FIR B2B Podcast #75: BETH WINKOWSKI DOES B2B PR VERY WELL

There’s no shortage of people willing to bash bad PR practices, but we prefer to take a more positive tone. This week we speak with someone who does B2B PR very well.

Beth Winkowski has had her own PR firm for decades after working for leading edge tech companies back in the 1990s. Both Paul and I have had tremendous respect for her, not just for the quality of her communications but for the very skillful way in which she handles journalist relationships. She sends out press releases for all events announced by her clients but only asks for press briefings occasionally. Both Paul and I know that when Beth asks for a briefing, the announcement is important. Her clients are well prepared, with PowerPoint decks that explain but don’t overwhelm. She sends a confirmation the morning of the  call along with the final press release. She always includes graphics. These sound like small things, but it’s amazing how few agencies attend these small details.

When we first contacted Beth about being a guest, she demurred, saying that she only seeks publicity for her clients and not for herself. She has no website because she doesn’t want to appear to be promoting her own interests ahead of those of her clients. It’s these kinds of philosophical details that are important. Beth had a lot of wisdom to impart on our show, and while most of it is common sense, it is a reason why she is the consummate PR pro.

Listen to our 19 min. podcast here.

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Stopping phishing

When IT professionals talk about phishing attacks, they are quick to blame uneducated users who aren’t really focused on processing their emails. But while this is certainly one of the causes – and one of the reasons why phishing remains so popular among attackers – you can’t fault even the most eagle-eyed users from several things that are making it harder to spot phony emails. A combination of more subtle attacks using non-Roman URL characters, more focus on mobile man-in-the-middle exploits, greater use of SSL certificates and more mobile email usage have created new opportunities for phishers.

Homograph attacks. Even if you are the sharpest-eyed observer, you will have a hard time detecting this latest phishing technique that goes by the name Punycode or an IDN homograph typosquatting attack. The idea is simple: back in the day, the Internet standards bodies expanded the ability to handle non-Roman alphabet characters for domains and URLs. The trouble is that many of these characters look very similar to the ordinary ones that you and I use in our Roman alphabet. Spammers purchased domains that looked just like the all-Roman letters, with one or two changes using some other character set. This post from Wordfence shows how subtle these homographs really are, making it almost impossible for anyone to detect. There is further discussion on this site about how phishers operate.

More mobile email usage. This is making it harder to see (and then vet) the URL bar when a browser session is opened on your phone. The mobile app designers want as much screen real estate as they can to show a web page and this means that the URL line is often hidden or quickly moves off the screen as you scroll down. Even if you wanted to pay attention, you probably don’t bother to scroll back up to see it. What is making things worse is that the criminals are making better copies of real web pages. The crooks are getting better at using the exact same HTML code that a bank or retailer uses for their web pages, which makes them harder to distinguish, even if they are viewed on a full-sized PC screen.

More SSL encryption usage. Ironically, an effort that began several years by Google and the non-profit foundation behind the Let’s Encrypt website have made problems worse. That website makes it dirt simple to obtain a free SSL certificate in a matter of seconds, so that warning signs in the URL bar of browsers when you aren’t connecting to a secure website are almost moot now. While it is great that more than half of all web traffic is now encrypted, we need better mechanisms that just a red/green indicator to help users understand what they are viewing.

More frequent MITM attacks on mobile apps. Security researcher Will Strafach gave a report earlier this year and demonstrated numerous IOS apps that were vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks. These allow attackers to intercept data as it is being passed from a device to a server. That grabbed a few headlines, but apparently wasn’t enough. In a more recent report, he has continued to track these apps and shows that many of them are still vulnerable.

So what is being done? The browser vendors are doing a better job at detecting the homograph URLs (if you are not running Chrome 59 or Firefox 53, please do upgrade now). Many network security vendors are fine-tuning their tools to better detect compromised emails, or track reputations of malware control sites, or use other techniques to try to neutralize the phishers. Some enterprises are deploying secure browsers, to limit the damage of a phished link.

Clearly, this will take a combination of approaches to fight this continued battle. Phishing is a war of attrition. All it takes is one less-attentive user and the game is on. And it requires constant vigilance — by all of us.

