ExaGrid Time-Lock – Who’s (still) afraid of ransomware?


Ransomware currently represents one of the most prominent threats to IT infrastructures. Reports of successful attacks are accumulating, the attacks are getting closer. More than 30% of all companies, institutes, universities or public authorities in Germany have already dealt with such attacks. In some cases, a ransom was paid to get access to their own data again.

Even with payment, success is never certain. After all, one negotiates with criminals. Authorities therefore advise against payment.

The essential protective measure against the consequences of such an attack is an up-to-date and consistent backup.

Ransomware vs. Backup

Unfortunately, attackers also know about the importance of backups. The currently circulating malware, such as Emotet or Ryuk, contain code that actively searches for backups on the net. Using previously obtained access data for Active Directory accounts or by attacking via RDP exploits or using the brand-new Zerologon exploit an attempt could be made to take over the systems that operate the data backup in the company or hold the backup data.

The automatic attack is often followed by hackers in the flesh who actively browse the net and try to destroy all backups. This is often an easy task, since backups today are preferably held on hard disk systems, permanently connected to the infrastructure.

The reason is obvious: If all backups are deleted or also encrypted, the compliance of the “customer” to pay his ransom increases by far.

Many approaches have therefore already been conceived to store the backup data out of reach of an attacker. A very simple and secure variant is an Air-Gap – a physical separation of the backup media from the system. For example, LTO tapes can be physically removed from the library.

Without this kind of time-consuming manual extraction – which would also have to be performed daily – the data remains latently vulnerable. It doesn’t matter whether it is stored on disk systems, dedup appliances, tapes in a library or even in an S3 cloud repository.

S3 cloud providers have therefore proposed an API extension called “Immutability” some time ago. With this, at least the backups in the cloud layer can be made immune to changes for a certain time.

Some of these solutions are natively supported by Veeam. Amazon AWS is one of them. Microsoft Azure is currently still missing. Furthermore S3 memory is not suitable for every application. A primary backup with Veeam on S3 is for example not directly possible. The S3 layer is only available as an extension of a scale-out backup repository.

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vSAN Objects invalid

After a failed firmware update on my Intel x722 NICs one host came up without its 10 Gbit kernelports (vSAN Network). Every effort of recovery failed and I had to send in my “bricked” host to Supermicro. Normally this shouldn’t be a big issue in a 4-node cluster. But the fact that management interfaces were up and vSAN interfaces were not must have caused some “disturbance” on the cluster and all my VM objects were marked as “invalid” on the 3 remaining hosts.

I was busy on projects so I didn’t have much lab-time anyway, so I waited for the repair of the 4th host. Last week it finally arrived and I instantly assembled boot media, cache and capacity disks. I checked MAC addresses and settings on the repaired host and everything looked good. But after booting the reunited cluster still all objects were marked invalid.

Time for troubleshooting

First I opened SSH shells to each host. There’s a quick powerCLI one-liner to enable SSH throughout the cluster. Too bad I didn’t have a functional vCenter at that time, so I had to activate SSH on each host with the host client.

From the shell of the repaired host I’ve checked the vSAN-Network connection to all other vSAN kernel ports . The command below pings from interface vmk1 (vSAN) to IP (vSAN kernel port of esx01 for example)

vmkping -I vmk1

I received ping responses from all hosts on all vSAN kernel ports. So I could conclude there’s no connection issue in the vSAN-network.

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Announcement of VMware Cloud Foundation 4.1

Together with vSphere7 and vSAN7, VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF) 4.0 with Tanzu was released in March this year. Now VMware has announced VMware Cloud Foundation 4.1 along with vSphere 7.0 Update1 and vSAN 7 U1, which builds on some of the new features of vSAN.

What’s new?

  • vSAN Data Persistence Platform – This is an important feature for manufacturers of virtual appliances and container solutions that run on vSAN or VCF. Not all Container workloads are stateless. Some of them like object storage or NoSQL are stateful applications. Until now, separate replication mechanisms by the application were necessary. With vSAN Persistence Platform the providers are able to directly use the high availability of vSAN. First providers are for example MinIO, DataStax, Dell EMC ObjectScale or Cloudian.
  • VMware Cloud Foundation Remote Clusters – A feature based on vSAN HCI Mesh. With this feature vSAN Datastores of other clusters can be integrated. This is especially interesting for remote locations.
  • vVols in workload domains – Now you can deploy workload domains on vVol enabled storage. Supported protocols are FC, iSCSI and NFS.
  • Automatic deployment of vRealize Suite 8.1 – vRealize Suite Life Cycle Manager (vRSLCM) now integrates with SDDC manager. You can deploy and update vRealize products from vRSLCM.
  • New features and bugfixes in SDDC manager.
  • VMware Skyline support for VCF.

The update is expected in early October during or shortly after VMworld2020.

Update error VCSA 7 – vCenter Server not operational

During patching of a vCenter server appliance (VCSA) problems can occur. Maybe contact to the update source was lost or the whole process has been cancelled by an operator. If you try to reapply the patch, you might see an error like in the picture below.

Update Installation failed. VCenter Server is not operational.

In the VAMI interface of vCenter everything looks fine. All services are up and running and ovarall status is green. Even a reboot of the appliance doesn’t help. The source of the problem lies in an interrupted update procedure which leaves a status file behind. We need to fix (remove) that manually.

To do so open a SSH shell to the vCenter server appliance and change to the directory where the file was left.

# cd /etc/applmgmt/appliance

You’ll see a file called software_update_state.conf. Under normal circumstances this file will be removed after an update. But something went wrong and it wasn’t cleaned up. Let’s have a brief look inside the file.

# cat software_update_state.conf
"state": "INSTALL_FAILED",
"version": "",
"latest_query_time": "2020-09-17T11:42:37Z"

We can see that there’s been a failed update to VCSA You can just remove the file.

# rm software_update_state.conf

If you now trigger a new patch installation it will work.