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Cisco IOS XR Security

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This chapter discusses the security aspects of the Cisco IOS XR operating system, focusing on securing access to the router and securing the forwarding plane.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

This chapter covers the following topics:

  • Secure Operating System
  • Securing Access to the Router
  • Securing the Forwarding Plane
  • References

This chapter discusses the security aspects of the Cisco IOS XR operating system and divides this discussion into two main areas as follows:

  • Securing access to the router
  • Securing the forwarding plane

It is important to control access to the router to prevent unauthorized or malicious use that might take the router offline or use it to launch an attack on the rest of the network. Cisco IOS XR provides the authentication, authorization, and accounting (AAA) framework that helps provide secure access via the logical vty and the physical tty ports. Furthermore, ensuing sections in this chapter discuss the concepts of task-based authorization and familiarize the user with IOS XR concepts such as admin and SDR planes as well as the uniqueness of user groups and task group configuration.

Forwarding plane refers to the components involved in the various stages during packet forwarding. Forwarding plane refers not only to the flow of a packet through the router but also to the packets destined to the router. Protection of forwarding plane is important and necessitates controlling the type of traffic that traverses the router, and limiting the amount of traffic that’s destined to the router itself so that the router does not become a victim of a denial of service (DoS) attack. You might well be familiar with access control lists (ACL) and Unicast Reverse Path Forwarding (uRPF) as popular forwarding plane security features. Additionally, IOS XR has a concept of Local Packet Transport Service (LPTS). LPTS provides protection against traffic destined to the router. This type of traffic is usually related to routing protocols that typically run on the route processor (RP) of the router, though Telnet, SNMP, NTP, ping, traceroute, and various other services create traffic that can be destined to a router’s line card or RP CPU. This chapter discusses the details behind LPTS and highlights key elements of forwarding plane security.

Secure Operating System

A router running IOS XR is often used as a backbone router providing core routing capabilities. Cisco IOS XR might also be used on a provider edge router provisioned with edge services such as Layer 2 and Layer 3 VPNs, QoS, and so on. Architectures such as IOS XR often play a critical role in a service provider (SP) network as a core or an edge device, and its security needs are a paramount concern for the network administrator.

Figure 6-1 shows a visual representation of IOS XR secure software design. IOS XR is a microkernel-based operating system. All essential services, such as TCP, UDP, and driver software, run as an independent application on top of its microkernel. Any individual application-level disaster remains contained and has minimal chances of interfering with the core functions of the operating systems. This makes IOS XR internals safe and less vulnerable to exploitation.

Figure 6-1

Figure 6-1 Secure Software Design

Cisco IOS XR processes run in their own memory space and are “restartable” by design. The software design takes preemptive measures against denial of service–type attacks. IOS XR also mitigates out-of-resource conditions and makes the continuous operation of the system more reliable.

Figure 6-1 illustrates the following main points:

  • IOS XR is a microkernel-based operating system offering memory protection and fault tolerance.
  • All basic OS and router functionality is implemented as processes. All the distributed services run on top of the microkernel.
  • IOS XR follows a UNIX process model with separate, protected memory address spaces for its processes. The microkernel is protected from faults occurring in the protocol or device driver software due to the layered model shown in the figure.

Despite the inherent built-in security and high availability in the operating system, certain configuration measures are inevitable to ensure router and network security. Ensuing sections in this chapter delve deeper into the security considerations of a router or a network of devices running on IOS XR.

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