Prevent an Intrusion – Run the Recommended Version!

In the wake of some very high profile IT security breaches and state sponsored attacks using compromised software today I wrote some infrastructure as code Ansible playbooks to create some business-ready documentation to help us understand our Cisco software version footprint against what release the vendor recommends. It is very important to run “Safe Harbor” code in the form of the Gold Star release. These releases are as close as it gets to being bug-free, secure, tested, and supported in production environments.

The ‘old-way’ involved getting the Cisco Part ID (PID) or several PIDs and looking up the recommended release on using an ever deepening hierarchy of platforms, operating systems, and PIDs. At scale this is like a day’s worth of work to go gather all of this information and present it in a way the business can understand.

Building on my recent success with the Serial2Info API as well as Ansible Facts I thought this might be another nice use-case for business-centric, non-technical (not routes, IP addresses, mac addresses, etc), extremely important and critical insight.

Use Case

Can I automatically get the PID from a host or group of hosts and provide it to the Software Suggestion API building business-ready reports in CSV and markdown?

Answer: Yes!

The Playbook

Again you are going to need:

* A Linux Host with SSH access to your Cisco IOS devices and HTTPS access to the API
* Credentials for the host and for the OAuth2 API
* We are not using Genie parsers here so just “base” Ansible will work

Step 1. Setup credential handling

Create a playbook file called CiscoCoreRecommendedReleaseFacts.yml

Again I use prompted methodology here same as the Serial2Info API

Gather the username, enable secret, API ClientID, Client Secret

Step 2. Gather Ansible Facts

Using the ios_facts module gather just the hardware subset

Because we are using Ansible Facts we do not need to register anything – the JSON is stored in the Ansible magic variable ansible_facts

I need 2 keys from this JSON – the PID and ideally the current running version. These can be found as follows in the ansible_facts variable:

Which is accessed as ansible_facts.net_model

Which again is accessed as ansible_facts.net_version

With the information above – without going any further – I could already build a nice report about what platforms and running versions there are!

But let’s go a step further and find out what Cisco recommends I should be running!

Step 2. Get your OAuth2 token

First, using the Ansible URI module

We need to get our token using the registered prompted credentials.

The API requires the following headers and body formatting; register the response as a variable (token):

We have to break apart the RAW JSON token to pass it to the ultimate Recommended Release API:

Now we are ready to send PIDs to the API.

Step 3 – Send PID to API

Again using the URI module:

Here we pass the ansible_facts.net_model Fact to the API as an HTTP GET:

The headers and body requirements. Notice the authentication and how we pass the Bearer Token along. We also register the returned JSON:

Here is what the returned JSON looks like:

The highest level key is json or accessed via RecommendedRelease.json

There is a productlist

Which as you can see is a list as denoted by the [ ]

Inside this list is another product key with the values from the API about the product itself

A little further down we find the recommended software release

Step 4 – Transform technical documentation into business ready CSV / MD files

These JSON and YAML (I also use the | to_nice_yaml filter to create a YAML file along with the JSON file) files are create for technical purposes but we can do a bit better making the information more palatable using business formats like CSV and mark down.

It is just a matter of using Jinja2 to template the CSV and Markdown files from the structured JSON variables / key-value pairs.

Add a final task in the Ansible playbook that will loop over the CSV and MD file types using the template module to source a new .j2 file – CiscoCoreRecommendedReleaseFacts.j2 – where our logic will go to generate our artifacts.

The Jinja2 starts with an If Else EndIf statement that checks if the Ansible loop is on CSV or not. If it is it uses the CSV section of templated file format otherwise it uses markdown syntax.

First we want to add a CSV header row

Then we need a For Loop to loop over each product in the productList

Now we add our “data line” per product in the loop using the various keys

Hostname for example uses the Ansible magic variable inventory_hostname

Then we want the Base PID. We use the Ansible default filter to set a default value in case the variable happens to be empty.

We continue accessing our keys and then we close the loop.

Now we need to create the Markdown syntax

And the same logic for the “data row” but with pipes instead of commas. Make sure to close off the If statement

Step 5 – Run playbook and check results

We run the playbook as ansible-playbook CiscoCoreRecommendedReleaseFacts.yml

Answer the prompts

Let the playbook run and check the results!


Again with a few free, simple tools like Ansible and the API we can, at scale gather and report on the current running version and the vendor recommended version quickly and easily and fully automatically!

Now go and start protecting your enterprise network armed with these facts!

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