Frequently Asked Questions

What kinds of industrial systems does Fortress support?

Fortress can support all types of backup data, ranging from file/folder level backups to drive and image level snapshots of client systems. Additionally, Fortress has built out several SCADA- and DCS-specific tools for structured historian and configuration data backup and recovery. Fortress has built out custom, slimmed-down VMs for the process control (i.e. DCS), SCADA, and other critical software (e.g. EMS) offerings of most major industrial Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs).  If there’s a vendor that you work with and would like to know if we currently support it, please reach out.

What kinds of data can Fortress process?

Fortress can handle data at all levels of granularity, ranging from individual file and folder level backups to full system drives or VM images. Additionally, Fortress has built out SCADA-specific database backup and restoration tools. All of these configurations can be managed through the same intuitive single-pane-of-glass frontend interface.

How hard is Fortress to set up?

Fortress is an agent-based system and is easy to set up and maintain, since the system handles all Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) orchestration. The setup process for Fortress takes about two hours for the first machine, and minutes for each additional machine/application.

What is Hardware-enabled Security?

Hardware-enabled security, as defined by NIST, is “security with its basis in the hardware platform”, as distinct from software or firmware-enabled security, which have their bases in the code running on that hardware.   This distinction is relevant for two reasons.  

First, unlike hardware, software and firmware are modifiable, either by a malicious actor or by the manager of the platform on which the software is running.  Because of this, no software-enabled security platform can fully protect against insider threats or supply chain concerns – there’s no way to guarantee that the software providing the security is actually what’s running on the system.  Hardware-enabled security is the only way to guarantee that the code the client wants to be running on a third party machine actually is.

Additionally, software and firmware enabled security platforms take a blacklisting approach to securing their systems.  Specifically, any undesired access needs to be explicitly forbidden, and any access or usage that isn’t forbidden is assumed to be permitted.  This means that any mistakes made in configuration or unforeseen attack vectors lead directly to threats on the system’s security.  In contrast, hardware-enabled security takes a whitelisting approach, where any desired activity or access needs to be explicitly allowed on the system.  This way, mistakes made in configuration and new attack vectors can at worst lead to difficulties accessing the system, rather than threats to the integrity or confidentiality of the data contained within it.

There are three core types of Hardware-enabled security devices: TPMs, HSMs, and TEEs.  Fortress uses TEEs, the newest and most generic Hardware-enabled security device family, for it’s backup, recovery, and failover capabilities.

What are Trusted Execution Environments?

Trusted Execution Environments (TEEs), also known as Secure Enclaves, are physically-isolated computing environments for securely executing code on an untrusted host machine. To be more specific, a TEE is a specialized region of certain classes of CPUs that contains its own subdivided processors, memory, and microkernel. This region of these CPUs is designed to verify on startup that it is running a specific piece of code, and present signed proof of that verification.

TEEs were developed by public- and private-sector researchers over the past decade and have recently been made available for commercial use. The leading TEE platforms are AMD Secure Encrypted Virtualization (SEV), Intel Software Guard Extensions (SGX), and Arm TrustZone. TEEs are notoriously complex to directly work with, since they require remote evidence attestation (the ability to check the verification proofs of the TEE) and key management operations (the generation and provisioning of keys based on those verification proofs), but the Fortress platform leverages the security properties of TEEs for all backup, recovery, and failover operations while fully abstracting away the complexities of management and orchestration.

How are Fortress’s failover capabilities different from traditional “digital twin” failover systems?

Fortress offers failover capabilities for mission-critical software applications to run in offsite Trusted Execution Environments (TEEs) while a primary system recovery is underway (since a full recovery could take hours or days). First, Fortress differs from traditional failover systems by running the applications in these secure computing environments with code integrity and end-to-end data confidentiality. Second and perhaps more important, Fortress only runs slimmed-down Virtual Machines (VMs) with these pre-configured applications, to avoid “lifting and shifting” entire compromised Operating Systems (OSs) to the failover environment. By comparison, traditional “digital twin” failover systems may provide value in the case of a physical disaster but, in the case of a cyber attack (such as ransomware or wiperware), will be vulnerable to the same threat that can compromise the primary system(s).

How does Fortress differ from other backup and recovery platforms from a security perspective?

Alternative data backup and recovery solutions are either a) on-premise, manage-your-own-hardware offerings that do not provide adequate logical isolation in the case of cyber attacks, or b) cloud-based offerings that introduce additional attack surface and third-party risk.

Fortress is an offsite platform that provides hardware-enabled security with no additional third-party risk because all backup and recovery operations are localized within Trusted Execution Environments (TEEs), which are fully controlled by the client. Additionally, unlike other data backup and recovery platforms, Fortress provides TEE-based failover capabilities for mission critical software in order to facilitate operational continuity in the immediate aftermath of a cyber attack or physical disaster.

Why have both backup and recovery and failover?

