Blog: Networking

It was announced on August 16th that 22 Texas cities were attacked and infected with ransomware, rendering many of their municipal IT systems unavailable to conduct daily business. The mayor of one of these cities has said the ransom request was $2.5 million to unlock their files. The Texas Department of Information Resources believes this was a coordinated attack by a single threat actor. Source: https://dir.texas.gov/View-About-DIR/Article-Detail.aspx?id=209

We will likely get more details about how these networks were infected, but this incident should be a reminder to continually evaluate your cyber security risks and follow best practices to ensure your business or financial institution is protected. 

Below are a few comments and recommendations to consider as you examine your cyber security posture.

You don't have to be a big business to be a target

We've seen an increasing number of cyber attacks and ransomware infections directed toward small businesses where the bad actors see them as "low hanging fruit" with limited cyber security defenses. The cities listed in the recent news articles about this event are relatively small - less than 10,000 residents.

Most of these attacks rely on email phishing to gain access

A good email filtering solution is a good start, but on-going employee training and testing is critical to help them recognize potentially malicious emails. There are several tools availalble like the Tandem Phishing solution (https://tandem.app/phishing-security-awareness-software) to help design and implement a phishing plan.

Traditional Anti-Virus solutions are not good enough

Many small businesses are still relying on traditional signature-based AV solutions. These products are not sufficient to protect against the latest malware. New products such as CylancePROTECT are more effective for stopping attacks by using machine learning instead of a bulky signature database.

Monitor your network

Our IT environments are under constant attack from bad actors around the world. This is an unfortunate fact of life today. An effective monitoring solution like CoNetrix Network Threat Protection is one of the security layers that every business should implement to help identify these attacks, and help them react quickly to prevent or limit potential damage. 

Incident Response is important

While we apply controls to protect against incidents, it is important to have a plan in the event of an incident occurs. If you have a documented Incident Response plan, great! Now take that IR plan to the next level by regularly conducting table top exercises and penetration testing to validate and improve it.

Backups should be a last resort

Ideally, if several security layers are in place then restoring from a backup won't be needed. However to ensure your backup is safe from being encrypted by ransomware it should be "air gapped" from the primary network. This means the backup data should be offline or not directly accessible for the malware to encrypt. Historically this has been done using removable media like tapes, but today it is much more efficient and cost-effective to use a cloud backup service. Many of these services (like CoNetrix AspireRecovery) provide a cloud backup with an option for disaster recovery services. 

No enterprise has to be a victim to ransomware. With proper planning and intentional practice, you CAN protect your network. While there is an investment associated with implementing appropriate controls and practices, the return on investment is well worth it if you protect against just one attack, not to mention the peace of mind you gain.

Contact CoNetrix Sales if you would like more information about protecting your network.


 

The world of cybersecurity has had some fundamental shifts in the past several years that have made the vast majority of companies unprepared for today's threats. The extensive use of malware, for example, has dramatically reduced the value of traditional security solutions, such as firewalls, IDS/IPS, and anti-virus software. These solutions that used to adequately prevent attacks are now very limited in their risk mitigation value. Many organizations have not updated their cybersecurity technology and solutions to stop today's threats. It's like monitoring your front door for a break in while someone comes in through the back window.

Even companies that have taken cybersecurity seriously have not always been led the right way by cybersecurity vendors. In the past, an organization who was serious about cybersecurity was told that they needed 24x7x365 monitoring - paying for really smart cybersecurity professionals to watch the alerts and events as they happen in real-time so they could respond at a moment's notice to malicious events.

But legacy technologies have relied mostly on human review, not machine intelligence. A common metric for a traditional Managed Security Service Providers (MSSP's) is to have a security engineer for every 30 devices under management. In the U.S., the average cybersecurity professional makes $116,000/year. This means the cost to monitor a single device is $322/month, forcing traditional MSSP's to charge between $500 and $1500/device/month to be profitable. Does this sound like your MSSP?

