attacks – again these blur with other, as normally the compromised IoT devices are used for other kind of attacks (DDoS). This kind of IoT are very typical these days, the IoT devices are cheap network connected devices that were not designed with security in mind. The Mirai attack was a shining example on how powerful attacks can be executed using a Botnet of compromised IoT devices (DYN case). Furthermore, the number of IoT will continue to grow.
Mobile devices – attacks that are specific for mobile devices, most dangerous ones are compromised apps that go under the radar and give away sensitive information from the smart phone (ID theft, or sell personal info to ad companies, or steal financial data (credit card info etc.)). There are no such thing as free apps, they steal data from you and use it in illegal way to monetize it and make profit.
Phishing / Spear-Headed Phishing – Becoming more and more popular, bad actors will put in the effort now to get to know the victim so they can deliver the malware content in a shape and form that is interesting to the target
Some top Cyber Security Trends:
- Less number of security breaches (due to more investments in in IT Security) reported globally but more impact upon breach.
- More time is needed for the detection of breached (average time in 2016 was 80.6 days, in 2017 it is 92.2 days)
- Predictions of crime damage costs to sky rocket in the next 3 years (by 2021) to 6 Trillion USD
- Successful phishing and ransomware attacks are climbing
- Global ransomware damage cost estimated to exceed 5 Billion USD by the end of 2017
Data was gathered by CSO 2017 Cyber Security report (csoonline.com)
Summary of the evolution of Security Controls
- Intrusion Prevention (Advanced Network Threat Detection) becomes a must
Advanced IPS systems have replaced the traditional status firewalls. They incorporate multiple security technologies (signatures, behavior analytics, heuristics, sandboxing, central intelligence feeds etc.), to be able to successfully detect intrusion events and malware.
- Logging and Alerting platforms more important than ever
Logging and alerting are hugely important for each organization to be able to both proactively secure your network but in case of a breach to re-actively do forensics
- Data Loss Prevention is gaining momentum
DLP is becoming more popular as numerous breaches that year were connected to leaked sensitive information (ID theft in the Equifax and Uber)
- Endpoint security/malware is again in the front lines of combating malware
The focus of the security has shifted in the recent years from the network to the endpoint. Network and endpoint security controls should collaborate to create a strong security posture for your organization
- Systemwide threat defense is becoming necessary to adequately protect your organization
Security has become closely connected to intelligence. All major security vendors syphon off as much data from the internet as they can just, so they can filter through it in a strive to find first the zero-day exploits and provide first adequate protection for their customers. All parts of the network infrastructure can be used as sensors and deliver intelligence data to a centralized place that provides the analysis (big data).
New extremely large Botnet is being built – Nicknamed IoTroop or IoT Reaper
Remember Mira? The worm that prayed on unsecure IoT devices. It managed to spread and gain control using quite a simple method to gain entry – reusing the hard-coded or default password for IoT devices which were well-known by then, and the spreading was done via the EthernalBlue SMB exploit.
Now security researchers at CheckPoint and NetLab360 claim there is a new botnet being formed (called IoTroop or Reaper). This time the methods used to gain unauthorized entry are more sophisticated – no more trying to exploit traditional hardcoded and default password or to brute-force easy passwords, the Reaper malware tries to exploit different known vulnerabilities that IoT and home network devices have (more than 12 different popular vendors including Linksys, Netgear, D-Link, AVTECH and GoAhead have numerous vulnerabilities already discovered, list and links in the related articles below). The Reaper code constantly evolves, the guys behind it seems to add new exploits into the code based on new vulnerabilities being published openly on the Internet.
Another key difference between Mirai and Reaper is that as Mirai was extremely aggressive in scanning and trying to hop between network and infect other systems (which makes it easily detectable by security controls), the Reaper is stealthier in its way of spreading and tries to stay under the radar for as long as possible.
The likelihood of a successful exploit is quite high due to the fact that traditional home users do not tend to pay much attention to security and are very likely not to have patched their devices.
All sources claim this new botnet will be much bigger and stronger than Mirai – The NetLab360 researchers are claiming the C2 communication they see confirms more than 20k bots per control server and they have estimated more than 2 million vulnerable devices out there that are ripe for the infection. There is a great possibility the total number of bots can swell quite heavily in the coming weeks.
