Tag: it

Bulletin: #Lois Lerner’s #Email has been lost!

Bulletin: Lois Lerner’s Email has been lost!

Image

As an IT expert I have to say, “REALLY!”  “How stupid do you think the American people are?”  I realize that is a rhetorical question because obviously there are either some awfully stupid people or awfully gullible people or even awfully greedy people who vote; but this is over the top!

 

There are federal laws that govern how e-mail is to be stored and for federal agencies, it is not on the desktop.

 

As a disaster recover expert again “do you really expect us to believe that the IRS does not store files in a redundant fashion either using RAID or SANS or the cloud…

 

Let’s examine the issues here.

 

Firstly as a publically traded company (which the IRS is not, but they are aware of the standards 😉 you are required to keep all e-mails under SOX.  For that purpose you would use something called e-mail journaling which keeps a copy of the e-mail in a separate area that cannot be deleted.  One would think that a federal agency would at least be required to do that.

 

Secondly, there is FISMA (Federal information security management act of 2002.)  According to FISMA, the term information security means protecting information and information systems from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, disruption, modification, or destruction in order to provide integrity, confidentiality and availability.  This is the FREAKING IRS, do they really expect us to swallow that her e-mails were only stored on her local computer?

 

Thirdly; there are multiple types of redundant technology available and I would have to guess that the IRS takes advantage of Either NAS, OR SANS or the cloud and of course Tape Backup, just in case.  NAS (network attached storage) or SAN (storage area network) allow data from the “email store” to be stored on multiple drives in something known as a RAID configuration meaning, if a drive fails the data is stored on multiple different drives so there is no data loss. With VMWare they can have multiple servers with multiple copies of the data so the e-mail system is incredibly robust.  They have access to all the money in the world; do they really expect us to believe that all of her e-mail was on a laptop?

 

There is also FIPS200 which is part of FISMA…  FIPS 199 (Federal Information Processing Standard Publication 199, Standards for Security Categorization of Federal Information and Information Systems) is a United States Federal Government standard that establishes security categories of information systems used by the Federal Government, one component of risk assessment. FIPS 199, along with FIPS 200, are mandatory security standards as required by FISMA.

FIPS 199 requires Federal agencies to assess their information systems in each of the categories of confidentiality, integrity and availability, rating each system as low, moderate or high impact in each category. The most severe rating from any category becomes the information system’s overall security categorization.

 

 

Just for grins and giggles let’s assume that the IRS is really that deficit of IT talent.  There is forensic software out there that can get e-mails and other data off of purposefully deleted drives or crashed drives.  Often time’s data that has been removed via formatting the drive can sometimes be recovered.  If the NSA wanted it; they could get it!

My final thought on this; the IRS is supposed to manage Universal Healthcare.  All of your personal information will be out there at their disposal; umpteen millions of us will be out there.  Is she going to keep it on her laptop?

This “excuse” is an affront to anyone with a brain; much less anyone with any IT knowledge.

 

-Best

 

 

 

 

Attention #CEO #CFO #President #CIO and #hr

Attention CEO CFO President CIO and of course HR

Here is some food for thought for you who own or control or have vested interest in corporations.

If you were to go to your CIO or your IS manager and ask the following; what would their response be?

  • Can you show me the network map?
  • Can you show me the documentation on the V-LANS?
  • Can you give me an accurate inventory of the servers that we have including their age and configuration?
  • Can you tell me what is on each server or device and what it does?
  • Who has access to what on each server and who decides what that access is?
  • Can you tell me how they are connected to the network, is there a redundant path?
  • Can you produce an inventory of what software is on each server?
  • Can you show me the recent log files of each server and tell me about what concerns you have regarding what those log files say?
  • Where is the actual software that is on the servers and where are the license keys?

No Excuses!

You would be surprised how many Sysadmins tell me that they don’t keep software, they just download it when they need it.  Really, you have just had a disaster and your internet is down and will not be up for at least 72 hours, now what?  Not only does it make sense to have the disk for this reason but it takes time (valuable time) to go and find and download software.  They have argued that it is not the most current on the disk.  Why not?  Why have you not updated your Software Library?  There is a lot to being a Sysadmin, (SA) it is not about sitting on your butt in your office surfing the web, reading the news and updating Facebook while being annoyed by the occasional request for a password reset! Old software that is a few versions behind the curve is still better than none!  Even if you “don’t have time” to keep your library updated; something is better than nothing.

Speaking of passwords, most companies really need a security officer and really don’t understand why.  I have seen some Sysadmins that are so lazy that they assign passwords to people and then keep an excel list of them on the server.  These are not really Sysadmins because that is genuinely stupid. To open the company to so many different kinds of fraud, industrial espionage, and other forms of abuse of the system; just because the guy does not want to be bothered with password resets is incredible.  This guy would not be working for me as there is no excuse for this!  I don’t care how “nice a guy he is.”  Laziness and stupidity are a bad combination for a Sysadmin to have.

