Enterprise IT Watch Blog

July 6, 2010  6:51 AM

The deal with security on Windows 7

Kevin Beaver Kevin Beaver Profile: Kevin Beaver

In addition to being more user-friendly than OS’s of the past, Windows 7 has some pretty stout security controls right out of the box. However, like other things security-related, lack of maintenance and oversight can turn an otherwise reasonably secure OS on its head. Did I mention some of the security features are tied to the version of Windows 7 you’re running combined with the version of Windows Server on the other end?

Anyway, here are some pieces I’ve written about Windows 7 security that you may want to check out:

Using BitLocker in Windows 7 – pros, cons, and other general things you need to know

Securing removable media with BitLocker To Go – a neat solution that can help ensure one of those darned thumb drives doesn’t get your business into a bind

Cracking passwords in Windows 7 – perhaps more appropriately titled “How to crack Windows 7 passwords so you can find the vulnerabilities before the bad guys exploit them”

Using Windows XP Mode for security testing in Windows 7 – how you can use the potential VMWare Workstation killer for security testing with the added benefit of not mucking up your local workstation installation

Using Windows 7’s DirectAccess to enhance the mobile user experience – Microsoft’s VPN alternative and what you need to know to make sure it doesn’t create more problems than it solves

Windows 7 vulnerabilities you won’t hear about – some of the things no one’s talking about when it comes to Windows 7 security

If you’re looking for more information check out my other tips, podcasts, screencasts, and webcasts on Windows security.

Kevin Beaver is an independent information security consultant, keynote speaker, and expert witness with Principle Logic, LLC and a contributor to the IT Watch Blog.

July 5, 2010  6:43 AM

The near-immediate payback of Windows 7

Kevin Beaver Kevin Beaver Profile: Kevin Beaver

IDC just released a Microsoft-sponsored whitepaper on the business value of Windows 7. They found that in just seven months (a convenient number) companies started seeing a payback with an ROI of 375%. Apparently there’s a 43-hour average savings per user per year. Not too shabby!

As far as security goes, I’ve been a big fan of Windows 7 for a while now, but I’ve been an even bigger fan of how much Windows 7 has improved my productivity. So I can attest to the numbers in IDC’s whitepaper. If anything, just the “Show desktop” button – now located in the lower right-hand corner of the screen – has saved me a ton of time flipping back and forth to my desktop while I work. I don’t even have to look for it now but rather take my mouse and ram it down to the lower right and click. It works every time.

Also, the concept of libraries and the general browsing of different folders has made my folder clicks so much more efficient. I know it doesn’t sound like much but as in the world of auto racing, thousandths of a second count and add up big time over the long haul.

Sure, Windows 7 has its quirks and still isn’t the perfect OS, but I’ll take it over what we’ve had in the past any day!

What do you think of Windows 7? Let us know in the comments section or send us your stories and reviews.

Kevin Beaver is an independent information security consultant, keynote speaker, and expert witness with Principle Logic, LLC and a contributor to the IT Watch Blog.

July 2, 2010  1:59 PM

Book Recommendation: Securing Storage

Kevin Beaver Kevin Beaver Profile: Kevin Beaver

While I’m on my storage security kick I thought it’d be worth sharing a valuable book on the topic by Himanshu Dwivedi:

Securing Storage: A Practical Guide to SAN and NAS Security

It’s five years old but still very relevant in today’s storage environments. If anything, just browse through it the next time you’re in the bookstore. It delves into storage security weaknesses you can’t afford to overlook that so many people are still ignoring.

Kevin Beaver is an independent information security consultant, keynote speaker, and expert witness with Principle Logic, LLC and a contributor to the IT Watch Blog.

July 2, 2010  1:42 PM

What’s this “SkyDrive” you speak of?

Kevin Beaver Kevin Beaver Profile: Kevin Beaver

Have you seen Microsoft’s cloud storage offering called Windows Live SkyDrive? It’s funny, SkyDrive has apparently been around for nearly three years but I’m just now hearing about it. I don’t know if that’s Microsoft’s lack of marketing or seemingly minimal push into the cloud or just my inability to keep up with their offerings. Regardless, SkyDrive has some interesting features you may want to check out:

  • File backup and storage (up to 25GB)
  • Live file sharing and collaboration (with close tie-in with Office Live apps)
  • File synchronization with your local system (coming soon)

One big drawback with SkyDrive is that file upload size is limited to 50 MB, which seems a bit odd. SkyDrive may not be “enterprise” ready and you may prefer some of the features of other online backup providers, but I could certainly see SkyDrive being a good fit in many instances. If you’re open to explore it, the best way is to set up a Windows Live account and take it for a spin to see how it works.