What is at stake here? How will this botnet be used?
At this stage, it is still very early to predict how this botnet will be used but most likely DDoS attacks are on the roadmap – the previous smaller Mirai successfully managed to do a DDoS with more than 1Tbps of traffic (both to Dyn internet infrastructure giant which brought down many popular web services down and French hosting company OVH).
IoT general security problems
The problems with IoT is the inherited lack of security (saying inherited because manufactures do not take security into account when building the devices) and the ever-growing number of IoT devices being deployed by users who are not savvy in networking or security best-practices (changing of default passwords, patching, lowering the attack surface). These two large issues combined with the large number of devices out there (the trend is more and more IoT devices to be manufactured and connected online) really poses quite a large security threat to the Internet community.
Some good news:
Different efforts to secure IoT devices are on the roadmap, US lawmakers are trying to pass a legislative action into forcing hardware IoT manufactures to start taking security into account and not spill out junky unsecure devices.
Also, some of the creators and botnet administrators of the Mirai, have now been arrested and expecting trial and effective sentences. This clearly shows there will be consequence for all actions related to running a botnet and malicious cyber behavior, this must be a deterrent for any future black-hats out there.
New ransomware on the loose
Remember WannaCry and Nyatya, aka NotPetya (a variant of Petya) ransomwares. There is a new one around the corner (initial spotting is on the 24th Oct), again spread predominately in the East Europe (Ukraine, Poland, Bulgaria) and Russia but also in Japan, Germany, South Korea and the USA. It is a changed version of NotPetya. It uses usually a drive-by download on hacked sites to trick the user to run a fake Flash Player installer. The horizontal spread within the compromised network this time is NOT based on the EthernalBlue SMB exploit, but Bad Rabbit uses an open tool MimiKatz to try to extract any login credentials on the infected machine and reuse them to spread itself via legit Windows management protocols such as WMI and SMB to other devices. It also uses a hard-coded list with most commonly used passwords to try to brute-force credentials access.
Most current antivirus and endpoint protection software will detect Bad Rabbit and there is a known Windows Registry based vaccination that can prevent a machine from getting infected, but Bad Rabbit shows the ransomware trend is still strong and not likely to quiet down anytime soon.
A new malware Nyetya (combination of words from Nye Petya, meaning NOT Petya), also known as Petrwrap and GoldenEye has been spreading globally over the last 24 hours.
This virus is distinct from WannaCry and other initially suspected variants, it has some unique new features which makes it harder to detect and defend against, clearly showing that today’s malware landscape is an evolving space. This rapidly changing threat landscape has a number of factors including; leaked tools from government agencies, more advanced security controls that require advanced malware (the cat and mouse game) or just because attackers are more determined and more capable.
Other popular researchers (links below) say Nyetya is more of a nation (state) attack towards a specific country (Ukraine) that is disguised as ransomware so its true nature would remain hidden in the shadow of recent WannaCry ransomware.
Some Characteristics of Nyetya and why it is different
- There is recent research that showed Nyetya, despite having major resemblance to Petya ransomware, in fact does not keep a copy of the encrypted MTL (Master File Table) and MBR (Master Boot Record) that it replaces with the random note. That means that even in the case that the user gets its decryption keys there is nothing to decrypt. This behavior resembles specific type of malware called Wiper Malware. All machines that are infected cannot be recovered. Also, the email for contract with the attackers is now disabled so there is no possibility for getting the decryption keys. Obviously, the attackers have not intended to milk the ransom and get rich for their efforts.
- It encrypts the master boot record, which makes the whole system unusable and causes more damage. Previous crypto viruses (ransomware) were encrypting specific file extensions
- It does not use a common attack vector from the Internet
It does not infect by scanning ports for vulnerable services, nor uses phishing (mails with crafted content with specific covert malware links), nor file attachments or web sites that host malicious content. Instead the initial way in was via an update in a polular accounting software in Ukraine (called MeDoc). The software was tricked into auto-updating with a malicious file (Perfc.dat). Once it is inside it uses the Eternal Blue (SMBv1) exploit to spread (same as WannaCry) but also two other administrative tools (PSexec and WMI) which in general are valid and legitimate tools used inside a network. The use of these tools would not raise any alarms on network security controls. The malware is capable of stealing the current user’s token and use it to distribute itself to other devices via PSexec (still unclear how it is able to steal the token) or again to steal the current user credentials and use them via WMI.