The purpose of including failover in our offering is to ensure maximal flexibility and robustness of system recovery, without compromising on recovery times. Client industrial environments may be bandwidth constrained, which would slow down a data recovery, as would recovering large amounts of data. Failover ensures maximal flexibility and continuity so that industrial operations don’t have to be put on hold for the hours or days (or longer) that it could take to recover primary systems.

How does Fortress handle key management?

The Fortress platform’s Trusted Execution Environments (TEEs) manage the encryption and decryption keys for long-term storage of snapshots. These keys are locked to only be accessible to TEEs running the correct backup, recovery, and failover software, ensuring that only the client has access to their data. Additionally, Fortress has built out a multiparty “break glass in case of emergency” key system that allows clients to retrieve and read backups even if they lose access to their TEE credentials. This system stores fragments of read-only keys with the client and with client-chosen trusted parties, that can be reassembled to decrypt snapshots when the client requests it.

How does Fortress demonstrate backup integrity?

Fortress has built an automated recovery testing solution to regularly test the recoverability and integrity of backups. This solution pulls down all new backups on a client-scheduled basis and confirms both that the backups successfully restore and that they contain the expected file contents. Any issues with the recovery testing or more generally with backup, failover, and recovery processes are logged and reported to the client.

Does Fortress require connecting OT devices to the external internet?

No. While the Fortress platform is designed to live either on or off-premise, the client’s sensitive OT devices, servers, and workstations never need to directly connect to off-premise systems. Instead, Fortress has built out proxy servers (”jump hosts”) as agents that can live on a client’s preexisting head-end servers. Those proxy systems live on the client’s network and communicate via TLS-encrypted tunnels to the static IP addresses corresponding to Fortress infrastructure. The client’s actual OT devices communicate only with those proxies and fortress installed on-premise infrastructure, never the external world.


Frequently Asked Questions

Can Fortress be used by NERC CIP Medium/High Impact Entities?

Yes. An independent NERC CIP consultancy has validated that usage of Fortress is not only permissible under NERC CIP, but fully beneficial for compliance with NERC CIP (in particular for regulations 009-6 and the upcoming regulation 011-3).

How can Fortress compliantly store information in the cloud under NERC CIP?

The NERC CIP regulations require that all BES Cyber System Information be stored in a manner preventing unauthorized logical access and preserving an Electronic Security Perimeter around that access. Traditional cloud solutions fail to provide this level of security, since the cloud provider itself is capable of accessing the information. In contrast, since Fortress uses TEEs, the only entity capable of accessing client data is the client, not any third party. This preserves the security perimeter and logical access controls mandated by the NERC CIP regulations.

Is there a difference between Failover and Backup/Recovery for NERC CIP?

Yes. Specifically, NERC CIP distinguishes between two different classes of cyber infrastructure: BES Cyber Systems (the infrastructure running bulk electric systems), and BES Cyber System Information (the infrastructure storing data for those electric systems). BES Cyber System Information, the classification relevant to Backup/Recovery, can be compliantly stored fully in the cloud as long as it is enclosed in an Electronic Security Perimeter, which is provided in Fortress’s case by our use of TEEs. BES Cyber Systems, the classification relevant for Failover, must have a Physical Security Perimeter as well, which prohibits usage of cloud infrastructure. Instead, Fortress stores its failover infrastructure in tier 3 or higher datacenters with a compliant security perimeter.

Does Fortress adhere to ISA/IEC 62443 standards?

The Fortress platform is compliant with the standards established by IEC 62443 for cybersecurity of industrial controls. Fortress is currently in the process of receiving certification from an ISASecure recognized agency to confirm this compliance.

Does Fortress offer real-time monitoring of potential threats?

Yes. The Fortress platform tracks all attempted accesses and interactions, as well as any detected malware in backups, and forwards that information onto the client via client-configurable alerting.

At what points in this process is data encrypted, and how?

Data sent through the Fortress platform is encrypted in transit, at rest, and in use. Transit encryption is accomplished using SSL/TLS certificates. At-rest encryption is accomplished using AES GCM with 256 bit keys. In-use encryption is accomplished via the security properties provided by TEEs.

Which encryption algorithms and protocols does Fortress use?

For transit encryption, Fortress uses SSL/TLS encryption, with certificates managed by the enclave.  For at-rest encryption, Fortress uses AES GCM with 256 bit keys.

Does Fortress require you to run systems and store information on Fortress-controlled infrastructure?

No. While the recommended Fortress infrastructure includes offsite storage with a traditional cloud provider, we support keeping storage and failover systems either in a client’s own datacenters or colocated with a datacenter chosen by the client. However, this option is more costly in terms of hardware and offers fewer isolation benefits.

Is this relevant if you’re not NERC CIP medium or higher?

Yes. Even for clients ranked as low or no impact under NERC CIP, Fortress still provides significant security and reliability benefits relative to preexisting backup, recovery and failover providers.