Update for the SMS 2003 Inventory Tool For Dell Computers

Microsoft has posted an updated version of the SMS 2003 Inventory Tool for Dell Updates.  This is necessary in order to download the latest catalogs from Dell.  This free feature pack will enable administrators to report on, manage and update BIOS, firmware and drivers on their Dell servers.  It works pretty simiarly to the SMS software updates engine used to deploy Microsoft secuirty updates.  This is the quote from the Microsoft post:

"SMS 2003 Inventory Tool for Dell Updates is an add-on to SMS 2003 Service Pack 1 (SP1) that enables customers to use the SMS 2003 Software Update Management feature to update their Dell servers. Customers will be able to deploy BIOS, firmware, and driver updates to their Dell servers using the same process that they use for deploying security and other updates with SMS.
SMS 2003 Inventory Tool for Dell Update includes the following components:

  • Setup – Windows Installer based setup that allows SMS administrator to install all required components on the SMS site server.
  • Inventory Tool for Dell update (scan tool) – this tool is being built using SDK components provided by Dell Inc. It scans a Dell server for installed and missing updates, just like MBSA scans the computer for Microsoft security updates.
  • Sync tool for Dell update – this tool downloads a catalog from Dell’s website on a recurring schedule. This catalog describes all published Dell updates.
  • Update to Distribute Software Update Wizard (DSUW) – Setup will install an update to DSUW to show new UI that allows to manually import multiple component updates contained within a single system update.
  • Version 3.0 must be installed to coincide with work with the latest Dell catalog".

VML Vulnerability In All Current Windows Platforms

All current releases of Microsoft Windows are vulnerable to a new security threat in the implementation of Vector Markup Language.  This threat enables attackers to take control of a vistims computer.  Microsoft is taking this one really seriously.  Not only is there sample explout code on the Internet but Microsoft is also feeling the heat after a percienved slow reponse in recent months.  Microsoft is stating that at the very latest, a patch will be released on October 10th (patch Tuesday) but they will attempt to release an update before then.

Microsoft Live Local and Google Maps

Some wil be aware of Google Maps but I suspect much fewer people are aware of Microsoft’s Live mapping service, Live Local.  I am fan of most of what Google has been doing.  Their competitive spirit has forced Microsoft to wake up from the slumber they had fallen into.  One example is how Microsoft has developed their Live service to compete with Google’s web offerings.  As a person who once said to an MS salesman that MS search engines were $h^te, I must admit that Live is pretty good, possibly as good as Google, especilly since it often comes up with different but equally good results.

As someone who likes to get out an about in my car on road trips, for photography, work, etc, knowing where I am going is pretty important.  Earlier this year, I navigated around the backroads and cities of Virginia courtesy of Live Local without gettings lost or making a wrong turn.  I’ve just found (it might have been like this for a while) that Live Local now has Irish and European maps.  A true test of Live versus Google is now possible.  Irish digital mapping is a joke as anyone who has tried to use a GPS in the Republic outside of the main roads or cities can testify.

I’ve taken screen shots of my town from Live and from Google.  Note that Live shows all of the rural roads.  Google stops at the edge of the town.  Strangely, Google does not show any detail at all for the neighbouring town of Newbridge, one of the major towns in County Kildare and it’s a much bigger town than Kildare town.

Live allows you to cleanly right-click on the map to quickly add pushpins, add way points and search for routes.  Google cannot do this at all.  This is pretty important because Google can’t even search the Irish map.  I tried searching for Leeson Street, Grafton Street and Merrion Square and it failed all three.  Live failed with Grafton Street, came close (next street) to Leeson Street (it’s actually shown as N11) and hit Merrion Square bang on.  Another test was to find my family home which is 4 miles from the nearest town.  Live Local had the road clearly marked whereas Google Maps barely even mentioned the aforementioned town, let alon my home area.  WHile I give with one hand I take with another.  Live Local does not show the M1 bypassing Dundalk nor the completion of the M50.  But, like I said, digital mapping in Ireland is a joke.  This might not be the fault of Microsoft because my GPS unit doesn’t show them either. 

Faced head to head, I give Live Local the edge. 

Screen shots are attached.

Windows Services for UNIX Version 3.5

Yesterday, Microsoft released an updated version of Windows Service for UNIX 3.5.  This suite features a set of tools for integrating a Microsoft network with a UNIX network.

"Windows Services for UNIX 3.5 provides a full range of supported and fully integrated cross-platform network services for enterprise customers to use in integrating Windows into their existing UNIX-based environments".

Intel Duo, MSI Motherboard and WXP64 with 4GB RAM (?)

I recently bought a kit machine with an Intel Duo CPU (64 bit) and an MSI P965 Neo-F motherboard.  I’d put it together with the intention of using it for Photoshop stuff and for running labs in VMware.  I stocked it with 4GB RAM (the motherboard limit) and installed Windows XP x64 Professional.  I went 64bit to limit memory problems and also so I could run 64 bit VM’s for Exchange 2007.

I’d installed the OS, patched it up and then checked it over.  Winver told me I only had 3.2GB of RAM.  Funny, because BIOS told me I had a working 4GB.  I went googling for ages but couldn’t find the correct answer.  It was clear though, that lots of people were having this problem.  Some stuff I found:

  • Add /PAE to the boot.ini string.  No joy there, and I didn’t think there would be on x64.
  • Enable or disable in BIOS – Advanced Chipset the Memory Hole function.  No one was clear on whether it should be enabled or disabled. 
  • Configure in BIOS – Advanced Chipset a function called Memory Mapping.  I didn’t have that setting.

I was beginning to lose hope and starting to believe that 3/4 of GB of RAM was wasted.  I then found some forum posts sayiong that the motherboard was dedicating memory to PCI devices.  What!  I knew graphics cards with no native RAM might do this but I’d bought a good card with native RAM.  The articles claimed other devices could take 3/4 of GB of RAM and nothing could be done about it.

I then went to the source, MSI.  I tried to search their support forum but their search engine is useless.  I tried searching for "MSI P965 x64 RAM 4GB" but was told that was too generic a search.  Rubbish!  I had to manually browse through their forums and eventually found what I wanted.  Someone had raised the same issue I had.  Eventually someone had told them to installed v1.5 of the BIOS update (fairly new).  It’s readme said it "resolved memory issues" but didn’t go into any detail.  But the person posted back saying the problem was resolved by the update.  Excellent.

I downloaded the update.  Now MSI were sending me back to the stoneage.  The installer was a DOS program and required a floppy drive and DOS diskettes.  Luckily, I’d bought a floppy drive (I thought I’d need it for SATA drivers – which I didn’t in the end) but I had no diskettes.  A trip to PC World and luckily the had about 5 boxes tucked away in a dusty, dark corner.  MSI might want to consider an online updater like the one HP use.  Most PC’s don’t come with floppy drive anymore and Microsoft is moving away from DOS towards WinPE.

The instructions were very unclear but I had to copy two files (an exe and a flash image) to one diskette and make a system drive with another.  I booted into DOS amd seitched diskettes.  I ran the exe.  It then asked me in garbled non-English to type in the name of the image file.  It took me 30 seconds to grasp what it was trying to ask me … some English lessons for the programmers please!

One flash update and a reboot later and I was sorted.  Windows reported 4GB RAM was available.  A by result was that the Realtek audio drivers needed to be reloaded.

Now I’ve got a powerful PC ready to run lots of VM’s!

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.