  • What software revision level are we at and is it the most recent? If not, why not?
  • Are Firmware rev levels kept up with and checked regularly?
  • Are the drivers up to date?
  • Can you produce a list of the passwords for each server?
  • What are the power requirements for these servers?
  • What are the cooling requirements for the equipment and are there any issues?
  • How long can we run if there is a power outage?
  • When is the last time that the batteries were changed out in the UPS’s?
  • Is each and every device in the server room labeled?
  • Is all networking cable installed in a manner that not only makes sense but looks like it belongs there vs. haphazardly plugged in on the run?
  • Can you show me a map of the switches, what port is doing what?
  • Tell me about load leveling.
  • Have all of the intelligent devices SNMP passwords been changed from the default?
  • If so, what are the passwords? If not, why not?
  • Are their traps being sent to a syslog server?
  • Who reads the logs, how often; and are there any concerns?
  • How are the concerns addressed?
  • Show me the notes from change control or change management meetings?
  • Are these notes managed in a responsible manner and are all changes noted in the living document?
  • What is the average age of the workstation on the floor/building?
  • Describe the policy regarding passwords? How often are they changed?
  •  Describe your Hardware asset management strategy?
  • Describe your Software asset management strategy?
  • Who handles the maintenance on the HVAC in the server room?
  • When was the HVAC last serviced?
  • Tell me about your fire suppression.

It has been my experience as an IT manager and a Disaster Recovery Specialist who does many audits; the majority of Sysadmins do a horrible job of Hardware and software management much to the loss of the company and chagrin of the CFO.

Desktops last about 5 years, Laptops 3.  When they are put into service a clock should start running to replace it in X years.  You don’t want employees working on outdated equipment and you don’t want to install new software on old computers as the license may very well die with the computer.

I have seen too many companies try to get everything they can out of a box.  Amortize the box and when the IRS says it is dead, let it go.  If there is a use for it in some non-critical function, “user discretion,” but add no more software and remove it from critical areas.

I have seen many people struggling along on a machine that is well past its usable life.  Loosing files or data or waiting around for the machine to catch up cost money.  While it may be soft dollars those soft dollars turn into real dollars quickly if you loose enough data and or time.

I used to install older computers in the break room with internet access and the usual windows Facebook type games.   Employees could use them for their private needs before or after their shift or while on break or lunch, and they were non-critical and on their own V-Lan where company data could not be accessed!

Not everyone in the company needs a full version of Office?  A lot of companies have a standard load for all computers.  That should be re-visited as it is wasteful. While  Microsoft would like you to purchase everything for every computer that  is simply laziness and wasteful.

Software and Hardware management is in itself a job and proper management of it will produce and ROI.  This is necessary also to produce a budget requirement which the CFO might cringe when he or she sees the request but, at least it is planned and not a surprise!

  • What antivirus software is on them? How did you decide on that software?
  • Are the workstations locked down?
  • Do any users have admin rights? If so, why?
  • Are the USB ports locked down?
  • Are the CD burners locked down?
  • What ports are allowed through the firewall?
  • Is the firewall updated to the latest software?
  • Are traps from the firewall being sent to a syslog server?
  • Who has access to their workstation PC from home? Why?
  • Who has access to their home PC from work? Why?
  • What software is on each workstation?

I run an inventory program like SpiceWorks or some other commercially available software, to obtain an inventory of all of the software on all of the boxes and then go through the task of identifying each executable.  I have found numerous Trojans and viruses, remote control software, games galore, software that was not licensed and oh yes, software that they used and did not know that they had as it was installed by previous regimes.  This type of activity is mandatory if you want to recover in the case of a disaster.  It is also mandatory if you want to be licensed properly and not have your neck on the line if some employee gets upsets and calls the software police.

Recently the SBA has been advertising a lot trying to get employees to snitch on their company. The rewards to the snitch are inconsequential as the penalties and fines to the company are enormous.  Having that inventory and those licenses and even receipt in a safe place I would think be a really good idea.

Some companies are so cheap that they use free anti-virus software which is not worth what you paid for it.  I fight viruses daily.  Free is not an option.  If you think that it is, you are diluted and clearly don’t know what you are doing.

Free software by definition cannot be maintained as well as commercial software.  Who in the hell has money to pay for programmers and security experts and than give the product away?!

Good Anti-Virus software is Patriotic

I made the argument the other night at a speaking engagement that it is actually patriotic to use good anti-virus software. Why?  If millions of computers are taken over at the drop of a hat by some “bad guys” and they target let’s say the FAA or the FEDS, or some other institution and are able to cripple the banking industry, or what have you, and your computer is part of the problem; what then.  A Trojan could be sitting on your computer unknown to you, just waiting for the instruction to start a DOS attack.  Stop being cheap and buy the damned software and protect your computer(s) from being controlled by “evil.”

If a government had more than two neurons firing in their collective heads, they would create a “government approved” anti virus software and give it to its citizens.  Now I know how that would be received by most, if I had a choice I would buy my own as I really don’t want anything big brother has to offer on my computer, but lets face facts.  You probably have things on your computer right now made by the Russian Mafia or worse!   I am certain that a government grant could be created to support a group of “white hat hackers” to help keep America Safe from cyber terrorism. If you do this remember whose idea it was… 

Here are a few more questions for you CIO, /owner types who might actually have some skin in the game.

