Strategy

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 :-)

Microsoft Exchange 10 Device Limits and Focus for Productivity

Like many things, sometimes you don't know there is a limit until you hit it, or at least are reminded what you learned long ago that things are not unlimited.

In my case, I've just hit a limit of having 10 mobile devices connected to sync to my email account with ActiveSync / Outlook on mobile or iPad devices. Of course, whilst like many, I do like my gadgets, I don't actually have 10 phones or iPads!

What has happened is that every time you add a device to sync to your Exchange Mailbox (this is true for MS Exchange on premise and also for Office 365 Hosted Exchange email), a new device partnership is created and there is currently a reasonable limit of 10 devices as a maximum. The Exchange server has to keep track of what the last messages you've had are, so it knows from when to push you the latest messages etc.

You can access the list of phones / mobile computer devices via the Outlook Web Portal for your email (or Exchange control panel). If you connect you can then choose Options -> Phone, from where the list will then load.

The view allows you to see what devices you are syncing with, when they last did a sync, and, should a phone ever be lost or stolen, you can attempt to initiate a remote wipe from here to protect your private data, even if the phone is lost.

In my case the list reads as a recent history of my mobile phones, showing the dates the respective device was last synchronised and hence retired. Thus I can see that I had an HTCAce (Actually an HTC Desire HD) until Jan 2013, an HTC One X Plus, an HTCOneM8 and now the Samsung Galaxy S7 etc. Is it me or is the life of a phone generally getting shorter these days as we use them more?

Once you have 10 phones in a partnership with your mailbox, you can't have any more. Thus it is probably good to get into the habit of removing old phones when you add a new one. Note that if you use the MS Outlook app for iPad / iPhone / Android phone, then this will take a second slot alongside the native Mail ActiveSync connection if you use that. The Outlook Mobile app is pretty good but we tend to recommend sticking with your native mail app in most cases, so that you have:

  1. All your mail in one inbox,
  2. More flexibility on sync schedules (and hence battery life) and
  3. Less data use abroad if you travel; the native mail apps are much better at being roaming aware for now.

So removing phones or devices no longer used is good for security, reducing server resource load and allows you to add more devices when needed i.e. if you are at the limit and your current phone dies, then you can't configure a replacement until you clear an old phone off the list.  This could cause some small delay at the time you need to get going with work / trips / other things you might need your phone for.

And now for a slight, but very relevant, digression: 

Of course, if you are in the office or trying to get some focused work done then one of the best things you can do is to turn your mobile phone off. Research such as that conducted by Kaspersky Labs shows that your productivity can be 26% better without the distraction of a mobile phone - see http://www.business-standard.com/article/technology/not-using-smartphones-can-improve-productivity-by-26-says-study-116082900664_1.html  for details on this particular example.

You may know that I like to make use of odd moments of time or travel on public transport etc. to listen to audio books (generally from Audible) as well as useful / relevant podcasts so as to make better use of time. Currently I'm listening to Deep Work by Cal Newport. This also reminds us that Facebook / Twitter / What's App and other social apps and services might be great, but they're also a massive form of distraction. Each tweet has the ability to take your mind off task and we all know that there is likely a 20 minute recovery time to re-focus fully again. At Onega, we aim to turn off our mobiles in the office (you are welcome to call us at the office on the phones here of course!) and we've blocked Facebook access for our own good for years, after I started to browse Facebook one morning and then realised 'crikey it is nearly past lunchtime already.'  I recommend that book highly and they also touch upon one of my favourite topics of eudaimonia in one section, in relation to architecture applied to provide a focused environment for deep work.

If turning your mobile off in the office can make you 26% more productive, think how much more focused and efficient you can be if you avoid Twitter, Facebook etc. With a logical extension you could easily get to 100% here and your results may soon reflect that. Likely you may be reading this and thinking 'I could turn my phone off anytime but I choose not to' and think of 100 reasons why you must, must, must keep it on... but this is also addictive behaviour. If you consider it, modern smartphones are designed (actively designed) to hold our attention and app developers work very, very hard to tune the experience to encourage you to indulge in more 'screen time' as every minute of screen time has a dollar (or pound or euro) value. It can be hard at first, but turn your phone off and the world does not fall apart; you'll likely get a lot more work done.