- No external Internet scans
There is no evidence of external scans (from the internet) in order to locate unpatched SMB services. The only scans that the virus conducts are horizontal, once it is inside the protected network. That makes the virus very hard to detect as most organisations do not have visibility within their network for such activity
- No Command and Control functionality
The virus does not use C&C so any reputation based security controls cannot detect it. IP addresses/domains reputation is widely used to detect zero-day attacks and to monitor the spread of the virus. That does not seem feasible protection from Nyetya
- Special attention has been paid to cleaning up any remaining data and logs
All of these unique characteristics point to the fact that cyber criminals have changed their tactics (after the failure of WannaCry due to the incidental but timely discovery of the killswitch) and want the malware spread to be as stealthy as possible.
Protecting yourself from the attack
A short summary of techniques necessary to protect against the attacks are listed below. These cannot be undertaken in isolation and it is assumed that good security practices are already in place such as disaster recovery strategy as well security control such anti-malware controls.
- Patch your systems (MS17-010 should be applied), close off any SMBv1 services (disable)
- Do not use admin/elevated privileged accounts for normal users
- Monitor your network and endpoints for PSexec and WMI communication and try to establish if that is valid communication (could be based on which one the administrators use and also the time of the day)
- Monitor your internal network segments using an IDS/IPS
Which type of network security controls are best suited to discover and prevent malware spread?
While other forms of malware attack may have been stopped by reputation based or email and web security controls, neither would have been effective in this instance. An essential tool in the armoury of security controls is endpoint security such as Cisco AMP for Endpoints, which actively analyse the behaviour of executable files on the system and perform sandboxing.
IDS/IPS network controls are able to catch lateral scans and spread via SMBv1 exploit only if they can see the traffic (actively monitoring traffic on the same logical domain). The most common IDS/IPS deployment model is on the Internet edge, as this malware does not use external scans or gets distributed via normal Internet related channels (mail and web) these controls are not effective.
Following general security best practises is also beneficial – having backup of important systems/files, having proper application visible monitoring on the network and trying to detect unusual behavior, that of course requires both the tools and the people (analyst).
Cisco has finally decided to merge its two major network security products – the ASA and FirePOWER. These two have been living on the same hardware (5500X) model for years now but they required separate management which increased the deployment and operational costs for a Cisco FirePOWER implementation. Now Cisco has decided to merge these two platforms by removing the logical separation in hardware and the full separation in software by creating a merged OS that combines the features of both worlds, hence lowering the time/costs for deployment and running.
A bit of History
Cisco is a major player in the Firewall Market since the PIX. With the introduction of the first gen ASA, the PIX was given a polish, new features (such as dynamic routing, QoS, new RFC based protocol inspections/fixup and a few more), but ASA’s were and still are a traditional stateful packet firewall positioned at the Internet Edge. The demands to introduce firewalls also in the DC drove the change from IP based object to Name based object and totally different way of doing NAT (including the introduction of the Any as interface) in versions 8.3+. Still the ASA was purely a stateful firewall and the IDS/IPS module that Cisco was offering was quite outdated in technology and had a less than excellent catch-rate. Cisco knew that and purchased the best IPS/IDS vendor out there – SourceFire.
Now Cisco had two flagmen in the network security and naturally decided to offer them as one box – hence the NX 5500X Firewalls were created, no modules needed, all you need to run both ASA and FirePOWER was an upgrade to SSD drives. However, the management, logging, operation of the ASA and FirePOWER was still independent – ASA was managed and monitored by either ASDM or CSM, where FirePOWER was using – FireSight (pre-version 6) and now FMC (Firepower Management Center). Most competitors (Palo Alto and Check Point) did not need nor have separate management platforms to configure their advanced Next-Gen capabilities and frankly speaking users/admins were not happy with having to do double amount of work to enable a Cisco Next Gen Firewall – interfaces, licensing, configuration, policies, monitoring etc.
