Friday, March 02, 2018

How Microsoft Helped Me To Love FaceTime

I could think of no better title for this post than, "How Microsoft Helped Me To Love FaceTime." I use some Apple products on a regular basis, I'm not part of their cult and until recently didn't use Apple's FaceTime app at all. That has changed and it's all thanks to Microsoft. Allow me to explain.

I'd attended a Microsoft event where they spoke about the real world uses for their HoloLens product. My initial thought was, "Good for Microsoft, they've finally found a use for it." Of particular interest to me that day was an example for doing service in the field. They had a video of a junior technician visiting a site and troubleshooting some industrial equipment. The junior tech ran into an issue so he contacted a senior engineer who then donned a HoloLens headset so he could see what the junior tech was seeing from his service glasses (which were streaming a video feed). The senior engineer told the junior tech to check this pressure gauge, look for that indicator light and then things would be fixed. It actually made a lot of sense to me but didn't give it much thought after I left the event.

So its some time later, I'm thinking about an issue going on in one of my branch offices (specifically in another time zone) while looking at my iPad. For some reason that Microsoft event came to mind while I'm staring at the screen and the green FaceTime icon catches my attention. Why not FaceTime with the branch manager (after all, they all have iPhones), have her flip to the front facing camera so I can see what's going on? It took about 30 seconds to "see" what was happening, walk her through resetting the device and everything came back online.

So I'd like to thank Microsoft for helping me to love FaceTime as a low cost alternative remote support tool to their very expensive HoloLens product.👍

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

What does an official notification look like?

As I've read about what went on during the 2016 Election and recently about data breaches, the term 'notice from officials' is thrown about. So a public official (a Senator or Member of Congress) is the target of a hacker, entities within the US Gov't know this and then notify that individual. But what does that notification look like? What is an official channel? And just as importantly, how does the US Gov't notify a business or private entity (let's say a campaign)?

Day after day we see dozens of "official notices" that turn out to be spam or worse, phishing attacks. So how do you tell the difference between what is real and what is a "fake" notice and a spear phishing attack? How does the US Gov't notify an entity that they are the target of an attack, via an email? How about a phone call where the Caller ID shows as unidentified. Does it take a person with an FBI badge showing up to your office and telling you that your company has been targeted for an attack? The next question to ask is, once notified, does that information become public? If you've been hacked and there's been a data breach the first thought of the company might be they have to keep it quiet. But if it was the FBI, DHS or some other three-letter-agency that informed you of the breach, does news about the breach get out to the public?

I'll ask the question again, what does an official notification look like?

- Rob

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Oh that pesky DNS!

I chose "Oh that pesky DNS!" as the title for this post because if you don't get both your internal (private within the corporate network) and external (public facing) DNS right you run into trouble. These days every organization operates in a hybrid mode, the days of only having a network perimeter have gone the way of the moat. So when testing do it both from inside of your corporate network and also from the public side. Wait, the app works when you log in from home but not when you try and log on in the office? First place to look is DNS. Does your internal DNS look like the external DNS that you have setup with your SoA (which stands for Start of Authority; this is an important term and defining what it is should be a part of the hiring process for any IT related jobs). CNAME (canonical name), SRV (service) and MX (mail exchanger), these are all terms that are part of DNS. And don't forget that syntax for all DNS entries has to be perfect, no exceptions. What, I forgot a period at the end of the entry and that is why things aren't working!?!?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

How Do You Quantify “Better?”

It’s a simple question with an oh so complex answer, how do you quantify better? Specifically, in terms of cost, how do you quantify better in the context of paying for a better class of internet access?

Internet access is the foundation for everything that gets done in the business world today, you simply cannot operate a business without your employees having access to the public internet. If you have an office where your people gather to work together, they need a fast, reliable connection to the internet. As an organization how much are you willing to pay for internet access? How much is too much? Do you need a 100 Mbps symmetric fiber connection or will coax cable be enough? Can you scrape by and use a Wi-Fi hotspot that has a cap on the amount of data that can be used without incurring additional charges?

These days practically every task that is part of what your employees do takes place in the cloud. So if everything is in the cloud, a fast & reliable connection to the internet should be considered mission critical. I’ll ask the question again, how do you quantify better (in this case better internet access)? How much are you willing to spend so that your employees have a fast & reliable connection to the Internet?

 - Rob  

Friday, February 10, 2017


How do you defeat ransomware? Versioning, that is how you defeat it (and other malware). Let me explain...

