Author: Stevie Heong (Page 2 of 3)

Tis the Season to be Jolly

IT administrators can guarantee one thing after Christmas. Employees will be coming back from their Christmas breaks talking about their holidays, showing off photos of their kids and Santa….and showing off their new toys: Android phones, iPhone 5s, iPads, Galaxy tabs, Kindles and even some Windows Phone here and there.

Apparently device activations went up 332% on Christmas day. Apps download hit 20 million apps per HOUR. That’s a big wow for everyone, because it shows that Santa is a tech geek, and a LOT of people are getting tech gadgets for their presents. I mean, they just don’t wrap a book anymore do they?

As an aside, I wonder why on earth didn’t Blackberry cash in on the Christmas spirit?

Back to our faithful IT admins, the new devices brings in an old headache. How will we control these new, shiny timebombs in the hands of executives, who, through simple carelessness or plain ignorance could send data and information into public domain hell…data that the company has spent millions trying to protect?

We believe in 2013, MDM (mobile device management) will take a firmer hold in the collective consciousness of IT managers. These devices, in essence has taken over the netbooks and ultrabooks out there and should be treated as a device itself in an enterprise. Voice is no longer the primary function of these phones, as users spend less time talking and more time texting, facebooking, googling, youtubing, twittering and all sorts of new verbs invented to describe the new generation of communicating.

While we’re not a system integrator in a strict sense of the word, we do have obligations to get up to speed with new technologies and where we predict that the industry would be heading. We’ve got a few MDMs solutions being tested in our lab, as well as to see how they impact organisations. We don’t need it, yet. Our clients might. We tend to try to bust past the brochure knowledge of products and try them out in behalf of our clients even when there’s no demand yet…in that way, when we talk about technology, we talk about things we’ve experienced, not read about.

We’ll keep up the MDM subject as we enter 2013, and update on the progress on some of the solutions being tested.

Web Trawling: Your life is on the Net

I remember, almost 20 years ago, a movie called “The Net” came out, starring Sandra Bullock. It was one of the first few movies dealing with information security and theft, and invalidation back in the heydays, when we thought the internet was a new brand of spandex.

Fast forward 20 years and here we are. The information highway was incorrectly named. It wasn’t a high way, or even a super highway. It is now an intergalactic, hyperspeed wormhole that every single imaginable information is being collected and stored, and waiting to be trawled.

Trawling is a term we often use when we want to find out more about certain people or things on the internet. We use specialised tools to help us create informational relationships, connecting the dots.

In Avant Edge, we do quite a bit of forensics work. Part of forensics is actually forming the context. If it is an individual, we’d like to know not just what’s in his laptop, but his online habits, the forums he has posted, whether he is active in the social network, who has he been in frequent touch with; and whether he eats green or red apples. So it has to be the CIA or FBI then, right?

Nope, because most information can be obtained freely on the net. It’s scary. You can basically vanity search your own name and you’ll be surprise what’s out there. Private investigators can now conjure up scenarios based on bits and pieces found on the internet.

Web Trawling could be another branch of information audit we will be including for 2013. With some customised tools, we can basically craft relationships of an entity as we trawl entirely through the internet.

Here’s a very scary proposition, illustrating our idea:



Bring Your Own Destruction

There’s a little side bet going on between a few of us.

In 2013, two tech giants will be pitted against one another. No, not Apple and Samsung. Those are the Manchester United and Manchester City clashes. We’re talking about the Southampton and QPR clashes. The battle for survival. The clash for the wooden spoon.

RIM vs Nokia.

It’s hard to believe that not many years ago, these were the darlings of the mobile industry. Blackberries were everywhere. Nokia was the king of the crop. Now, both of them are fighting for their lives. It’s pretty sad to see it. Nokia selling off their headquarters to have money. RIM betting the farm on BB10, and seeing their stock rise a little, but still no where close to the heydays of almost tipping USD150 per share. Now Nokia just won a court ruling regarding the use of WiFi on Blackberries. The whole story can be found on the net, but basically, Nokia is just arguing about RIM having to pay them to put WiFi capability on the BB sets.

It’s like two scrawny kids fighting over a biscuit, when the two fat boys in the park had taken over their lunch sets.