In 2015 Cisco hinted about the concept of having one unified management OS that would combine the features of both FirePOWER and ASA. The FirePOWER was chosen as a base for that new image, so from day one the FTD image had almost a 100% of the FirePOWER functionality but a very small percentage of the ASA functionality. The first release (6.0) for testing and Cisco partners was in 2016 and then the FTP had about 20% of the features of the ASA – basic features of course were migrated first, but shockingly there was lack of some major features such as – HA, VPNs (both site-to-site and Anyconnect), dynamic routing protocols, virtualization/contexts, QoS. A quick introduction of 6.0.1 and 6.1 introduced HA failover so the FTD was now ready to go public.
The Situation today
Latest version release early 2017 is 6.2.0
Cisco continued its work to close the gap between the current ASA and FTD functionality. New major functionality added: Clustering for ASA, Site-To-Site IPSec VPN with certificates (6.1 supported Site-to-Site VPN but only with Pre-Shared-Key), PKI support, SGT without Realm, Migration tool (from traditional ASA to FTD), REST API, Packet Tracer and Capture functionality.
On top of the migrated in 6.1 functionalities such as integrations with Cisco ISE, Threat Grip, on-box management for some model, the 6.2 is looking more and more enterprise ready (not only SOHO as the 6.0 and 6.1). Also, adding the tools for automated migration, the FTD becomes more easily available when doing migration. The user base is also enlarging quite quickly (good for discovering of bugs and security/stability issues). Version 6.2.1 is just around the corner and will close the gap even further introducing the Anyconnect Remote Access functionality and many improvements/new features in NAT, Dynamic Routing, Multicast and QoS, HA, Site-To-Site VPN and interestingly an option for conversion back to ASA image.
This all points that soon there will be a major swift in the Cisco Security community and more and more clients will start using FTD. Naturally after break-point Cisco will start the phase out of the traditional ASA image (functionality gap will be in favor of the FTD) and clients will be forced to switch. Of course, that process will take time but why not be ahead of the curve?
We are experiencing a new phase in our vision of network security. There is currently no quick fix solution, no 100% proof network security protection/prevention tool or product. There is always zero-day or purposely built (very focused, low spread) APT malware that current vendors are unable to detect at the time of the breach.
Hence total prevention is a myth.
Most of the current network security solutions offer only Point-In-Time detection/prevention. Namely they inspect the traffic when the traffic goes via the firewall and if they deem the traffic is clean or unknown, at that exact time, they will allow it and forget about it. That could lead to malware passing through and being undetected for long periods of time. All vendors rely on intercepting the C&C communication to the botnet servers but not all malware uses such a centralized operation method so that cannot be considered a proven method of detection. That is why most of the vendors will apply their own sandboxing solution, namely send all files of unknown malware type to the cloud where they will be detonated in a controlled environment and the result of their execution will be deemed malicious or not by machines or sometimes humans. Upon discovery of malicious actions, the file is marked as malware and an update is shot out to all vendor appliances out there so they can intercept and drop such files. That process however takes time (typically more than 8 hours) and usually stops more than 96% of the malware spread (it depends on how quickly the different vendors discover that the file is malicious and how quickly the update is sent out) and that percentage was deemed high-enough for most companies.
What about that 4% though? I am sure any business owner would not like to be in this position and would like greater protection and value for their money. When a mere 4% can cause 100% of your security problems, you’re not protected.
Cisco is the only vendor in the NGFW market that currently has its vision also set on the retrospective side of the network security, the so-called After-The-Attack phase. Cisco uses the combination between Firepower and AMP for both network and endpoint to be able to provide threat context and to pinpoint the progress and spread of the malware in historical time so you will know exactly when and how the malware moved in your network, which hosts were infected so that you can immediately deploy mitigation techniques. First restrict the malware, block the effect of the malware and finally remove the malware that has already breached your network. Without this continuous analysis, the attack can run rampant on the network and it will be extremely difficult to determine the scope of the outbreak and the root cause or provide on-time/adequate response. Here is an example of such an event and how Firepower and AMP deal with it.
The following 4 simple steps represent how Firepower and Amp works with zero-day malware files:
- Unknown file gets downloaded to a client ip (126.96.36.199 for example) via http application with Firefox, the file is then allowed to reach the endpoint. The unknown file is sent to the cloud to be detonated and given a verdict.