There was a time when the only options for backup & recovery was versioning in the form of a tape device. You put a blank tape into the device, the backup job ran during off hours and the tape was automatically ejected once the backup job completed. So that tape represents one version of your critical data and it has the added advantage of being physically separated from all systems after being used. Fast forward to now when its all about continuous backup of data. An excellent concept and useful for backup & recovery of certain types but take a step back and consider how versioning works in the context of continuous backup. Part of the answer comes from the type of backup & recovery solution that you are paying for. If you're willing to spend a bit more money, you can put a solution in place that allows for versioning of data and that is a critical factor. Do not assume that whatever solution you have allows for versioning, make the vendor prove it. Another aspect of versioning has to do with the way the vendor has built out their back-end systems. Are they multi-tenant? Does your data literally sit right next to another customer's data? If something infects your data, can it jump and infect another customer's data? Don't laugh, don't dismiss this because there are documented cases of this happening. And the infection could go back months.

Have a backup to your backup & recovery solution. Independent of whatever cloud-based backup & recovery solution have an additional in-house process for backup & recovery of critical data. I know its a bit old school but tapes are still a viable, cost effective solution. Automate the process & rotating the tapes will allow for your own "version" of "versioning."

- Rob

Monday, December 19, 2016

Address cannot be validated...

It's the season for gift giving so I dutifully went to the shipping store to send off a package of toys for my niece & nephew. To use a technical term, I'd pre-configured everything (aka boxed & labeled) so it was ready to go. I put the box on the scale, the person behind the counter measured it then started up the shipping app. Typical questions, what are the contents, when do you want it to get there, do you want insurance? Everything was proceeding fine until we hit a snag, the shipping address cannot be validated? What do you mean, I've shipped items to them before without an issue. So the clerk asked if I wanted to ignore the warning and I said yes. So we are at the end of the process, a physical label has been printed (it will be affixed to the package itself) and I'm asked to check it. That is when I saw the error, we're missing a 1 in the address field. Had to start the process again, got to the part for the address field and yes, with the "extra" 1 the address was validated, the label was printed and the package shipped - success! But what does this say about "we" humans and our ability to acknowledge or ignore warnings? This was a simple task and yet both humans (with one of them purporting to be a Subject Matter Expert regarding the correct shipping address) missed a warning that could have lead to a critical error.

Let's extrapolate this situation to the field of information technology, specifically security and the protection of digital assets. The hack of Sony Pictures comes to mind. Let's hypothesize that Sony Pictures had a robust Intrusion Detection \ Intrusion Prevention System (IDS \ IPS) in place at the time of the hack. Imagine members of the IT Department sitting at their desks, staring at their screens when an alert pops up along with an alarm bell. The IDS \ IPS indicates there is abnormal activity on the network, that a large amount of data is outbound and do they want to allow (click "Yes") or block (click "No") the activity?

So, what will you do next time you get a warning that, a) the shipping address cannot be validated or, b) that there is abnormal activity on the network and that a large amount of data is outbound?

- Rob

Friday, November 04, 2016

When the Owner of the Company Says, "Pull Everything Out of the Cloud" You Know it's Trouble

More and more stories about cyber this & digital that are appearing in the mainstream media these days. Marketing terms, inaccurate descriptions and lots of misinformation that leads to confusion. So when the owner of the company barges into your office and proclaims, "Pull everything out of the Cloud" you know you're in for a long day.

The October 21st attacks again managed DNS provider DYN were all over the news because of the effects the attacks had for entities such as Netflix (streaming media), Twitter (social media) and even Vonage (Voice-over-IP and unified communications provider). So when something like this happens, as a Technologist you must be prepared with Ninja-like reflexes because there will be blow-back and maybe a little panic.

Owner barges in and the following conversation begins,

Owner's Question: What's that thing we use for files?

Response from Technologist: Box, we use it for file synchronization & sharing.

Owner's Follow-up: I want everything pulled out of  "the Box" and put on a file server in the headquarters because that way everyone can get to it and its secure.

Follow-up by Technologist: Actually, if we put everything on a file server in the headquarters, only those employees IN the headquarters can get to the files on that server. It's only a file server for the headquarters.

Owner thinks for a moment then responds with: But we have offices everywhere.

Technologist: And that is why we went with a cloud-based enterprise file synchronization & sharing solution so we didn't have to put a file server in every office nor have everyone try and access a single file server in the headquarters by way of VPN.

What we're talking about here is a mindset and the way things used to be. Having everything on a single file server in the corporate headquarters doesn't guarantee the files on it will always be available. What happens if the server's hardware fails? It has to be replaced (which takes time) and then the necessary operating system configuration as well as files & folders have to be setup again (which takes more time). Oh, its a virtual file server? That virtual server still has to sit on top of a piece of hardware. Restoring a virtual machine takes less time than for a physical server but its not instantaneous.

In the end cloud-based services offer scale as well as business continuity for anytime anywhere access. That is practically a requirement for an organization because as the Owner so eloquently put it, "...we have offices everywhere."

One more observation, Services are relatively easy, resilient Infrastructure is hard (and yes, DNS is infrastructure, just ask the folks at DYN).