Security

Advice for GDPR Planning and Preparation before the May 2018 Implementation Deadline

The new EU GDPR - General Data Protection Regulation Law comes into effect on 25th May 2018. This builds on and supersedes current data protection regulations, and in the UK is administered by the UK Information Commissioners Office (UK ICO). 

We've had quite a few conversations with clients about preparation for EU GDPR and as this overlaps business and pure IT considerations, we've made sure to read up on, and around, the subject so that we can help detangle the fact from the sales spin. In our approach we started by reading the actual text of the GDPR which you can access directly online on the EUR-Lex website.  If you've got time then we'd suggest going straight to the source and reading that also - everything else you read is someone else's interpretation, including the rest of this article. 

We must also mention that whilst we're experienced in business and IT governance, we're not lawyers so please do check through things with your legal advisors. 

Our aim is to take a pragmatic view of things and help to put you in a position to evaluate measures in the context of what is needed rather than what the 'salesman proposes'. GDPR is a veritable salesman's dream and some of this is valid, but much is not necessary in achieving compliance. 

 

GDPR In a Nutshell:

The main point of GDPR is to make sure that organisations respect personal data and act as a good custodian of this data; respecting it, keeping it safe and handling it appropriately.

There is a lot more detail to the regulations but basically this is it. It especially relates to sensitive personal data such as medical, political, genetic, biometric, sexual, racial and financial personal information and information relating to children (minors).

GDPR has come about in order to give people more rights over their personal data. If you have had calls from vehicle accident claims management companies, PPI claims firms etc. then these are examples of where third parties have been given (or purchased) your personal information; often to your distinct annoyance.  GDPR comes partly in response to these activities and aims to reduce instances of preventable data leakages.

Compliance with GDPR is 'self certified' in the same way that current PCI (Payment Card Industry) standards are for protecting card holder data. There is not an official recognised body that can say that you are 'GDPR Compliant'  (this is / was intended in the legislation but has not come to pass). This means that compliance is a matter of ensuring that you act appropriately for your business and that you are happy that you have managed your level of risk. If you were to suffer a data breach or a complaint was to be upheld against you, then you would be deemed non-compliant with GDPR and might be issued with a fine or face further legal action.  The onus is therefore on a business owner and its management to ensure that compliance is good.   

 

Practical Measures to compliance and further explanation:

Recommendation 1: Keep a 'GDPR Diary'

This is important as it allows you to note down what you have done, and when, towards GDPR compliance, what you have read and what actions you have taken. If you were to have a GDPR issue down the line, then being able to demonstrate that you made reasonable efforts towards compliance will be important. The ICO understand that some organisations are big and complex so may have a whole team dedicated to GDPR compliance; whereas other organisations are much smaller down, to a single person, and they will expect appropriate and proportional effort from each (a one-person company will, for example, be able to note down what data they hold and where it is with less effort than a 10,000-person company). 

Recommendation 2: Make an internal communications plan and execute it, now and ongoing.

The importance of data protection compliance and respect for client data is something that people should be made explicitly aware of. If you have a board then this should be a recurring board meeting item (even if a brief one), but most importantly everyone in the organisation needs to be educated that respect for client data is of utmost importance to everyone's best interests. This might seem common sense and it is, but unless you make and execute a regular training / communications plan, then there is a risk that people might give away confidential information without realising it is an issue. Having an explicit internal policy about what personal information can be shared; by whom and with whom is a good idea and makes things clear. Your compliance and security are only as strong as the weakest link in the chain and must apply to interns, reception, temporary staff, cleaners, through to senior board level management. 

    Recommendation 3: Have a procedure to authenticate who you are sharing information with.

    This will help protect against people trying to trick you into releasing confidential data which unfortunately does happen but is still your responsibility. The mantra should be:  'If in doubt check it out' i.e. if anything is at all unusual or if it is not someone you know.  It is possible, for example, for someone to call an accounting department of a company to ask for a copy of your Sage Backup file to be uploaded or emailed to them to assist your accountants in their tax work. If a call like that came in from someone who sounded legitimate and convincing, what is the risk that someone in your organisation would accidentally be tricked into releasing your core accounts files? Probably higher than we would all like as tricks like this prey on all of our innate desires to help and people respond with the best of intentions but to unfortunate ends. Your accounts data in this example might not hold too much 'personal' information about individuals, but it is still potentially damaging to the business. We've even seen examples (and taped one of them - click through to read and listen) where people phone a company claiming to be from the Police in order to get through the switchboard. Highly effective as a tactic and, of course, illegal. 

    Recommendation 4: Don't be the easy target.

    This applies to many areas of IT such as security. You can potentially spend millions on IT security very easily. The appropriate level though is one which normally comes down to common sense. For security (which is part of GDPR in that you need to be keeping your data safe) there will be sensible systems and processes (human and computer) that will allow you to store and share your client information safely. If you are at least as secure as the majority of your industry or peer group then you will be unlikely to be hacked or suffer a data breach. The nature of your organisation and the data you hold will determine appropriate measures so that you can satisfy yourself of compliance.  

    Recommendation 5 - Put in place a Privacy Policy

    It is important that companies have a privacy policy and that this is on your website and made available to people to make it clear how you process their information. Onega have developed a standard Privacy Policy that we adopt and are happy to share with our clients. This can be customised for your organisation if you agree with the applicability of the content to you. We'll be happy to forward you a copy of this on request if you do not already have it and can assist with customisation for your individual needs.

    Recommendation 6: Listen to and communicate with your clients.

    Make sure that when you collect personal information you make it clear what this will be used for and that people give their permission for this. Keep this documentation / record in case you need to refer back to it later.

    If someone asks to be taken off a mailing list then respect that and act on it immediately. If the same person's data has been shared with other organisations or internal departments then also make sure the message is passed along and actioned as appropriate. Something that is sure to get you ICO complaints is if you get requests to remove someone's details from a mailing list / contact list but you continue to call / emall / mail them again and again. If someone does not want to hear from you then best to respect that and expend your efforts elsewhere with people who do appreciate that. The ICO will forgive a legitimate mistake (none of us are perfect) but if they see a pattern of abuse and no good system or process in place then they will take a dim view of this and you may well attract a fine and the poor publicity that may accompany it.

    There is a tenet in GDPR that consent needs to be clear and explicit.  Where in the past you might have had to untick a box in very small print to opt out of something, now you need to have a clear opt in and not assume consent.

    Recommendation 7: Don't hold data if you do not need it.

    The best way to be compliant with safe and secure handling of personal data is not to hold it in the first place. If you don't have a legitimate (and common sense) reason to hold data, then don't and it can't come back to bite you. In the world of Ecommerce, many small companies have benefitted from the services of payment providers like Paypal or Braintree. These providers allow you to take credit card payments, but at no point are you given or allowed to hold credit card details and expiry dates (which come with big responsibility); you benefit from the payment processing and collection system and not having the card details is a veritably positive benefit.

    Recommendation 8:  Complete a Data Audit - Know what data you hold.

    On the basis of 'what you know you can manage', one of the steps towards compliance is conducting a data audit, to identify what information you record (particularly personal information), why this is recorded, where it is held, how you process it, and who you share it with etc. This then allows you to evaluate that data in respect of GDPR to make sure that you are keeping it safe, only keeping what you need to keep and what measures you take to make sure the information is accurate. 

    Information to collect and collate in a personal data audit includes:

    • Data Source (where this data comes from).
    • How & where it is stored (on the cloud, on local servers etc.).
    • Is the data secured in transit and at rest?
    • What information you are holding?
    • What you are doing with the information (how it is processed)?
    • What the legitimate reason for this processing is?
    • Is personal consent required for this processing?
    • If so, do you have this consent and is this documented?
    • Who will the information be shared with and who, in your organisation, is allowed to share it?
    • Is this on your privacy notice?
    • How is the data kept up to date and how will you update subscribers to this data (i.e. organisations you share this with)?

    Recommendation 9: - Consider the Importance of standards.

