It could be said the word “WORK” has been misunderstood forever. Its neither a location or something to do with business only endeavours but a description of the product or effort applied to deliver an output. The current virus outbreak is encouraging us to reset historical perspectives on the nature of WORK and perform a cultural reset, with work for many shifting from the defined confines of a corporate address and instead to a location neutral “output” delivered wherever the employee or customer may be.
The effective use of digital platforms is key to a successful remote employee and customer experience when it delivers the value expected by both parties. This is hardly new, with evidence daily of the value of digital collaboration and engagement platforms used to bridge geographical, social boundaries, for human engagement and access to services based on our use of social media platforms every day. However, the use of remote user, remote access and digital collaboration platforms as a critical success factor of business continuity through this time of unknown unknowns may result in some organisations determining existing processes, platforms, security and governance are insufficient.
There are number of steps organisations should consider to ensure they are well positioned through this challenging time and continue to deliver a positive employee and customer experience. Firstly, ensure the lines of communication are clear with corporate guidelines explaining the approved way to perform company activities using remote or digital platforms. Simplicity is everything and organisations must strive to simplify user engagement via corporate digital collaboration platforms to make them as easy to use as the social media platforms accessed regularly by users. Simplicity is also key to successfully crossing the cultural adoption chasm. The creation and publication of easy on-boarding or quick start guides for users (and potentially customers) to reduce the load on helpdesk teams and to encourage self service should be available to all.
The network will play a massive role in the success of any remote worker, digital collaboration or remote user engagement programme. It’s important to check the network capacity, availability and resilience of inbound communication links to ensure sufficient bandwidth exists with latency optimised based on the unforeseen increased volume of remote users and external customer interaction. Increased use of video conferencing may place additional loads on networks via links previously not used meaning a thorough review of user paths, devices, workstyles and engagement expectations will deliver real value (consider how a user works, not how the network “should” operate). This may require discussions with telecommunications carriers from an operational and contractual perspective to gain confidence the user and customer experience delivered remotely is not sub-optimal and positive.
Remote access VPNs (virtual private networks) and digital conferencing platforms for both users and customer are in use today but a short term cultural shift may be required to use them as the primary engagement mechanism. Additional levels of employee guidance and potentially customer facing communication to convey the best way to maximise engagement and customer satisfaction via a predominantly digital engagement method should benefit all.
If remote access or conferencing platforms of the scale required do not currently exist or capacity augmentation is required it is straightforward to on-board functionality via cloud based VPNs, collaboration and remote access solutions that seamlessly integrate with existing platforms with minimal levels of reconfiguration required (consider the operational overhead or security impact). One button meeting join / start whether desk, mobile or other device is used is essential.
Security as expected must be at the heart of all remote employee and customer engagement. It’s important to issue security related policy guidelines explaining how to conduct business via remote or digital platforms to ensure both organisations employees and customers are protected (for example discussions about session recording). Security is best delivered “built in by design”, automated and requiring minimal user interaction.
In summary remote user and customer engagement using digital remote access, collaboration or conferencing platforms can deliver and maintain a positive customer experience through this challenging time. However, organisations must prepare well (in an accelerated timeframe) and operationally configure platforms to ensure this different way of working is as is simple, secure, seamless and beneficial as any previous way of working. And who knows, for many positive reasons aligned to work life balance in the digital age, the current challenge may signpost opportunities and benefits that help us to make this new way of working “the” way of working for many more in the future.
Until next time.
Business Line CTO Computacenter UK (Networking and Security)
Happy New Year and I hope the festive break was “a break”. Some continue to work throughout the festive season (or the global economy would meltdown), but for many back to work for 2019 started in earnest this week. I have so far avoided 2019 “predictions”, “prophecies”, “educated articulation of interesting stuff” to date based on so many of them circulating the social media and email landscape. However, a fair few messages asking for a perspective on the networking and security world for 2019 have stimulated me to scribble a few words.
And here comes the shock, I will be quite boring with my summary of the market and technology impacts for 2019 (well at least the first half) because I will continue to encourage to all who will listen that the most important edict they can institutionalize in their own psyche and the organisational operational IT approach is to ensure the basics are “brilliant”. Modern business should only have a single state, secure business with an unintentionally insecure environment almost unthinkable in the digital age. As the creation, processing, analysis and management of digital data streams continue to underpin and energize both user and business outcomes an intentionally secure by design philosophy is the only way to stem the attack tide.
