Avocent's KVM passes security scrutiny

"NIST Common Criteria validated products"

Keyboard, video and mouse (KVM) switches are not the most glamorous technologies in an agency's information technology arsenal, but there is probably one in every data center.

If an IT employee is going to manage a rack of servers from a single keyboard and mouse, the best way to accomplish the task is with a KVM.

Avocent Corp. has come out with the SwitchView SC, under the Cybex brand, which is the first and only KVM switch to gain the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Common Criteria Evaluation and Validation Scheme accreditation for devices in a secure environment. The switch earned Evaluation Assurance Level 4. Although the SwitchView SC is an analog switch and offers few fancy features compared to its IP brethren, it can be easily deployed in secure military and government installations.

Although I use a variety of tools to manage my lab machines remotely, including GoToMyPC, Tight VNC and other remote-control products, these tools won't do the job when moving data from an insecure environment to a secure one, or vice versa.

The eight-port SwitchView SC box is unremarkable in its appearance, with eight buttons on the front and corresponding connectors on the rear of the device. This box is different, however, because a separate input/output processor controls each pair of four ports, which are positioned one above the other on the rear of the box. The port segregation allows for up to four separate zones of security. A pair of KVM ports on this box could be used for unclassified data while another pair could be used for sensitive but unclassified data and yet another two could be used for classified information. By having each input/output processor separate from its neighbor, the SwitchView SC box simplifies multiple server connections, whether secure or nonsecure.

The exterior of the SwitchView SC box has tamper-evident tape that covers case screws. Inside the box, the socketed custom firmware is encrypted to prevent tampering with the box's logic. Because this is a secure switch, unlike other KVM boxes, the SwitchView SC doesn't store any keystrokes in its onboard buffer, which also means that there's no way to use keyboard shortcuts or an onboard menu to switch from one connected server to another.

All switching from one server to another is done via buttons on the front of the SwitchView SC. Although the box is easily mountable, it also fits under a monitor. And although most servers won't use high resolutions for screen display, this KVM box does support video resolutions up to 1,600 x 1,280.

I tested the SwitchView SC KVM with 8-foot cables, but Avocent has several cable lengths including 4 feet, 8 feet, 15 feet and 30 feet. On this eight-port box, one end of the KVM cable is a custom DB-25 connector that fits into the KVM socket while the other end has standard PS/2 connectors. PS/2 connectors were chosen for this KVM over USB because PS/2 is better for secure channel separation between the KVM box and the connected server.

Above each of the CPU selectors on the front of the box are two lights. One light indicates if the server at the other end of the KVM is powered up, and the other light indicates that a specific server is selected.

If the KVM box were to lose power during operation, each server attached to the KVM would still receive power to its keyboard, video and mouse ports. This feature ensures that connected servers don't lock up if the KVM box fails.

Although this box doesn't support Sun Microsystems Inc. workstations or servers, it can support the Linux operating system running on PC-based hardware.

Overall, although the SwitchView SC doesn't offer any remarkable KVM technology on the outside, NIST's Evaluation Assurance Level 4 accreditation is a definite benefit for those looking to deploy a KVM in a secure and nonsecure installation mix.

Garza is a freelance author and network security consultant in Silicon Valley, Calif. He can be reached at vgarzasprint@earthlink.net.


SwitchView SC

Avocent Corp.

(256) 430-4000 ext. 1324


The eight-channel keyboard, video and mouse (KVM) device costs $1,195, and an 8-foot KVM cable is $55.

Avocent's SwitchView SC is the only KVM to gain the U.S. government's Common Criteria validation. The KVM switch supports secure and nonsecure server connections simultaneously.

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