Doctor Who: Series 7 Part 2, The Bells of Saint John.
There’s something in the WiFi. You know you’ve made it as an actor and as a security issue when you appear on Doctor Who. If, like me, you tuned-in to (showing my age there, who “tunes-in” anymore?) the new series of Doctor Who last weekend, you may have chuckled at the use of WiFi networks as a medium for evil. Rogue Access Points that upload the soul of their users, leaving them trapped inside a Spoonhead, sorry server, somewhere in London’s Shard building. Kudos to the script writers for the plot, and for renaming servers, spoonheads – I’ll be in the spoonhead room.
“I don’t know where I am… I don’t know where I am…” is a cry most IT managers, administrators and help desk staff have heard in their time; usually from hapless users trying to find their way onto the network or perhaps around their desktop, rather than being trapped inside an evil WiFi network. That wasn’t lost on me, nor was the uploading of souls; something we might think Facebook has in their roadmap–or at least the curating of your own soul. The evil walking WiFi base stations, hoovering up data and people, did remind me of Google Street View cars that were caught hoovering up WiFi networks, but I’m sure that’s coincidental.
Now, while not all WiFi networks are this evil there are certainly many we should avoid. I’m still amazed to see the SSID “Free Public WiFi” whenever I’m on a train or at an airport; while not necessarily unsafe, it does indicate an old an unpatched version of Windows XP is running somewhere – which in itself is terrifying. Others are certainly more dangerous; there’s often a looky-likey network at conferences or near popular coffee shops, designed to trick you into joining and routing your traffic through them. This is just plain unsafe and even on open public networks you should always use a VPN or at least HTTPS connections. Firesheep was an excellent demonstration as to how vulnerable unencrypted web traffic is on open wireless networks.
As IT professionals we’re constantly reminding our users of the security risks associated with the unknown; like free or open WiFi networks as well as clicking links in email. Hopefully now Rogue Access Points have made it to prime-time this job will be a little easier.
I’m waiting to see if there is another episode of Doctor Who dedicated to Phishing emails, or perhaps password sniffing, but in the mean time I’m trying to work out how to change my SSID to that funky font used in Doctor Who.
Remember, if you’re looking for WiFi and sometimes you see something a bit like this, don’t click it.
If you’re a Google Postini customer, or even an observer of the market, you’ll be well aware that Google has brought the curtain down on its Postini email services. To paraphrase Google, it’s “transitioning Postini services to the Google Apps platform beginning in 2013.”
“Transitioning”, is another way of saying we’re cutting you off and you better do something about it. As an IT professional you’ve probably been cursing the day you found this out; I bet the idea of an unplanned migration of such a core service is something you wished happened more often, isn’t at all disruptive is it?
Part of the worry about moving to a new platform will be the completeness of said platform. The Google transition FAQ tells us there is some core functionality missing. For example; you won’t have a quarantine summary until Q1, 2013. Users won’t be able to manage their quarantines online, like they do now, until Q2, 2013, along with reporting. Outbound filtering won’t be with you until Q3, 2013. And, if you want any sort of admin quarantine the best estimate you’ll get from Google is 2013.
Sadly, the list of missing or unsupported features goes on, ultimately ending in a couple of shockers that leave you worse-off in terms of SLA too.
Frustrated? Worried? Considering your options?
By now you’ll have noticed the veritable feeding frenzy that email security vendors have got into. Some offering 6 months of service free, others touting free migrations to their platforms. Ultimately betting the farm on a gimmick in a hope they can attract you. They’re not really considering the financial impact on their business-model of ‘free’ stuff in this, already cut-throat, market. Race to zero anyone?
The problem I have with this race to the bottom, is it undermines the value of email security and the gateway and is a dis-service to you, the customer. The last thing you need is a vendor who’s sold themselves to dirt cheap technology in a mad dash to gain market share. In a year or two it’s likely you’ll be migrating away from that vendor too as they run out of money and innovation.