    It is well worth considering Business IT Security Standards like Cyber Essentials and the fuller ISO27001. It's a fact that no organisation with ISO27001 certification has ever suffered a large scale data loss (true at the time of writing anyway). That's because the standard provides for a methodological and comprehensive approach to security. It can also be a business benefit. The Cyber Essentials standard is one promoted by the UK National Cyber Security Centre which is part of GCHQ. This covers the basics (80:20 rule) of security and Onega can help you prepare for certification to the standard. These standards overlap in IT Security with GDPR and would help reduce risks and, if anything untoward was to happen, would also help demonstrate that you had taken reasonable and recommended actions to secure your organisation.

     

    FAQ:

    How long should I keep data for?

    This is a question of logic and common sense. There might also be regulatory requirements in certain industries that override other criteria e.g. if you are regulated by the FCA then you still need to stick to their guidelines. Keep data for as long as reasonably needed and justified for business and audit purposes, then remove.

     

    Who is your Data Protection Officer?

    The chances are, that if you have read this far, that could well be you!  If it is not or will not be you, then it is important that this person be defined clearly and be given board-level backing to be put in place so that they have the authority to prosecute the role. Smaller organisations may not need to have a formal data protection officer but it is good practice to make sure there is a clear role and responsibility in any case.

     

    What happens if there is a data breach?

    If you do have a data breach that involves personal data being leaked, exposed or lost, then this may well be reportable to the ICO. It is important that any such breach be reported quickly and openly. There may be an investigation by the ICO but it is 100% better to be open, honest, and learn from your mistakes to reduce risk of recurrence than to try to bury this. How people react when there is an incident is as important as what has happened in many cases. If a data breach is likely to lead to negative effects to individuals then it needs to be reported. If how many widgets were made on production line 4 in May is leaked then that generally would not be a reportable incident as it does not involve personal data. Of course it is far preferable to secure data and reduce the risk of a breach in the first place than to need to report a breach.

     

    Who has the right to access data?

    Individuals have a right to ask to see (and have a copy of) what information you hold about them and rights to withdraw consent where previously this has been given. There is also a right to erasure from your records. Although this latter right is a request that you might not have to comply with; for example, if you have a statutory requirement to keep records for an amount of time then that requirement will override the request. If, however, someone asks to be taken off a mailing list then you should comply with that and do your best to make sure they are not sent further automated emails unless any are mandatory (i.e. a product safety recall notice could and should still be sent legitimately to a customer who has asked to be removed from your marketing emails).

    Individuals can make subject access requests to ask for the information you hold about them and you have to comply with these within a month, at no charge. If you judge that an information request (Subject Access Request) is likely to be excessive or unfounded then you can refuse a request giving this reason. For example, some local authorities under the Freedom of Information Act rules have had to find a number of obscure statistics following multiple requests from the same person, where the only intention is to waste the Council's time and resource. Where you do decline a request, you have to let the requestor know that, if they disagree with your decision, they can complain to the ICO who will investigate if appropriate.  The majority of smaller companies will never have had a Subject Access Request and so with GDPR this is something to be aware of but it is likely that it will rarely be an issue.

     

    What about fines?

    You have likely seen the headlines about fines for GDPR non-compliance and data breaches. These can be up to EUR 20,000,000 or 4% of organisation turnover.  To attract a fine of EUR 20 Million you would have to have a turnover of half a billion Euros a year and have a serious data breach that you could have reasonably prevented.   

    To avoid (minimise the risk of) fines it is important to do your best to comply with the legislation. On the whole, this also overlaps with business interests i.e. what would your clients think of you if they learned that you had a data breach and exposed their personal information? Or if they received unwanted calls from third parties and learned that it was because you passed on their information without their consent? Generally we'd suggest asking yourself (knowing everything you know) whether you would be happy as a customer of your own organisation; are you satisfied that everyone in the organisation would respect your data and treat it professionally at all times? This latter point - applicability to everyone - is very important. It is important to make sure that everyone in your organisation knows that respect for, and confidentiality of, client personal data is their responsibility. 

     

    What is Privacy by Design?

    Privacy by Design is a concept you might hear about in GDPR documents. The term is a little cryptic but what it means is that you need to think about privacy first in matters relating to personal information. If you are planning a marketing exercise for example you need to make sure that the people you are going to be communicating with are 'opted in' to your communications and that you make sure personal information you capture will be used and stored correctly and appropriately. We'd think of this as having Best Practice front of mind. If you are offered (or seek to licence or buy ) mailing lists, then you need to make sure these include upstream consent from the members of the list and be reasonably confident that the list vendor is not just playing lip service to consent. If you deal with a UK or EU mailing list provider of good reputation then you have the best chance of this all being legitimate. US and other International vendors are not bound by the same rules but you are when you use the data and would be liable for any abuse. Whenever you are considering new systems, processes etc. then it is important to consider security as part of the process so that you will remain compliant with the law.

     

    What is Personal Data Processing and what are justifications for processing?

    It is important to remember that GDPR relates to processing of personal data. It is important that you need to have a legitimate reason to store and process (use) personal information. One of the legitimate reasons can be explicit consent from an individual (who is given details so that they understand clearly how their information will be used), but there are other reasons too. 

    For example if you have a CCTV system then this may well be for reasons of security and business optimisation.  You'd normally put signs up to let people know that CCTV is in operation but you don't need to ask for consent from individuals. A shoplifter or someone that broke in could not reasonably argue that they did not consent to being filmed if you use this as evidence against them.  In this case of CCTV though, you do need to make sure that you keep the CCTV recording system secure and limit access to authorised staff.

    Where consent is the reason for holding information, it is important that this is clear and that an individual has the right to withdraw consent later.  In most cases clients will be happy to give consent where this is in mutual interest.

     

    Do I need a new printer, or whatever else people say I need because of GDPR?

    GDPR is being used as an excuse to sell any and many products at the moment. If you are uncertain whether you need X for compliance then please do run it by us and we'd be happy to discuss and help work out the correct response. Generally consider if a product significantly increases your level of security or compliance and if the problem that it solves is a significant risk in the first place. For example, if you have a small office without public access then you are unlikely to need super secure printing, especially if you make sure you collect print items immediately you print them out. The risk of a member of the public (or someone of ill intent) picking up something with someone else's private information on is quite a low risk. Hopefully you'd notice someone not of your staff in your office in the first place, but if you do print super sensitive documents, then consider secure printing or a small printer next to your desk that is not shared (a modern small laser or inkjet printer is now very capable).

    You may well benefit from some enhancements to your systems and processes especially if some of your systems are already out of date, but we'll be happy to discuss these with you. Many measures towards increasing security have relatively low (and sometimes nil) costs, bar a bit of time to set up.

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    If you'd like to discuss any of the contents of this article further please don't hesitate to get in touch (or leave a comment below).

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    Many Thanks to Rock Cohen via Flickr for the header photo of the EU flag flying.

     

    Sources:

    The UK ICO has a very good website with an overview of GDPR, a '12 steps towards GDPR compliance' document which we recommend and advice for particular types of organisation such as small businesses and financial services organisations.

    ICO Main GDPR Site:

    https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-the-general-data-protection-regulation-gdpr

    ICO 12 Steps PDF:

    https://ico.org.uk/media/1624219/preparing-for-the-gdpr-12-steps.pdf

    ICO Advice for smaller companies

    https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/making-data-protection-your-business/

    ICO Advice for specific business sectors and myths to their 'GDRP Myth Busting' blog. All quite pragmatic.

    https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/resources-and-support/getting-ready-for-the-gdpr-resources/#faqs  (this includes specifics for retail, micro organisations, small financial sector GDPR, for charities and local government organisations).

    All the above pages are well worth reading and digesting.

    Impersonating a Police Officer UK Phone Scam

    This one initially caught me off guard as I was co-incidentally expecting a call back from the Metropolitan Police on an unrelated matter..

    I had a call this morning from someone identifying themselves as 'Mark Dixon' who claimed to be from the Met Police. As all our calls are recorded on our phone system I'll attach the call here so you can judge for yourself .. the statement that he is from the 'Met Police' is very clear indeed so no doubt about what is claimed. This tactic works very well as we all naturally want to co-operate with the police and help prevent crime and abuse of all sorts. 'Mr Dixon' does do a very good job of sounding like a police officer - so full marks for tone and gravitas of voice.