  • Do you have licenses for that software?
  • Where is that software?
  • Where are the licenses kept?
  • Can we prove that we bought a license for each and every piece of software in the building? If so, do it.  If not, why not?
  • How many employees use laptops?
  • Are they secure?
  • Are they encrypted?
  • Are USB drives or thumb drives that are necessary for business use, encrypted?
  • Do the laptops have up-to-date anti-virus software on them?
  • How old are they?
  • Do they use a VPN to get into the servers from outside of the office?
  • How secure is their VPN? What challenges, if any are there?
  • Do you use security tokens?
  • Can you show me a map of the building depicting which PC is hooked up to which drop?
  • If you are using VOIP can you show me that same map for the phones?
  • Is the map updated as changes occur?
  • Describe your backup policies and procedures.
  • Where is the data being sent off site?
  • Are we using the cloud for backup?
  • Walk me through the procedure of getting access to the data if this building is blown away.
  • Walk me through the procedure of restoring the servers in another location.
  • Tell me who can do this if the Sysadmin is not available?
  • Have we tested a restore of the data, if so when was the last test and where are the results; if not, why not?

These few questions and comments are off the top of my head and it took about ten minutes to list them.  There are plenty more but, this gives you a small flavor of the kinds of information you should already have and that I gather in a disaster recovery project.

The simple facts are that IT people are loath to document anything.  It is kind of like editing your own work, you know what you meant to say and your mind fills in the blanks.  Documentation should be written in such a way that a technical person not familiar with your company should be able to pick up the document and pieces and re-build your company without you there.

Often I am met with complete truculence and arrogance and lots of attitude by the IT staff of a company that I do a DR for. They don’t want me there as they don’t want me messing around in their sandbox.  Truth be told they don’t want the the facts that they are remiss in their jobs to get to their boss who thinks everything is running perfectly, until it isn’t!

About Me:

If you happen to watch or ever have watched Hells Kitchen, or Kitchen Nightmare, or know who Chef Ramsay is than, you have a clue of who I am, without the foul mouth.  I take IT departments and fix them, and I take no prisoners (no excuses).  Not only do I fix the hardware and software components, but I fix the personnel issues as well. It may be a training issue or an employee that is a poor fit. It may be a lack of people as most companies try to run too thin on staff. There should be no one person who is sacrosanct.  In a disaster you may loose them, so we need things documented in such a way that a rent-a-geek can restore your company.  If there is no documentation, I create it.  Through a test of the DR, we can then hone that documentation to a fine point.

I am a troubleshooter.   Not only am I a problem solver; I have been in management of IT for a large part of my life. I get to the bottom of issues and take corrective action.  IT is ancillary to the business.  IT is a tool that has to be running smoothly; like a Swiss watch.  Your job as CEO is to run the company, not IT.  I have built data centers from the ground up, as well as re-built them while the business kept going all over the country.

From Data, fire suppression, HVAC, power requirements, UPS requirements, floor height, easy access to the equipment, MDF and IDF design’s Data and Voice, from the east coast to the west from the north to south.  I have worked in Union areas of the country to the Wild West where “anything goes.” Been there done that.

Go ask your IT people some of these questions and see if you are satisfied.  After 30 years in this business I would be surprised if you were.

From me, or someone like me, among the deliverable s will be the documentation that so many just don’t do.  Without that documentation you are playing with galloping dominoes. Your risk might be small as you yourself know something about it, or it may be huge in that you, like most who run a company, run it from 20,000 feet, through your management.  There are seldom any pleasant surprises in business.

Has anyone at your company done a risk assessment?  Where are you located geographically?  Are you in an area that is prone to earthquakes, Hurricanes or Typhoons? How about tornadoes or fire?

One of the largest risks to a company surprisingly is none of the above.  It is employee error.   I have worked for companies where the Owners were the issue.  One company had their child who played video games work on the equipment and of course screwed it up constantly.  Stay away from those companies as they don’t want to hear the truth.  Their child is perfect, knows everything about anything so it must be the fault of the internet or the software or something else.  I worked for companies where the owners themselves who ran the company, also thought they were the end all be all of IT.  Pride comes before a fall; and believe me, when you own a company you really don’t want to have that fall.  Stick to what you know best and leave the technical things that change daily to those that keep up with it.  We who know this stuff are constantly involved with forums and our peers.  What works today may not work tomorrow.  Unless you can devote your life to this, let those of us who do, do it!

“NO”

One owner takes a passing interest in the latest greatest through a magazine and orders or asked his IT guy to make it so.  If you have a yes man working for you, do your self a favor and fire him.  Your people who do this for a living should have the ability to say no.  If they say no, you should listen to them.  If you want a second opinion call your VAR.  If those two don’t jive call another.  Bottom line is you never install REV 1.0 of anything into production, ever!  If your guy cant be honest with you, get real and hire a person who will tell you “no!”  It may save you tens of thousands of dollars, if not your company. I have had yes men working for me in the past and got rid of them.  I depend on Team Corporation and that means I need their input.  While humbling oneself to listen to an underling can be a challenge at times, they may know something that you don’t.