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Enterprise.nxt: What to look for in your next CISO

Hiring a chief information security officer (CISO) is a tricky process. The job title is in the limelight, especially these days, when breaches are happening to so many businesses. The job turnover rate is high, with many CISOs quitting or getting fired because of security incidents or management frustration. And the supply of qualified candidates is low. According to the ISACA report, State of Cyber Security 2017, 48 percent of enterprises get fewer than 10 applicants for cybersecurity positions, and 64 percent say that fewer than half of their cybersecurity applicants are qualified. And that’s just the rank and file IT security positions, not the top jobs. So here are some things to consider when you need to find a CISO and you don’t want to hire a “chief impending sacrifice officer.”

Read my article in HPE’s Enterprise.nxt.

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Behind the scenes at creating Stuxnet

Most of us remember the Stuxnet worm that infected the Iranian Natanz nuclear plant back in the early 2000’s. I was privy to some of the researchers at Symantec that worked on decoding in and wrote this piece for ReadWrite in 2011 after being briefed about their efforts. Now you can rent the movie called ZeroDays that was written and produced by Alex Gibney on Netflix. It was released last year, and goes into a lot more detail about how the worm came to be.

Gibney interviews a variety of computer researchers and intelligence agency officials, one of whom is portrayed by an actress from the NSA (to disguise her identity). This person has the most interesting things to say in the movie, such as “at the NSA we would laugh because we always found a way to get across the airgap.” She admits that a combination of state-sponsored agencies from around the world collaborated on its creation and detonation at the plant. (Maybe that isn’t the best word to use given it was an enrichment plant.) She also gives some insight into the interactions between the NSA and the Mossad on how changes to the worm were done. Sadly and ironically, the actions surrounding Stuxnet motivated Iran to build a more advanced nuclear program today and assemble its own cyber army.

With many tech documentaries, they either oversell, undersell or are just plain wrong about many of the details. Zero Days has none of these issues, and is a solid film that can be enjoyed by techies and the lay public alike. The role of cyber weapons and how we proceed in the future goes beyond Stuxnet, which as what the NSA manager says, “is just a back alley compared to what we can really do.”

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FIR B2B Podcast #74: IN THE ‘CIRCULAR ECONOMY,’ SUSTAINABILITY IS GOOD BUSINESS

The “circular economy” is about more than just sustainability or preserving the environment. It’s a new economic model based upon the idea of maximizing the lifetime value of resources for as long as possible, whether through recycling, reuse or sharing. It’s a concept that underscores the growth of the so-called “sharing economy” and is paying benefits in the form of new product concepts and improved customer engagement.

Thomas Singer, The Conference BoardThe Conference Board recently published a report that defines the circular economy and offers examples of how it’s changing the way some businesses work. Thomas Singer (left), who authored the report, joins Paul Gillin and I to summarize its findings and discuss the long-term impact on businesses and marketers.

Thomas is a principal researcher in corporate leadership at The Conference Board and author of numerous publications, including “Driving Revenue Growth through Sustainable Products and Services” and the comprehensive corporate sustainability benchmarking report “Sustainability Practices.”  You can listen to our 19m podcast here:

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Document your network

Over the weekend, I had an interesting experience. Normally, I don’t go into my office then, which is across the street from my apartment. But yesterday the cable guy was coming to try to fix my Internet connection. During the past week my cable modem would suddenly “forget” its connection. It was odd because all the idiot lights were solidly illuminated. There seemed to be no physical event that was associated with the break. After I power cycled the modem my connection would come back up.

I was lucky: I got a very knowledgeable cable guy, and he worked hard to figure out my issue. I will save you a lot of the description here and just tell you that he ended up replacing a video splitter that was causing my connection to drop. Cable Internet is using a shared connection, and my problem could have multiple causes, such as a chatty neighbor or a misbehaving modem down the block. But once we replaced the splitter, I was good to go.

Now I have been in my office for several years, and indeed built it out it from unfinished space when I first moved in. I designed the cable plant and where I wanted my contractor to pull all the wires and terminate them. But that was years ago. I didn’t document any of this, or if I did have misplaced that information. But the cable tech took the time to make up for my oversight, He tracked down my misbehaving video splitter that was buried inside one of my wall plates. And that is one of the morals of this story: always be documenting your infrastructure. It costs you less to do that contemporaneously, when you are building it, then when you have to come back after the fact and try to remember where your key network parts are located or how they are configured.

Part of this story was that I was using an Evenroute IQrouter, an interesting wireless router that can optimize for latency. I was able to bring up this graph that showed me the last several minutes’ connection details so I knew it wasn’t my imagination.