Kevin Beaver is an independent information security consultant, keynote speaker, and expert witness with Principle Logic, LLC and a contributor to the IT Watch Blog.

June 30, 2010  9:39 PM

Gartner session reminder of just how vulnerable mobile storage can be

Kevin Beaver Kevin Beaver Profile: Kevin Beaver

I served on a mobile security panel at Gartner this week with Larry Ponemon and my esteemed colleague Stan Gatewood. The insight they brought to the table from both a research and a real-world perspective was phenomenal. I think our discussion served as a strong reminder to all of us that businesses are no where close to where we need to be when it comes to protecting our mobile storage.

For instance, Dr. Ponemon did some research – backed by Intel – that found:

  • There’s a $20,000 cost reduction between lost laptops with encryption versus without
  • The average cost of a lost laptop is over $49,000

Also, the people in the audience were asked to raise their hands if their business has ever experienced a lost or stolen laptop. All but maybe three or four of the hundred or so people in the room raise their hand!

I go back to what I wrote about nearly three years ago in my blog post What’s it going to take to encrypt laptop drives?! Seriously, what is it going to take? Nothing’s really changing.

Another neat takeaway is Intel’s (relatively) new Anti-Theft technology that’s worth checking out. It works in conjunction with drive encryption from WinMagic and PGP as well as asset management/tracking from Absolute and effectively disables the system when a loss or theft has been detected.

We can have optional mobile storage security options until the end of time but I’ve always believed that unless and until computer hardware manufacturers integrate controls that facilitate mobile storage security, such as Intel’s Anti-Theft, at the factory we’re going to continue having mobile storage exposures.

Kevin Beaver is an independent information security consultant, keynote speaker, and expert witness with Principle Logic, LLC and a contributor to the IT Watch Blog.

June 30, 2010  11:29 AM

Finding those needles in your storage haystack

Kevin Beaver Kevin Beaver Profile: Kevin Beaver

Information is at rest most of the time. Therein lies the problem. Give malicious attackers, rogue insiders or just a few bored employees any decent amount of time on your network and they’ll likely uncover sensitive information they shouldn’t be able to access. So what’s a network or storage admin to do? Unstructured information (PDFs, spreadsheets, word processing documents, etc.) is scattered all about the network in practically every nook and cranny. How you can possibly find out where everything is so you can ensure it’s safe from prying eyes?

The simple formula is to find out what you’ve got, determine how it’s at risk, classify it and do whatever it takes to keep it in order only accessible to those with a business need to know. It’s that first step though – finding what you have – that’s so difficult. I’d venture to guess even the sharpest network/storage admins don’t have a real sense of what’s actually stored in their environment. Not from lack of expertise or effort but rather because it’s just so darn difficult to find where everyone and every application has stored these files.

Here are some ideas on what you can do to figure out what’s where:

  1. Simply ask information owners what they’ve got. It won’t be completely reliable but it’s a start.
  2. Use search tools you’ve already got such as Windows Explorer or find in UNIX/Linux. Painful  but possible.
  3. Use more advanced search tools such as Google Desktop or FileLocator Pro.
  4. Use enterprise search tools such as Identity Finder or even some of the more advanced e-discovery/ILM tools such as those offered by StoredIQ or EMC/Kazeon.

However you go about it, just do something. There’s undoubtedly unstructured information at risk in your storage environment and getting started finding out where it’s at today will serve your greatly down the road when things are even more complex.

Kevin Beaver is an independent information security consultant, keynote speaker, and expert witness with Principle Logic, LLC and a contributor to the IT Watch Blog.

June 30, 2010  10:28 AM

Cisco Cius: An iPad for the working stiff?

Michael Morisy Michael Morisy Profile: Michael Morisy

It’s been a little off our radar, but Cisco Live‘s been live and kicking this week with some hot news coming through (Yasir Irfan blogged about how you can attend Cisco Live virtually and has promised to post more updates on his blog). One surprising announcement that caught my attention, however, was Cisco’s new tablet, the Cisco Cius.

The Android-powered device takes a cue from other recent Cisco plays, focusing on video and collaboration, and aimed squarely at the business and educational markets (business tablets have had fans in education and medicine for years). The pitch, straight from Cisco’s Kara Wilson, is that it will offer better HD video talk, desktop virtualization, and on/off-campus connectivity than any other current mobile alternative (see below the jump for full specs).

While it will naturally draw comparisons to Apple’s iPad, Cisco made clear that it’s not interested in being an iPad killer as long as it can capture the enterprise market. As Matt Hamblen reported for Computer World:

When asked about comparisons of Cius to the iPad, Chambers was clear. “Cius is all about collaboration and telepresence,” he said. “It’s a business tablet. I use the iPad and love it. I love anything that loves networks. We do a lot with Apple and they are a great customer and good partner. I think of Cius as a business tablet, so [Cius and iPad] are complementary products with different target markets.”