At those rates most customers can only afford for a few devices to be monitored; usually the firewall, IDS/IPS, and possibly a Windows domain controller. When asked why they don't need to monitor more devices, these MSSP's would state "As long as you are monitoring the choke points, you are safe."

Using the home security system analogy, imagine being told that monitoring the front and back doors are enough and then having your child kidnapped through a bedroom window. No choke point only security system would detect that, allowing the worst-case scenario to happen without your system even tripping. Home security systems relied upon a few choke points because it was very expensive to run wires to the whole home (especially after it was already built). However today many home security systems use wireless technology which has made it possible to place multiple sensors throughout the house without the use of wires. This makes the cost of securing the entire home from multiple threats much less expensive.

Thankfully, IT cybersecurity has evolved as well. Automated correlation and analytics from a properly deployed, configured, and tuned Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) solution has the ability to increase the ratio of devices per cybersecurity professional exponentially. Today, SIEM technology can quickly and efficiently find the "needle in a haystack" with far less human interaction. This dramatically reduces the number of cybersecurity professionals needed for a traditional Security Operation Center (SOC) which means a lower cost per device for customers. With a lower cost to monitor each device, we can now monitor more devices. Rather than just monitoring choke points, we can monitor all of the windows, doors, and rooms; which is really what was needed from the beginning.

When all of the critical devices are being monitored and correlated, you can now stitch together pieces of information across different systems and areas of the network to give you a much more accurate picture of what is happening. In other words, the more devices that you monitor, the more accurate the monitoring becomes and, therefore, the better economies of scale can be achieved.

So, what should a customer monitor? It's still a good idea to monitor the firewall and IDS, but we need to go beyond that and focus on today's threats. Routers, servers (especially Active Directory servers), wireless access points, and endpoint security solutions should all be monitored. With current SIEM technology, you can monitor all of these systems for about the same price as you used to be able to monitor just the firewall and IDS/IPS.

Monitoring only choke points and smaller areas of a network will not protect your organization from today's threats. Cybersecurity monitoring is more important than ever, but real risk mitigation comes with a holistic approach to monitoring all of the possible security events from every possible device. Stop only monitoring your front door for a break-in and assuming that your business is safe... because your back window is open.

Contact Technology Sales at 806-698-9600 or email techsales@conetrix.com if you want to improve your Cybersecurity Monitoring and Response solution AND lower the annual cost.


 

The Technology and Security groups at CoNetrix have received several questions from customers about the announcement from Oracle to move to a paid subscription model for commercial users. This issue has been very confusing for everyone as we try to decipher what this means with the various versions and editions of Java available today. In this article, we will attempt to clear up some of the confusion and provide recommendations going forward.

Java Standard Edition (SE) is the most common installation of Java today. Java SE consists of the Java Development Toolkit (JDK) and the Java Runtime Environment (JRE). Unless you are a developer, the JRE is the most important component because it's what allows you to run Java-enabled applications. Many users will have a version of JRE installed on their PC to support an application they use every day. Until recently Oracle Java SE has been free to download and install for everyone.

However starting in January 2019, commercial customers must have a paid subscription license for Java SE in order to receive updates. Historically Java has not had the best track record on security, so installing Java updates at least monthly is critical to ensure any newly discovered security vulnerabilities are fixed.

Does this mean you have to purchase Oracle Java subscription licensing to install updates? The answer is "It depends!"

Thankfully there are some open-source alternatives to the licensed Java SE. The most common are:

  • AdoptOpenJDK is an open-source distribution of the OpenJDK project which is jointly supported by Oracle and the Java community.
  • Corretto is another distribution of the OpenJDK that is supported by Amazon.

Both of these distributions provide support back to Java version 8, which can be important for some applications that require this older version. Both are also supported by CoNetrix Technology for our Network Advantage patch management customers.