The knock on effect of this market behaviour is also a lack of investment in R&D, which you’ll notice when you start to conduct your own due diligence on these vendors. Offering a free migration to a service could well be covering up weaknesses in technology that are likely to be a show stopper if you dig deeper. If you’re in this situation as the vendor about their ‘cloud’ infrastructure, and whether it’s really cloud or not; chances are it’ll be a hosted version of their on-premise gateway technology. I don’t need to point out that’s not cloud, nor is it scalable, and it’s bound to hurt sometime down the line.
Faced with the choice between incomplete and imperfect it makes sense to take some time out from worrying about this unplanned migration, put aside the hysterical marketing from the ‘look at me’ vendors and consider your options. We’ve put together a short video that makes this point and might help you decide what steps to take next.
Mimecast has just been positioned in the Visionaries Quadrant of the “Magic Quadrant” for Secure Email Gateways. Gartner release this report annually to evaluate the leading providers in the Secure Email Gateway Market. Mimecast has been placed in the Visionaries quadrant as a validation of our determination to bring innovation and progress to the Secure Email Gateway market. At Mimecast we recognise there is much more value and ability built into the Secure Email Gateway than is currently offered, we recognise that the Secure Email Gateway could do a whole lot more than anti-spam and anti-virus.
Secure Email Gateways have been an essential part of an email management infrastructure since the mid-nineties. Email servers used to plug straight into the Internet without any threat of malicious or meat related email (Spam, Ham or Bacn, if you didn’t get that). To be fair email servers “dialled-up” to the Internet and did their scheduled send and receive of queued email over a normal telephone line. Then we added ISDN, ADSL, Leased Lines, Broadband, and today the types of always-on connection that mean our email servers have almost become instantaneous forms of essential communication.
Coinciding with the rise in demand for email has been a simultaneous boom in the market for selling things by email too. Our email administrators had to quickly add gateways that “filter out” this junk and rubbish as the chorus of complaints from end-users grew louder.
Today, Secure Email Gateways are a must-have part of network security methodology, we can’t live without them – unless of course you buy your shares, watches, herbal enhancements and little blue pills on the Internet; if that is the case, our spam is your news.
Some would have us believe that the Secure Email Gateway has become a commoditised part of the network. I would argue this commoditisation is only true if you choose to spend your IT budget with a vendor who is not offering any innovation, or product vision in return. You get what you pay for, and there are quite a few vendors offering well marketed, but technically-limited, budget solutions that will protect you, but nothing more.
As email evolves and adapts to the more collaborative work-flows emerging in businesses today, the email gateways will play in important role in controlling and securing the corporate intellectual property embedded within email. End users are already demanding increased flexibility and control of their conversations and relationships on a per-message basis, and from directly within their inbox. They yearn for the tools to solve the pain caused by their budget, unintelligent, email gateway.
Mimecast Email Security is designed to combine this increased flexibility with industry-leading security, delivering industry-first capabilities directly to the end-users, as well as centralized controls for the IT department to. Mimecast Email Security brings the value of the Secure Email Gateway back and delivers a vision of the future that enables email use in your business.
Phishing is not new. The first phishing attack we recognise as the ground breaker was in 1996, although the concept for this type of attack had been documented for around eight years beforehand. Today Phishing attacks are a ubiquitous part of the Internet and obviously a healthy source of user credentials, and income, for the criminals that leverage them.
Image courtesy of Scott Adams, Inc.
Getting a user’s credentials is always a good day at the office in the criminal underworld of phishing. I really do mean “at the office” too, many of the gangs that use phishing attacks are setup like small businesses with offices, water coolers and summer outings. That shouldn’t be a surprise when you think how successful this type of attack can be, and how much ‘revenue’ can be generated in one hit. A particularly large haul netted $1.5 Million in 2009.
The primary target for Phishing attacks has always been credentials for financial sites. Take PayPal as an example; over 100 Million active accounts, a high liquidity, bank and credit card details instantly available and money can be sent to another email address with little authentication. But, PayPal is no longer enough and almost every site that contains personal or financial information has been a target, even the IRS has been used as bait.