    NB: If you want to listen to the call then come back to the commentry here scroll to the bottom & hit play then come back to read on..

    An annual alleged scam seems to be for a certain company who may or may not go by the name of 'blue line publishing' or 'thin blue line publishing' to call up pretending to be from the UK Police. They ask for business community support to support their efforts to help educate children about the dangers of the internet and other risks (grooming etc.). Specifically they state that they are producing a journal to be distributed to schools to address and highlight some of these issues and look for responsible community minded busiesses to help sponsor and enable this effort.

    Here at Onega as part of our IT support work we go to great efforts to help keep computer systems safe from cyber attacks and reduce risks with various measures of Antivirus, secure firewalls etc.  Thus we'd be happy to consider helping the police with any initiatives to keep the community safe and raise awareness wherever possible. In this case though the caller is not calling from the police, but will state this, and heavily imply this. It is a great way to get past a swichboard for example... ie if the Police call and talk to reception asking for a particular member of staff, no one will refuse to connect the call (again due to our natural desire to help stay on the right side of the law).

    The chap calling does not in fact work for the police, and if asked or questioned furter will back track to 'we're working for the police' then 'we're working with the police' then 'in the interests of policing' and may well we suspect end up with 'we're wanted by the police'! (or should do!) .. the point is that most people don't think to question the authenticity of the caller if they claim up front to be calling from the Met Police (or any UK police force), as we alll also know that 'impersonating a police officer' is a crime that typically carries a six month prison sentence in the UK. Fraud can carry much more.

    The alleged fraud pans out that if you choose to support their journal then you buy a certain amount of display advertising space in the journal or add a paid message of support as a responsible and upstanding company. So the journal may or may not be produced and printed in volumes they claim, and may or may not be distributed to schools. We're pretty sure that the real Police did not commission or condone this, and most of your money (if not all) goes to pertetuate the scam and to line the pockets of the scammers.

    We've reported this previously to the real police and understand that there is an ongoing investigation details of which are obviously confidential as it may lead to a court case and prison time for the man who is or claims to be Mark Dixon and his colleagues.

    Call received 10th April 2017 at 11:34am - 1:45 duration in this case. Have a listen to the recording and be the jury - do you agree that it is clear that the caller claims to be from the Police?  The call comes from a withheld number so it makes it harder to trace - though in fact the UK telecom logs allow for a full trace behind the scenes so there is no hiding here. They also don't check the TPS register before calling, though that's a fairly minor crime compared to impersonating a police officer or basic fraud and deception. As an additional kick to the real UK Met Police, they also chose the day of heroic policeman PC Keith Palmer's funeral for PC K who was killed in last month's Westminster attack, takes place in London's Southwark Cathedral.

    Call from the real police don't have withheld phone numbers, and officers will be able to indentify themselves to you. The police do have many civilian staff but they will also be clear about their title and authority. .. So if you get one of these calls please let us (and the police) know. This is about the 4th year we've had calls on this and we're always a bit sad it continues as it means that others are spending money that goes nowhere. In retrospect on the call I should have gone along with it to ask for details and where should I send my money etc. to capture their contact details but at the time I was not in the mood for time wasting so made short shrift of the call.

    Have a listen:

     

     

    What Exactly Is 'The Cloud' ?

    This is something we are asked a lot so we thought we'd share our take on 'The Cloud' with you.

    Undeniably the term has become one of the most used misused marketing buzzwords of recent times and, in our minds, is associated with the latest technology and techno-magic, will solve all your business IT needs and be the way of the future. But what is 'The Cloud' in reality?

    The answer to this we can sum up in three words, that we'll then explain further. So, drum-roll please... as we enlighten you (and possibly shatter some illusions) with the revelation that 'The Cloud' basically means 'someone else's infrastructure'.

    There can be nuance around this, but the essence of it is captured thus. Once you understand this fact, you can probe more deeply into it and better decide what is right for your business.

    Don't get us wrong, here at Onega we are big fans of 'The Cloud' and we help provide many cloud services to clients. These range from hosted telephony solutions to backup, hosted servers and security solutions such as Mimecast. In each case the core benefits are typically those of economies of scale with shared infrastructure. What you would have had to have been a large enterprise to enjoy, in terms of features, functionality and reliability not many years ago; you can now access for mere pounds per month per person. We are big proponents of some cloud services and both economics and capability are major reasons why we suggest this approach.

    It was not always this way though. One of the main differences that cloud services offer is that software can be deployed more continuously on the front end and the back end because they are based on subscription and hosted services models. Partly this is enabled by the better connectivity we (generally) enjoy now - you used to have to write software, test it, produce it in a factory and then distribute it in boxes on tape, on floppy disks or latterly with CDs and DVDs. This had cost and took time. Back in the day there were no such things as security updates and Service Packs. You bought MS-DOS, or Windows 3 through 95 or OS/2 etc and that was pretty much what you used. Things get quicker nowadays in production and feedback cycles. The latest release of Office 2016 for example is being updated with new features continually deployed every few months. I note that on the latest release Outlook can help manage your travel bookings and deliveries - small innovations that over time make big differences. Back to the point; some of the first and early Cloud Services really were quite rubbish but they did evolve quickly to the point where today, they make great sense.

    One thing to remember is that not all cloud services are the same. There is no magical 'hosting heaven' where all cloud services are hosted. There are big differences. Some of the differences are in the infrastructure that makes up a solution and others are around how it is managed. For example Onega's office, near the Docklands, is very close to quite a number of the best connected Data Centres in the country.  Even here though there is sharp contrast between one 'Docklands Data Centre' and another. For example pics here:

    Here can be seen some of the UK's prime data centres clustered together. Telehouse x2 and Global Switch 1 & 2 sites. All with good security, high fences, generators, high powered redundant aircon etc.

    Here can be seen some of the UK's prime data centres clustered together. Telehouse x2 and Global Switch 1 & 2 sites. All with good security, high fences, generators, high powered redundant aircon etc.

    This is also a hosting centre, just behind the BP garage off the A13 in East London. You can see the accessible air cooling vents on the street side. The security shutters for this re-purposed light industrial building can (allegedly) be breached in about 5 minutes if you know what you're doing. Still a step up from some of the 'chicken shed' data centres you hear about.

    This is also a hosting centre, just behind the BP garage off the A13 in East London. You can see the accessible air cooling vents on the street side. The security shutters for this re-purposed light industrial building can (allegedly) be breached in about 5 minutes if you know what you're doing. Still a step up from some of the 'chicken shed' data centres you hear about.

    So - quite a difference between data centres. Multiple diverse Internet connections, redundant building-wide UPSs, mains supplies from different substations, multiple generators with fuel supplies good for days or weeks mark out the best of the data centres. In how they manage their operations, there can also be quite a gulf.

    Beyond data centres, cloud services will run on different server hardware platforms and networks within the data centres, with different levels of security, resilience and engineered capacity. How resilient a network is to a DDOS attack for example depends on the network everything sits on and mechanisms in place to protect the servers.

    A very well run Cloud service (like Microsoft Azure & Office 365, and Amazon AWS services for example will allow for redundancy within and across data centres and even across geographies. Thus if one server or whole data centre fails (rarely but they can and do), then services will still be available to be provided from the mirrored data centre.

    How does all this make a difference in the real world? The answer to this good question is one we've had first hand experience of. Engineering is about all factors. Cumulatively: service of quality delivery in hardware; software; hosting resilience; engineering and operational processes mean that the end user's experience of a good service will be qualitatively and quantitatively better than that of a poorer service. Everyone will claim to have great services, but over time you learn the differences between them.

    Some tell-tale things to look for are Service Level Agreements, which show contractual information as to what is guaranteed and delivered. These are akin to the warranty that is bundled (or offered) with a laptop computer.  A good business machine will often come with a three year on-site warranty with the option to upgrade to a 4 hour response time; sometimes for less than £50 which implies the chances are that you'll be unlikely to need it. The detail of this an SLA will say if compensation is paid for downtime and what the target availability is etc. It is important to read the small print as well, as many SLA documents are not worth the electrons they are transmitted with.