Other things you can do to help yourself focus are to turn off the pop up for new email notifications and just check your mail from time to time. This way you are in control of your focus rather than it being in control of you. Again, this one can be hard initially but you'll also find you soon get used to it. If there is anything urgent there is always the phone, which is generally the best way to have direct, focused attention, immediately.  You can also achieve more in a 5-minute call than 10 days of email back and forth on a subject which would take a lot more cumulative time.  You might notice that I'm not often on Skype either - this is for the same reason again. Nothing wrong at all with Skype, but If you have 10 different methods of contact then you risk simultaneously splitting yourself between IM chats on Skype, phone calls / emails / Slack Messages / Sametime / What's app / Linked in and Facebook messenger etc. and thus not focusing on any of the simultaneous conversations with the attention they deserve.

Onega Authorised to sell Microsoft Surface Computer Range.

Microsoft's Surface range consists of the SurfacePro tablet computers (the current line-up includes the SurfacePro 3 and SurfacePro 4 series) and the SurfaceBook which is a convertible laptop that can run in traditional laptop or folded screen only mode. They were originally introduced by Microsoft as much to point the way to the rest of the computing industry on design and what could be achieved, as to an actual product to sell to users. Given that Microsoft produce the Operating System for the majority of computers in the world it is not good form to be seen as competing with your clients.

In the object of taking direction, Lenovo have done so with their successful Yoga range which includes a series of convertible computers and Fujitsu (who have always been strong in tablets) have brought out new convertibles in the form of the nattily named Stylistic R726 which has been well received. However, the success of the SurfacePro range has taken even Microsoft by surprise and they sold over six million units in 2015 with 2016 likely to be double that.

Onega have been working with Microsoft products since MS-DOS 3.2 and although Microsoft is primarily known for its software, they have, for many years, made hardware which is known for being at the premium end, but reasonably priced for what it is. For example you'd always find a safe and dependable choice in a Microsoft keyboard and mouse. The SurfacePro computers are definitely at the premium end of the market and are very slick computing devices which have had very good feedback from users.

Until now, availability of the computers has been quite limited so you'd have to go to John Lewis or other big retail providers, or buy direct on the MS Surface website. Microsoft is expanding its channel to selected partners and we're happy that Onega have been accepted in the latest round as an authorised reseller. This means that we can provide clients with best pricing and support on the Surface range.

In another innovation, Onega and Microsoft are also making it easy to access the benefits of the Surface range. You can take the traditional route and buy a SurfacePro or SurfaceBook, but we can now also offer the choice of 'Surface as a Service' which allows a bundle of Surface hardware, software (if needed) and services to be made available for a monthly subscription. When the hardware and the warranty services are bundled this way there is no barrier for obtaining the very latest technology, with the peace of mind of a full warranty including accidental damage cover and a very reasonable monthly investment - you should, in any case, make sure your computers are covered under your general business policy for loss or theft.

The Surface as a Service scheme offers same day finance acceptance and we only need basic details to get approval in principle.

What do we think of the Surface and why would you consider this vs competitors? The Surface is a very slick computer which provides a lot of computing power at your fingertips and runs full MS Office and other Windows apps. If you try the touch and pen interface for handwriting or just drawing on the screen then having only a keyboard again can feel limiting on any other laptop. Potentially the Surface can save you from needing to carry around both a laptop and an iPad.

Any computer is a compromise between cost / weight / capacity / build quality / speed / expandability / badge / serviceability etc.  We often think of a laptop as being the 'sports car' of the computer world in that they are great machines but you have to make choices (unless you have an unlimited budget) to get things right for your needs. The SurfacePro ticks most boxes. The one 'gotcha' with it is that, due to the focus on ultra slim build, the spec you buy is the spec you'll finish with, in that the case is glue sealed, so you cannot upgrade memory or storage. So it is important to specify enough up front for your foreseeable needs. The comprehensive extended service warranty means that any service problems are dealt with by an advanced swap out if you have any hardware issues.

