TechEd Videos

The Microsoft Windows Server Division posted a series of links to high quality videos from this year’s TechEd in the US.  TechEd is a great source of information on currting edge Microsoft technology.  I’ve learned more there over the last two years than I did anywhere else.

Corporate Data Theft … By Directors!

The Register has an article that claims that 29% of directors say they steal corporate data when they leave a company.  24% of thefts were done using USB devices (sticks, MP3 players) and 18% used email.  There are no excuses for this … this is just plain theft of company data to bring to a competitor so that they have an unfair and probably illegal advantage.

So we’ve identified that USB and Email make up 42% of data theft mechanisms.  What do we do?  The first thing to do is lock down access to resources.  This goes from the basics of controlling data access to controlling device access.

Data access is one of the simplest things to do but is rarely done right.  First of, use Active Directory groups to grant access.  I can’t think of a place I’ve been to where they haven’t granted access to users directly.  That’s just plain dumb and impossible to manage.  Next, define owners of the data.  This should be a number of people who are in a position to grant and revoke access to data.  Only they should give permission to IT to grant access to a user.  People automatically assume that IT know who should have access … how can we?  Data access is a business issue, not an IT issue.  We control the mechanism but not who needs access to the data.  Using a strictly enforce and audtiable procedure will control access and give auditors something to track.  You can do this with paper but I’d look at a Sharepoint Services site and Infopath (from the Office Professional suite), maybe with a SQL back-end.  By tying this with PKI/certificates you can implement a rapid, paperless system with trustworthy signing.

Then there is device access.  How many users really need access to a DVD/CD writer, USB sticks, etc, to carry out business?  It will be less that 10% in a typical mid sized organisation or larger.  For now, the best solution I’ve found is DeviceLock.  This service can be installed on all desktops to put permissions on all interface types, e.g. read only CD/DVD, no access to USB, access to USB printers, no access to FireWire.  Permissioning is done on a group basis so you can allow local administrators full access, restrict access to all normal users and grant specified access to security groups.  For example, I’d have a group called USB-Read and another called USB-Write.  The deployment of the agent would configure these groups with the appropriate permissions on every machine on the network (this can be done during install, from a central console or via group policy).  Then when a user has a manager state they have a business need for a device, e.g. to write to a memory stick, I’d drop them into the USB write group.  Microsoft is promising similar functionality in Windows Vista, managed by Group Policy.

A few years ago I was working in a leading pharmaceuticals site as a consultant.  A manager came up to me and asked quietly to investigate something.  A sales person with access to sensitive data had left the company to go to a competitor and they suspected that this person had forwarded large amounts of data via email.  They asked me what could be done to find out what had happened.  I asked them "what auditing have you" and they responded "none".  They were $£^& out of luck.

Even with restricted access, it’s possible for someone to steal data.  A person with access to company secrets could gain authorised access to a memory stick and everyone has access to email anyway.  So auditing is necessary.

Firstly, enable auditing on sensitive resources such as file shares.  Make sure you audit successful and failed access.  You need to monitor failed attempts but the purpose of this exercise is to monitor theft of data that someone had legitimate access to.

Anyone who has looked at the security event log in Windows knows that you might as well read the Egyptian Book of the Dead … it makes more sense.  And what do you do if you have many servers?  Are you going to look at the log of every server and trawl through the endless events that pop up for each file access or folder opened?  At the moment, you can use a crude tool called EventCombMT.  It is pretty crude and sucks to use with servers spread across a WAN.  Unix and network types are used to Syslog.  There are 3rd party implementations for Windows but here’s the catch.  It costs more money and in the end, it’s just copying the noise that is the security log from every server to one point to create an even bigger amount of noise.  Microsoft have been working on a solution for years called Audit Collection Services.  It’s finally on the way as a part of System Center Operations Manager 2007 (MOM 2007).  It will gather key events, soon after they happened, and store them in a central dedicated SQL 2005 database.  This database can be secured for auditor access only.  It also has a view for reporting so that you have a simple view of the data, presenting the information as if you were browsing the Security Log.

