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Keep security in mind when turning to terminal servers

By Max Burkhalter
July 10, 2013

I don't know about you, but when I think of technology like a terminal server I don't necessarily spend much time considering the security implications of the solution. I mean, terminal servers are, for all intents, boxes that translate serial-based signals to TCP/IP so they can be transmitted over an Ethernet network. Why exactly would security matter in that situation? But then I start to think about why terminal servers come in handy, and the whole thing clicks into place - signal conversion could be a prime place to target data for theft, something that hackers could capitalize in a wide range of critical settings when dealing with terminal servers that lack security and encryption features.

Looking at terminal server usage models
There are plenty of places to deploy a terminal server, but if you think about it, almost all of them are extremely sensitive. A retail company may have a state-of-the-art point-of-sale device that uses serial connectivity, which works just fine internally. However, the retailer recently subscribed to a web-based payment card verification solution to minimize its IT overhead, and the POS solution needs to connect with the Ethernet network. But here's the problem, the actual serial network is extremely secure. The Ethernet system is encrypted so heavily that only a military-grade hacker could get into it, and your store isn't going to attract that kind of criminal talent. However, the terminal server can present a vulnerability because that data can be hacked through a variety of means. This is where a secure terminal server solution comes into play, as high levels of encryption and data protection can go a long way toward ensuring the conversion point is no longer a vulnerability.

This simple example of how a POS device is not, by any means, an isolated situation. Terminal servers are also commonly used in industrial automation and control infrastructure, to support the smart grid and other settings where data theft or a successful effort from a hacker can lead to major losses or damages. As a result, security is a critical factor when choosing a terminal server.

What to look for in a secure terminal server
So you may recognize the need for a secure terminal server, but what does a good solution actually look like. Encryption is the first thing you should look for. Besides encryption, IPv6 functionality is nice because the protocol is, in theory, much more secure than IPv4 and unlocks a variety of key security functions. Checking out specific industry considerations can also be important, as some terminal servers are fine tuned to meet specific requirements.

Perle's serial to Ethernet converters connect serial based equipment across an Ethernet network. The Perle IOLAN range of Console Servers, Device Servers and Terminal Servers feature built-in support for IPv6 along with a broad range of authentication methods and encryption technologies.


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