Competitors like Apple also go for the sealed device approach (seen any screws on the back of your iPad lately?) but others like Fujitsu do allow for upgrades and servicing at the slight (very marginal) expense of size and weight.

Post Brexit the British pound has been dropping in value against both the Euro and US Dollar so computers have been going up in price lately but a good computer, at whatever price, is still excellent value, especially if you get a good few years' use out of it (big hint - best money - from £10 - you'll ever spend on a computer is on the case that protects your laptop).

Onega's aim is always to find the best fit for clients and to recommend the appropriate device for your needs - so please feel free to run any requirements by us and we'll be happy to discuss.

Happy computing.

Thinking of doing The Knowledge? You may want to think again.

The archetypical London Black Cab or Hackney Carriage has been a regulated fixture in the City of London since the time of Oliver Cromwell in 1654 when The Fellowship of Hackney Coachmen was founded, later to be superseded by Parliament, the Public Carriage office and now amalgamated into Transport For London.

The thing that makes a London Taxi unique is that you can hail an available cab in the street, or climb aboard at a taxi rank and you'll be taken efficiently to your destination by a highly trained and tested driver and charged fairly according to the taximeter on the basis of time and distance.

Originally back in the 1600's the form of transport available was a horse drawn carriage which would carry nominally either two or four people. The horse was the common motive power behind the cab until the introduction in 1897 of electric cabs which started the move towards mechanisation. The limited number of electric cabs were discontinued a few years later due to problems with safety and reliability (and to think that we regard electric vehicles as a new concept now) and in 1903 the first petrol powered cabs were introduced to London. From this point the horse, noble beast as it is was destined to be put out to pasture (sorry for the pun).

The driver of a modern London Taxi has to train for typically two to four years in order to learn over 45,000 streets and landmarks in the city and environs of London and the best routes from one part of the city to another and no satnavs are allowed in the test. This includes some pretty obscure landmarks as well as the better known and main hotels and theatres etc. For example FatBoys Diner here at Trinity Buoy Wharf is one of the designated landmarks, and we often see people on motor scooters with their maps in front of them driving up to have a look and learn the location. More obscure landmarks include the only Nazi Memorial in London which is outside no. 7 Carlton House Terrace, off Pall Mall; which is now the Institute of Contemporary Arts but used to be the German Embassy in London.  

Traditionally once you've put in the hard slog of learning the roads and points of London then you'll have put a lot of miles on your moped (and likely been through a couple), physically enlarged the memory centres of your brain and after your final test can apply for the coveted London Taxi Driver's green badge and qualified yourself for a job for life that can reputedly earn you up to £100,000 a year depending on the hours you put in.

Unfortunately for the traditional hard working London cabbie, like the horse that pulled the carriage until about 100 years ago, there may well soon be one less organic entity involved in taking passengers from one part of the city to the other.

We think the perfect storm is brewing so far as this goes, and it is on a trajectory that looks to be unstoppable. Already we have social and connected Satellite Navigation in the form of products like Waze which are free for Android and iPhone users, and in the purchase of which Google invested over a billion dollars for good reason. Companies like Google are big investors in the automated vehicle and every time someone navigates with Waze, they learn most efficient routes, average speeds for the time of day, incidents to avoid,  source and destination hot spots and much more. This accumulates to more knowledge than all the London Cabbies put together could comprehend. Right now it is useful for commuters to be able to get from A to B quickly and if it is free who is going to pay for a TomTom again? Part of the reason that it is free to use is that we are all helping Google to build their route information knowledgebase and data maps - so maybe we should be the ones who are paid to use Waze!

So the electric car, the connected car, the autonomous car, the Internet of Things, the cloud of route knowledge will all converge to make for a future automated taxi service that is on a par with, or better than, the current London Black cab service.

The difference between data, information and knowledge is in the processing and application. If you recall how IBM's Big Blue supercomputer beat Chess Grand Master Gary Kasparov in 1997 this was a demonstration of brute force computing beating the same skill in a human. The same computing power multiplied and brought to bear on applications like transport will be as evolutional as it might be considered transformative.