Security isn’t the task of security professionals alone, but every application or system user with a level of consciousness about the consequence of breach or failure must now acknowledge “intentional security” is the responsibility of all.
Ensuring the basics are brilliant, with security controls mapped to business activity, outcome and consequence, with auditing and automation leveraged to optimize operations will increase the level of certainly of a user or organisations security posture.
· Privileged account security
· Multi factor authentication
· Managed encryption.
· Vulnerability management PLUS
· Identity management PLUS
· Enterprise anti phishing with associated user education
· Intelligent endpoint security (user or things)
Can you embrace how boring the list above may seem – hopefully that’s the case. The list above are subset of the “Brilliant Basics” that MUST underpin the secure defences of all. You are possibly about to click away from this screen buoyed by the view “we have got all of those” and that may be the case. But even with great guidance from Cyber Essentials, CIS, NIST, etc many organisations I meet are a snippet of “luck” away from a comprehensive breach due to absence, failure or poor execution of the controls above with the negative consequence avoidable.
If there is no auditable and actively managed operational state of the items mentioned above integrated together to ensure security is seamless, intentional, proactive why consider the wealth of advanced and esoteric new products showcased daily – get the basics right.
So my 2019 ask so early in the year is to be brutal and rigorously appraise the brilliance of your “basic” security controls. Are they operational consistent, audited, integrated, holistic, bidirectional from an information and threat exchange, automated where possible – score your current state.
Why make it easier to be breached when organisations highly engineered, often very expensive, operational complex defences fail due to the failure to control the controllables or optimise the known basic elements.
Until next time.
LOB CTO – Networking and Security Computacenter UK
Note: This perspective is the viewpoint of Colin Williams and does not constitute an opinion of Computacenter Group.
This must be the “strangest” of strange states as our consumer society evolves from zero “Black Fridays” to two – and gives my original article a second lease of life. The early bird resellers launched Black Friday part one last week attempting to steal a march on the masses, but the real frenzy and furore starts now with the default Black Friday fast approaching followed by Cyber Monday just around the corner.
These two shopping days were absent from my childhood as I lived a world of window shopping that on the odd occasions evolved to in store browsing when I sought to interact and engage with the myriad of products I hoped I could one day afford to buy. Click and collect didn’t exist but via a very thick paper based catalogue “click and deliver” was a highly rewarding activity with the click of buttons on the home phone followed by that feeling of Christmas when the catalogue item was delivered via the postal service (nothing ever fitted or looked as amazing as the catalogue pictures).
But as we fast forward to the present day with frequent announcements of the demise of the high street, much of our in store browsing is online (and frequently from a mobile device), click and collect / deliver an essential way of life and our approach to product selection and purchasing is now unrecognisable from a decade ago. Our immersion in social networks, digital procurement platforms and financial systems have helped to make many of us digital by default when we shift into product buying mode because the sheer breadth of offerings and convenience is unmatched.
But it comes with a health risk. The “digital me (or you)” and our always on entity existing on both known and unknown public platforms, ensures we become valid targets for attackers seeking to emulate our digital personas for financial gain. Black Friday signals the start of one of the busiest and most frenzied trading weekends of the year. The mix of in store and online price reductions results in both “want and need” based purchasing to ensure “too good to be true” deals are not missed, culminating on Cyber Monday with an online price war second to none.
Secure business, secure purchasing, secure user experience are often assumed by customers without a second thought of the cyber threat spectre waiting in the wings. This leaves many combing the net for deals, offers, codes or any other digital token to make “cheap” even “cheaper”, blissfully unware that many of those “benefits” are fake, malware ridden or designed to harvest personal credentials for future use.
Cyber Monday 2017 surpassed $6.7bn of sales which for both retailers and cyber treat actors is a prize too lucrative to ignore (stat CNBC). For retailers, getting the security basics right will be essential to ensure successful and secure consumer trading outcomes. DDOS mitigation, enhanced phishing protection, web application security, anti-malware, access review and least privilege are essential controls that must be tested and optimised in advance of the starting gun for Black Friday.