- The Firepower tracks the movement/copying of the file within the network so it sees the file being propagated via any protocol at any time. For example, the file gets copied to another host 188.8.131.52 via SMB at 12:41 AM on the 1st of Dec 2016.
- Within 30min the same file gets replicated to 5 more devices within the internal range, all via SMB. The Firepower has a map of the file trajectory with hosts and timing of the movements.
- Two hours since the file was first seen, Cisco Security Intelligence Cloud had reached a verdict that the file in question is in fact malicious. From now on all Cisco AMP and Firepower enabled devices will drop that file upon encounter and alarm/log, but here comes the difference between Cisco and other vendors, namely the retrospective part. In our example, all future transfer of the files will be blocked and the file itself will be quarantined on all endpoints that have this file (requires AMP for endpoint), even more the administrators can leverage the trajectory map and verify the malicious file has been quarantined/removed and hosts have been remediated.
APT – Advanced Persistent Threats
C&C – Command and Control
NGFW – Next-Generation Firewall
Many VAR’s, Channel Partners and MSP’s are responsible for allocating the correct technical resource to monitor and manage their client’s IT Networks. Do they hire an external Cisco Network Engineer or allocate an in-house generalist IT Administrator?
IT Experts and Network experts have distinct specialisms and require the application of a significantly unique set of skills. IT Administrators tend to a multitude of IT duties ranging from desktop support to software installation & configuration. Cisco Network Engineers on the other hand are more specialised with typical duties ranging from VPN tunnelling to intricate network designs.
Organisations can be reluctant to hiring external experts as they prefer to assign generalist in-house IT staff to attempt complex networking tasks, often to the detriment to the end client.
Limited Internal Resources
Ask an IT/Systems Administrator for almost any VAR, MSP or Channel Partner what their duties are, and their answer will be “Everything!” They need to monitor & fix, software & hardware, back up data, enhance performance, security, storage and the list goes on. Internal IT & Engineering Departments are generally lacking in specific IT specialist functions. It would sink many businesses to the bottom of the ocean if they had experts in Cisco, Juniper, F5, Microsoft, Dell and Citrix who all need regular work. Not only do you need vendor specialists, you also need to have them situated in every single country where your clients are located.
It is therefore imperative to realise the limitations of the technical resources you have at your disposal in-house. You can hire an external expert in Cisco Networks or you can muddle along with what you have.
The Problem with Muddling Along
Round pegs fit into square pegs no problem, but they don’t stay there as the wrong tool has been used for the job. Holding your extremely expensive network together with sticky tape and a few short term fixes may solve an immediate problem, but it will simply add to the magnitude of problems brewing underneath those sub-standard fixes.
Systems administrators or IT generalists may be able to maintain and manage basic network functions, but complex configurations and designs MUST be left to the experts. If you need a CCNP Wireless, then hire one, if you need a CCIE Security, hire one. Prices from one Cisco Engineer to another varies depending on individual skill sets and market experience, where that experience should not be underestimated or undervalued. Technical couriers are often hired by organisations instead of paying the market price for a CCNA Engineer in an effort to minimise the cost of technical resourcing.
Muddling along might save you a penny or two in the short-term, but if I was your client, I certainly wouldn’t be satisfied that my critical business problems are solved with inferior solutions. Clients pay a premium price to have their networks maintained and managed, subsequently only premium solutions will suffice.
Quality of Service
Cisco certifications are highly regarded by Enterprise organisations, VAR’s, MSP’s & Channel Resellers, yet lower prices too often take precedence over quality of service. Cisco hardware is the backbone of all networks in almost every Enterprise organisation, which requires the application of Cisco best practises at all times to guarantee quality and continuity of service.
Here I’ll be bold and hail Cisco Certified Engineers as the best the market has to offer, no other certification comes close. When a CCNA or CCIE Engineer is assigned to complete a specific Network task there is no other IT Expert or Technician more qualified, experienced or skilled to successfully do so: round pegs for round holes.
By allocating anything other than a Cisco Certified Engineer to tackle a Cisco Network task is prioritising price over quality of service delivered. Cisco experts may be more expensive than the cheaper in-house generalist option, but if you think experts are expensive, wait and see how much amateurs cost you.
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