Current state of the art in automated vehicles is still at relatively early stages, but the rate of evolution of the systems and vehicles is very substantial; such that the break out from research to production we think will be less than 5 years. It could be around 2020 or 2021 that hails the full introduction of the automated taxi to take you from one place to another in London.

The future of the black cab as we know it now - with a jolly cabbie - is thus somewhat grim unless they can evolve into the role of tour guide etc. However we'd suggest looking at how many are still driving horses and carriages in the same way. It is fun for tourists, but it is not economical transport.

We would go as far as suggesting that TFL (part of the UK government) should accept no new entries for people to start to learn 'the knowledge' from 2017.  At the very least they should be given a firm equivalent of a Government Health Warning. We'd light-heartedly suggest they apply a sticker to the registration papers for the Knowledge to state:

'WARNING:
This qualification is as likely to lead to employment as a Media Studies Degree'.


This would be fairest for current taxi drivers who will thus dwindle in numbers over time as they continue until retirement if demand holds that long.

Many people will defend the London Black Cab, but given the choice: If you want to get from A to B and an automated taxi will take you there as quickly, possibly more safely, for a lower cost, ultimately people will vote with their wallets.

I started writing this post in June 2015, after a barbecue with friends where one of the guests had just started on the Knowledge. I was too polite to share my thoughts then, so hopefully am making up for this now. I'm sorry it has taken me over a year to get back to complete it.  In this time, the number of people who will have started their Knowledge training will have been around 1,000 (or at least that many pass their final exam annually - more start and never get to the end). This may be a thousand people with lots of investment in training ahead for not much reward down the track compared to previous generations.

The London Taxi is just one example of the impact of the scale of digital transformation in all areas of life that is ahead. We can't change what will happen which is almost predestined and luddites don't win, but if we can foresee the change, we can be forearmed. Some would say 'if you can't beat them, join them'... so if you're thinking of doing the Knowledge, we'd likely suggest that a similar amount of time spent learning computer programming might be a better long term investment. It is sobering to consider that the company that makes Black Cabs - London Taxis International, now owned by Chinese firm Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, is rumoured to be already planning ahead for designs of driverless Black Cabs - and if they're not, they certainly should be else they'll be left behind by the competition.

At Onega we spend a lot of time keeping up to date with IT trends and keeping on top of the latest releases and news. We work with companies who are at either end of the digital spectrum to enable their businesses to be competitive and to use IT to a competitive advantage. More and more IT is evolving to be an integral part of a business as opposed to an add-on function. We must all look forward and anticipate that 'if this can be automated, it will be' and you're either on the road or sitting at the side of it in life.  There are some exceptions but on the whole we can't deny the progress of the future.

Sharks and Saints - Domain Rights on .co.uk and .uk

One of the many services that Onega offers clients is assistance with domain registrations and acquisitions. This can be a minefield but there is usually a common sense solution and balance in this; as to which are the appropriate domains for an organisation to own or register and to protect branding and reputation alongside trademarks etc.

We recently helped a client to buy a domain that matched the initials of their company name from a broker, to go alongside their other domains. In this case it was a four letter .co.uk domain that we helped to purchase.

This all went smoothly, transacting via undeveloped.com and the timeline on this was as below:

Negotiation - 7th Jan 2016 - Several offers and counter offers back and forth, thankfully managing to secure the domain in a small but happy spot where the offer was just affordable to our client and just acceptable to the seller, so all could proceed.

Purchase - 7th Jan 2016 - We paid for the domain directly so that things could move ahead and to seal the deal. Thus the .co.uk domain was now secured for our client's company. The purchase was for a .co.uk domain for which no .uk had been registered (so rights were still vested in the .co.uk domain for this).

Transfer - 27th Feb 2016 - This was the date that the domain came across to our client in the form of a transfer to their GoDaddy Domain Registration account, and from where we immediately updated the contact details to be correct for their company contacts, to ensure a valid Nominet registration.  The delay was partly down to us as the broker process was a little different from some others in this case (we normally do a Nominet tag change to the ONEGA tag as we are a member and registrar / tag holder with Nominet); whereas in this case a GoDaddy account transfer was the process used which was fine and smooth when done.