Try telling that to the scores of business professionals that have already adopted, gleefully, the business side of the Apple iPad: At every conference and briefing I’ve been to since the tablet’s launch, it’s been a strange dance to watch, to see how smooth and nonchalant each vendor can be as they power up their PowerPoints on that thin, aluminum frame that was at once both magical and revolutionary. One presenter literally got so giddy he began giggling during his pitch.

With Cisco and even HP entering the tablet game, maybe enterprise tablets will get less magical while getting more work done. See below for full specs:

Continued »

June 29, 2010  8:20 AM

Microsoft storms Google off the beaches of Normandy

Melanie Yarbrough Profile: MelanieYarbrough

About a month ago, Google began its migration away from Windows, offering in its stead the Mac OS X for Apple users and Linux for PC users. Now it seems Microsoft gets to bite its thumb right back, as France’s Skema Business School trades in Google Apps for Microsoft’s Live@edu service. The self-described “pioneer in the use of online collaboration tools,” Skema—a combination of the French business schools CERAM and ESC Lille—entered into a three-year partnership with Microsoft.

How do the services compare on paper?

Google Apps for Education

Microsoft’s Live@edu

7.2GB Gmail service with Gchat IM in email browser

10GB hosted email service

Google Calendar: Event and calendar sharing

Outlook Calendar sharing and event coordination

Google Talk (IM, VOIP, & file transfer)

Windows Live Messenger: Allows image and document sharing as well as sending SMS messages from the interface.

Google Sites: Shared websites that include videos, images, gadget and documents.

Windows Live Spaces: Share info via documents, blogs and discussion groups.

Google Documents: +Multiuser document editing, -Only create Google documents, simple exporting/importing may lose data/formatting.

Windows Live Skydrive: 25GB web-based, password protected and shareable storage space.

Google Video: Video sharing with capability for comments, tags and rating. 10GB per domain.

Office Live Workspace: Collaboration document editing

Across-the-board compatibility.

Recent access through Moodle open source application and mobile syncing with Windows Live Mobile.

Since neither service seems to offer anything significantly superior to its competitor, perhaps it comes down to familiarity. Microsoft invites schools to “build on what they already have,” banking on its trusted name in academia software to sway institutions to transition into the cloud with them. Live@edu offers compatibility with Microsoft’s desktop applications, an important note since not everything has moved to cloud just yet.

This is a major overhaul for the ESC Lille half of Skema; the former had been using Google Apps Education Edition since 2008, but what does it mean for Microsoft in this ongoing cloud war?

First of all, any positive press for Microsoft—whether it involves beating out Google or not—is huge these days. It seems the morale’s been down around Microsoft headquarters; so much so that PR king Frank Shaw sent out a pep talk email to the company, available at All Things Digital, and posted a self-serving look at “Microsoft by the numbers” at the company blog. What spurred this influx of confidence boosters? From Shaw’s fingertips:

It has been a rough couple of weeks for us from a coverage standpoint. It seems like every time I turn on the computer, or talk to a reporter, or pick up a publication at home, or do a scan of my RSS feeds or Twitter client that I see more stories and opinions about the challenges we have, and how great some of our competitors are doing. iPad this, Droid that, sheesh.

Predictably enough, they’ve gotten even more bad press about their moping; repostings of the email and blog post are accompanied by tongue-in-cheek references to Shaw’s kitschy reference to the Rocky theme song and running up hills. The Guardian’s Technology Blog reexamined Shaw’s “fist-pumping set of figures,” putting in the analysis he so conveniently left out.

Aside from the morale benefit of adding a notch to their “We’re Better Than Google” belt, this small-scale victory for Live@edu adds to the other recent victory Shaw references in his company-wide email: “[W]e just announced 700k deployment of live@edu, probably the largest cloud deployment in the world.” He’s referring to the June deal between Microsoft and the Kentucky Department of Education, a move that the Commonwealth of Kentucky projects will save them up to $6.3 million dollars over a four year period. The speedy migration of the first 500,000 users took a mere weekend, sweetening the deal for the Kentucky school system. Kentucky’s commissioner of education, Terry Holliday, articulated the best part of the deal, “[W]e can close the technology gap between rich and poor districts and level the playing field for students regardless of where they live.”

If you look at it from Shaw’s PR-rich viewpoint, Microsoft’s ahead of the game, offering real solutions and features to those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it. And no matter your opinion of Microsoft or Google, education is definitely coming out on top in this particular war.

Melanie Yarbrough is the assistant community editor at ITKnowledgeExchange.com. Follow her on Twitter or send her an email at Melanie@ITKnowledgeExchange.com.

