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How Applications Work on Air Gapped Networks/Computers? What are the Requirements For an Application to be Operated in air gap architecture?

Md Mohsin Ansari

“Ransomware is expected to attack a business every 11 seconds by the end of 2021,” says a report by Cybersecurity Ventures.

The cost of damages due to system security breaches is projected to cost over $6 trillion by 2021. The sad truth is, when sophisticated attackers want to get access to your data, they leave no stone unturned to find a way.

Can you think of all the damage malware attacks can cause to your business?

The loss of potential data, assets, productivity, and in the worse case scenario, plant shutdowns. Needless to mention the restoration and deletion of hostage data, post-attack disruption to the normal business, reputational harm, forensic investigation, and employee training

Because of these threats, many organizations are now choosing to have air-gapped computers or networks.


In the military, defense, and industrial world, these air-gapped networks have been supporting the control systems where communication is physically isolated from internet networks. In all, air gapping has the potential to act as a security firewall for your sensitive data.

And that’s why we are writing about air gapping technology. Can an air-gapped network/computer help standard businesses too? Can it save them from security breaches and potential loss? Stay on this page to learn all that and more!

 

What is Air Gap or Air-Gapping?

 

What is an Air-Gapped Computer/ Network?

 

A computer that has been physically removed from the internet or isolated from any other network, is said to be an air-gapped computer. In other words, an air-gapped computer is not either directly connected to the internet or is it connected to any other internet-enabled system.


A true air-gapped network is physically isolated from all internet-enabled devices. Hence, data can only pass via removable media such as USB.


One can air gap computers at their home, too. For example, if you have a software that runs better on Windows XP, a secure way to use that software is air-gapping the Windows XP system. Even though Windows XP is vulnerable to malware or ransomware attacks, your data will be safe as long as you create an air-gap between the Windows XP system and external networks.
A true air-gapped network is physically isolated from all internet-enabled devices. Hence, data can only pass via removable media such as USB 

 

What is Air Gap Defense Technology ?

Techopedia defines the air gap as a "security measure implemented for computers, computer systems or networks requiring airtight security without the risk of compromise or disaster. It ensures total isolation of a given system from other networks, especially those that are not secure."

Functions of Air Gapped Netwrok

Essentially the two main functions of an air-gapped network is security and working efficiency on low bandwidth. When properly implemented and maintained, the air-gapped defense networks mainly offer security, and they work on low bandwidth as well.

That explains why they can be found among some of the most secure global institutions. All in all, they are used for protecting different types of critical systems including ones that support the military, the government, the stock market.

Air Gapped Network, because of its ability to act as a defense layer, has now become quite a buzzword. Developed initially for security-conscious teams like military agencies and government organizations, air gapping has also stepped in the private sector.

Due to the rise in cybercrimes, many compliance-minded organisations like health-care, utilities, and banking are now embracing ‘air gapping’ technology for their sensitive applications and network.

However, Air Gapped Network, as a whole, is still a new concept for most of the people. There are a lot of questions, assumptions, and doubts about how it works. Here, on this page, we’ll clear all that, and answer all Air Gap related FAQs. Let’s learn.

 

4. What are Air Gaps in Network Architecture and Why they are Important?

 When the connection between backup data and live data is physically removed, you get what is called as an air gap in network architecture. An air gap like this assures that your backup data stays offline and hence inaccessible to any outside party – making it unreachable attackers or hackers.

With the air gap in network architecture, emphasis is placed on storing data on a removable media which can be transported to another secure location. This technology that acts as a firewall between sensitive data and hackers is one of the most effective approaches for thwarting all kinds of cyberattacks. Hence it is considered an important component for a comprehensive data protected infrastructure.

 

5.Why Do Certain Businesses Need an Air Gapped Network?

Air gaps network or computer systems are implemented where the system demands extra security. Take for example, the payment networks that process transactions for retailers, military networks, or industrial control systems that are used for operating a critical infrastructure.

Take for example, infrastructures like power plants. These power plants need computers for operating their industrial systems. But these computers are not exposed to the internet. In other words, they’re “air-gapped” witht the purpose of enhancing security.

Since these systems, through air gapping, are not directly connected to the company’s business network, they work well at preventing intruders or hackers from working their way to sensitive systems.

A secure air gapped computer or network means the system is physically isolated from the internet, and data can only pass to it via removable media such as a USB flash or a firewire that connects two computers directly.

The best thing about the air-gapping technology is that it blocks about 100% of malware attacks or hacking breaches made by intruders and yet it’s not an expensive technology. Air Gapping merely requires you to disconnect your computers from the outside world.

 

Who Uses the Air Gapped Computers/Networks?

The answer is simple - security conscious organisations or enterprises that wish to operate in a high security environment tend to work with air gapped computers.