For consumers / users, education and heightened levels of cyber vigilance plus a realisation that too good to be true – “is too good to be true” when interacting with online systems prior to and beyond the Black Friday / Cyber Monday weekend. This is the time of year where spam and phishing Email volumes reach unprecedented levels with social engineering used to make those “offers” too compelling to ignore. DONT CLICK emails for “amazing deals and offers” – pure and simple as a moment of weakness may result in malware, ransomware or other forms of compromise taking hold of your digital persona and potentially that of your company. Its safer to visit the website of the vendor in question “directly”, no need to click a link that may not be from the company in question.
If you want to be “online smart” a few simple things can deliver HUGE security enhancements to your Black Friday shopping experience. Ensure you turn on the two-factor (or multi) authentication and notification options on your various online email services and accounts with further security improvements gained by using a password manager to ensure different passwords are applied to various services you use.
Building the walls higher just won’t do, both vendors and consumers must work in tandem to ensure the most secure possible online and digital trading experience is realised by all reducing the potential for data breach or subsequent misuse.
Safe and happy shopping during Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2018 (and beyond).
Until next time.
LOB CTO UK: Networking and Security – Computacenter UK
Things just became really interesting.
The recent news is awash with worrying claims from a credible source of “hidden” spying chips embedded within the motherboard of a leading server manufacturer. As yet, no manufacturer has released a statement confirming their existence but the information illuminating the potential is compelling. Surely it forces us all to consider our own personal, personal and professional “digital state” in this heavily connected world. Do we technically appraise every computer based device we use at design and component level to determine the source, use and security impact of all of the minute elements that make the device work. Of course we don’t, not only would the majority of us struggle to find out how to even open the device (have you tried to open a modern mobile phone with the myriad of specialist tools and hidden pressure points to make things pop open), we no way of actually understanding the function and outcome delivered by the components (when they work in harmony).
Can we be sure the most innocuous of household device has no secret and potentially malicious embedded elements that whilst not explicitly installed to be utilized in a nefarious way in the right hands can’t be leveraged to invoke a surveillance, recording or tracking function? It is this total ambivalence to the likelihood of it, until possibly today that means the potential may be more likely that we ever dreamed.
The days of hardcoded firmware delivering static intelligence to all but the most expensive and programmable devices is from a bygone era. Even the simplest digital device consists of user or system driven remotely programmable aspects that in some cases are core to the function of the device. Whether it’s used from software updates, device troubleshooting or in the case of some advanced modern vehicles to deliver totally new functionality, device or system programmability is a fundamental aspect of modern IT that enhances the consumer or user experience by making it “personal”.
Could we be shifting to a position of worry so great that we “sweep for bugs” when entering a room or prior to switching a device on in true James Bond mode – highly unlikely. But I suggest the recent announcements will ensure many IT leaders and operational teams increase the priority of network based security visibility platforms, AI or machine learning systems that examine and re-examine the most granular elements of telemetry and security aware behavioral analytics platforms that understand things we can’t comprehend.
Ask yourself when considering the IT platforms that underpin your business (or social existence), what can you really see, are you sure you know how they work and do you really understand the security heart that beats within?
Who would have thought, we are not even close to the iconic year 2020 and already we may be worrying about the moral intent in the digital soul of our machines. The future ahead is likely to be way more interesting than we have ever previously dreamed.
Until next time.
LOB CTO UK – Computacenter Networking and Security
I haven’t scribbled a blog for a while. Rather than bombard the web with yet more content and conjecture to add to the mass already present, I need a “discussion catalyst” to compel me to write. And it arrived on the front page of the Times newspaper today proclaiming “500m users hit by the biggest hack in history” (due to recently released findings from a 2014 attack).
I mentioned in previous blogs and commentary that those no longer sensationalist, but instead factual headlines may sadly continue with each one correctly announcing a breach bigger than the last. It’s time to rethink information security because the rules of the game have fundamentally changed. As an IT industry with extremely competent security professionals the time has come for hard conversations, which discuss difficult problems that drive and deliver far reaching change. The legacy approach to design, implement and support information security platforms should not be fully jettisoned overnight but a failure to understand the efficacy of the whole solution to deliver “known, measured and maintained (or enhanced)” levels of security can no longer be accepted as valid or sound behaviour (I apologise if this is overly hard hitting).