June 24, 2010  2:18 PM

No Time, No Budget, and No People? No Problem! (Part 2)

Guest Author Profile: Guest Author

We’ve got the second installment of Keith Morrow’s three part series, No Time, No Budget, and No People? No Problem! Straight from former CIO of Blockbuster and 7-eleven and current president of K. Morrow Associates, learn how acting like a start-up and maximizing the assets you already have can save you money and precious time when deploying applications in the cloud. Check back soon for part three!

Since the arrival of online commerce 15 years ago, there have been few technology trends that have the potential to revolutionize the retail industry like the ones we see in mobile computing, social networking, and cloud computing. Today’s piece looks into the ways that retailers can shed a more conservative, traditional mindset and embrace new ways for deploying new apps, delving into practical insights for creating innovative, API-enabled applications. More specifically, how leveraging the move to the cloud can serve as the smartest decision in blowing out one’s API strategy.

Think Modular and Act Entrepreneurial, on the Cloud

Many retailers are very conservative when it comes to technology adoption, and they to closely control where new apps are deployed. Due to our limited budget, we didn’t have a choice but to embrace a new way for deploying the new apps.

Had we done it the old way, we would have acquired and configured the database, application, and web servers ourselves. We would have had to negotiate a long-term hosting agreement worth millions of dollars, and the agreement would have to go through a lengthy legal and executive approval process. Instead we acted like a startup and launched our API service and the API-enabled applications on the cloud, outside of the confines of our firewall, with the help of a technology partner. We bought capacity only to the level that we needed and as the services gained customer adoption, we added more. With this strategy, we were able to avoid high, upfront fixed costs and turned them into variable expenses.

Don’t Build Everything from Scratch

Some retail technologists see any initiative as an opportunity to re-engineer and rebuild. We didn’t have that luxury. We also realized that we already had valuable digital assets and enabling applications available, in-house or externally through our partners. The constantly updated movie library was already there. Our store locator engine was built. We had a transaction engine and a payment gateway. What we needed to do was create a common API service layer that would enable new applications to access those services consistently, for many more customers (millions), and in a way that we could monitor analytically for future improvements.

We looked outside of our organization and found a SaaS vendor whose technology enabled us to create this API service layer quickly, get them up and running on the cloud, and use analytical reporting tools to monitor traffic and the conversion data. We also used the same Graphical User Interface designs across different consumer devices, making only minor tweaks for usability. The key is to leverage existing solutions to accelerate time to market before your customers leave you. Without technology from this vendor, it would have taken us five to ten times as long to deliver what we wanted to.

In my third and final part of this series, I’ll discuss the strategic benefits that can result from extending the reach of APIs to developers and partners.

June 23, 2010  1:34 PM

OUTBREAK: Man infected with computer virus

Melanie Yarbrough Profile: MelanieYarbrough

Every silver lining has to have a cloud attached to it, and a headline from Xinhaunet’s Sci & Tech section provides just that. The silver lining? Technology implanted in a human to improve quality of life. The cloud? As with most exciting and cutting edge technology, lack of proper security. Thus Dr. Mark Gasson, a British scientist, has lay claim to becoming the first man to be infected with a computer virus.

Before you grab your yellow outbreak suit and throw your computers out a window, full disclosure: He infected himself. Dr. Gasson set out to demonstrate the danger of further development of medical devices such as pacemakers and cochlear implants without equal development of security.

“With the benefits of this type of technology come risks, ” Dr. Gasson told Xinhaunet. “We may improve ourselves in some way but much like improvements with other technologies, mobile phones for example, they become vulnerable to risks, such as security problems and computer viruses.”

The chip implanted in the doctor’s wrist allowed him access to secure buildings and his mobile phone. Once he contaminated the chip, the planted virus was able to pass onto external control systems. This discovery and the ease with which his experiment was executed was cause for concern for Professor Rafael Capurro of Germany’s the Steinbesi-Transfer-Institute of Information Ethics. He weighed the pros and cons of implant surveillance, telling the BBC: “Surveillance can be part of medical care, but if someone wants to do harm to you, it could be a problem.”

Both Dr. Gasson and Professor Capurro shared their findings and concerns at Australia’s International Symposium for Technology and Society this month.

With security always an underlying concern in all areas of technology, what is your take on the quest for security as developed as the technology it protects? Is Dr. Gasson’s experiment just another case of preaching to the choir, or do you think it will take a threat to human well-being—rather than just their data—to finally shape up the standards for security?

Melanie Yarbrough is the assistant community editor at ITKnowledgeExchange.com. Follow her on Twitter or send her an email at Melanie@ITKnowledgeExchange.com.

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