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

Versioning

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).


Rob

Monday, September 26, 2016

My thoughts on the IANA Stewardship Transition

My thoughts on the IANA Stewardship Transition. Via the IANA Stewardship Transition, ICANN (in basic terms the organization that controls Internet domains and their distribution) will move into a more global multi-stakeholder system and away from one that is US-centric. More & more of the World uses the Internet, it's not just something for the West. There are those pundits in the US that say the Internet is being handed over to totalitarian regimes. Keep in mind that those regimes already control the telecommunications infrastructures in their countries and thus already have some measure of control. Examples include the "Great Firewall of China"  and don't forget that Turkey has cutoff access to sites such as Facebook.

In the end my belief is that the rest of the World has a stake in a free & open Internet and wants a say in how the Web is governed.

ICANN has a post with questions & answers regarding the IANA stewardship -



Rob

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Dog-fooding, base-lining and knowing when something is off...

Dog-fooding & base-lining are phrases known in the tech industry. To "dog food" something means that you are using it on a daily basis to see if the technology works as advertised. Many tech firms "dog food" their own technology as a way of proving that it works. To establish a baseline is to determine what normal looks like. In the case of network traffic, what is the normal pattern of data flow across your local area network on a Friday afternoon (when everyone is trying to complete their work and get out of the office) as opposed to a Tuesday morning. What is the baseline performance of your application?

With the help of data collected while dog-fooding & base-lining you (as an organization) should be able to tell when something is off. That something being the performance of your application, the performance of the network, whatever it is that's bother you.


Rob