That covers file shares.  Next we need to look at email.  If this is a worry then you need to implement mail auditing.  In fact, in certain regions or industries, you are meant to be doing this already.  My experience is that certain regulations such as IFSRA or SOX are being deliberately misinterpreted or ignored so that IT costs can be minimised.

Commvault provides a compliance solution called DataArchiver for Microsoft Exchange.  This will capture mail traffic and store it in a secure database that only selected people, e.g. auditors, security officers, IT, can access.  This gives you an investigative tool you can utilise to track suspect misuse with.

Your email anti-virus might offer some basic functionality you can use if you don’t need or can’t afford full blown archiving.  Microsoft Antigen has the ability not only to filter certain file types but you can capture attachments.  A past colleague once caught some nefarious activity with email attachments, something that was strictly banned, by using Sybari Antigen (as it was called then). 

At this point , we’ve put all the tool in place.  What’s left?  Nothing surely, because this is an IT problem, right?  Nope.  Far from it.  Like some sensible security consultants tell us, we can put all the mechanisms in the world in place but in the end, the "meat" will be the weakest link.  What do I mean?  Humans who want to advance their career or appear helpful will do what ever they can, including contravening procedures and rules.

A while back, I did some work at a finance company.  A foreign branch manager had been caught on our proxy logs as a heavy and long term browser of unknown (and hence unfiltered) pornographic sites.  We reported this to the the necessary internal authorities but nothing was done.  Strange, because 2 other people had been quietly let go for the same actions over a 2 or 3 day period.  Then late one Friday evening I’m called into an urgent meeting.  The security officer and head of auditing revealed to us that this person had quit with no notice.  They suspected this person had burned a large amount of data onto CD.  But this shouldn’t have happened because the security officer thought he’d changed this persons access rights.  What was the problem in this situation?  Firstly, the company turned a blind eye to this persons activities because they were seen as a strategic asset in a new market.   When this person quit there was a suspicion there would be a problem but IT was not told.  The security officer, who was overr
ated, did not understand how Active Directory worked and had failed to make the necessary changes to restrict access to USB, etc.  Had we known, this person who was leaving would have lost all access in a matter of seconds.  The IT staff in the branch office were completely unaware and actually granted access to the resources for the leaving manager; in fact it was thought that they even helped with burning data onto CD.

One of my biggest gripes in the corporate world is unequal application of company policies.  Internal Audit and Security departments spend the majority of their effort watching and analysing people such as IT administrators when they ignore or turn a knowing blind eye to the activities of their directors.  Consider the risks, an IT administrator with access to company secrets knows he’s being watched/audited and won’t take a stupid risk.  And the chances of an IT administrator even knowing where to start to look for secrets are minimal.  On the other hand, a director or senior staff member knows (a) what secrets there are, (b) where they are kept, (c) has access and (d) no one will even blink if a director shows up in audit logs accessing information … assuming there are logs in the first place!

So what needs to be done?  Together, union representatives, security, auditing, IT and solicitors must define policies.  These policies should dictate how access is granted and revoked.  Unathorised use of data or resources must be defined and prohibited.  Punishment must be detailed for contravening these policies.  The key component is that the directors must publicly back, enforce and comply with these procedures.  A rule is worthless if not applied equally.  I dare any HR person to sack an employee for doing something that managers get away with even though procedures ban it.  They’ll be in an employment tribunal coughing and bleeding up money in a very public and embarrassing manner.

In summary:

  • Control access to data.
  • Restrict access to resources, e.g. USB, CDRW, etc.
  • Audit and track usage and communication of data.
  • Clearly define and communicate policies.  Equally and fairly enforce the policies.

Lots of Microsoft 2007 Releases

Is it just me or does anyone else think that Microsoft is releasing a 2007 version of every product in their catalogue?  If you are someone who prides yourself in knowing lots of products to be able to do your job then you are going to struggle to keep up.  It might be time to buy on of these 

A word of warning though.  The Homer Simpson theory would tell us that each succesive clone will become dumber and dumber, and hence each would desire to create a clone of itself.

