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From Idea to Launch: Getting Your First Customers

Post Syndicated from Gleb Budman original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/how-to-get-your-first-customers/

line outside of Apple

After deciding to build an unlimited backup service and developing our own storage platform, the next step was to get customers and feedback. Not all customers are created equal. Let’s talk about the types, and when and how to attract them.

How to Get Your First Customers

First Step – Don’t Launch Publicly
Launch when you’re ready for the judgments of people who don’t know you at all. Until then, don’t launch. Sign up users and customers either that you know, those you can trust to cut you some slack (while providing you feedback), or at minimum those for whom you can set expectations. For months the Backblaze website was a single page with no ability to get the product and minimal info on what it would be. This is not to counter the Lean Startup ‘iterate quickly with customer feedback’ advice. Rather, this is an acknowledgement that there are different types of feedback required based on your development stage.

Sign Up Your Friends
We knew all of our first customers; they were friends, family, and previous co-workers. Many knew what we were up to and were excited to help us. No magic marketing or tech savviness was required to reach them – we just asked that they try the service. We asked them to provide us feedback on their experience and collected it through email and conversations. While the feedback wasn’t unbiased, it was nonetheless wide-ranging, real, and often insightful. These people were willing to spend time carefully thinking about their feedback and delving deeper into the conversations.

Broaden to Beta
Unless you’re famous or your service costs $1 million per customer, you’ll probably need to expand quickly beyond your friends to build a business – and to get broader feedback. Our next step was to broaden the customer base to beta users.

Opening up the service in beta provides three benefits:

  1. Air cover for the early warts. There are going to be issues, bugs, unnecessarily complicated user flows, and poorly worded text. Beta tells people, “We don’t consider the product ‘done’ and you should expect some of these issues. Please be patient with us.”
  2. A request for feedback. Some people always provide feedback, but beta communicates that you want it.
  3. An awareness opportunity. Opening up in beta provides an early (but not only) opportunity to have an announcement and build awareness.

Pitching Beta to Press
Not all press cares about, or is even willing to cover, beta products. Much of the mainstream press wants to write about services that are fully live, have scale, and are important in the marketplace. However, there are a number of sites that like to cover the leading edge – and that means covering betas. Techcrunch, Ars Technica, and SimpleHelp covered our initial private beta launch. I’ll go into the details of how to work with the press to cover your announcements in a post next month.

Private vs. Public Beta
Both private and public beta provide all three of the benefits above. The difference between the two is that private betas are much more controlled, whereas public ones bring in more users. But this isn’t an either/or – I recommend doing both.

Private Beta
For our original beta in 2008, we decided that we were comfortable with about 1,000 users subscribing to our service. That would provide us with a healthy amount of feedback and get some early adoption, while not overwhelming us or our server capacity, and equally important not causing cash flow issues from having to buy more equipment. So we decided to limit the sign-up to only the first 1,000 people who signed up; then we would shut off sign-ups for a while.

But how do you even get 1,000 people to sign up for your service? In our case, get some major publications to write about our beta. (Note: In a future post I’ll explain exactly how to find and reach out to writers. Sign up to receive all of the entrepreneurial posts in this series.)

Public Beta
For our original service (computer backup), we did not have a public beta; but when we launched Backblaze B2, we had a private and then a public beta. The private beta allowed us to work out early kinks, while the public beta brought us a more varied set of use cases. In public beta, there is no cap on the number of users that may try the service.

While this is a first-class problem to have, if your service is flooded and stops working, it’s still a problem. Think through what you will do if that happens. In our early days, when our system could get overwhelmed by volume, we had a static web page hosted with a different registrar that wouldn’t let customers sign up but would tell them when our service would be open again. When we reached a critical volume level we would redirect to it in order to at least provide status for when we could accept more customers.

Collect Feedback
Since one of the goals of betas is to get feedback, we made sure that we had our email addresses clearly presented on the site so users could send us thoughts. We were most interested in broad qualitative feedback on users’ experience, so all emails went to an internal mailing list that would be read by everyone at Backblaze.

For our B2 public and private betas, we also added an optional short survey to the sign-up process. In order to be considered for the private beta you had to fill the survey out, though we found that 80% of users continued to fill out the survey even when it was not required. This survey had both closed-end questions (“how much data do you have”) and open-ended ones (“what do you want to use cloud storage for?”).

BTW, despite us getting a lot of feedback now via our support team, Twitter, and marketing surveys, we are always open to more – you can email me directly at gleb.budman {at} backblaze.com.