So far so good.

Fast forward a few weeks. We then came to register the .UK domain as part of good management and to realise the new and trendy higher level domain registration for our client.

It is worth explaining here for anyone unaware, that as a holder of a .CO.UK domain, you have a 5 year 'sunrise' right to register an equivalent .UK domain. Thus if you have (in our case) onega.co.uk then you also have rights to onega.uk. Here at Onega, we primarily use our onega.net domain but hold the .uk domains for secondary purposes and domain protection alongside our UK registered trademark of 'Onega'. After the 5 years which starts from the .uk domain launch date to the 'fully open' period, then anyone can potentially register an equivalent .uk address. This 5 years started on 10th June 2014 so protection ends and open season begins at 10am on 10th June 2019. Thus we recommend that clients with an active .co.uk domain exercise their right and protect their .uk domain with a long registration now (the cost is trivial) . It's also good contemporary branding to do this and use the domain.

Back to our narrative... we found that when we came to register the domain for our client as per best practice, that now it transpired from the .UK Whois data that the .uk domain had been registered by the seller of the domain under their own details on the same day as the transfer finally occurred (17th Feb)... hmmmmm....

It was our understanding and is common practice that when the domain of the .co.uk was purchased, that this would include the rights to register the .UK address. We were a little disconcerted to say the least when we discovered this registration, as we'd consider the domain and related rights effectively owned from the point of agreement and payment - the transfer being a formal process in the completion as would occur in the land registry work related to conveyancing and sale of a house.

Next course of action was to read up on the rules and check our position. Nominet has a good Q&A on the .UK domain rules, which we consulted; we also checked the Terms and Conditions of the domain broker. The Undeveloped Ts&Cs did not contain anything mentioning related domain rights. Nominet's Q&A is well written although it did not have anything specific on this case, but it did remind us that .UK registrations should normally be available for the .co.uk owner (who was our client at the time of the seller's registration though not reflected in Whois yet), also that these registrations can be referred to the Nominet Dispute Resolution Service if there is a disagreement on a registration. 

The majority of domain disputes are amicably settled but having a fair procedure for resolution as a formal path available is a good comfort should it ever be needed. Our next action at this point was to get in touch with the domain broker, through whom the purchase had been agreed, to raise the issue with them and also to contact Nominet DRS informally to ask about case history and precedent on this.

Nominet DRS were very helpful on our call and we learned that this issue has come up a small number of times already and is likely to come up again in the future as the .uk domains become more established. No cases of this type have yet to get to binding adjudication, but some have been through the DRS procedure which commences with mediation on the issue and thus far all have been settled at this stage. The outcome has so far been, in all cases that we are aware of where the complaint has been followed up in the DRS case, that the .uk domain has ended up being transferred to the complainant (who is normally the .co.uk rightsholder). Resolution at this stage avoids costs escalating for all parties in the process.

This was useful to be aware of and to better understand the position and case histories. At this time we heard back from the sales domain broker and they reasonably disclaimed involvement in a case not exactly related to the actual domain purchased and recommended that we contact the seller directly.

We did contact the seller with a professional, respectful while reasonably formal mail on the subject at hand - setting out the brief case and asking for an amicable agreement on this.

I'm delighted to be able to say that in this case, the seller called back within the hour and the domain has now been transferred to our client at no cost. The seller had apparently sought to register the domain to protect it from abuse by anyone else, though arguably that should not have been an issue as only the .co.uk owner can make the .uk registration. In any case, the situation has been resolved without further escalation. The seller was delightful to deal with and I'm happy that this was just a simple miscommunication issue rather than anything more.

What have we learned or been reminded of from this?

1) Don't make assumptions - in this case there was no discussion either way on the question of .uk domain rights in the negotiation process. It would have been better in retrospect if we had have explicitly said 'for the .co.uk domain in question and any rights vested in that registration' so that we made sure we were specifically reserving these rights.