I once worked for a guy who ran a company selling and servicing office equipment.  This was actually my first real job out of school.  The guy was from Georgia and had been a tank commander in WWII.  His manner was gruff, but he was sincere as the day was long.  We became close over the years as I have always made it a point to look at what successful people are doing, how they got there, and basically what made them tick.

He promoted me to the position of service manager of one of his locations.  He drove me over there to introduce me to the new team and show me around.  While on the road, he told me that one secret of a successful person is to hire people smarter, or at least as smart as you were.  To me that was probably one of the most salient bits of advice that I could pass on.  That means that the man had humility and, also he must have thought something of me.

While I still struggle with humility today, I am aware of it, and work on it.

Hours of Operation.

I had a guy interview with me. Towards the end of the interview he asked me if there would be any overtime as he had obligations after work and on weekends.  This guy clearly had no clue about the job for which he was applying.  Hourly jobs are Burger King, not Sysadmin or Network specialist etc.   We get paid well because this becomes the biggest part of your life!  If you are a 9 to 5 guy, don’t look at IT as a career.

As anyone who has been in IT any time at all can attest; this is not a nine-to-five job.  One never knows when something will stop working and you are suddenly pulling an all-niter to fix something.  With VMware and the technology we have today, we can minimize that risk which is something that we do through proper configuration of the servers, building in some redundancy and keeping up with the age of our hardware.

Once you get past a twelve hour day, statistics show that you are much more error prone, thus shooting yourself in the foot; and possibly the company.  Best practice planning and implementation from the beginning mitigates this risk. Having up to date documentation as well as partnerships with VAR’s will allow you to recover faster, and employ fewer full time people.  Staff augmentation through a VAR is an excellent way to keep the number of FTE’s down but, that relationship really needs to be solid.

If you want to experience what “cold running blood is” come in late at night to update some software on the server, re-boot it and then you see the prompt, drive 0 not found.  This was before the days of raid.  This was when Ginning a server started with installing 25 5.25 inch floppies followed by a 12 hour compsurf.  We have come a long way since then and so have the folks who create viruses.  This is one of the most dynamic industries that I am aware of.  One really must be dedicated to be any good at this.

By dedicated I mean just that.  Keep up with what is going on through periodicals, peers in the industry and again I cant stress this enough at least one good VAR.

On one of my data center re-builds a vendor was doing our cable plant.  They ran long into the night and someone made a mistake.  Instead of pulling the old data lines and stopping, they cut and pulled the phone lines as well.  On another cable job that I was aware of about 3 in the morning a 32 pair conductor cable got stuck.  Instead of seeing why, the installer reared back and pulled for everything that he was worth.  He snapped an ionized water line and flooded the computer room in a huge hospital.  Water poured out of the elevator shaft like it was some sort of an elaborate fountain.  Thank goodness that was not my job.

Much like driving less than 500 miles a day on a vacation is a good idea; so is the amount of hours worked by each person, as mistakes happen. Make sure you have adequate staff to do the job, especially when you are taking on a new project.  How do you do that?  Proper project management methodologies and relationships with VARS… That is another story…

Here is an example of what a sysadmin is as defined by this site.

http://www.supportingadvancement.com/employment/job_descriptions/advancement_services/system_administrator.htm

ESSENTIAL FUNCTIONS:

The System Administrator (SA) is responsible for effective provisioning, installation/configuration, operation, and maintenance of systems hardware and software and related infrastructure. This individual participates in technical research and development to enable continuing innovation within the infrastructure. This individual ensures that system hardware, operating systems, software systems, and related procedures adhere to organizational values, enabling staff, volunteers, and Partners.

This individual will assist project teams with technical issues in the Initiation and Planning phases of our standard Project Management Methodology. These activities include the definition of needs, benefits, and technical strategy; research & development within the project life-cycle; technical analysis and design; and support of operations staff in executing, testing and rolling-out the solutions. Participation on projects is focused on smoothing the transition of projects from development staff to production staff by performing operations activities within the project life-cycle.

This individual is accountable for the following systems: Linux and Windows systems that support GIS infrastructure; Linux, Windows and Application systems that support Asset Management; Responsibilities on these systems include SA engineering and provisioning, operations and support, maintenance and research and development to ensure continual innovation.

SA Engineering and Provisioning

  1. Engineering of SA-related solutions for various project and operational needs.
  1. Install new / rebuild existing servers and configure hardware, peripherals, services, settings, directories, storage, etc. in accordance with standards and project/operational requirements.
  1. Install and configure systems such as supports GIS infrastructure applications or Asset Management applications.
  1. Develop and maintain installation and configuration procedures.
  1. Contribute to and maintain system standards.
  1. Research and recommend innovative, and where possible automated approaches for system administration tasks. Identify approaches that leverage our resources and provide economies of scale.