    At Onega we have to evaluate many web services / cloud services and there can be a lot of difference in the detail here.  Many Cloud SLAs (even from very well-respected providers) will make it clear that the SLA covers their ability to provide a service, but excludes any responsibility for your data. CSPs (Cloud Service Providers) will always take measures to ensure that your data is protected (for example with replication to multiple data centres), but they don't take ultimate responsibility for data which is why you also typically need Cloud Backup alongside your new cloud services.

    Another thing to look for on quality of delivery is service status reporting. Good organisations tend to be open about issues and when they will be resolved (everyone will have issues from time to time). Poor organisations can sometimes claim that there are no issues when it's pretty obvious that they do. Purely anecdotally, we've also learned to be skeptical of any organisation who claim good scores with 'TrustPilot'.

    If you're pondering 'The Cloud' and how you can use this in your company, then please don't hesitate to get in touch. We're happy to discuss what's best for you and help take things forward. Also remember that 'The Cloud' is not the answer to everything. There are some circumstances (quite a number) where it is not (or not yet) the right solution. Onega have a lot of experience of cloud and physical worlds and we'd be very happy to discuss with you.

     

    Complacency is the Enemy of Security

    We're often asked the difference between different products and why we might recommend one solution over another.

    Rather than giving details on particular computer products, and pros and cons between two different virus scanners / firewalls / computers / laptops etc. we thought that it might be more helpful to give some insight as to our general thought processes and illustrate this.

    As an example please consider the two videos linked below. They're also quite short (less than 60 seconds each) and amusing in themselves so do have a watch.

    Video 1:

    The first here is a video of a tourist who 'crosses the line' and lays a hand on a member of the Royal Guard.

    What happens when a tourist touches a member of the Queen's Grenadier Guards

    Video 2:

    The second video below here also shows a security guard, here in the context of an office building lobby. In fact here are two guards that you can see in the video - one crouching in the foreground (hands up) and another approaching on the carpet behind.

    In contrast note what the approaching guard does when his colleague is 'shot'.

    So - what's the point here?

    Both of the videos show someone in the role of 'providing patrol and security' but the training and reaction are very different to a situation. To be clear we're not suggesting that either are right or wrong, but they are definitely very different.

    The first video could be seen as a potential overreaction but this is trained response to a threat and maintaining a clear line which should not be crossed. We suspect that the tourist got quite a shock. You don't see the tourist's reaction on film but you can make a pretty good guess.

    The second video shows the guard running away pretty quickly and comments on the YouTube video liken the reaction to playing 'Sonic the Hedgehog'. As you see in the video this was a staged prank and an effective one at that. The reaction is not necessarily wrong though. Hopefully the guard is going to call for help / police / armed backup / check CCTV and grab a gun etc. rather than just to uselessly become the next victim given what he's just seen and heard in front of him. Of course he might equally be heading straight out of the door and planning to go home; we'd like to think not though.

    Both of these are providing security around a building and assurance for the tenants and visitors to help maintain and assure a safe environment. In very different ways. Both are more effective than many reception / security guards in an office environment who often provide only token levels of security. You've probably noticed buildings where a 'guard' is absorbed in playing solitaire and around whom a seven year old would run rings in a chase.

    This is the difference between ticking boxes and providing value and much of the value of a guard, like the value of insurance or an army, is not in the work they do, but what they can do if needed, which means it is less likely you'll need them. Good security obviously has a more powerful deterrent effect.

    Companies recognise this in their implementation of security. It goes to the core of the company's values; do you only pay lip service, or are you thorough? Much of the time you may not notice the difference unless you are looking for it. We say time and time again that there is no such thing as total security, only different levels of risk management and mitigation.

    In some city firms the security office is manned by staff who may be entirely ex army and indeed sometimes ex special forces. You'll not notice on the door but you will if you try anything untoward and in the subtle, but very real, difference in the level of attention paid to things. This is a deep skill in itself. Guarding anything from an office to nuclear weapons requires dedication and focus to do well, evaluate the risks and pull against the natural human instinct towards complacency over time.

    Are we digressing again here? Yes, probably... to bring the comparison of security guards back more to the world of IT and subtle differences, the point is that when at Onega we consider solutions, we look for what is the best long run solution for a challenge, that will serve a business and provide for value and service. In considering IT systems, we look at many aspects of capital cost, performance, reliability, robustness, running costs and serviceability. Aesthetics are also considered and sometimes people choose preferences of good looks over functionality or serviceability as their conscious choice which is fine if trade-offs are accepted. From cars to aircraft, to computers to anything else, there are almost always trade-offs made in any decision; it is just a matter of getting the balance right.

    Currently in IT there is an increasingly mature trend towards swapping traditionally capital investments for regular periodic subscriptions. An example of this might be Microsoft's 'Surface as a Service' offering but in software, client computing and server side computing the trend is present and it allows for the traditional cost bump to be smoothed out over time; so that you can have a high quality solution and pay for it as you enjoy it with reduced barriers to entry.

    When Onega look at a product, we do of course consider cost. We are a business ourselves and we have to balance the books. However we invest where we need to and appreciate that some things can be very much a false economy. The difference that an extra £100 investment can make to your enjoyment of a computer over three years can be between smooth service delivery and frustration. We've learned many things the hard way and we try to share the benefit of our experience so that you can avoid repeating mistakes and errors we may have made. We do of course sometimes make mistakes, but we learn from them.

    As a case of false economy in point, consider backup systems. The purpose of these is to keep your vital company information safe and in some cases, also doubling as Business Continuity solutions. You really don't want to be choosing a backup solution based on price. Among the criteria here are: how well does it work; is it reliable; how quickly and easily can we get things back when we need them; how is it monitored; how is the data encrypted; how do we obtain support for the system; how many copies of data are maintained; how far back will it retain our backup data; does it cover everything we need backed up; are air gaps enforced; how stable is the company providing the service? Price of course is a factor, but it should probably be a secondary factor to the first questions. A good solution that might cost £30 a month is likely to be much, much better business value than a poor solution that just about does the job for £19 a month. In this hypothetical example the £11 extra a month in cost would arguably be worth way more than that in peace of mind alone.

    So for any system, when we are considering recommendations from Onega, we are looking to help provide solutions that will stand up to the task and deliver when needed rather than something that will disappear like Sonic just when you need it.

    No one likes being let down.

    No one likes being let down.

    Back to the title of our post here (after a slight case of ADD);  Complacency being the Enemy of Security.  Complacency is very hard to prevent, but procedures and reality checks / external audit and baselines can help greatly. Arguably the role of a security professional is primarily countering complacency everywhere it creeps in.. which it does.

    There are some tricks that can be learned from the people who protect some of the nation's most critical assets, again imperfectly but still relatively robustly and relatively successfully. We're talking about the high bar of protecting nuclear assets, domestic or military. Imagine the awesome responsibility of guarding a nuclear reactor or live missile defensive systems. If you were tasked with this role, you'd obviously understand the serious nature of the role and the possible implications of a breach of security. You'd be very much 'on your guard' on day 1, but on day 2 (allow some leeway on timing here), you'd likely think 'no one stole / launched our nuclear weapons yesterday, so I can relax a bit' - maybe read a good book, check out X-Factor, kitten videos on YouTube or read the paper, play solitaire, wave through the maintenance engineers or take a long break for coffee etc. and so it goes until one day something happens and you get that sinking feeling in your stomach when it's too late to do anything about it.  Thankfully it is relatively hard to do anything useful with quantities of nuclear material without being picked up by the eyes and ears of intelligence, but for every time the backstop comes good, comes the day closer when it misses one.

    So to prevent complacency we have a number of routes. Training and reinforcing on why we have security and the importance of the items we are looking to protect, learning from incidents that others have experienced and share with the community, implementing institutional anti-complacency measures with audits and penetration exercises, rotation of staff roles so that your attention-deficit burnout is minimised. Some of these measures can be equally applied to corporate environments and can uncover convenience hacks from staff that might undermine or bypass security measures for example.

    At Onega, we've accumulated a good deal of knowledge on security and we've spotted enough loopholes in our time to know that, if we consider them too much, we'd just run for the caves. We do like the challenge of a security audit though and helping companies to look for low-hanging fruit or potential unbalanced security practices. Checklists and standards can help greatly on this, though their application and evaluation can be done with the thoroughness of the Queen's guard or the run away guard, we try to aim for the former of course in any security evaluation. The cost of doing an evaluation is insignificant compared to the potential cost of not doing one.