Windows “Longhorn” Webcasts

Microsoft has posted a series of links for upcoming and on-demand webcasts about the upcoming Windows "Longhorn" product.  I’d recommend that consultants and proactive administrators take a look.

"Learn how the Windows Server code name "Longhorn" operating system helps IT professionals maximize control over their infrastructure while providing unprecedented availability and management capabilities, to deliver a significantly more secure, reliable and robust server environment than ever before".

Using WinRE to Repair Missing File on Vista

The WinRE team have posted instructions on how to repair a boot failure on Windows Vista due to a missing file.  Here’s a quote from the post:

"To repair your computer using Startup Repair follow these steps:

  1. Boot into Vista installation DVD
  2. Choose your language settings and click Next
  3. Click Repair your computer
  4. Choose your operating system and click Next. This should bring up System Recovery Options.
  5. Click on Startup Repair

Startup Repair should now start diagnosing your system to identify the root cause of the failure. Once it has identified the root cause, it would automatically start repairing your computer. If you are curious to know what Startup Repair did, you can click on the details link and see which tests Startup Repair ran to diagnose the problem.

After Startup Repair has finished the repairs, click Finish to reboot your computer.

Your computer should now be able to boot normally into Vista!!"

Biometrics – Pah!

Steve Riley mentions a piece done in the new series of Mythbusters, the Discovery Channel show, on his blog.  We have all heard of security conscious organisations that decide to use thumb/fingerprint readers to secure their computer rooms, etc.  We’ve also heard the urban legends"myths" that said systems can be cracked pretty easily.

Well, it appears they can!  The Mythbusters crew succesfully lifted a fingerprint from the reader and made latex and ballistics gel copies of it.  Using these (the latex sheet needed to be licked to work) they were able to succesfully fool the reader.  This was despite the manufacturer claiming that the reader checked pulse, sweat and temperature.  Worse again, they even beat it with a photocopy of a finger print.

As Steve mentions in his blog, biometrics by themselves are not a secure authentication mechanism.  Secure authentication requires two factors such as "What you have" (biometric, smart card, etc) and "what you know" (passphrase, PIN, etc).  Either one by itself can be easilly comprimised but together they are pretty secure.

So, the lesson here is, if your company uses fingerprint readers then you don’t need to worry about your finger being chopped off by attackers … it’s much easier to lift the print at the scene.

UK Customs & Excise Scanning Laptops

The BBC has reported an interesting story.  It appears that the UK’s Customs & Excise department is scanning the laptops of suspected offendors for illicit materials, namely offensive pornography.  Wanting to prevent the import of offensive materials is an appladable desire.  However, given that certain nations, including some in the EU, have a history of using government agencies to perform industrial espionage to aid their native companies, I do have a problem with this action.

Interestingly, the person who reported this story said their laptop could not be scanned by the agents on hand because it was an Apple.  The agents had no idea what encryption was either.

So, if you do not want company secrets to be stolen by a governement agency of some nation, make sure you encrypt your laptops hard disk.

Microsoft Catches Up With RIM Blackberry

The Register has published a whitepaper that describes how Microsoft has caught up with RIM in the marketing of push email technology.  Until Service Pack 2 for Exchange 2003, no one was able to match up with RIM.  Sure, there were alternatives but RIM had the name: Balckberry.  Every director and senior manager wanted a Blackberry.  This all sounds great but hold one a second… there’s some problems:

  • You have to pay money to subscribe to the RIM network for pushing your mails out.
  • If you use RIM then your mails are travelling across their network and their servers.

That last one is a real stickler.  You may have been able to offer alternative solutions but they still had license costs and you still had to beat the name "Blackberry".  Plus, let’s face it, non-Blackberry devices were a dog to use until recently.  You were probably talking about having to use a brick of a PDA and who really wants to revisit the 1980’s … I prefer to forget that decade happened.