Operations and Support

  1. Perform daily system monitoring, verifying the integrity and availability of all hardware, server resources, systems and key processes, reviewing system and application logs, and verifying completion of scheduled jobs such as backups.
  1. Perform regular security monitoring to identify any possible intrusions.
  1. Perform daily backup operations, ensuring all required file systems and system data are successfully backed up to the appropriate media, recovery tapes or disks are created, and media is recycled and sent off site as necessary.
  1. Perform regular file archival and purge as necessary.
  1. Create, change, and delete user accounts per request.
  1. Provide Tier III/other support per request from various constituencies. Investigate and troubleshoot issues.
  1. Repair and recover from hardware or software failures. Coordinate and communicate with impacted constituencies.

Maintenance

  1. Apply OS patches and upgrades on a regular basis, and upgrade administrative tools and utilities. Configure / add new services as necessary.
  1. Upgrade and configure system software that supports GIS infrastructure applications or Asset Management applications per project or operational needs.
  1. Maintain operational, configuration, or other procedures.
  1. Perform periodic performance reporting to support capacity planning.
  1. Perform ongoing performance tuning, hardware upgrades, and resource optimization as required. Configure CPU, memory, and disk partitions as required.
  1. Maintain data center environmental and monitoring equipment.

KNOWLEDGE/SKILLS:

  1. Bachelor (4-year) degree, with a technical major, such as engineering or computer science.
  1. Systems Administration/System Engineer certification in Unix and Microsoft.
  1. Four to six years system administration experience.

COMPLEXITY/PROBLEM SOLVING:

  1. Position deals with a variety of problems and sometime has to decide which answer is best. The question/issues are typically clear and requires determination of which answer (from a few choices) is the best.

DISCRETION/LATITUDE/DECISION-MAKING:

  1. Decisions normally have a noticeable effect department-wide and company-wide, and judgment errors can typically require one to two weeks to correct or reverse.

RESPONSIBILITY/OVERSIGHT –FINANCIAL & SUPERVISORY:

  1. Functions as a lead worker doing the work similar to those in the work unit; responsibility for training, instruction, setting the work pace, and possibly evaluating performance.
  1. No budget responsibility.

COMMUNICATIONS/INTERPERSONAL CONTACTS:

  1. Interpret and/or discuss information with others, which involves terminology or concepts not familiar to many people; regularly provide advice and recommend actions involving rather complex issues. May resolve problems within established practices.
  1. Provides occasional guidance, some of which is technical.

WORKING CONDITIONS/PHYSICAL EFFORT:

  1. Responsibilities sometimes require working evenings and weekends, sometimes with little advanced notice.
  1. No regular travel required.

———————————————————————————————————

This is close but I would add to this list… I see nothing in this description about documenting anything.  Maybe that is why it is not done in so many places?  Does your SA do this type of thing?

-Best

Hubris in IT

Image

 

It would seem that “Pride cometh before a fall” is something that is lost on most people who work in IT.

 

As someone who has been working with computers from about the time Bill Gates was buying an operating system from some poor guy in Washington State, and Steve Jobs was phone phreaking; There is just not much that escapes me.

 

I was doing some consulting for a company that was simply put together with bailing wire and scotch tape.  They had a huge pipe to the internet and were getting a dribble through by the time it hit the desktop.

 

Loading WireShark (a free protocol analyzer) examining the broadcast packets it was easy to see why.  The OS was literally working with NetBIOS to route packets.

 

A quick examination of the “server room” found the switches all tied together with Fiber and, patch cords going from one switch to another causing untold amount of routing loops etc. While the picture above is a stock photo the room in question looked very much like this.

 

My job however was not to fix their networking issues as this was the task of the guy I was “helping.”  He was the System Administrator.  I sent e-mails to him alerting him to my findings so he could take the appropriate steps, which for some reason he discounted and did not do.

 Image

The weeks went on and the problems persisted several times a day where people were kicked off of the network or files were corrupt or lost etc.  His response/fix was to release and renew the IP address.  Putting one band aid on the problem day after day I guess gave him a sense of accomplishment but the problems were looming and like the 500 pound gorilla in the closet, soon to get out.

 

One of the things that I learned many years ago is to work with VARS.  Value added resellers have years of experience to draw upon.  They know which products are buggy and to stay away from and which are tried and true.  If you are a business don’t try and save money via internet stores as you will get what others can’t sell for one reason or another.  They are on sale for a reason…

 

When I asked him for his vendor contact list to include in his DR plan, there were no VARS on the list.  Everything was from internet companies or local retail locations.  He in fact had no fallback plan if the $hit hit the fan.

 Image

The hardware purchased looked as much.  There were no standards anywhere.  There were high end SANS tied to cheap switches.  The workstation of choice was whatever he got a good deal on making mass deployment of anything just about impossible.  Hardware was way past its lifecycle and the list just went on.  Because of his pride; he was not willing to listen to anyone regarding anything IT.  If he does not change it will be his undoing.

 

This is not my first rodeo and certainly not my first encounter with arrogance.  As a manager I can deal with it, as a consultant one must work around it and if it becomes too big of an impediment, bow out.  There is no reason to sully your name with a situation like this when the outcome will likely somehow be your fault.  

