Opening Up Remote Access with Opengear

Opengear OM2200

The Opengear OM2200

If you had told me last year at this time that remote management of devices would be a huge thing in 2020 I might have agreed but laughed quietly. We were traveling down the path of simultaneously removing hardware from our organizations and deploying IoT devices that could be managed easily from the cloud. We didn’t need to access stuff like we did in the past. Even if we did, it was easy to just SSH or console into the system from a jump box inside the corporate firewall. After all, who wants to work on something when you’re not in the office?

Um, yeah. Surprise, surprise.

Turns out 2020 is the Year of Having Our Hair Lit On Fire. Which is a catchy song someone should record. But it’s also the year where we have learned how to stand up 100% Work From Home VPN setups within a week, deploy architecture to the cloud and refactor on the fly to help employees stay productive, and institute massive change freezes in the corporate data center because no one can drive in to do a reboot if someone forgets to do commit confirmed or reload in 5.

Remote management has always been something that was nice to have. Now it’s something that you can’t live without. If you didn’t have a strategy for doing it before or you’re still working with technology that requires octal cables to work, it’s time you jumped into the 21st Century.

High Gear

Opengear is a company that has presented a lot at Tech Field Day. I remember seeing them for the first time when I was a delegate many, many years ago. As I have grown with Tech Field Day, so too have they. I’ve seen them embrace new technologies like cloud management and 4G/LTE connectivity. I’ve heard the crazy stories about fish farms and Australian emergency call boxes and even some stuff that’s too crazy to repeat. But the theme remains the same throughout it all. Opengear is trying to help admins keep their boxes running even if they can’t be there to touch them.

Flash forward to the Hair On Fire year, and Opengear is still coming right along. During the recent Tech Field Day Virtual Cisco Live Experience in June, they showed off their latest offerings for sweet, sweet hardware. Rob Waldie did a great job talking about their new line of NetOps Console servers here in this video:

Now, I know what you’re thinking. NetOps? Really? Trying to cash in on the marketing hype? I would have gone down that road if they hadn’t show off some of the cool things these new devices can do.

How about support for Docker containerized apps? Pretty sure that qualifies at NetOps, doesn’t it? Now, your remote console appliance is capable of doing things like running automation scripts and triggering complex logic when something happens. And, because containers are the way the cloud runs now, you can deploy any number of applications to the console server with ease. It’s about as close at an App Store model as you’re going to find, with some nerd knobs for good measure.

That’s not all though. The new line of console appliances also comes with an embedded trusted platform module (TPM) chip. You’ve probably seen these on laptops or other mobile devices. They do a great job of securing the integrity of the device. It’s super important to have if you’re going to deploy console servers into insecure locations. That way, no one can grab your device and do things they shouldn’t like tapping traffic or trying to do other nefarious things to compromise security.

Last but not least, there’s an option for 64GB of flash storage on the device. I like this because it means I can do creative things like back up configurations to the storage device on a regular basis just in case of an outage. If and when something happens I can just remote to the Opengear server, console to the device, and put the config back where it needs to be. Pretty handy if you have a device with a dying flash card or something that is subject to power issues on a regular basis. And with a LTE-A global cellular modem, you don’t have to worry about shipping the box to a country where it won’t work.

Tom’s Take

I realize that we’re not going to be quarantined forever. But this is a chance for us to see how much we can get done without being in the office. Remember all those budgets for fancy office chairs and the coffee service? They could go to buying Opengear console servers so we can manage devices without truck rolls. Money well spent on reducing the need for human intervention also means a healthier workforce. I trust my family to stay safe with our interactions. But if I have to show up at a customer site to reboot a box? Taking chances even under the best of circumstances. And the fewer chances we take in the short term, the healthier the long-term outlook becomes.

We may never get back to the world we had before. And we may never even find ourselves in a 100% Remote Work environment. But Opengear gives us options that we need in order to find a compromise somewhere in the middle.

If you’d like more information about Opengear’s remote access solutions, make sure you check out their website at

Disclaimer: As a staff member of Tech Field Day, I was present during Opengear’s virtual presentation. This post represents my own thoughts and opinions of their presentation. Opengear did not provide any compensation for this post, nor did they request any special consideration when writing it. The conclusions contained herein are mine alone and do not represent the views of my employer.