    Crims are clever..

    You have to hand it to them, criminals are a clever bunch and in some ways we should thank them for entertaining us with their ingenuity. Actually we do thank them - with our hard earned cash when they get the better of us. This cat and mouse game will likely still be going on when Long Player (http://longplayer.org ) has long since stopped playing...

    In the interests of learning and staying safe, we'll share some experiences of current attacks used to try to steal your information (and thus maybe your money a little later).

    Example 1:  Socially Engineered Email Attacks

    This is a popular one as we write and, having started off targeting large organisations, it is now trickling down to smaller organisations like yours.

    What happens? Criminals have a look at public sources like your own useful website / Companies House etc. to identify who the main boss(es) of the company are and who is in the finance team. They then craft (forge) an email from the head of the company to the head of finance asking for help to make a payment to a supplier, which might be a perfectly normal thing to do and a reasonable request. If the scheme runs to completion then the head of finance replies, thinking that he or she is talking to the boss, and £15,000 (or such amount as the criminal deems appropriate to not raise suspicion) is transferred into the sunset. 

    If the criminal can be bothered, they may even have sent a fake enquiry to your company prior to the attack, so that they have a copy of your email stationery and footers to make the mail more convincing.

    To date (October 2016)  it is estimated that just short of a billion pounds have been lost by UK companies falling for this type of fraud. Not many people or large organisations are going to want to stand up and admit that they were caught out though.

    The same exploits are used not only in attempted financial fraud but in other walks of life too. A salient example is noted at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-32095189 where a prisoner was released and ushered out of jail after his bail / probation had come through - albeit on a fake email which was not noted until his release.

    Example 2:  Phishing Links

    A newer threat that we are seeing in the wild at the moment is the digital equivalent of the chain letter, but with more malice. It starts when criminals trick you (through one of many possible ways) to reveal your login credentials for your email (MS Office 365 / Exchange / Lotus Notes / Google Mail). They then access your mailbox and send out a bulk email to all your contacts using your email account. Since this will be to people you know and who know you and is sent via your real email address and mail system, the chances are that it will get through all the email filters.

    As they have access to your mailbox, they know your industry and how you write, along with your stationery etc.  They also have a full copy of your email box in case there is anything interesting or useful to them in there. What could a criminal or competitor do if they had a full copy of your email box, sent box, folders, contacts, diaries, public folders and web shared folders?  Have you ever emailed payment card details to people or noted passwords in email?  Although most of the time this may be disregarded as the prime aim is just to spread and spread malware to do more damage later.

    A typical mail sent out from one company to another could include a note such as: 'Please can you review these deal documents?'; or something similar that is appropriate to the industry and company, such that it looks credible, as well as a link to a document sharing website like Google Drive / Docusign Form etc.

    When someone receives this message, if they click on the link, they might get a login page such as the below to access the 'documents':

    The above looks like a legitimate login page for Google Drive, but please look carefully at the address - it starts out with 'drive.google.com (which looks legitimate to the human eye), but the 'gotcha' is the bit after this of .kwaltaz.com ... so you will not be going to Google Drive at all in this case, but to a sub-domain (sub-site) of kwaltaz.com - easy to miss that small but vital detail. The page looks convincing so if you are in a hurry then you may just enter your details to log in to get to the interesting deal documents.

    If you do proceed to enter your details as invited to do, then you'll have just given away access to your files / email / anything else you store on Google in this case to the criminals. Unless you have further login security in place, they can now log into your email, continue the chain and help themselves to any interesting items you have. You may well not know that they've been looking and lurking for a week or more, before your mailbox is used in turn and it is also possible that your login might be sold on the underground 'darkweb' markets - value being higher depending on factors like, organisation and connectedness.

    When one of these email abuse attacks are launched to repeat the cycle that started this example, the person or group starting the bulk mail is said to have 'owned' your mailbox. They may also change your password to lock you out and to slow down the process of you getting control back once you realise what is happening (by which time the damage is done in mail sending and to your reputation in turn).  We've also seen that criminals like to interact with people when they are in the process of an exercise of abuse. For example: if a bulk mail goes out referring to deal documents etc. and a recipient is slightly suspicious so mails back to confirm validity (e.g. 'Hi Paul - can I check that this link was from you and is legitimate?'); then the crims in turn reply back to say something like - 'Hi Bob - yes, these are from me - please review and let me know your thoughts' etc... so encouraging Bob to become the next victim in the chain. The perpetrator of the fraud also likely deletes all your contacts and the replies / conversations they've had to further frustrate your recovery and communications as you wrestle back control of your mailbox.

    Remember that, in this case, the email comes from the trusted mail account and no virus bearing attachments are included, only the link to the website for the 'documents' so the majority of virus scanners / junk mail filters will pass the email as 100% legitimate. There are effective defences but we'll come onto that later. Apart from just stealing your login details, scripts on the site also commonly detect what type of computer you have and which web browser and if these are known to be vulnerable to known attacks then they will often proceed to use these open doors to load malware onto your computer in the background without your knowledge. If you know that 90%+ of infections can be avoided by having your computer up to date so that known vulnerabilities are stopped, then you'll understand why your IT department focuses a fair bit of time and energy on patches and updates that get pushed out to your computer to keep you up to date. The odd reboot to apply these is a very minor inconvenience compared to the alternative of not keeping up to date!

    Example 3: The Freebee USB stick.

    Who doesn't like a freebie? For example a free promotional USB drive that you're sent in the post, or one that you were 'lucky to find' which someone else had evidently previously dropped. Statistically we're all suckers for the proverbial free lunch and 'don't look a gift horse in the mouth'.  So you proceed to plug the drive into your computer to make use of it, or if found to see if there is anything interesting (music/ files / competitor files / the original owner's contact details to return the drive) on the drive. There is a chance this was your lucky day, but equally there is a good chance that the drive might have been 'dropped' where you'd find it.

    When you click to open files on the drive, these may not be what they appear and unbeknownst to you could silently install malware or viruses on your computer, especially if you don't disable the 'autorun' features on removable media. By the act of plugging in the USB device to your computer, you bypass all your network firewall and external security and there is a very good chance that if a hacker can be bothered to drop USB devices for you to find, then they'll be bothered to write a custom virus for you that will not be detected by your virus scanner.  Thus the last line of defence on your desktop could well be bypassed as well and the attacker has a backdoor to your office network and can likely get to anything you can get to, as well as maybe recording all your visited websites and keystrokes. Combine this with taking the odd screenshot in the background and letters 2 and 6 of your password may not be your secret for long.

    Example 4:  Bank Phone fraud.

    We're all very careful about our computing and personal data, which websites we trust and keep our cards safe, don't we?  So if you get a call from your bank's security department that they're worried about a number of transactions that have been put through for authorisation on your account, then you'll be glad that their anti-fraud systems have got your back, right? Not if the caller is not, in fact, your bank, but yet another clever criminal trying to catch you off-guard; to obtain your banking details to later abuse and enrich themselves. The fact that they appear to be trying to help you by flagging attempted transactions on your account is often enough for them to get your confidence before any of these 'transactions' go through.  Analogue telephones also have a flaw that is abused at this point; if you have any doubt as to whether the call is genuine, then you can call back the bank on the phone number printed on the back of your bank card and are encouraged to do so 'to satisfy yourself that the call is genuine'.  So you hang up the one call and then dial the number on the back of your card for whichever bank you are with. The call is answered - sometimes with a short 'your call is very important to us and we are connecting you as quickly as possible'; then you ask to be transferred to the fraud department where you are connected to the same, or another, agent who then verifies your details and helps you reset your security information to be very secure in future. In actual fact you've not called your bank, as the original call has not been cut off.  The flaw in many phones is that calls do not disconnect until the caller (that rang you) has hung up, thus you've been on the same fraudulent call all the time and likely given away your memorable word / date / date and place of birth etc. in the process, while all the time thinking you are helping the bank to protect you.  You can imagine how this ends; often within days of the original call.