 

Always hire people smarter than you are and have the humility to acknowledge that you are not the end all be all.  There is simply too much information out there to know it all.  Wisdom is; knowing that you need help and to leverage VARS and consultants is simply smart.

 

-Best to you and those that you care about!

IT in a Nutshell

IT in a nutshell..

Most CEO’s or presidents of companies have no idea that the sword of Damocles’ is right over their head.  They don’t know because they are blissfully ignorant of the workings of their IT department.   Truth be told IT, is a cost center and frowned upon in most companies as they “don’t produce.”  This is true in the mindset of the upper echelon. They put up with the CIO or his people and equivocate when it comes to allowing them money for projects, as they really don’t have a clue.  Their job is to run the company, not IT.

There are three basics tenants of IT.

  • Provide the infrastructure for people to be productive.
  • Provide the security to safeguard the company’s assets both in intellectual property as well as physical property.
  • Provide mechanisms for future growth and have a robust enough environment to handle ad-hoc projects.

In working with most companies the infrastructure grew behind the power curve out of necessity. This of course is the most expensive way to grow your infrastructure in that many things are done to “temporarily” get them through the “event”.  Emergency projects are hardly ever well thought out, and hidden surprises are always lurking.  Remember that old axiom; there are never any good surprises in business.

One of the things that I talk about a lot is hardware management.  Each and every piece of hardware in your company has a life cycle.  Not unlike your car or home computer or cell phone.  Planning for the life cycle for equipment allows the company to budget for replacement of same and keeps the down time to a minimum as well as keeps the employees productive.

Down time is expensive both in hard and soft dollars.  If you have 300 people who can’t work because the server is down, you are loosing money.  If Sally can’t assist the outside sales people because her pc is moving at the speed of drying paint, they both are loosing time which is “MONEY!”

S.A.M. or software asset management is also something that the IT department seems to ignore and this is really something that should grab at least the attention of the CFO.  Does each and every person need a full copy of office or do they simply need Word or Outlook.  I was in one account where each and every machine had a full version of office on it.  40% of these were used as a terminal: that was it!  Five hundred dollars times 120 machines is $60K wasted!  Can you tell me one company that could not use an extra $60K?

Now, add to this scenario that this guy was installing this software on machines that were already past their life cycle.  I don’t profess to be an attorney or a legal scholar on EULA but, it is conceivable that when that machine dies, that license will die with it.  There may be hoops that you can jump through to get Microsoft to allow a transfer of the license but, what are the odds that this guy will do it.  It is not his money after all.

There was one company who had 300 locations with 2.5 machines per location.  These were servers so each had a copy of Microsoft “flavor of the day” server on it.

The application that was on there was a home grown point of sale.  It was compiled to run on the Microsoft platform.

When I ask why they had not considered LINUX as an alternative I was laughed at.  Here are the scissors that will cut the thread.

There support desk was equipped with PcAnywhere and each and every call for help meant that a remote session would be placed to assist the person with their machine.  Push come to shove the machine was sent to the Depot where another was sent out as a replacement.  As the hardware evolved some locations had newer equipment.  The variables were mind numbing.

Had they used LINUX a simple telnet session would have allowed the help desk to terminate a daemon and restart it all behind the scene.  Licenses for server software, remote connection software, anti virus software would have been avoided.  The other thing about LINUX is that it is more forgiving of hardware platforms in that they could have used their equipment until it died vs. replacing it when the software dictated it.  This particular CIO had no technical background other than he knew some programming.  He did not embrace technology at all and did not have a computer at his home until his kids wore him down.  Any CIO that does not embrace technology ought not be a CIO.  Oh yes, LINUX is free and the kernel can be hardened so it can be very secure.

How is it that these two people were in the place that they were in?  They were likable! The failure here cleary sits on the CEO or the person they report to.  If I am hiring someone for a position, I don’t care if I like them or not.  They must be able to perform the job that they are being hired for and, if I like them it is a plus, not mandatory!

Ethical hacking is becoming more and more in vogue. The bad guys are out there doing their thing and we simply buy anti virus software and hope for the best.  Some of us don’t do that, we use something that is free or not at all.  Free is not worth what you pay for it when it comes to anti virus software!  Do your homework and see who is touting what and why.

As another add on to the cost center and depending upon your desire to be safe, I would consider hiring a security person who has been around the block a few times.  This is not some kid fresh out of college who is academically savvy but, someone who has the scars on their back to prove that they have been there.

In a nutshell, any connection to the outside world is a portal for the bad guy to get in.  Even if you have a secure firewall you have people on the inside who may be working for the competition.  There are many products that allow a PC to be remote controlled from outside the building.  Some are actually viruses and others are installed by an unwitting employee or worse, a spy.  Software audits are a necessity; not something you do if you have time.  Speaking of which; the anti piracy folks are at it again offering huge rewards if you report someone using business software without a license. Another reason for SAM.

While you may think that I am paranoid (a little paranoia is a good thing btw) I assure you that industrial espionage is real and there are those that do it for a living.  Your security person would be actively monitoring the traffic coming in and leaving the building, looking for anything on ports that are typically used for such things.  Activity during off hours should be a red flag.  There is something called SYSLOG which is basically a service that talks with a server and creates logs of events.  Along with server logs this log should be monitored for unusual activity.