Increasing Entropy with Crypto4A

Have you ever thought about the increasing disorder in your life? Sure, it may seem like things are constantly getting crazier every time you turn around, but did you know that entropy is always increasing in the universe? It’s a Law of Thermodynamics!

The idea that organized systems want to fall into disorder isn’t too strange when you think about it. Maintaining order takes a lot of effort and disorder is pretty easy to accomplish by just giving up. Anyone with a teenager knows that the amount of disorder that can be accomplished in a bedroom is pretty impressive.

One place where we don’t actually see a lot of disorder is in the computing realm. Computers are based on the idea that there is order and rationality in everything that we do. This is so prevalent that finding a way to be random is actually pretty hard. Computer programmers have tried a number of ways to come up with random number generators that take a variety of inputs into the formula and come up with something that looks sufficiently random. For most people just wanting the system to guess a number between 1 and 100 it’s not too bad. But when it comes to really, really large numbers like the ones used in cryptography, those pseudorandom numbers aren’t good enough.

This All Looks So Familiar…

One of the reasons for this comes down to good old fashioned efficiency. In the old days computers programmers could rely on people to generate pseudorandom input. By sampling mouse clicks or delay between computer keyboard keystrokes you could easily come up with a number that looks nice and random. However, we’ve taken people out of the loop now. Thanks to the cloud and automation and any one of a number of new ways to reduce human input we’ve managed to remove mouse clicks and keystrokes.

That’s fine for running scripts and programs. It’s even good for building things at a huge scale. But it’s really bad when you need something that looks relatively random. And it’s really, really bad when your program relies on that randomness to keep you secure. Kind of like key generation in Public Key Cryptography (PKI).

A group of security researchers working for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) found out a few years ago that public keys were starting to collide at greater rates than random chance. The study, conducted in 2012, found that 5% of HTTPS and 10% of SSH public keys were duplicates. A collision in a hashing algorithm is when two inputs produce the same output, which renders that hashing function broken. In PKI, having a two different inputs output the same public key is really bad, because it could lead to key collisions that impact a variety of service.

What caused it? As it turns out, lack of orderly disorder. Because automation and non-human interaction have led to other pseudorandom inputs being used in key generation it appeared to the researchers that the same inputs were being used all over the place. That meant that a lot of the public keys that were being generated were being done in such as way as to make collisions more likely. When you look at how many things are relying on automated sources to generate keys it can be quite scary. Think about a smart lightbulb or other IoT device that’s trying to generate pseudorandom input from a CPU that’s just big enough to turn things on. Now imagine that CPU multiplied by the number of smart lightbulbs out there. Not a pleasant thought, is it?

Disorder In The Court

This fascinating discussion came from an interview I had with Bruno Couillard, the President and CTO of Crypto4A. Crypto4A is a company that provides Entropy-as-a-Service. What exactly does that mean?

Crypto4A has an appliance they call QAOS. QAOS is designed to give you the best possible disorder that you can get. It does this the old fashioned way. Instead of trying to use software as a Random Number Generator (RNG) QAOS instead uses hardware sources to generate entropy for their RNG. This includes a quantum RNG, which produces high quality disorder that’s difficult to fake any other way.

QAOS is designed to feed software with entropy to generate randomness sufficient to prevent PKI public key collisions. The software developers can follow the NIST guidelines on EaaS to have the program call an entropy source. QAOS, acting as that entropy source, will seed the RNG on the target system with good randomness and allow it to generate good keys. This could also be configured in the kernel of the OS to call a system like QAOS on boot and start the seed value with a good amount of random entropy in the case of old programs that can’t be modified to call anything other than a system-based RNG source like /dev/random/.

Tom’s Take

The NIST guidelines around EaaS are constantly evolving, but the idea that companies are already racing to fill the void that has been created by insufficient randomness in cryptography is telling. When you think about nth the number of devices that are going to be using PKI for secure communications, the need for something like Crypto4A QAOS is pretty clear. If we are going to rely on automated systems to run our daily lives, we need to have the resources in place to ensure they have a solid foundation of randomness to build on.