Staex latest release features tunnels as the ultimate network isolation tool

2024-06-04

  • Ivan Gankevich

    Ivan Gankevich 
    Product Lead
    Staex

The tunnels force network traffic to go through them. Any network packets that try to bypass tunnels are dropped. If no tunnels are defined, no network traffic is allowed.

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Why tunnels?

In IoT world the attack vectors that are common for the servers in the cloud are complemented by attack vectors specific to devices as well as physical attack vectors. For example, for a server you can probably get away with using unencrypted DNS protocol— if a man-in-the-middle tampers the returned IP address the actual protocol (HTTPS, SSH etc.) that is used to speak to this server will most likely fail to authenticate. In IoT world even an encrypted DNS packet can actually reveal geographical location of the device that sent this packet which might constitute mission-critical data. This happens because many devices use cellular networks and connect to the Internet through the routers from the nearest cell tower. The same goes not only for DNS packets but for any other packet transmitted by the device. This is the exact reason why IoT devices need another type of security system to protect from the mission-critical data leakage.

Tunnel-based isolation vs. node-based vs. network-based.

One way to solve this mission-critical data leakage is to block any network traffic by default and then selectively establish secure end-to-end encrypted tunnels from clients to servers to protect the traffic. These tunnels differ in their destinations and thus can be divided into regular tunnels, internet tunnels and external tunnels.

Regular tunnels

This type of tunnels is the most common one. They go from clients to specific servers inside Staex overlay network. They use unique pair of encryption keys to encrypt the traffic and to establish mutual trust between the client and the server endpoint. You also have to specify exact protocol and port that a packet should use. If a packet fully matches tunnel specification, it is allowed to be sent and received. Otherwise, the packets is silently dropped. Thanks to unique keys you can selectively deactivate an individual tunnel (prohibit any traffic temporarily) without affecting others.

We consider regular tunnels the main building block of the network.

Internet tunnels

This type of tunnels is used to route all the traffic that goes to the Internet. This traffic goes from the clients in Staex network to the servers on the Internet. As we already mentioned sending this type of traffic directly to the Internet may leak mission-critical information. Internet tunnel prevents that by routing all the traffic (except local networks and Staex traffic itself) through a gateway. A gateway is a node in Staex network that forwards the packet from Staex network to the Internet and sends replies back. With the gateway DNS, NTP and other third-party servers will not see the actual IP address of the device, they will see the address of the gateway.

Internet tunnels work exactly the same as any VPNs that change your geographic location, but Staex gives you full control of both the client and the gateway node, meaning that Staex (as a company) will not see your real IP addresses either.

External tunnels

This type of tunnels is the variation of regular tunnels, but the destination is an IP address from the local network of the server. This means that when the packet reaches the server node it is automatically forwarded to the specified IP address. External tunnels are useful to talk to IoT devices that can not run Staex: IP cameras, smart home appliances, some low-end routers etc. Some IoT networks may contain only such devices, and it is essential for an overlay network to support such use cases.

Conclusion

The newest Staex release blocks network traffic by default and features tunnels as the main building block of your IoT network. Tunnels are versatile:

  • regular tunnels route traffic between two endpoints on Staex network,
  • internet tunnels route traffic between an endpoint on Staex network and an endpoint on the Internet, and
  • external tunnels route traffic between en endpoint on Staex network and a device in the local network (directly attacked to one of the Staex nodes).

Tunnels elevate IoT network security to a whole new level. It is no longer possible for third parties to track geographical location of your devices. In the extreme event of a device breach the damage is contained within the tunnels attached to this device, and deactivating these tunnels will permanently block the spread of the malicious activity within the network. Finally, tunnels unprecedentedly simplify firewall configuration and network management in general for system administrators: when everything is a tunnel it is difficult to make mistake in the configuration.

Stay tuned for more updates! We will soon release a web UI that allows one to securely manage the whole IoT network without the cloud. It has been eye-opening experience to use this UI for our network management, and we can not wait for you to try it yourself.

Learn more about the tunnels.

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Staex logo.

Staex is a secure public network for IoT devices that can not run a VPN such as smart meters, IP cameras, and EV chargers. Staex encrypts legacy protocols, reduces mobile data usage, and simplifies building networks with complex topologies through its unique multi-hop architecture. Staex is fully zero-trust meaning that no traffic is allowed unless specified by the device owner which makes it more secure than even some private networks. With this, Staex creates an additional separation layer to provide more security for IoT devices on the Internet, also protecting other Internet services from DDoS attacks that are usually executed on millions of IoT machines.

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