Take a look at some more examples of networks or systems that might be air gapped:

 

  • Life-critical systems such as Medical Equipment 
  • Nuclear power plants
  • Aviation Computers such as FADECs and Avionics 
  • Military computer systems and networks
  • Industrial control systems such as SCADA
  • Government computer systems and networks
  • Financial computer systems and networks
  • Payment Networks for Debit or Credit card transactions


But, hang on, security concern is not the only use case for an air gapped network. Here are some some other reasons why some businesses opt-out of having an external network connectivity:

  • Edge Computing for organisations that wish to conserve bandwidth.
  • Apps can be deployed in areas with poor internet connection or no connectivity.
  • Sales people in the field can demo their latest n-tier applications without internet access.

 

7. Deploying Apps in Air Gapped Environments

Considering the benefits of air-gapping, a lot of organizations are now deploying apps in air gapped environments. Such apps or systems are managed by being physically plugged into the internal network. Through they require an additional step, such apps

Apps that are deployed in an air-gapped environment are invisible to the internet, and hence the attackers. Security operations teams create this type of network for incident response.

App Deployment with Gravity

Gravity facilitates app deployment and portability into air gapped environments. It’s an open source solution used by organisations to deploy multi-tier, highly available apps into air-gapped networks, and reduce the operational overload of managing them. In all, Gravity allows you to manage complex apps (in an air gapped environment) even if you don’t have a remote internet connection.

Gravity operates through a YAML file or Helm chart –called a Cluster Image Manifest. Hence, when creating an image, Gravity specifies how applications are installed, updated, and configured, and packages all the dependencies.

The cluster creations by Gravity ultimately create a folder with all files and dependencies you need to efficiently set up an air gap application. Furthermore, the gravity clusters are truly identical, they don’t create any configuration drift. Hence, ensuring that all apps deployed are the same regardless of the environment they’re running in.

App Deployment through SDP framework

Apps can also be deployed in an air-gapped architecture through software such as software-defined perimeter (SDP) framework. These apps that ensure air gapping ensure creating an environment that can sometimes referred to as a method of virtual air gapping.

For creating an air gap, the SDP requires authentication of all available external endpoints that are attempting to access internal infrastructure, and in this way it ensures that internal IP address is accessible only to authenticated systems.

 

Troop Messenger on Air Gapped Server

1. Air-Gapped Installs

What makes Troop Messenger one of the most secure team chat apps is its ability to operate efficiently in all isolated and air-gapped networks.

Security-minded organizations can even use the app without connecting it directly to the internet. As an Air-Gapped install, Troop allows you to keep all network traffic on your private network.

 

2. Best of the On-Premise World

Data-Sensitive entities like defense are extra-protected when they deploy Troop Messenger’s on-premise delivery model. That way, they are in full control of their data.

As an On-Premise, white-label app, Troop Messenger allows them to fully customize, extend or add new functionality as required.


Simply put, you can run Troop Messenger on your own infrastructure – and no one except you owns the data in it. Apps like Slack or MS Teams don’t offer this level of control since you always have to trust the provider of these services.

3. Data Privacy Ensured

As a GDPR compliant app, Troop ensures data privacy at all times - offering you best of the all worlds irrespective of any delivery mode you opt for.


4. Advanced Level Admin Control

On Troop Messenger, admins get an advanced level of control over their team. That way, they are in control of who’s accessing which feature and who’s interacting with whom. Troop Messenger also has a surveillance feature (TM Monitor) that helps admins closely monitor communication happening between team members.

 

5. Works on low-bandwidth

If your team is working in/on low-bandwidth or poor internet connectivity, Troop Messenger helps there too. As an instant messaging software designed specially for the military, Troop Messenger is designed to fit all network types including low-bandwidth.

 

How Difficult is it to Breach an App deployed in an Air-Gapped Network?

Put simply, it’s extremely challenging for any intruder to invade an app deployed in an air-gapped network and breach the data.


We are saying that because one of the most common requirements for all of these attacks is physical proximity.

What we mean by physical proximity is being close enough to record and track the electromagnetic radiation and also pick up inaudible sound waves.


Through air gapping, we create a firewall to stop all of this and more, making hacking very difficult to execute, making it one of the most reliable methods

 

Conclusion: Mind the Air Gap

For some of the cyber security experts, an air gapped network is not the most practical defense, but it certainly works as an ultimate cybersecurity measure. That explains why most of the high-security industries that rely on them: military applications, financial institutions, power plants, aviation systems, and payment networks to name a few.

Creating an air gap sounds easy theoretically (just unplug it). However, the real implementation of this solution is not as easy as it seems on the paper. It is much much more difficult. Having said that, we are not ruling out the potential security and bandwidth effectiveness of an air gap network or computer.

We’d in fact encourage you to take consideration of the cost, constraints and administrative requirements. Advanced technology that offers stringent defense against cyberattacks is the need-of-the-hour since data theft is becoming one of the major issues for business. Once an intruder finds a way into your organisation’s sensitive data, you businesses can take weeks or even months to recover because all networked data is infected and encrypted, making it useless.

And in case, you’re mainly looking for a secure chat app to interact, share documents, collaborate, track, and join/host virtual meetings, try Troop Messenger. Apart from all the essential features, E2E encrypted chat app works perfectly in an air-gapped network. Hence, when you say ‘security,’ we say Troop Messenger!

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