One way a person might gain access to your stuff is to drop a thumb drive or dvd in the parking lot.  Label the dvd X pics or have bunny rabbit ears on the thumb drive.  I would be surprised if someone did not pick it up and stick it into their machine to see what was one it.  Of course it would contain a program that would install a remote control host and the person would never know as he would be too busy looking for pictures.

Physical security is also a must. Keycards with picture ID’s on them would be ideal.  Cheap and effective.  With this you can track employees movements through the day / night.  Along with security cameras if things turned up missing one could read the keycard report and know who it was and where they were and then look at the footage with that timestamp to see if they were carrying anything.

Biometrics are becoming in fashion as well.  While I would want to stay with tried and true I would definitely be monitoring this to see when and if it made sense to move that way.

This scratches the surface and as you can see, security is physical, it is Cyber and it is employee education along with policies.   Any configuration of a user’s machine should be done by IT.  Users should not have any more rights than they need to function.  That allows for protection of your data, declines viruses administrative rights as they usually assume the rights of the user and, protects the machine from being altered making more work for the IT department when it breaks or more often than not broken.

A little forethought and planning on the IT department can help them to run lean on employees as well as protect the company’s assets.

The statement is an excellent ingress into the last thing that needs addressing.

More times than I can write about I find that data centers are a cobbled together disaster waiting for some event to push them over the edge.  There is a web site dedicated to such things and if I had had a mind to, I could have created such a site like that with just what I have seen.

Along with hardware management and software management a strong dialogue needs to exist between the CEO and the CIO.  Business needs and or possible needs to be accounted for and anticipated.   Looking back at the past one could extrapolate what may be needed into the future and at least make plans for growth.  A robust well thought out network that is well managed and maintained is a crucial starting point.

I could write on entire book on what that means but, what it does not mean are knee jerk throw it together solutions “because we needed it yesterday!”  Any change might effect some other part of the business and or company or have unintended side effects.  If they don’t have one I stress the importance of change management.  This is crucial to the success of just about any company with technology.

Proper consideration should be given to each and every device and or software that is to be installed.

Parting thoughts:

There is no room for emotions in Information systems. Emotions cloud judgment and, judgment is crucial for success.

You do not hire or fire someone because you find them likable or distasteful. Either they are well qualified and have a well defined track record or they don’t.  The rest does not matter unless they are insubordinate or are deemed unfit. They are not your friend and don’t think that they are.

Never hire anyone that you cannot fire.  Family and friends even if the company is ok with it are a liability as employees. At best they will be a burden upon yourself, and at worst you will loose them as friends and they might compromise your job.

Surround yourself with people that are smarter than you, you will be well served.

Keep your ego in check as it will defeat you.  Humility will allow you to “hear” from those that probably know what you are seeking.

When you get in too deep, call for help; admitting trouble is always preferable than suffering defeat because of pride.

There is never any case for listening to or passing on rumors.  Small people talk about people, others talk about ideas and things.

Your employees and vendors job is to make you look good; your job is to make them look good.

-Best to you and those that you care about!

Disaster Avoidance

 

 

Consulting as a Disaster Recovery Specialist, I often find things that need to be changed to avoid a disaster, much like a loose rug over a threshold or too many things plugged into one circuit; which would be an issue in your home.  In the business world it comes down to security issues both IT related and physical, as well as simple things like a lack of fire extinguishers or the wrong type of fire retardant system in the computer room.  I am trained to notice the smallest of details including things like cable management issues. 

 

When Best Practice scenarios are not followed by sys-admins or networking guru’s, they too trigger red flags.  There is an art to designing data centers.  I have designed and built many over the last 30 years complete from the ground up; from air handling to power requirements to working with ADA compliance issues.  I have designed cable management for many companies that include the MDF and IDF’s and working with building management to handle communication through multiple story buildings making sure that they pass fire code.  You would be amazed at how many data centers that I walk into that are under wired, lack proper air handling and have a sprinkler head above the equipment!  The cable management looks like Spiderman installed it, nothing is labeled, and there is absolutely not one shred of documentation.   And the boss / owner is oblivious to the immanent disaster, as he thinks his guys are pretty good!

 

When business’s start up, often times they don’t contact the brightest and best to build it as they are on a tight budget.  When I am called, their data center is generally a candidate for one of those web sites that post “what not to do.”  The exercise of unraveling the Gordian knot comes into play before anything can be changed.  Many times a family friend is called to assist or the business owner has a home network and thinks that a business network is no different.

 

When these knots are constructed; most if not always there is limited or no documentation and the original creator has long since abandoned ship as he undoubtedly realized the ice berg ahead was not too far off.   To that end there are many land mines that have to be discovered and diffused.  This practice is akin to changing the tires on a racecar, while it is going down the track, and part of that track is in no mans land!  The catch 22 is that no business can afford down time but, if they don’t address the issues they will have un-planned down time!  Un-planned is always much longer than planned, and always more expensive!