The following are our recommendations for installing and supporting Java:

  • Verify you actually need to run Java. It's common for Java to get installed at some point but not removed when it's no longer needed.
  • Test one of the open-source Java options and see if your applications continue to work. If the testing is successful you should be good to remove Oracle Java.
  • Check with your application vendors who use Java to determine if they will support one of the open-source options. If they won't provide support, or they confirm their application doesn't work, then you may have to purchase a Java SE license for every system where these applications are used.
  • If an application requires Oracle Java, check with your vendor to see if they can bundle Java SE with their application. This could be more cost-effective than purchasing it separately.
  • If you deploy one of the open-source options, verify updates for this distribution are included in your patch management solution. Additionally, if your systems are scanned regularly for audits and exams make sure the scanning solution will recognize the open-source installation.

Please contact Customer Support at 806-698-9600 or email support@conetrix.com if you have any questions about management of Java and how CoNetrix can assist.


 

Microsoft has been emphasizing Office 365 subscription services since the public introduction in 2011. As a result, the popularity of these services has grown to over 155 million active users as of October 2018, and is gaining new users at over 3 million seats per month. With this growth, on-going marketing, and the increasing acceptance of public cloud services, many businesses and financial institutions are starting to look at Office 365.

In this article, we will highlight several pros and cons of Office 365 you should consider to determine if it's right for your business.

Office 365 encompasses several different products and services, but in this article, we will address these services in two primary areas: user applications and back-end services.

Office 365 User Applications

As the name implies, most Office 365 subscription plans include Microsoft Office applications like Word and Excel running on Windows, macOS, and portable devices running iOS and Android. Applications are also available through a web browser but most customers are interested in Office 365 applications as a possible replacement for traditional Office licensing.

What are the primary differences between Office 365 and traditional on-premise Office applications?
  • Office 365 is an annual subscription per user or seat. Each user is entitled to run the Office 365 applications on up to 5 devices for the term of the subscription. As long as you continue to pay the annual subscription you are covered for the Office applications included in your plan.
  • Office applications through Office 365 are designed to be downloaded from the O365 portal. There is no license key to determine if you have a valid license. After installation the applications routinely "check in" to the O365 portal to ensure there is an active account. Because of this check-in process IT administrations must use a specific procedure for mass deployment of O365 applications. Additionally, installation on multi-user servers like Remote Desktop Services and Citrix requires a new approach.
  • Office 365 applications are designed to install features and security updates directly from Microsoft when they are released. Legacy patch management solutions like Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) and 3rd party solutions will not work with O365. This can create a challenge for regulated customers who are required to report on patch status. Scanning tools used by auditors to determine patch levels will need the ability to recognize the differences between O365 and traditional Office applications. The O365 update process could also create an issue for Office-integrated applications if a hotfix is released that affects the compatibility of those applications, as there will be no option to block that update from being installed.
  • Office 365 applications utilize a feature called Click to Run. This feature, which was originally introduced with Office 2016, provides a streaming method for installing features and patches for Office 365 and Office 2019 applications. Our experience is that Click to Run can use a significant amount of bandwidth if you are installing Office applications or large updates on multiple systems simultaneously.
Is licensing through Office 365 less expensive than traditional licensing?

For most customers the biggest question is: "Is licensing through Office 365 less expensive than traditional licensing?" The answer is "It depends!" Office 365 licensing could be financially attractive if:

  • Your business always updates to the latest release of Office.
  • You want the flexibility of per user licensing.
  • You want to take advantage of the licensing of up to 5 devices for multiple systems, mobile devices, home use, etc.
  • You need a simplified update process that works anywhere the PC has Internet connectivity.
  • You need to use the browser-based applications for a specific function or employee role.
  • You plan to implement one of the Office 365 back-end services.

