How to build a cheap Security NOC

The Network Operations Center or NOC is the cornerstone of all computer networks. I've worked at AT&T's NOC, been around Government NOCs and seen small scaled versions. Most look like something out of the movie, "WarGames" and surprisingly, whether you're a Linux or Windows fan you can build one for cheap and be your own armchair NOC General.

What does a NOC do? It monitors connections, network activity, spots problems, conducts threat assessments, and calculates scalability requirements with customer demands... it also puts on a pretty good "dog-n-pony" show for potential investors and customers.

What's required? Again, surprisingly not too much! Depending on the size of your company, this can be achieved with as little as an 8' X 10' room, and 4 computers. Trust me, you more than likely do not need a $15,000 Cisco PIX or Nokia firewall (which runs Linux derivatives).

You'll need at least three big monitors (the bigger the better), two smaller ones (17"), a KVM switch, and OOB dialup. Here's the loadout:

  1. Firewall: Get a copy of IPCOP... its Smoothwall on steroids and very easy to configure. It has a built in Intrusion Detection System, Proxy logging, and you can use Coyote Linux as a failover if you think you are being attacked. This package uses a web interface, so there's no need for a monitor, keyboard, or mouse. These software elements are also free. Minimum requirements are a 333Mhz system with 64MB of RAM and a 2.1GB Hard-Drive.

  2. Network Monitoring: Download a copy of F.I.R.E. and run it on a barebones 600 Mhz system. Configure and open Etherape on a monitor for an Air Traffic Controller's view of your network activity... bean counters love this. If you're being attacked or infected, you will quickly see where it's coming from. You should also use a receive only sniffer cable on this box to protect integrity... a receive only box has a zero chance of infection as it's physically impossible.

  3. Got wireless? Download and run Airsnare with a semi hyped up Wireless antenna, and you'll quickly spot any war-drivers or unauthorized network connections. If you have an old directional motorized TV antenna system lying around you can go uber-elite and connect a cheap phased array panel antenna or cantenna to locate your wireless intruder with NetStumbler. This can all equally run on a 333Mhz Windows based system.

  4. Workstation: Here's the beef... a 1.2Ghz, 512MB, 20GB computer, with dual head Matrox card, with dual booting OS (Linux & Windows), Preferably Linux with a Windows VMWARE guest OS. Trust me, once you go Dual-Head, you won't go back. The best Linux Dual-Head OS is SuSE 8.3. Tie this into the KVM to modify any of your servers.

  5. Red Phone... afterall, who doesn't want one? You're batman right?

Your first Monitor should be watching CNN or the weather channel (depending on location), the second should be running Etherape, and the third should be running Airsnare or Windows Services Monitors (CPU, Netload, etc.) All of the software here except Windows is free, and easy to configure... except maybe your General's chair. In the end, aside from having your own WOPR, you have a NOC for just under $2,000.00

William M. Nett

Links: An etherape screenshot

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