 

Now my network is puny compared to most companies’, to be sure. But I have been in some larger businesses that don’t do any better job of keeping track of their gear. Oh the wiring closets that I have been in, let me tell you! They look more like spaghetti. For example, here I am in the offices of Checkpoint in Israel in January 2016. Granted, this was in one of their test labs but still it shouldn’t look like this (I am standing next to Ed Covert, a very smart infosec analyst):

 

Compare this with how they should look. This was taken in a demonstration area at Panduit’s offices. Granted, it was set up to show how neat and organized their cabling could be.

Documentation isn’t just about making pretty color-coded cables nice and neat, although you can start there. The problem is when you have to change something, and then you need to keep track when you do. This means being diligent when you add a new piece of gear, or change your IP address range, or add a new series of protocols or applications. So many times you hear about network administrators that opened a particular port and didn’t remember to close it once the reason for the request was satisfied. Or a username which was still active months or years after the user had left the company. I had an email address on Infoworld’s server for years after I no longer wrote for them, and I tried to get it turned off to no avail.

So take the time and document everything. Otherwise you will end up like me, with a $5 part inside one of your walls that is causing you downtime and aggravation.

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Building a software-defined network perimeter

At his Synergy conference keynote, Citrix CEO Kirill Tatarinov mentioned that IT “needs a software defined perimeter (SDP) that helps us manage our mission critical assets and enable people to work the way they want to.” The concept is not a new one, having been around for several years.

An SDP replaces the traditional network perimeter — usually thought of as a firewall. Those days are long gone, although you can still find a few IT managers that cling to this notion.

The SDP uses a variety of security software to define what resources are protected, and block entry points using protocols and methods. For example, if we look at the working group at the Cloud Security Alliance, they have decided on a control channel architecture using standard components such as SAML, PKI, and mutual TLS connections to define this perimeter.

Working groups such as these move slowly – it has been hard at work since 2013 – but I am glad to see Citrix adding their voice here and singing the SDP tune.

 

But perhaps a better way to explain the SDP is what is being called a “zero trust” network. In an article in Network World earlier this year, a post described the efforts at Google to move to this kind of model, whereby basically everyone on the network is guilty until proven innocent, or at least harmless. Every device is checked before being allowed access to resources. “Access is granted based on what Google knows about the end user and their device. And all access to services must be authenticated, authorized and encrypted,” according to the article.

This is really what a SDP is about, because all of these access evaluations are based on software that checks for identity, on other software that examines whether a device has the right credentials, and other software to make sure that traffic is encrypted across the network. Because Google is Google, they built their own solution and it took them years to implement across 20 different systems. What I liked about the Google implementation was that they installed their new systems across Google’s worldwide network and just had it inspect traffic for many months before they turned it on to ensure that nothing broke their existing applications.

You probably don’t have the same “money is no object” philosophy and want something more off-the-shelf. But you probably want to start sooner rather than later on building your own SDP.

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New security products of the week

As part of my duties to write and edit this email newsletter for Inside.com, I am always on the lookout for new security products. When I was at the Citrix Synergy show last week, I wanted to see the latest products. One of the booths that were drawing crowds was Bitdefender’s. They have a Hypervisor Introspection product that sits on top of XenServer v7 hypervisors. It is completely agentless, and just runs memory inspections of the hosted VMs. Despite the crowds, I was less enamored of their solution than others that I have reviewed in the past for Network World such as TrendMicro’s and Hytrust. (Note, this review is more than three years old, so take my recommendations with several spoonfuls of your favorite condiment).

Nevertheless, having some protection riding on top of your VMs is essential these days, and you can be sure there were lots of booths scattered around the show floor that claimed to stop WannaCry in its tracks, given the publicity of this recent attack. Whether they actually would have done so is another matter entirely, I am just saying.

Over at the Kaspersky booth, it was nearly empty but they actually have a better mousetrap and have had their Virtualization Security products for several years. Kaspersky has a wider support of hypervisors (they run on top of VMware and Hyper-V as well as Xen). They offer an agentless solution for VMware that works with the vShield technology, and lightweight agents that run inside each VM for the other hypervisors. While you have to deploy agents, you get more visibility into how the VMs operate. One company not here in Orlando but that I am familiar with in this space is Observable Networks: they don’t need agents because they monitor the network traffic and system logs produced by the hypervisor. So just don’t make a decision based on the agents vs. agentless argument but look closer at what the security tool is monitoring and what kinds of threats can really be prevented. Pricing on Kaspersky starts at $110 per virtual server with a single VM and $39 per virtual desktop that includes 10-14 VMs. Volume discounts apply.