Back in the heydays, Blackberries used to be the defacto enterprise mobile devices. It wasn’t that long ago. 3 – 4 years back. I remember it was the rage back then. Any executive worth his salt would be carrying one of those babies, that looked like ancient handsets with keypads so tiny that guys with fat fingers like me and Homer Simpson would spend longer time typing an SMS than Paris Hilton spends without her makeup per year. Sorry, I ran out of useless, quirky similes.

Anyway, there was a reason why BBs were so good at the enterprise. Security. And of course, Data Compression. The whole deal about running through the Blackberry enterprise server and push email, and data compression through the Blackberry Internet server? It sounds like stone age technology now, especially the global outage that caused outrage a year back….but back then everyone says it was a great idea, and that iPhone with mickey mouse security phones will not be accepted on the enterprise till the second coming….well, I just bought my mum a Hello Kitty Samsung Limited Edition and I bet my house I can take that to work right now without any question.

But of course, there comes a whole new load of pain. BYOD. Bring Your Own Device. To drinkers, this sounds fun, because BYOB has always been in their vocab. Unfortunately BYOD causes a lot more pain for the enterprise than a couple of drunken stooges after a night of partying after closing a big deal. With BYOD comes the crushing annoyance of having spent millions in securing the perimeter, only for one stubborn executive to insist on putting all the nice confidential PDFs into iBooks and then lose it in a cab. Or having taken pictures of his latest enterprise VPN password so that he can remember it, only to lose the phone in the bar. There could be a zillion permutations of how data can be lost, compromised or destroyed through the wonderful habit of human forgetfulness and carelessness.

Whether your phone is locked or not is irrelevant. It’s like saying I locked my laptop, now nobody is going to get to my data. It’s like saying, I locked my Ashton Martin. Now I’m just going to leave it at the city area where the highest crime rate for stolen cars, and the largest population of stores selling crowbars, are.

There are ways to counter BYOD issues, and we’ll explore it in further articles. But as of now, companies that ignore BYOD do so at their own peril.

Nope, BYOD is here to stay, and with the imminent death of Blackberry, the last vestige of enterprise security as we know it will go down with it. Security experts will mourn for it.

A new cadre of Hello Kitty Samsung Limited Edition smartphones with Mickey Mouse security will rise up and overwhelm the enterprise landscape. We’ve been warned.


So much for confidentiality

Everyone has a similar story.

You print out something, then walk over to to your printer located 20 meters away, shared by the four departments on your floor. Instead of your print out, you have a whole stack of other people’s printout and the paper has run out. You look at the task, groan as you see another 120 pages pending. And the one who printed out that stack is nowhere to be found.

Looking further, you see, well, the stack had some pretty interesting information. Apparently it’s the entire year’s worth of financial information and also a few pages detailing employee’s pay and salary. Now you know how much your annoying colleague who just bought an Audi A8 earns, and you are really, really peeved, because you know he doesn’t do anything but play golf and suck up to upper management.

Where is the problem here?

Whatever confidentiality classification a company has put in place is out the window, when an irresponsible employee just prints out 150 pages and goes out for lunch and says, “I’ll grab it on the way back.”

An interesting article here talks about how some secret files from UK has gone missing or destroyed. According to the article: “The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is unable to confirm whether 170 boxes of classified documents which were returned to the UK at the end of the colonial era have been destroyed.”


The article continues on detailing some of the acts that were done during the british rule in Kenya, where prison warders apparently clubbed prisoners to death and blamed it on “Drinking too much water.”

As in, seriously. I’m not sure if that’s British humor involved in the drinking too much water part, but it’s pretty humiliating for the FCO any way you look at it.

In an application audit we did, the team found pretty good controls overall, but flagged an issue: Invoices and documents containing confidential information on partners and payment details were left in a box in a common area before moving to a more secured location. The common area was where many people on that floor walked by. Now, our client reason, nobody would be looking into the box without any business with it. Also, they were all employees of the same company. And finally, it was only a temporary storage, and each day, the stack will be moved to the supervisor’s cubicle for filing.

We insisted on flagging it. The assumption of above’s argument was that all employees can be trusted. And along with that assumption comes: all employees are nice people who does what is best for the company.

Um. That’s very idealistic, like me winning American Idol and going on to become a global superstar. And chilling with Bono at a cafe. Of course we didn’t put that in our audit report.