2) Ideally domain brokers should be clear in their terms as to whether any rights vested in a domain are included in the sale or not. It would be fair and reasonable for a seller of a .co.uk domain to sell the .co.uk domain but reserve the rights and register in advance the .uk domain if they explicitly state that they reserve this right.

3) Most disputes are amicably dealt with and it is always best to try this route before looking at invoking a formal process.

4) The online reputations of Domain Sellers and Brokers are very important to them so as far as possible most will adhere to best practices.

If you need any help on domain matters please don't hesitate to Get In Touch and we'd be happy to discuss how we can help. 

Thanks to Ryan Espanto for the circling sharks photo.

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.

Onega At The Fujitsu World Tour 2015 - London

We have just returned from participating in the Fujitsu World Tour 2015 in London, which was held at the venue of The Brewery, on Chiswell Street in London. This was a useful day and allowed us to catch up on all that was new at Fujitsu, see some of their latest technology on display and chat directly with members of senior management etc.

Fujitsu rolled into London for one of the first events of their 2015 World Tour. Hyperconnectivity and both its impact and potential were key themes.

Fujitsu rolled into London for one of the first events of their 2015 World Tour. Hyperconnectivity and both its impact and potential were key themes.

This year's event was a big occasion, with Fujitsu marking its 80th anniversary of formation. When we are so used to tech companies coming and going, Fujitsu has shown that it is very much here to stay (and indeed growing and thriving as a business).

First item in the day was the greeting from Fujitsu UK CEO Regina Moran who also shared some of the history of the company with us. This was interesting and new to me - Fujitsu's origination was just after the Great Earthquakes of 1923.  After this tragic and devastating event, a team of Japanese engineers made a visit to Germany to investigate the newly developed technology of the automated telephone switchboard and specifically Siemens who were one of the European leaders in this emerging field of electronic communications. This lead to the founding of Fuji Electric, from which Fujitsu Computers spun off (in 1935) and also gives us insight into the origins of the enduring relationship and strong ties between Fujitsu in the East and their counterparts in Germany over time. You may or may not remember that in Europe in recent history until 2009, the company traded as Fujitsu-Siemens computers (when Fujitsu bought out Siemens' 50% stake).

Fujitsu continue to have a large manufacturing and research facility in Germany at Augsburg where many of their business laptops, servers and desktop computers are produced. Where a lot of modern computers are now manufactured in China (not that there is anything wrong with this), it is good to know that computer manufacturing of the highest quality is still alive in Europe.

The keynote address from Fujitsu's Dr Joseph Reger was standing room only.

Next up was Dr Joseph Reger, who used to be Head of Research but is now CTO of EMEIA and a Fujitsu Fellow (the highest rank of engineering within Fujitsu). His background is in academia and we have enjoyed listening to his thoughts in the past, and his take on industry trends and insights are to be respected and in our opinion well worth paying attention to. The key theme of Dr Reger's keynote address was mainly on The Hyper Connected Society, and Human Centric Computing. At Onega we'd think of these as different takes on Digital Disruption, IoT (Internet of Things) and Pervasive Computing. Whichever terminology you use, the key message is the same - society is becoming more and more connected, to the point that we'll think it odd if something is not networked and 'smart' in a number of years and this is going to bring a lot of change, and contingent to this; opportunity for some and threats for others. By 2020, approximately 10 Billion devices will be connected to the Internet.

To give you an idea of the continuing exponential change to come after that - if all these devices were connected only to Onega's own IPV6 allocation of addresses, they would use only 0.0000000000000000003% of our available addresses. Companies have to think about their strategies to be part of this change, to embrace the opportunities, or to be left behind. Good companies simultaneously plan and think about their strategy for the next 12 months, the next 24-60 months, and the longer term. We've written about this at Onega before but it stands repeating - some industries will be created, others will be decimated. Dr Reger was frank that some companies sugar coat this with harmless sounding terminology such as IBM's preference for the term 'Augmented Intelligence' and indeed Fujitsu's own term 'Human Centric Technology' somewhat masks the fact that whilst technology connects people, it also cuts people out of the loop in the interests of efficiency and effectiveness.