    There are a number of variations on this fraud call which targets businesses as well as individuals. Criminals know that certain professions, like solicitors, accountants and investment advisers may well hold short-term funds for clients in client accounts separate from their own funds. Where this is the case, there is a heavy duty of care on the holder and thus criminals may well target these groups as the modus operandum of the call appeals to and preys upon the instinct of the account holder to 'keep the funds safe'.  Variations have included suggestions that the 'bank' will call back (and then do) tomorrow to assist with moving chunks (often quite considerable) of money into 'safe' accounts away from the account which is currently being 'targeted'. So, in a desire to keep client money safe, the unwitting victim actually assists the criminals by transferring large amounts of other people's money to them; which in many cases is never to be seen again.

    If you're thinking 'no one would fall for this', then have a read of http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-34425717 which is a real example of this fraud occurring. The article notes that in the case of this unfortunate solicitor, the implication of the fraud was personal bankruptcy and being banned from practicing her profession. We understand that the professional indemnity insurers also failed to pay out on the grounds that she 'knowingly assisted criminals' which we think counter to probability and good faith in insurance so also be reminded that not all insurance is the same, though you may only come to understand that when you need to call upon it. Would your insurer cover you for this case if you acted (in your mind) in utmost good faith but were fooled into transferring money to criminals? Now might be a good time to make a call and find out.

    What can we do to stay safe?

    The above are just some examples of common frauds that we see in the real world that are delivered by technological means. There are many more.

    Some advice we'd generally give is:

    1. Remember nothing is secure.

      Sobering as it is, there is no such thing as a completely secure system; only degrees of risk reduction. Security is about reasonable justified degrees and measures which reduce risk of abuse. Admitting that you have a security problem (we all do) is the first step towards mitigating it. Never trust a security professional who isn't paranoid!
       
    2. Learn from the mistakes of others and don't repeat them.

      Take an active interest in security. The more you know, the more you are armed. There is a lot to read on the Internet and in the press and knowing that you are at risk is the first step in reducing risks.
       
    3. Respect the need for security.

      Security often (nearly always) comes at the expense of some convenience. Be that glass screens or steel bars in a bank branch that physically protect cash, or computer processes that ask for authentication or for you to change your password from time to time. Each time you have to go through the hassle of changing a password, remember that means you have a fresh start where anyone who might have known your password, now does not.  Equally if your computer prompts for a reboot to complete install of (security)updates, don't hit 'postpone' but instead save anything you need to save, hit reboot and grab a coffee or glass of water; the updates are there for a good reason - to keep you safe.
       
    4. Be part of security.

      We all need to be careful and vigilant. Even network administrators should normally only log in with normal user rights - see our other post on this at  http://www.onega.net/blog/2015/6/4/are-you-logged-in-with-admin-level-credentials-on-your-computer-right-now . More generally, ensure you consider things and share information on a 'need to know basis'. Recruitment companies and those involved with industrial espionage (the former might arguably be the latter in some cases) might charm information out of you under many guises.  We've even had phone calls where people claim to be calling from the Police (not the band or manufacturer of sunglasses, but the law enforcement crew) and naturally we want to help them, don't we? Even beware that, by reading security blogs and web pages, you are often giving away your network IP address and location.
       
    5. Make sure appropriate technical measures are in place to minimise your risks.

      Where appropriate, pieces of technology can help maintain security.  Make use of these and make sure they are configured, deployed, monitored and managed appropriately. There is a big difference between just 'having a firewall' and having a well-configured and well-run security solution in the same.
       
    6. There are no stupid questions when it comes to IT security.

      As a rule of thumb: If you have a doubt, point it out. If something looks too good to be true, or does not 'feel right', then be sceptical and check. This might be in the language used in an email that might not be quite characteristic of the sender. Remember it took the one little boy to point out the emperor wore no clothes - often we find this recurring on a digital scale. It can also be in person or on the phone.  Who is that new guy in the office and does everyone else just assume he has the right to be there?
       
    7. Trust your security.

      There are many computing tools that aim to minimise risks online while you get on with your work. Quite a few operating systems (including MacOS / Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 10 etc.) and popular web browsers like Firefox, Chrome and Internet Explorer have pop ups when they are warning you about a potentially dangerous website, or when a piece of software is trying to change things on your system. Unfortunately many studies show that 95%+ of the time people just hit 'Continue' and carry on. Stop and think when you see these, and better to err on the side of caution.
       
    8. Maintain good backups (and test them).

      If all else fails, you've got your backups, right? There are many risks from threats like 'cryptolocker' which encrypt your files and ask for a ransom to restore them (which likely leads to only an empty wallet and no files back for you) and the value of your information to others which may be electronically leaked. But if you have good backups, at least you are still in business. Onega have developed a Backup Policy Template document which takes you through a number of risks to help make sure you have an appropriate strategy in place.  We'd be happy to share a copy of this with you. Do test your backups though; we can't stress that enough. Over time companies implement new systems and people put things in new locations. On the cloud, on their computer, on external drives and network shares. Pick some random files, note their details, move them to somewhere new and challenge yourself or your IT department to get them back. A good example of this is if you move all your Outlook contacts from Office 365 to a PST file - do you have these backed up and can you get them back easily? I digress, but in that example Onega would have you covered with our O365 SkyKick backup system to keep your MS Office 365 cloud data safe.
       
    9. Don't be complacent.

      This one is hard. Our natural inclination is to concentrate our attention on what is urgent, not neccessarily what is important. Even if your office is connected to the MOD secure network, or if you've got the shiniest new firewall, is everything else as good and is everyone briefed and playing the same way. If: you leave your computer unlocked while you are away from your desk; your Sage 'manager' password is blank (the default so do check if you use this); or 1001 other things, then you are at risk.  An external check can sometimes help to remind us of this and wake us all up.  Standards like the basic Cyber Essentials standards from the UK Government give a good basic baseline, also to make sure most of the low hanging fruit is covered.

      ** Please note the above are elements of what we consider salient advice but in no means comprehensive guidelines.
    Think and read warnings before you blindly click continue.

    Think and read warnings before you blindly click continue.

    Onega can help with aspects such as Incident Response (although we'd rather help avoid incidents in the first place), Security Review / Audit, ensuring you have good Physical and Cloud Backup Solutions, implementing multi-level UTM Firewall protection, user education and security awareness, external mail filtering etc. The first step is to get in touch and we can discuss any particular concerns, run through any issues and decide what would be appropriate for your needs.

    Epilogue:

    The story header picture here is of a Lego Criminal, but in actual fact we're probably not giving them the credit they're due. Here, more accurately, your foe could be better imagined as:

    .. the Evil Genius (complete with white cat)

    .. the Evil Genius (complete with white cat)

    But in reality would actually probably look more like this:

    Average Joe..

    Average Joe..

    Be on your guard; keep safe online and in the real world :-)

    Onega March 2016 Planned Engineering and First Focus on DNS

    This is to let you know about some March Planned Engineering and Service Updates - and our fist 'Bono Pastore' Focus area. Please see the background and overview of the program at http://www.onega.net/blog/2016/03/2/bono-pastore if you're not yet aware of this.

    Our first best practice focus is going to be on DNS (Internet Domain Name Services) and making sure that clients systems (as well as our own) are in-line with best practice in this area.
     

    In business terms:

    DNS is the system that allows us to register Internet domains for our organisations and to browse the web and send emails with friendly names like www.bbc.co.uk www.onega.net and fred@onega.net etc. So much uses DNS that we often take it for granted much of the time – and well implemented so we should.

    Being such an important system, we want to make sure that client implementations are optimal in three key areas relating to DNS:

    Domain Registrations – This is the administration of your domain and the registration of it. We want to help make sure that all the details related to your domains are up to date, correct & appropriate, not due to expire any time soon etc.

    Internal Resolution – This is how client and server computing devices carry out Internet resolution so that you can connect to the Cloud quickly, reliably and safely (see  Secure DNS Services for more on this).

    External Resolution – This is how people find your organisation and services on the Internet – to know where to send you email, browse your website and communicate via electronic means etc. It is important that this service be provided robustly and reliably.

    Our object is to conduct a review to ensure that these aspects of DNS are all well implemented across our client organisations.