Office 365 Back-End Services

Microsoft provides several cloud server applications through Office 365 including Exchange Online (email), Skype for Business Online (voice and messaging), SharePoint Online (web collaboration), and OneDrive (file storage and sharing). These back-end services can be implemented individually, or as part of a bundle with or without the Office applications depending on the plan. However Exchange Online vs. Exchange on-premise is receiving the most attention from our customers.

What should I look for when performing due diligence?

The security and compliance of back-end Office 365 services is not significantly different than any other cloud-based application or service. The areas that should be researched include:

  • External audit attestation – SSAE 18 or similar
  • Data location residency – production and failover scenarios
  • Data privacy policies - including encryption in transit and at rest
  • Contracts and licensing agreements
  • Intellectual property rights
  • Service Level Agreements – service availability, capacity monitoring, response time, and monetary remediation
  • Disaster recovery and data backup
  • Termination of service
  • Technical support – support hours, support ticket process, response time, location of support personnel
A few more things you should consider.

As a public cloud service Office 365 has several challenges that need specific attention:

  • The business plans listed on the primary pricing pages may include applications or services that you don't need. All of the various features can be confusing and it's easy to pick the plan that is close enough without realizing exactly what's included and paying for services you will never use.
  • Most of the back-end O365 services can integrate with an on-premise Active Directory environment to simplify the management of user accounts and passwords. This provides a "single sign-on" experience for the user with one username and password for both local and O365 logins. Microsoft has several options for this integration but there are significant security implications for each option that should be reviewed very carefully.
  • Microsoft has published several technical architecture documents on how to have the best experience with Office 365. This is especially important for larger deployments of 100+ employees, or customers with multiple physical locations. One of the notable recommendations is to have an Internet connection at each location with a next-generation firewall (NGFW) that can optimize Internet traffic for O365 applications. Redundant Internet connections are also strongly recommended to ensure consistent connectivity.
  • The default capabilities for email filtering, encryption, and compliance journaling in Exchange Online may not provide the same level of functionality as other add-on products you may be currently using. Many vendors now provide O365-integrated versions of these solutions, but there will be additional costs that should be included in the total.
  • Microsoft OneDrive is enabled by default on most Office 365 plans. Similar to other public file sharing solutions like Dropbox, Box, and Google Drive, the use of OneDrive should be evaluated very carefully to ensure that customer confidential data is not at risk.
  • Several other vendors provide Office 365 add-on products that provide additional functionality which may be useful for some businesses. Netwrix Auditor for Office 365 can provide logging and reporting for security events in your O365 environment. Veeam Backup for Office 365 can create an independent backup of your data to ensure it will always be available. Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASB) such as Fortinet FortiCASB and Cisco Cloudlock can provide an additional layer of security between your users and cloud services such as O365.

It is certainly a challenge to research and evaluate cloud solutions like Office 365. Financial institutions and other regulated businesses with high-security requirements have to take a thorough look at the pros and cons of any cloud solution to determine if it's the best fit for them.

CoNetrix Aspire has been providing private cloud solutions for businesses and financial institutions since 2007. Many of the potential security and compliance issues with the public cloud are more easily addressed in a private cloud environment when the solution can be customized for each business.

However, the combination of Office application licensing with back-end services like Exchange Online can be a good solution for some businesses. The key is to understand all of the issues related to Office 365 so you can make an informed decision.

Contact CoNetrix Technology at techsales@conetrix.com if you want more information about the differences between Aspire private cloud hosting and Office 365.


 

I have encountered issues on PCs that can't access CDs or flash drives that previously had removable media access restricted by either group policy or Symantec Endpoint device control. After the control restrictions were removed, trying to read from the CD or flash drive gave an "Access Denied" error.

The only way I've been able to resolve this issue is by going to the Device Manager, uninstalling the CD-ROM drive/flash drive, and then scanning for hardware changes to add it back.

My assumption is that some registry settings aren't being changed correctly when policies are removed, so re-adding the device recreates the registry settings for the hardware.