With Service Pack 2 for Microsoft Exchange 2003, Microsoft included a new feature for pushing email out to Windows enabled smartphonnes and PDA’s.  Secure push email from within Exchange was now possible.  You didn’t need to use another companies service or network.  You also could reduce your licensing costs.  Simultaneously, phone manufacturers worked with Microsoft to develop better devices that would be more appealing to the target market.  Now a director can use a feature rich smart phone that is no bigger than a normal mobile/cell/handy phone.

MS Push Email offers other features too.  A PIN policy can be enforced on the devices.  This offers basic security to lenghten the time it takes to access data on a device without the owners permission (real security requires encryption).  Furthermore, if a device is lost or stolen it can eb reported to IT or the security officer.  With this notification, Exchange administrators can send a signal to the device to wipe itself, thus preventing unauthorised access of data.

The message was very slow to get out to the typical sys admin or CIO.  It appears that it’s finally getting out there but the uptake does appear to be slow in Ireland.  That’s a pity because it would be a shame not to use the free and secure solution that Microsoft have provided.

There’s loads of information on the net on how MS push email works and how to deploy it.  Here are some links:

Finally, Nathan Winters (in the UK) has set up the Microsoft Messaging & Mobility User Group UK.  The intention of this group is to share information and to inform people on how to make the best use of the technologies that Microsoft has provided in making the information worker a mobile worker.

Technet Magazine: September 2006

Are you using MOM 2005 or SMS 2003?  Do you want to learn more about how these products can be used to do more while you do less?  If so, I highly recommend that you read the free online edition of TechNet Magazine.  This month’s edition feature articles on SMS 2003 and MOM 2005.

Articles include:

  • Using WMI with MOM
  • Zero Touch Installations
  • Getting to know Windows PE
  • Using MOM for SOX compliant security auditing
  • System Center Operations Manager 2007 (aka MOM 2007)

When correctly deployed and used, MOM and SMS in conjunction with Windows 2003/2003 R2 can really make life simpler for the systems administrator.  I’m speaking from experience here.  In a past job, my team (3 of us) ran a global network of 170 servers.  Most of our time was spent on engineering for new projects/systems instead of firefighting or sneakernet deployments.  This would have been impossible without the solutions we had deployed.

Windows 2003 Service Pack 2 Beta Technical Refresh

Microsoft has released a Technical Refresh of the Service Pack 2 beta for Windows 2003/2003 R2.  The following was posted on Connect.

"Windows Serviceability is pleased to announce the release of Beta Refresh 1 (build 2786) of Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 2 for Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP Professional x64 Edition customers.

This build contains:

  • Roll up of hotfixes released to date
  • Roll up of security updates released to date
  • Fixes for bugs reported by Beta customers and other known issues on previous Service Pack 2 builds

This build should be used for full deployment purposes, including pre-production testing or general compatibility testing. We will review all reported issues in the Release Candidate build. In order to have a stable test environment we strongly recommend un-installation of any previous SP2 builds from your machines before installing build 2786. If you previously installed an integrated build of SP2, you cannot upgrade your system to build 2786 with this refresh; you will need to re-install a released version (RTM, SP1, or R2) of Windows Server 2003 before upgrading to build 2786. Go to https://connect.microsoft.com/content/content.aspx?SiteID=98&ContentID=1799 to find an evaluation copy of Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1.

Release notes for this build can be found at https://connect.microsoft.com/content/content.aspx?ContentID=3342&SiteID=98.

Here is the list of releases; note that there are no integrated releases with this build:

32-bit x86 standalone update: English, German and Japanese
x64 standalone update: English and Japanese
Itanium standalone update: English, German and Japanese
Checked update for English only (debug version)
We encourage you to continue WS03 SP2 Beta testing with this build and provide feedback".

The feature in this Serivce Pack I’m most interested is Windows Deployment Services.  An image based system, WDS is a replacement for RIS and will be one of the deployment mechanisms for Windows Vista.  Any organisation facing a potential deployment of Vista should review this new solution.