There were some good points that we can all relate to. In the current age of technology, even as it is, there are simple things too that can (and will) be improved. One obvious example in the UK, Europe and most of the world, in the field of medicine, is the current status quo; when, typically, you turn up on time for your appointment with your GP and end up waiting for up to an hour to be seen, whereas in time the reverse can be true and the statement of 'Doctor, the Patient Will See You Now' will perhaps be made as per the work of Alex Topol that we link to here.

After the Morning Plenary Session, the rest of the day contained a number of breakout sessions including Government as a Platform (Gaap), Hybrid IT, CyberSecurity, Democratisation of application development in a business, Windows 10 and many others. Like many days with multiple tracks; Murphy's law dictates that the three sessions you're particularly keen on attending will all be on at the same time.

We attended the Partner Session which was a good briefing for Partners (Onega are one of the most qualified Fujitsu Partners in London and the UK) and learnt about progressions in Fujitsu's channel operations etc. Fujitsu works well and is responsive to the partner channel, and they are introducing new concepts to their Innovation Centre in Baker Street as well as continuing to grow UK sales and engineering presence. The business is profitable and growing, and this was only good news. We and other partners asked questions and gave feedback, and the session was in good spirit.  After the session we had a short meeting with Alistair Hollands who is Retail and Volume Sales Director at Fujitsu in the UK, and this was also productive.

Bet you didn't know that Fujitsu make biscuits, beans, soup or FujiFlakes? Sadly, alongside their excellent business smartphones, these are only available in Japan for now. OK, we know you're smarter than that - this was part of the Connected Retail Display Showcase.

Bet you didn't know that Fujitsu make biscuits, beans, soup or FujiFlakes? Sadly, alongside their excellent business smartphones, these are only available in Japan for now. OK, we know you're smarter than that - this was part of the Connected Retail Display Showcase.

The evening before the event, I'd seen that Fujitsu had a smartphone app (for both Android and iPhone) for The World Tour - this I downloaded to see the agenda and map and it proved useful during the day as The Brewery is not a small venue and some of the halls had a lot of display areas from Fujitsu and their key partners; Brocade, Citrix and Intel. The app was genuinely useful on the day and I noticed that they also had a Challenge Game in this. The goal of the game was to fulfil a set of challenges and take photos which were uploaded for evidence (and embarrassment!) to prove you'd completed the task. These involved visiting nearly every stand and investigating something on it; ranging from the Oculus Rift VR Headset through to the Financial Services Innovation display and storage areas. Fujitsu now thus have photos of me doing dodgy yoga in their Human Centric Zone etc.  The game was fun and while I decided to participate competitively on this and visit all the stands quite quickly for the points, I then went back later and had good in-depth conversations with staff on a number of the stands of most relevance to our work at Onega.

The 3D view from the cockpit with an Oculus Rift in the busy demo hall.

The 3D view from the cockpit with an Oculus Rift in the busy demo hall.

The lunch time break allowed for plenty of time to visit the key stalls and have good conversations with engineers who very much knew their stuff. As with any exhibition style event, not everything brought was working.  One of the displays of interest was a state of-the-art Fujitsu Cashpoint system which incorporated palm vein scanning technology which actually scans the blood veins within a hand with IR to make a map and is more secure than fingerprints as they can't (yet) be copied. Onega have one of these scanners in our own office for staff access identification, complete with the relevant SDK which is quite simple to use.  The demo cash machine however did not want to co-operate, and thus was said to be running in 'Full Greek Mode' as the day of the Fujitsu London World Tour coincided with the day that the Greek government failed to pay EUR 1.5B to its creditors and thus became in default. We do of course empathise with the case of temporary financial hardship and correction in the birthplace of democracy.

Onega's Ben Fitzgerald with a member of the Fujitsu Hoodie Hacker brigade, who had been released for the day to come and demonstrate their ability to keep your network safe whilst enduring air conducting of the 1812 Overture and other impressive feats.

Onega's Ben Fitzgerald with a member of the Fujitsu Hoodie Hacker brigade, who had been released for the day to come and demonstrate their ability to keep your network safe whilst enduring air conducting of the 1812 Overture and other impressive feats.