It used to be easy to spot Phishing attacks directed at PayPal users, the URL would point to Paypol or similar and the writing style of the email made it obvious the sender wasn’t a native English speaker. However, today’s attacks are much slicker, very well crafted and often convincing enough. Often the URL is manipulated to make the reader think they are visiting one site – http://www.google.com – when in fact are directed to another. Look-a-like website forgery is used too, creating an identical copy of a website at a near accurate URL – www.yourbank.attacker.com. As I said–”convincing enough.”
More worryingly, businesses have had to respond to the challenge of directed attacks, known as Spear Phishing, and Puddle Phishing, whereby the attacker is choosing a specific organization to target. Any site with a login prompt of value is now a target, especially if the same login credentials can be used at other sites.
The risk to an organization from a Spear Phishing attack is significantly greater because corporate intellectual property could be at risk, as well as long term access to internal systems if the attack goes undetected. It is this administrators fear the most; and the idea that underpins the Advanced Persistent Threat (APT), persistent because we haven’t detected the intruder yet.
Protecting your business against phishing means using a variety of tactics. Good perimeter security combined with up to date browser and desktop security apps is a given. Educating your users to double check URLs before they click on them adds a smart social protection too. Remember too that no one is beyond the reach of these attacks – there is a form of phishing called Whaling that seeks to target all but high-level or C-suite executives. Educating those users might be a challenge now, but much less of a problem than cleaning up after an exploitation. End user training and awareness is now big business, both commercially and DIY.
If you are in the business of hosting a platform that requires users to login and supply personal information your biggest challenge is reacting to attacks that use your branding as bait. Helping your users identify your legitimate platform using certificates and enhanced authentication protocols is essential.
We can all help too, if you stumble across an odd looking website, verify it or submit it to a service like PhishTank.
I am very excited about this because for the first time in a long time there are some truly new features becoming available to end users of an Internet-based email gateway security service.
The main thrust of these centres around some unique developments in the end user space, new features that directly integrate the Mimecast cloud-based service with client side software in the form of Microsoft Outlook.
But that’s not what I want to write about.
Sure, it is really cool that users can report spam directly in Outlook. Yes, it is amazing that they can manage their personal quarantines from directly within Outlook. I know users will love having control over how their messages look or are treated by the gateway…
It is this last thing I want to talk about. User’s being given control over how messages are handled? Saying it like that makes it sound like a security threat! Surely we shouldn’t be giving users the ability to bypass policies we have set in stone for them at the gateway?
Well that’s exactly it you see, this is the thing that has me excited. I know that a “one size fits all” approach doesn’t work but that shouldn’t mean we hide useful things away from everybody.
What if we just do that for users we don’t want to access specific features?
Well that’s what we have done. Mimecast knows that granularity of control is something you expect when deploying applications to your user-base so we decided to ensure that that same level of control and granularity remained available to you even though you were deploying client side software that connects to the cloud!
What does this mean? Well in terms of the new features it means that you can create roles, or profiles for types of Outlook users, can they specify what type of encryption to use for secure delivery? Can they over ride the company branding and use a different template? These roles or profiles can then be applied to groups or individuals so that you only expose features you would trust in the hands of that set of users.
As many people will wonder “what happens in the event of a conflict?” I thought I would quickly answer that here too.
If a company policy states that word documents must have meta data stripped and a user selects “no policy”, the automatic policy will be applied and the document will have its meta data stripped. If a user chooses to deliver a message via TLS but there is a policy that states it has to be delivered via Closed Circuit Messaging (CCM), then the automatic policy will apply.
In other words, the safer, securer option is the one that will apply. This works in reverse too. If a user chooses to deliver via CCM and the company policy is to secure messages in transit using TLS, then CCM will be applied because it is a more secure method of content delivery!
Couple this with Windows Integrated Authentication for the cloud service and you can see why I am excited!
This really is a new level of cloud to LAN integration that will definitely help to make everybody’s lives easier.