 

One of our Technology customers recently migrated to a new AT&T WAN offering called AT&T Switched Ethernet – Network on Demand (ASE NoD). This is the most recent evolution of their metro Ethernet service with the addition of long-distance layer 2 connections.

What makes this "network on demand" is the ability to change bandwidth as needed through a web portal up to the physical Ethernet hand-off limit, typically 10Mb/s, 100mb/s, or 1Gb/s. The default rate for each of this customer's location was set to 20, 50, or 100Mb/s.

Since this is a relatively new product we had several Gotcha's in the implementation:

  • The customer ordered 1Gb/s hand-offs delivered over single-mode fiber. This required new optics or media converters for sites with routers that had only UTP connections. We later learned that AT&T can provide the 1Gb/s hand-off using multi-mode fiber or UTP connections. Changing from single-mode would have required modifying the order and delaying the implementation, so we stayed with what was ordered.
  • The actual bandwidth for billing is based on the Committed Information Data (CID) rate. Initially this was set to 20Mb/s for most sites, which matched the price quoted by AT&T. We wanted to increase the bandwidth for one location but the portal did not allow any changes above the default CID. After several calls to AT&T we discovered there was a internal maximum set at 20Mb/s.  We had them change the maximum to the hand-off speed of 1Gb/s to fix this problem.
  • After fixing the issue above, the Ethernet Virtual Channel (EVC) for each site changed to 1Mb/s, but thankfully only in the portal. The actual EVC did not change. It took another series of calls with AT&T to fix this issue.

 
 

After installing each Windows 10 creator's update, I get the following error message when I try to click on any link in any email message or click on a table of contents link in a Word doc:

It's not an entirely bad thing to have email links require a copy and paste but it's a real problem with other links like the Table of Contents in a long Word document.

There is a KB article at https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/310049 that discusses this issue. The solution for Windows 10 is to find a system that doesn't have the problem and export a registry key then import it into the offending system. The key it references gets deleted each time a new creator's update is installed.

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Classes\htmlfile\shell\open\command

Then you export the subkey to a file, copy the file to the system having the problem and import it into that system's registry (either by double clicking the .reg file or importing it via regedit). There is a last verification step to verify the String (Default) value of "HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT \.html" key is "htmlfile".

That was several steps it took to make my system less secure. It's usually the other way around!

 


 

Recently, Microsoft released a production version of a new management interface called Windows Admin Center, formerly known as Project Honolulu. The purpose of this product is to provide a centralized or locally-deployed management interface that will (eventually, hopefully) replace Server Manager. It manages servers by using Remote PowerShell or WMI over WinRM and client systems through similar methods.

Simply add your machines in the list, assign credentials to connect with (they can be your own – it doesn't appear credentials would be shared between administrators), and connect. The main requirement is that the server you're connecting to for management has WMF 5.0 installed.

As you can see from the above screenshot, there are a TON of things that you can do through this interface – including: browsing files, managing local users, managing the registry, enabling RDP, installing roles & features, managing and installing Windows Updates. It's a really impressive application that I plan to start using more often. It's very responsive and even loads interfaces faster than the MMC equivalent in many cases. I can certainly see the difference in the Event Viewer, for example.

To learn more or to download the free product, check out https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-server/manage/windows-admin-center/understand/windows-admin-center

 

 


 

I was configuring a new Windows 10 PC for a customer and logged in under the local administrator account. I tried to open Edge but received a notification that Edge could not be opened by the built-in administrator account.

After some research, I discovered that Microsoft has become distrusting enough of the local administrator account that they prevent it from opening Microsoft Apps. This was actually introduced with Windows 8, but Windows 10 introduced Edge, which is potentially the first widespread use of Microsoft App.

The options to fix this are to either disable UAC, or adjust group policy to allow the local admin account to access Apps. The details of the issue and the options for a fix are included in this link: https://4sysops.com/archives/why-the-built-in-administrator-account-cant-open-edge-and-a-lesson-in-uac/