Jump Servers Are Obsolete

Written by Cassa Niedringhaus on May 4, 2020

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Some organizations still use jump servers to provide access to their data centers and Infrastructure-as-a-Service cloud servers. However, for many organizations, there’s a better way to provide secure access to their infrastructure. In this article, we’ll discuss why jump servers are an obsolete solution for modern DevOps organizations and explore how an emerging cloud architecture can replace them and improve security.

What is a Jump Server?

The jump server, or jump box, was a mainstay for many IT organizations and DevOps teams as a way to establish a clear funnel through which traffic passed to their infrastructure. The idea was simple: Designate one server as the control point and force users to log into that system first. Once authenticated there, they could traverse to other servers without having to log in again.

Perimeter Security

This approach had numerous benefits, including ease of use after login, and aided organizations in meeting compliance regulations because they could provide straightforward audit logs. It also paralleled the way most organizations implemented identity and access management (IAM) across their environments. Jump servers, like Active Directory® domain controllers, allowed admins to establish a secure perimeter around IT resources. Once users were inside the perimeter, they faced fewer internal security measures.

What Are the Risks of Using a Jump Server?

However, this approach also exposed organizations to enormous risks. Once a user — or a bad actor — breaches the perimeter, they could traverse through the organization’s networks and resources with relative ease. For example, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in 2015 announced it had suffered one of the government’s largest data breaches, which was the result of a compromised jump server. As Wired put it in a postmortem of the breach: “By controlling the jumpbox, the attackers had gained access to every nook and cranny of OPM’s digital terrain.”

Those security risks, combined with the increasingly complex nature of modern CI/CD pipelines (continuous integration, continuous delivery, and continuous deployment) and hybrid environments, signal that jump servers are no longer the best way to secure user access to infrastructure.

What is the New Approach for Users to Access Data?

As the IT landscape evolved, organizations began to abandon the concept of perimeter security in favor of more dynamic methods such as zero trust security, in which all network traffic is untrusted by default. An emerging cloud architecture enables organizations to take a zero trust approach, increase their flexibility, and grant granular server access permissions for each user — entirely from the cloud.

This architecture — which drives the domainless enterprise model — is built around a cloud directory service. From a cloud directory service, admins can establish a secure channel directly between their directory and each server, regardless of where it’s located. They can then systematically provide and revoke access to those servers with granular access permissions tailored to each individual’s role.

This approach requires users to authenticate to each IT resource uniquely and separately to protect each access point and prevent overly broad access to resources. It doesn’t require a jump server, a VPN, or any other on-premises infrastructure to provide access.

Modern cloud directory services can also manage SSH keys and enable multi-factor authentication (MFA/2FA) to further protect access to servers, as well as accelerate server auto-scaling to keep pipelines running smoothly. 


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At JumpCloud, we’re committed to helping organizations secure access to all their IT resources, not only servers but also systems and networks, entirely from the cloud. Our Directory-as-a-Service can replace jump servers and enhance IAM across an environment. Click here to learn more about cloud-based system and server management with JumpCloud.

Cassa Niedringhaus

Cassa is a product marketing specialist at JumpCloud with a degree in Magazine Writing from the University of Missouri. When she’s not at work, she likes to hike, ski and read.

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