    The next steps are:

    We will be in contact with clients over the coming weeks to ensure that we run through your DNS configuration with you. Don’t worry if you’re not technical – we are happy to take care of those parts. We have a checklist which we’ll complete with you so that we capture the key information about your domains, and identify any areas that need attention so that we (you or us as per preference and can work to resolve these and get them checked off.

    For clients under Onega managed services contracts we'll liaise with you and do most of the running on this to help make sure your DNS is good and documented. For clients with whom we have PAYG agreementswe can agree with you who will do what with the aim that we make sure all our your services are robust.

    Expect us to be in touch soon then about next steps and starting the process. If you are not under contract with Onega (or not sure) and would like to engage in the DNS best practice review process then please do get in touch and we’ll be happy to add you to the review rosta.

    For reference:

    Internet DNS Best Practice Policy – http://intwiki.onega.net/index.php?title=Internet_DNS_Configuration_Best_Practice_Policy

    Organisational DNS Checklist - http://intwiki.onega.net/index.php?title=Organisational_DNS_Checklist

    For information on Secure DNS Services:

    http://www.onega.net/blog/2015/6/4/the-importance-of-using-secure-dns-servers

    If you don’t have a login for the Onega’s Policy and Procedure wiki then please get in touch and we’ll setup access for you.

    Technical changes that will occur on Onega Infrastructure:

    Tuesday 22nd March 2016 12:00 (Midday) GMT - We will be changing the configuration of our two legacy DNS servers 81.3.75.71 and 81.3.75.72 to no longer act as recursive resolvers. Thus any computers or servers that are using these servers for DNS will need to be updated to use alternate (eg Secure DNS) servers before this cut off date.

    Tuesday 12th April 2016 12:00 (Midday) GMT - We plan to turn off these two DNS servers - thus any zones hosted on these servers will need to be moved before that time.  We have new servers in place to take the zones and migrations will be done as part and in conjunction with the best practice review process – the new DNS servers being more best practice compliant than our legacy servers.

    Why are we making these changes?

    In short, so that we also comply with our own guidelines for Best Practice, but in more detail:

    1) Comply with best practice - Recursive DNS Servers (ones that do lookups for client PCs) should be split off in role from ones that host DNS Zones.

    2) For best security and maintain best performance of the service - Recursive resolvers can be abused in DNS Amplfication attacks (see https://deepthought.isc.org/article/AA-00897/0/What-is-a-DNS-Amplification-Attack.html if you're interested to learn more

    3) So that we make sure all clients are resolving securely to the Internet and to retire an older Windows Server 2003 DNS Server which is coming towards end of life.

    What happens if I don’t have best practice DNS?

    We don’t want to scare anyone but if you don’t comply with best practice then you risk (in the worst case):

    1. Losing your domain or having it suspended.
    2. Not being able to access the Internet
    3. Not being able to send or receive email
    4. Clients getting redirected to phishing or competitor’s websites and email going the same way.
    5. Being unprotected at DNS level against infected websites.

    The above are worst case scenarios but we aim to greatly reduce the risk of occurrence by complying with best practice with regards to your domains.

    Once we've been through the review process with you the outcome should be that we can all sleep easier knowing that the DNS aspect of your IT is in very good order.

    Bono Pastore

    Bono Pastore = Good Shepherd

    This is what we aim to be at Onega. We work with organisations to help deliver smooth IT and related services. We like working with people and machines, and fixing issues. Even better than this we like to prevent problems from happening in the first place.

    Before anyone asks we're certainly not likening our clients to quadrupedal, ruminant mammals of genus Ovis, nor do we walk on water. What we are saying is that much of IT, like many other things is about procedures, routine and best practice. Watching over a flock is about patience and care. Not glamorous but important. 

    In the same vein, here at Onega, we are thus planning to address a number of IT focus areas with clients during the course of 2016. The pattern we plan to set and repeat here will be as follows:

    1. Identify key areas of IT that may cause risks for clients.
    2. Ensure we have best practice solutions and procedures available to address these.
    3. Communicate the focus area and engage with clients to address this.
    4. Create and fill out appropriate checklists so that we capture any relevant information and actions.
    5. Agree on a plan to resolve any issues; so that things are brought as close to optimal as practicable and document exceptions where there are good reasons why not.

    During the course of these processes we well be looking at the same aspects of IT operations across multiple clients so we have the benefit of scale in the effort and the team will be well briefed on the task at hand to ensure you are getting good advice.  The outcome should be more robust systems implementations, documented procedures and policies, and documented systems and responsibilities. 

    The engagement that Onega has with clients varies widely. For some clients we manage entire IT estates and systems, and for others we provide ad hoc assistance as you need us. Thus, one of the first parts of an effort is establishing the relevance of an area of IT to a client, who is responsible for this aspect and who will carry out the work and under which contract.

    We fully expect that not every proposed Bono Pastore engagement will be relevant to every client so where you are happy to take care of something yourself this is documented, and where you'd like our assistance in a matter big or small we are happy to help with that. One big benefit for everyone is that the process should help make everyone aware of aspects and ensure that any ambiguity in responsibilities (or duplication of effort) is addressed and removed. 

    The first pass of this series of best practice benchmarking exercises is due to start soon with DNS - Domain Name Services. This is one of the underpinnings of the Internet and something we use every day for conduct of business. Thus it is one that affects just about all clients so expect a post and for us to be in touch about this. We may even make it a podcast topic soon to go into more detail. We're mindful that we should communicate more about what we do as much of good IT, if done right, will not be seen but contributes to things 'just working'. This is ideal but far from universal so we should resist the trap of complacency just as the good shepherd keeps vigilant watch. The wolf is ever hungry but will find tonight's meal elsewhere.

    What To Do If You Lose Your Laptop Computer - Onega Style

    One of our clients recently had the misfortune to become separated from and lose his laptop computer while on a business trip to Sweden. This is the story of what happened and how we were able to help later reunite him with his laptop.

    Anyone who travels on business will be aware that current rules and procedures for airport security require that, if you are travelling with a laptop computer in your hand luggage, then you must take it out of the bag and run it separately through the x-ray machine at the security station.

    On this occasion Onega's client, Tim (who was happy for us to share this story), was on his way back to the UK from a business trip to Sweden and running close for time to get on the plane. After having gone through the bag check and x-ray station, in the rush to get on the plane, he was distracted and forgot to pick up the laptop after it had gone through the scan.

    It was only the morning after returning home from the evening flight back that he realised the computer was missing and what had happened. Airport lost property was contacted with a description and identification details of the laptop, but unfortunately nothing had been handed into lost property. A report was left of the loss of the computer with the airport authorities and for our client's insurance purposes. From a practical perspective Onega then proceeded to procure a replacement laptop for our client the same day and configure for email, restore the files from most recent backup and generally get our client back to operation quickly and efficiently.

    Normally this would be the end of the tale and you'd kick yourself for forgetting the laptop (though it's easily done and we're all human), but in this case the tale then continued a few days later...

    Onega like to pro-actively manage our client's systems, and we have some software and systems that help us make sure that machines are in good health, up to date with security patches and generally happy. While monitoring the management system, we noticed that the lost laptop had done an electronic check-in, so must be alive somewhere, just not with our client. So we knew the machine was being used and now had a clue as to where it was.

    Following the clues here our management system logs showed us the Internet IP address that the computer had registered on, and we could in turn find out which Swedish ISP ran this particular network.

    Next step was to get in contact with the Swedish Airport Police. We must say that they were incredibly helpful. We filled them in on what we'd found and they were able to contact the ISP to find the subscriber details related to the IP address where the laptop had checked in from.

    The next day, armed with this information and after we confirmed that the computer was still online from the same address, the police visited the house. Unfortunately there was no one in; so they broke the door down and entered the property, recovered the laptop, and left a note on the door asking the householder to get in touch.

    The person who had the laptop claimed to have bought it from someone in a park, so was let go with a warning, a note on record, minus the laptop of course and with the task of replacing their front door.

    The evidence here was later used to support (alongside other evidence) a successful prosecution of a member of the airport security scanning station staff; who it turned out had a sideline in taking and selling items that were left behind on the scan station when they really should have been handed into the airport lost property office.