 

As an SME on this and many subjects regarding IT, I can offer many things to mitigate any issues and put them on a road to setting things right. Whether that is working with their current IT staff, or bringing in hired guns to knock it out quickly!

 

The business must be willing to want to change, and have Executive buy-in as well as buy-in from the local staff.  The process can take weeks to months depending upon the situation; but after it is all said and done, procedures and processes are put into place to keep up with change.

 

Some policies addressed are Change Management, Incident analysis; complete with root cause analysis, documentation with the introduction of the concept of a living document. The run book, what is it and how does it work?  Testing the Disaster Recovery plan and then implementing changes from things learned. Other topics include SAM (software asset management,) and of course hardware management including lifecycle, and the budget process.   

 

All too often the CFO or CEO is told that IT needs X thousands of dollars for this, that, or the other thing; not because it is a new project but because something failed!  With proper asset management this can be mitigated greatly and things can be budgeted for.

 

Much like any other audit, I don’t guarantee anything will be pleasant other than the knowledge that when it is done you will have the documentation you need, your network will be running at peak efficiency and it will be secure.  Depending upon your growth and company needs, a design can be implemented to make sure your data network is robust enough to handle changes and or growth!

 

The last thing that I can address for you is personnel.  As a manager of and director of IT for 2 decades I know people.  I know who is right for a job and who is not.  If that type of expertise is needed; look no further.

 

-Best

Which Anti Virus Software is the Best?

Selecting an anti virus software today is like trying to look at a watermelon in the store and telling how it is going to taste without opening it up. This is also the question that I get asked most frequently.

Not all software is the same and that holds true with the virus itself.

When I evaluate anti virus software I look for several things. Firstly what can I find in the way of reviews on the internet? Try to find independent reviews vs. going to their website.

Amazon frequently has reviews of products.

From a technical stand point I want to know what size footprint it has. When I say footprint I want to know how much of my available memory is it going to chew up and I want to know how much CPU is it going to use. There are several anti virus software’s out there that literally will stop you from using your machine while they scan, update etc. Ideally this type of software should run at a lower priority when you need the resources of your machine. To me there is nothing more frustrating than needing to check your e-mail and the anti virus software among other software takes over your machine for the first 30 minutes doing updates, scans and what have you.

Here is the biggie, will it catch everything?

Sadly there is no silver bullet. Some software makers have a lot of resources to pour into updates and research as well as the ability to quickly push out updates to their customers on an as needed basis. Software like Trend Micro has an easy way to upload suspicious files for them to analyze.

Another thing to look at with software is technical support. How much will you need, what do people say about their support and how much will it cost?

I have been in IT since before there were viruses. I fought the first virus which got out onto our network of several hundred employees through a shared file brought in by an employee on a floppy disk. I say that to set the stage for the different iterations of anti virus software out there. The first company on the scene was McAfee. PcTools was picked up by Symantic and over the last few years there have been many players enter into the game.

My personal favorite as of this moment is EsetNode32. That could change tomorrow as they may rest on their laurels or have a policy change of some sort which would affect the quality of their product. That is the same for all companies.

I see a lot of computers that have been infiltrated. While they all have some sort of protection, free software seems the most susceptible to attacks, MailWare and other forms of infections.

While free is better than none, I would certainly budget anti virus software into my computer needs.

TIP: Go to the store and purchase it in the box vs. getting it online. Do this even for the renewal. One can almost always find it on sale going to the office supply store or even Wal-Mart. Purchasing it online usually involves a third party which makes money off of the sale as well. You pay a price for convenience and it could be as much as 100% more than you would pay in the store. In the below URL’s you can gain quick access to the different brands that I am personally familiar with. Several ranking sites will rank these differently so do your research and roll the dice.

This blog in no way constitutes any type or warrantee or guarantee of usability or protection against the hackers either expressed or implied. While I have had good fortune with Eset, your mileage may vary and I will be held harmless, in the event that your results are not what mine have been.

What you do on the internet and who sends you e-mail may put your computer in less risk or more risk than me. There are independent labs out there that evaluate different software so you might search them out as well. The trick is make sure that they are independent and do not have any dog in the fight. The problem there however is obvious; if they don’t have a dog in the fight, why do the work and give it away? Do your own research. Consumer reports frequently look at this topic as well.

http://www.eset.com/us/

http://shop.trendmicro.com/brand/SB/?cm_mmc=Paid+Search:US-_-Consumer:Brand-_-Google:TrendMicroExact-_-KW=trend+micro&SQ=trend+micro

http://www.bitdefender.com

http://norton.symantec.com/norton/ps/3up_us_en_navnis360_sym_ent.html?om_sem_cid=hho_sem_sy:us:ggs:sy:e|kw0000006084|10257754940&country=US

http://promos.mcafee.com/offer.aspx?id=469920&affid=792&eid=covmcaggl89400000194617s&adid=17846076983&s_kwcid=TC|16933|mcafee||S|e|17846076983

http://usa.kaspersky.com/?domain=kaspersky.com

http://free.avg.com/us-en/homepage

http://www.avast.com/en-us/index

-Best and Happy Computing