There are numerous highly viable reasons why a multi-vendor security infrastructure and security software environment can deliver secure business / IT workload outcomes. But any environment with siloed platforms that do not inform or update each other via vendor proprietary, industry standard data exchange layers or leverage other platforms that correlate and represent actionable information may be as useful as no security layer at all. I am not advocating a single vendor security environment (although it can unlock a number of notable advantages) but I am leaning to a “greatly reduced” vendor environment as the complex web of devices pervasive across many enterprise IT estates, delivers a false sense of security can be the perfect landing zone for an attacker.
Add to that, the importance and non-negotiable educational requirement to formally enhance the knowledge of IT system and application users of the “responsibility and accountability” they personally hold to protect the digital assets they interact with daily. Almost without exception the major hacks and attacks originate from an inadvertently compromised user (tricked or bribed) with the end result a valid way in for an attacker to undertake the reconnaissance necessary to undertake the main attack. It’s time for all IT users to change their level of understanding and intimacy with IT security outcomes with the result a major step towards helping the wider enterprise security programme to operate effectively.
The Times newspaper headline displayed the passport picture and details of Michelle Obama – as we continue to discuss the growing importance of digital identity with a passport one indelible example of an identity deemed more important than most, a system attack that successfully obtained the personal details of one of the most highly protected individuals in the world highlights that no one is safe and everyone is a potential target.
IT security 2020 is required today and required now. It starts with an understanding of current IT and digital assets, gap analysis of posture aligned with compliance, platforms and systems that interact together, user education and greatly increased end to end visibility of the whole estate. I could go on as the steps required are many fold, but they are not steps we don’t already know or shouldn’t be undertaking today. No change is unacceptable, more of the same is unacceptable. Sadly we can be sure that the next big breach will be bigger than the last but ideally no one wants to the star of the headline.
Time for security change – change is now
Until next time
“Cybercrime may now be bigger than the drug trade”, quoted the City of London police commissioner Adrian Leppard.
Security breach announcements that were once a rarity in the non IT world are now BBC front page news on a regular basis. Whether it’s the attack and successful removal of data from a previous unknown (but now well known) dating site or the more recent attack and potentially successful data breach of a major consumer telecoms services provider, Cyber attacks are the norm. Is it time to accept them as a necessary by product of the relentless creation and consumption of digital data, sadly yes. But to accept they exist does not mean an acceptance that an attack should be effective when there are so many steps that can be taken to reduce the potential for success. Defending and securing IT systems are not an easy task as the approach includes people, process and systems. To keep all three security aware and congruent at all times is a challenge with that one “out of sync” moment the attack window for a hacker. Do nothing or “do something but slowly” is a sure-fire way to be the next big story on the front page of the BBC news broadcast. It’s time for new thinking, new skills and better visibility EVERYWHERE or the enterprise will NEVER be secure.
Many years ago a large IT company ran a brilliant ad campaign about the need to think differently. In the case of IT systems and Cyber security, thinking differently should include a rigorous appraisal of existing defences, a perspective on the most valuable digital assets within the organisation (and the additional protection they require) and most importantly the need for people to change the way they interact with digital systems (vigilance). To defend against an attack, it’s time to “think like an attacker” and not based on a viewpoint that attacks follow standardised behaviour, are seeking random targets and lack rigour and planning. Today’s attackers or attack teams are extremely well trained, often well funded and have razor sharp focus on the target and expected outcome. Old school thinking based on technology will fall short in this new digital age. It’s time for new school thinking based on the psychology of an attacker as that will surely deliver greater value (protection).