But here’s the thing, if you’re going to spend millions on technical controls, but not look into the process and people controls, we’re defeating the purpose of holistic security. The weakest link is the people, either through deliberate malicious acts, or just plain unawareness, the company takes the brunt of the oversight. Security should be approached in that holistic fashion, and that’s why IT Audits are still relevant in a world where security companies have invented automated “IT Audits” by installing their software and they would probe for software weaknesses and “Outdated patches”. That only tells part of the story. The other part is breaking down the critical processes and human interaction between systems and technology. Any IT Audit that does not take time to understand the business process of a company isn’t complete.

So back to the FCO, we don’t know what happened. Maybe somebody printed out the whole bunch of secret stuff and went for lunch and somebody picked up the documents and went, “Jeez, this is going to make the honchos in UK look like a bunch of clowns”. And also, what do you know, reveal some seriously critical military secrets. Somewhere along the way, somebody dropped the ball. It’s a human issue. Or it’s a process issue. Unfortunately, when we hear people doing “IT Security Audits” they take the “IT” word too literally and the “Security” word too frivolously. That in itself is worth another article.

So for now, please grab everything you print out before you head out to lunch!

What’s so bad about Windows 8 Picture Password?

The jury is still out on Windows 8.

I mean, from what I see from countless youtubes out there, there are those who like it, and those who wished it would completely die a slow and horrible death. On the whole, almost everyone agreed there would be a learning curve involved even for the experienced users. For those who are like my dad, who is still mastering the art of mouse usage, using windows 8 would be as easy to understand as interpreting Mesopotamian hieroglyphs.

However, there is an interesting feature in Windows 8 called the Picture Password. You can google it and see how it works. Basically, you choose a picture then do a sequence of gestures on it as your password. Gestures are limited to circles, lines and taps. Taps means what it is. Tap. So if I had my dog’s picture there, I could draw glasses on him, put a smiley on his snout and tap his cute little nose.

Obviously in IT security circle, it has been bashed to bits. The inventor of RSA SecurID token, Kenneth Weiss took the concept into centre court and smashed it into tiny bits with a sledgehammer. And then ran a lawn mower over it. Before feeding it to a pool filled with piranhas.

To be honest, I thought it was a wee bit over-reactive from a guy who didn’t have a great track record himself of late. I mean, it wasn’t cool. You are obviously a genius, Kenneth. To label Windows’ attempt at authentication a “Fisher Price Toy” is like me looking at my son’s attempt at writing his name and smacking him in the head because he can’t write in a straight line. My son is 5 months old. It’s unwarranted, and in some ways, makes him look like a petty old man who knows his time in this world is over and can’t stand the sight of new, and obviously inferior ideas overtaking his.

First of, is the picture password revolutionary? Of course not. Android has already adopted gestures as authentication, and probably the pilgrims did it as a way of communicating with the natives when they landed on the Plymouth Rock in 1620. Is it secure? Of course not. Not anymore than typed passwords are. Is it fun and interesting? Depending. Microsoft is hoping it is.

You see, this was never meant to take over secure authentication. It’s just a means to get to your desktop. Yes, you can definitely see the gestures from far away, or through whatever ‘smudges’, taking into account most computer users probably eat fried calamari and then proceed to touch their screens after. Or that it’s so guessable, than most people would draw a spectacles, smiley face, beard, moustache on a picture anyway? But so what? Is it anything better or worse than having a password called ‘password123’ or ‘iloveyou’ or ‘Jesus’? It doesn’t detract or add anything to what we are already doing, except that using gestures is a whole lot more organic than typing on the keyboard.

The only plus thing is that Microsoft seems to understand the future of Human computer interaction lies in this organic movements. In 5 years, the use of mouse and keyboard will be replaced by gestures. In the future, interacting with computers will not be limited to screens or physical hardware, but by probably holograms placed all across the home, all smart devices interacting with each other. This is a future reality, and Microsoft seems to be gearing up for it. Whether they succeed or not, that’s another question. The competitive landscape has changed a lot since the days when Microsoft would be the king of the playground and smash kids like Netscape into smithereens. There’s still a few more years before we know if Microsoft rightfully belongs in this new landscape of Google, Facebook, Apple or Angry Birds.

Until then, while they might be a tech giant, Microsoft is a runt in the new tech landscape where consumer coolness is key and Apple is still the benchmark. So let’s give them an A for effort, although the idea is pretty stale.

And as for the Father of RSA SecurID, don’t punch the new kid in the face for having a nice looking cover over the same old school bag that everyone is using. Give the guys at Redmond a chance and they might spring a surprise for us consumers.

And I don’t mean a bad surprise like their Blue Screen of Death.



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