    Our client picked his laptop up a few weeks later when he returned again through the airport on business, and the laptop has now become a 'good spare' which is always a useful thing to have.

    So a good result all round (unless you were the unwitting buyer of the laptop or the light fingered security officer of course!). Here at Onega we rather enjoyed working with the Swedish Airport Police as well as the happy outcome for our client in getting his computer back.

    We can't promise that we'll be able to reunite every owner with their lost laptop, but we do promise to do our best for our clients to continue to provide excellence in IT support delivery that 'goes one step beyond' as Onega's normal standard.

    The Big Difference a New Firewall Can Make

    We have just returned from London's West End having finished swapping out a client's older firewall for a 'latest and greatest' Watchguard Firebox M200

    This all went very smoothly with only a few minutes downtime while the old firewall was taken out of the rack and the new one mounted and connected. We timed this at 3 minutes and 21 seconds which is not bad considering the new firewall needed to boot as well once plugged in. Normally we aim for about 6 seconds disruption if we can mount the new firewall alongside the old unit in the rack ready for switchover (which was not possible in this case). Given that the old firewall (a venerable Watchguard X750e) had served since 2008 or 2009, it had very much done its time. Despite the office being a nice clean, light and airy environment, the amount of dust that had accumulated in the legacy firewall reminded us of the pictures you are shown at school of the inside of a smoker's lungs.  

    The old firewall was still working though so why did we recommend swapping it out and why is our client glad that we did? 

    Technology has come along a fair bit in the 6 years between 2008 and 2015 and as ever, machines get quicker and more capable. The most important things in our eyes (and from long experience in support) that made this worthwhile were: 

    1) UTM services at full speed. UTM stands for 'Unified Threat Management' and basically means one box doing many jobs. It used to be that you had one box for web filtering, another for gateway antivirus, another again for anti-spam, one for your SSL VPN (if you had one) and of course one for your router and one for your firewall. With the current generation of hardware, and leveraging 'The Cloud' one box can do it all. This saves cost, space, power, money etc. and makes everything easy to manage from one place.

    The difference between the current mainstream firewalls in the wild and the very latest is that with the Watchguard M200, M300 and its cousins higher up the line, the UTM functionality all works close to wire speed for the rated number of users supported by the device. This contrasts with the previous status quo whereby you would accept that when you turn on a new feature, you implicitly trade off some response time. Thus you had to find the right balance of how secure the firewall (and hence your network) was set to be and how this would deliver on user expectations as to web page load times etc. We like turning the whole UTM suite on as, when configured correctly, it will more than pay for the cost of the firewall over time. It does this by helping reduce instances of (for example) staff accidentally loading malware onto their PCs as every page is virus scanned, checked against a good reputation database and regularly updated blacklists, to ensure that the risk of loading something bad onto your machine is minimised. This saves staff time from lost productivity while their machine is down, saves time and cost in IT support for the company, and reduces risk of data loss through a Trojan getting into the system. If it all works as it should (it does) then IT gets to sleep easier over systems and the only problem you are then faced with is that as it works so well, management might question if a firewall is needed as 'we don't have any network security problems'. The answer to this is of course that it is partly thanks to the firewall that this is the case (and of course your efficient patch schedule, up to date endpoint antivirus, secure DNS and careful network privilege management etc.).

    2) SSL-VPN - This is not a new feature to Watchguard, but it is one that was not available on the older firewall that was in place at our client site, and something that many may have available on their firewalls but not be currently using. While the world is moving to the cloud, and the latest Watchguard firewalls are very 'Cloud Connected', there are still plenty of times when you need to connect from a laptop or home office PC back to your office network. One of the very best ways to do this is with an SSL VPN (as opposed to an IPSEC or PPTP VPN) - if these TLA's (Three Letter Acronyms! - and yes there are 4 or 5 here) are confusing then suffice to say that PPTP is generally regarded as weak and obsolete, IPSEC can be secure but also complex, cumbersome and liable to blocking, but SSL VPN connections will allow you to connect to your office anywhere you can get a secure web page from (i.e. hotels, airports, anywhere really). Now you can have a reliable and robust VPN that works from nearly anywhere with minimal hassle.  The M200 makes this easy and with a few clicks it is configured, and the corresponding client software setup is a Click Next Click install. Bottom line is less frustration as a business user when travelling, in terms of getting online from wherever work takes you.

    We only had two points here, but actually have covered many areas. When you invest in IT, you need to consider not only cost but benefit, ROI, TCO etc. which pale the dollar cost of the machines into insignificance over time.

    To sum it up, we like the new M200 series fireboxes as they really do let you have your firewall UTM cake and eat it. 

    The Importance of Using Secure DNS Servers

    All good IT administrators know that maintaining a secure, productive and supportable computing environment means considering (and implementing) security at many levels. There is a whole load more to it than just installing a virus scanner on all your computers (though deploying a good antivirus and anti-malware solution is of course one element in this). Ideally you'll have Endpoint protection for AV and Malware on all desktops, laptops and servers (Onega tend to recommend and use Kaspersky, AVG and MalwareBytes depending on use case), but also a secure firewall (e.g. a good Watchguard XTM or similar unit) and external cloud based email filtering to reduce the risk of anything untoward getting into your network in the first place.

    One thing we are also now recommending (aside from reminding people about limiting use of full admin rights to a PC - see http://www.onega.net/blog/2015/6/4/are-you-logged-in-with-admin-level-credentials-on-your-computer-right-now ) is to set your external DNS servers to be secure servers.

    In QA format - here you are:

    Q. What is the difference between Secure and Non-Secure DNS Servers?
    A. In this context, the answer is that a standard or non-secure DNS server does a good job of DNS resolution and turning your request for http://www.randomwebsite.com/ into the IP address (143.95.83.184 in IPV4 Land as I type) that hosts the site for your web browser to connect to or your email to be delivered to etc.  The resolution process is simple, fast and robotic and the DNS server will cache entries for fast response or look them up for you recursively from first principles and the Root DNS Servers. When the server has the result then it gives it to you.  A secure DNS Server adds an extra level of security to this process. It will lookup websites and Internet addresses, but before giving you the result, it will check that the IP address is of known good or known bad reputation (or check it with a virus scanner first); such that if the site is deemed clean then your computer is given the IP address in the blink of an eye. If the site is one that you'd probably be glad not to be visiting, then the DNS server will redirect you to a harmless web page which will let you know why you are there.

    Q. Put simply, what is the benefit of secure DNS?
    A. It helps reduce this risk of accidentally browsing to an undesirable website that might otherwise have tried to install malware or other junk on your computer. Thus you are very likely to save hard money through reduced downtime and lost productivity and also less time to fix (and cost of fix) on a machine otherwise.

    Q. Which Secure DNS Servers to we recommend?
    A. The two main contenders at the moment for secure DNS are:

    Comodo Secure DNS: 8.26.56.26 and 8.20.247.20
    (See https://www.comodo.com/secure-dns/index.html )

    OpenDNS: 208.67.222.222 and 208.67.220.220 (others are available on premium packages - these are free for public use)
    (See https://www.opendns.com/ )

    Q. How to we implement Secure DNS?
    A. Make note of the DNS server addresses above, and either set these individually on a PC / laptop (if not in an office environment) or else set these servers as the DNS Forwarding servers on a Linux / Windows / Mac Server DNS server in an office environment. DHCP should give out DNS servers that relate to these (or actually give the addresses out if you don't have an Active Directory environment).
    .. or just ask Onega of course and we can help configure these for you quickly.

    Q. Is there a Cost?
    A. If you are a business then it is of benefit to subscribe to one of the premium services which has a modest charge but this is of relatively trivial level and soon, anecdotally, pays for itself. The premium services also give you the confidence of an SLA as well as extra features. On the setup / installation / configuration of secure DNS in your environment, Onega would do this for you, either free if you are under a proactive maintenance agreement with us, or based on our standard PAYG time charges (it would normally take no more than an hour on the average client network servers and firewalls, unless you have a really big system).

    Q. What about Google's DNS - is that Service Secure? (8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4)
    A. No, not in the sense being discussed here. Google being Google, that is likely to change over time.