Don’t Throw Away Users
Initially our backup service was available only on Windows, but we had an email sign-up list for people who wanted it for their Mac. This provided us with a sense of market demand and a ready list of folks who could be beta users and early adopters when we had a Mac version. Have a service targeted at doctors but lawyers are expressing interest? Capture that.

Product Launch

When
The first question is “when” to launch. Presuming your service is in ‘public beta’, what is the advantage of moving out of beta and into a “version 1.0”, “gold”, or “public availability”? That depends on your service and customer base. Some services fly through public beta. Gmail, on the other hand, was (in)famous for being in beta for 5 years, despite having over 100 million users.

The term beta says to users, “give us some leeway, but feel free to use the service”. That’s fine for many consumer apps and will have near zero impact on them. However, services aimed at businesses and government will often not be adopted with a beta label as the enterprise customers want to know the company feels the service is ‘ready’. While Backblaze started out as a purely consumer service, because it was a data backup service, it was important for customers to trust that the service was ready.

No product is bug-free. But from a product readiness perspective, the nomenclature should also be a reflection of the quality of the product. You can launch a product with one feature that works well out of beta. But a product with fifty features on which half the users will bump into problems should likely stay in beta. The customer feedback, surveys, and your own internal testing should guide you in determining this quality during the beta. Be careful about “we’ve only seen that one time” or “I haven’t been able to reproduce that on my machine”; those issues are likely to scale with customers when you launch.

How
Launching out of beta can be as simple as removing the beta label from the website/product. However, this can be a great time to reach out to press, write a blog post, and send an email announcement to your customers.

Consider thanking your beta testers somehow; can they get some feature turned out for free, an extension of their trial, or premium support? If nothing else, remember to thank them for their feedback. Users that signed up during your beta are likely the ones who will propel your service. They had the need and interest to both be early adopters and deal with bugs. They are likely the key to getting 1,000 true fans.

The Beginning
The title of this post was “Getting your first customers”, because getting to launch may feel like the peak of your journey when you’re pre-launch, but it really is just the beginning. It’s a step along the journey of building your business. If your launch is wildly successful, enjoy it, work to build on the momentum, but don’t lose track of building your business. If your launch is a dud, go out for a coffee with your team, say “well that sucks”, and then get back to building your business. You can learn a tremendous amount from your early customers, and they can become your biggest fans, but the success of your business will depend on what you continue to do the months and years after your launch.

The post From Idea to Launch: Getting Your First Customers appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

NSA Insider Security Post-Snowden

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/06/nsa_insider_sec.html

According to a recently declassified report obtained under FOIA, the NSA’s attempts to protect itself against insider attacks aren’t going very well:

The N.S.A. failed to consistently lock racks of servers storing highly classified data and to secure data center machine rooms, according to the report, an investigation by the Defense Department’s inspector general completed in 2016.

[…]

The agency also failed to meaningfully reduce the number of officials and contractors who were empowered to download and transfer data classified as top secret, as well as the number of “privileged” users, who have greater power to access the N.S.A.’s most sensitive computer systems. And it did not fully implement software to monitor what those users were doing.

In all, the report concluded, while the post-Snowden initiative — called “Secure the Net” by the N.S.A. — had some successes, it “did not fully meet the intent of decreasing the risk of insider threats to N.S.A. operations and the ability of insiders to exfiltrate data.”

Marcy Wheeler comments:

The IG report examined seven of the most important out of 40 “Secure the Net” initiatives rolled out since Snowden began leaking classified information. Two of the initiatives aspired to reduce the number of people who had the kind of access Snowden did: those who have privileged access to maintain, configure, and operate the NSA’s computer systems (what the report calls PRIVACs), and those who are authorized to use removable media to transfer data to or from an NSA system (what the report calls DTAs).

But when DOD’s inspectors went to assess whether NSA had succeeded in doing this, they found something disturbing. In both cases, the NSA did not have solid documentation about how many such users existed at the time of the Snowden leak. With respect to PRIVACs, in June 2013 (the start of the Snowden leak), “NSA officials stated that they used a manually kept spreadsheet, which they no longer had, to identify the initial number of privileged users.” The report offered no explanation for how NSA came to no longer have that spreadsheet just as an investigation into the biggest breach thus far at NSA started. With respect to DTAs, “NSA did not know how many DTAs it had because the manually kept list was corrupted during the months leading up to the security breach.”