IGEL was another crowded booth. They have developed thin clients in the form of a small-factor USB drive. If you have an Intel-based client with at least 2 GB of RAM and 2 GB of disk storage (such as an old Windows XP desktop or Wyse thin client), you can run a Citrix Receiver client that will basically extend the life of your aging desktop. A major health IT provider just placed an order for $2M worth of more than 9,000 of these USB clients, saving themselves millions in upgrades to their old Wyse terminals. I got to see a demo of their management interface at the show. “It looks like Active Directory with a policy-based tool and it is super easy to manage and keep track of thousands of desktops,” according to what their CEO, Jed Ayres, told me during the demo. Their product starts at $169 per device.

img_25953Another booth held an interesting biometric solution called Veridium ID. They have recently been verified as Citrix Ready, but have been around for a couple of years developing their product. I have seen several biometric products, but this one looked very interesting. Basically, for phones that have a fingerprint sensor, they make use of that as the additional authentication factor. If your phone doesn’t have such as sensor, it uses the camera to take a picture of four of your fingers (as you can see here). It works with any SAML ID provider and at their booth they showed me a demo of it working with an ordinary website and with a Xen-powered solution. Their product starts at $25 per user, which is about half of what the traditional multi-factor vendors are selling their hardware or smart tokens for.

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FIR B2B #73: WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT TODAY’S TRADE SHOWS

We all love to carp about trade shows, so this time we thought we’d take a different approach and highlight some of the noteworthy moments over our many years of covering and speaking at them. David has just been to two different shows in Orlando last month and compares how they were run and what he learned. Paul has been to many vendor-focused shows over the years and offers some of his perspective. The best shows all have this in common:

  • Solid speakers that have compelling stories, often drawn from the end-user community. We realize that some shows are run for profit and sell sponsorships (that often include a speaking “slot”). Still, the better speakers will always generate more buzz, coverage, and attendee response. These speakers aren’t afraid of telling tales that have a mixture of positive and negative experiences from the vendor’s products.
  • The smaller, more vendor-driven shows will collect the faithful and boosters, no need to amplify or over-sell this.
  • User-run shows, such as from VMware and Terradata, are often better than those that are vendor-run.
  • Having executives who “give good interview” is key: not all of them can (even with some training) do this.
  • PR teams who know what reporters like and tailor their schedules accordingly, rather than set up too many “meet-n-greets” that keeps us off the show floor.

Speaking of bad PR, Paul ends our episode with a tale of woe about one PR person who admitted that a news item was over a year old. Telling the truth is always a good operating philosophy.
Listen to the 18m podcast here:

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Is Windows Continuum Worth Your Time?

When I was attending the Citrix Synergy show last week, much was made about the support of the Windows Continuum effort by Microsoft. This puts the Windows 10 functionality on a lot of different and non-traditional IT devices, such as the Surface Hub gigantic TV, Xbox consoles, and Windows Phones. If you look at the linked webpage above, you will see a lot of information about how you can use a Windows Phone as the basis for a new kind of docked workstation that has a real keyboard and screen attached.

When I spoke to Citrix SVP PJ Hough about this, he changed my thinking about Continuum. It isn’t all about the Windows Phone, but about the other stuff that is enabled here. Continuum is really about how you can essentially upgrade these devices to become smarter about their deployment and delivery of Windows apps themselves.

Naturally, Citrix has a vested interest here, because Receiver now supports Windows 10 S installations, which are devices that are part of the Continuum ecosystem. One of the issues for Win10 S is that it is a locked-down OS that only runs the applications delivered from Windows Store. This means if you have legacy Win32 apps on your older desktops, you were out of luck to run them before now. Having Receiver on 10 S gives you the best of both worlds: a more secure desktop that can still run your crusty older apps in a protected workspace.

Citrix Receiver — compatible with Windows 10 S — is built using the Microsoft Universal Windows Platform technology. This was introduced by Microsoft earlier this year and at this link you can find more information on how to build apps and learn from the samples that they have provided. Essentially, what Microsoft is trying to do is create a common core that app developers can use on a variety of other devices, including HoloLens and its Surface line of tablets and TVs.

But the real secret sauce of the universal platform is how it can be distributed using the Windows Store. Microsoft has learned from the Apple Store that app distribution is the real friction for getting apps to actually be used. Universal apps thus come with a built-in marketing bonus.

To make true use of Citrix Receiver, you of course will need XenApp and XenDesktop, running on XenServer or in a cloud-based infrastructure through Citrix Cloud to deliver the complete desktop experience. You can see the video of how this works here:

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