One particularly good conversation I had was with the Fujitsu Managed Security team - they have a number of outsourced services that are relevant to Onega clients and take IT elements that are important but often in reality boring and apply excellence to these. An example of this is in their firewall log file monitoring and management service. Traditionally this is something that would be done by internal staff in a large organisation, but it is hardly the sexy job that everyone wants. Analysing large amounts of data is something that is vital in order to find the needles in the haystack and manage the information that matters. Through best practice and a high degree of automation, Fujitsu can offload this task from an organisation and in 99% of cases do it better - alerting a business to threats and realities that they would want to know about in order to manage reduce the risk of cyber fraud and information (which leads inevitably to financial loss). This service is evolving so that it will be of emerging interest to mid size firms who want to make sure their security is in good hands.

Fujitsu had all their latest laptops on display and these are among the slickest and best built business laptops available - many members of Onega staff are equipped with Fujitsu laptops and for good reason. They are good and dependable, light and with excellent screens and battery life (some up to 20+ hours with an extended battery - and this is genuinely achievable). Also on display was the lineup of storage solutions, for which Fujitsu are particularly strong. Their storage we also use here at Onega with our DX90S2 SAN, which has had zero unplanned downtime since installation and is boringly dependable (in a good way - some things in life you want to be boring and dependable so that you can sleep easy and worry about other things instead).

Stepping outside my comfort zone (I'm neither photogenic or telegenic), I also had the pleasure of an interview with George Barker from Cloud-Channel.TV  which was actually fun and I look forward to (read: 'am dreading!') seeing the results.  I was asked about my take on current and future trends and shared thoughts on some of the disruption we see coming.

After this, we attended a world first at the event which was the Global Launch of Fujitsu's'Beluga' storage system. Answering the needs of 'big data users' this a storage array system that can scale massively to 18 PBytes+ of data in a single array, with a massive IOPS capability to go with this. This allows for massive data sets to be stored and crunched through in a large scale system with greater coherence than you'd get in a (lower cost) distributed data system. We understand that the code name of Beluga was adopted as it is big but agile. The Caviar of the Beluga is also the most sought after, and the digital equivalent is the meaningful insight that large data can give, which can give a company significant competitive advantage.  The launch event was motor sport themed and included a racing driver on standby to demonstrate the speed of the system to get everyone 'revved up'.  After the formal launch I spoke with Mr Reichart about the systems and some of the business results that clients are finding that large data analysis is delivering.

The launch of the Beluga storage system complete with the 'Fujitsu Stig' racing driver and F1 engine sound effects to get us all 'revved up'.

The launch of the Beluga storage system complete with the 'Fujitsu Stig' racing driver and F1 engine sound effects to get us all 'revved up'.

The final session of the day was a plenary session with a talk and thoughts from Futurologist Rohit Talwar, author of 'First to the Future' and a Panel Session that included Dr Reger, who shared with us his serious concern that IOT may be 'The Last Chance For Europe to Lead in Technology'. Michael Ibbitson, Gatwick Airport CIO spoke on Open Data and integration between services and there was some joint thought of the Circular Economy (a return to the past). A few interesting things we noted were the '30 Storey Hotel Built in 360 hours' (15 days) - by Dongting Lake in China and New York based Quirky Consumer Products, who help inventors get their ideas into production with the power of the crowd. Good examples of innovation and agility in business in the current day.

In closing, people were thanked, and awards given. I was surprised and happy to find that I'd won the Fujitsu Challenge competition by completing the challenges first (partly I was late entering my pictures due to the TV interview). I met a fellow competitor at the last of the challenges who worked at Bletchley Park so it must have been a close run race. Many Thanks to Fujitsu for the Virgin Experience Voucher which I was grateful to accept on behalf of the team at Onega and which will be very much enjoyed.

A very worthwhile day in all and very good to catch up with people at Fujitsu in person, with many that we normally might mainly talk to electronically or by phone. Onega are happy to partner with Fujitsu, and value the strong relationship.