We are in the midst of an enterprise business landscape with an aging work population aligned with traditional IT skills needing to evolve to a revised “digital rich” skills portfolio. This new skillset is likely to be software influenced and will definitely drive the need to think differently, learn now and learn very differently. And to further compound matters the emerging work force of Generation Y and Z thinkers may not be viewing Information Technology as the “must join” profession of circa 25 years ago. Modern enterprises face the quandary of an old workforce with dated security skills, coupled with a new workforce with skills too new to make an impact – who then will solve the security challenges we currently face? Sadly the skills problem will not be resolved overnight with a major investment in academic level cyber awareness, new age security skills training on mass for existing networking and security personnel plus enhanced employee security education as a mandatory activity within all enterprises. It’s time for enterprise organisations to encourage everyone who embraces the benefits of IT to also part be of the solution to the cyber security challenge.
There has been an age old management quote highlighting the difficultly managing things that can’t be seen – so why believe it to be different with data and information technology outcomes. Digital data is now the DNA of modern enterprises with the potential to ignite ongoing success or collapse an organisation to failure. Full visibility of data from edge to core with the potential to preempt attacks or fast remediate breaches is now an essential element of the enterprise IT systems operational playbook. Breaches will occur in a digital data rich enterprise due to the challenge of continually appraising human, IT and non IT systems behaviour in context and in sync. However enhanced visibility leveraging optimised data analytics can highlight anomalies or areas for further investigation earlier with the hope it’s early enough for the correct intervention prior to a breach. And if an when a breach unfortunately occurs, “flight recorder” type data playback of the pre and post breach state will accelerate the time to triage and remediate plus reduce the potential for a mirrored attack. Many highlight “encryption everywhere” as one of the most impact full strategies for data protection and the emerging and very interesting “software defined perimeter (SDP)” approach (zero trust access control and data movement) as instant fixes. There is no doubt that both will be highly effective protection elements but only as part of a wholesale rethink of security defence, protection and breach remediation.
Enterprises MUST now change their approach and security solutions expectations. The increased use of mobile solutions, cloud computing and virtualisation are not creating a problem for security professions but instead delivering the potential to “reset” security protection and defence within the enterprise. The days of “adding more layers”, often bigger or higher than previously delivered are no more – instead it’s time to design a solution for an enterprise in a state of continual attack not in “comfortable defence”. Effective digital systems security WILL be a primary business enabler in the digital age as enterprises that fail to defend well, remediate quickly and understand attacks may not survive for long enough to fully recover.
Until next time.
Chief Technologist – Networking, Security, UC – Computacenter UK
At the start of the year I said to anyone who would listen (and that was a fair amount of people) that 2014 would be a milestone year for security and unified communications (UC). We will come back to UC another day, but security is really living up to the prophecy. 2014 is common to previous years with visible attacks, invisible attacks, well published breaches, hidden breaches and all of the above now carefully positioned under the Cyber Threat banner (the advanced persistent threat moniker of yesteryear now seems out of fashion).
And already as we cross into quarter two of the year we face the first “cause for concern” security breach that isn’t just affecting the IT rich major corporates, but has the potential to affect anyone who uses the internet in earnest. Heartbleed is that security breach and exposes vulnerabilities in OPENSSL, the security used to maintain secure encrypted conversations (passwords, usernames, etc.) by some web servers. OPENSSL gives informed users and laymen alike confidence to access the World Wide Web assured that a secure interaction is happening so a problem like Heartbleed potentially has major ramifications. We have always aligned with the view that the use of SSL, https, closed padlock signs on browsers, etc. should have signalled a “secure transaction” but sadly now that perspective is under scrutiny based on a vulnerability in OPENSSL that may have been evident for two years. That is two years when attackers “could” have been accessing hidden digital keys in those seemingly secure browsing or web interactions and “could” have been using those keys to hack the user/sites in question. A quick search across the web for a list of potentially vulnerable sites presents a “who’s who” of many of the biggest and best know destinations on the web.
Good news, the vulnerability was announced and highlighted last week (and most of the key sites have all but eliminated the vulnerability) – bad news, few know or are saying what or if the vulnerability has been used to attack to date.
So where does that leave us – thankfully informed and with that equipped with a “call to action” to ensure we are protected against the Heartbleed threat. But it shouldn’t stop there, if a threat of such magnitude has been hidden / secret for two years what else lies beneath your network, systems, and data – could that next “security threat alarm bell” ring for you. Do you know with confidence if your IT systems, company data, personal data are really secure? I rarely plug IT services and solutions on this blog but it may be time you gave us a call.
Until next time.