There seem to be two possible explanations for the fact that the NSA couldn’t track who had the same kind of access that Snowden exploited to steal so many documents. Either the dog ate their homework: Someone at NSA made the documents unavailable (or they never really existed). Or someone fed the dog their homework: Some adversary made these lists unusable. The former would suggest the NSA had something to hide as it prepared to explain why Snowden had been able to walk away with NSA’s crown jewels. The latter would suggest that someone deliberately obscured who else in the building might walk away with the crown jewels. Obscuring that list would be of particular value if you were a foreign adversary planning on walking away with a bunch of files, such as the set of hacking tools the Shadow Brokers have since released, which are believed to have originated at NSA.

Read the whole thing. Securing against insiders, especially those with technical access, is difficult, but I had assumed the NSA did more post-Snowden.

How to Create an AMI Builder with AWS CodeBuild and HashiCorp Packer – Part 2

Post Syndicated from Heitor Lessa original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/devops/how-to-create-an-ami-builder-with-aws-codebuild-and-hashicorp-packer-part-2/

Written by AWS Solutions Architects Jason Barto and Heitor Lessa

 
In Part 1 of this post, we described how AWS CodeBuild, AWS CodeCommit, and HashiCorp Packer can be used to build an Amazon Machine Image (AMI) from the latest version of Amazon Linux. In this post, we show how to use AWS CodePipeline, AWS CloudFormation, and Amazon CloudWatch Events to continuously ship new AMIs. We use Ansible by Red Hat to harden the OS on the AMIs through a well-known set of security controls outlined by the Center for Internet Security in its CIS Amazon Linux Benchmark.

You’ll find the source code for this post in our GitHub repo.

At the end of this post, we will have the following architecture:

Requirements

 
To follow along, you will need Git and a text editor. Make sure Git is configured to work with AWS CodeCommit, as described in Part 1.

Technologies

 
In addition to the services and products used in Part 1 of this post, we also use these AWS services and third-party software:

AWS CloudFormation gives developers and systems administrators an easy way to create and manage a collection of related AWS resources, provisioning and updating them in an orderly and predictable fashion.

Amazon CloudWatch Events enables you to react selectively to events in the cloud and in your applications. Specifically, you can create CloudWatch Events rules that match event patterns, and take actions in response to those patterns.

AWS CodePipeline is a continuous integration and continuous delivery service for fast and reliable application and infrastructure updates. AWS CodePipeline builds, tests, and deploys your code every time there is a code change, based on release process models you define.

Amazon SNS is a fast, flexible, fully managed push notification service that lets you send individual messages or to fan out messages to large numbers of recipients. Amazon SNS makes it simple and cost-effective to send push notifications to mobile device users or email recipients. The service can even send messages to other distributed services.

Ansible is a simple IT automation system that handles configuration management, application deployment, cloud provisioning, ad-hoc task-execution, and multinode orchestration.

Getting Started

 
We use CloudFormation to bootstrap the following infrastructure:

Component Purpose
AWS CodeCommit repository Git repository where the AMI builder code is stored.
S3 bucket Build artifact repository used by AWS CodePipeline and AWS CodeBuild.
AWS CodeBuild project Executes the AWS CodeBuild instructions contained in the build specification file.
AWS CodePipeline pipeline Orchestrates the AMI build process, triggered by new changes in the AWS CodeCommit repository.
SNS topic Notifies subscribed email addresses when an AMI build is complete.
CloudWatch Events rule Defines how the AMI builder should send a custom event to notify an SNS topic.
Region AMI Builder Launch Template
N. Virginia (us-east-1)
Ireland (eu-west-1)

After launching the CloudFormation template linked here, we will have a pipeline in the AWS CodePipeline console. (Failed at this stage simply means we don’t have any data in our newly created AWS CodeCommit Git repository.)

Next, we will clone the newly created AWS CodeCommit repository.

If this is your first time connecting to a AWS CodeCommit repository, please see instructions in our documentation on Setup steps for HTTPS Connections to AWS CodeCommit Repositories.

To clone the AWS CodeCommit repository (console)

  1. From the AWS Management Console, open the AWS CloudFormation console.
  2. Choose the AMI-Builder-Blogpost stack, and then choose Output.
  3. Make a note of the Git repository URL.
  4. Use git to clone the repository.

For example: git clone https://git-codecommit.eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/v1/repos/AMI-Builder_repo

To clone the AWS CodeCommit repository (CLI)

# Retrieve CodeCommit repo URL
git_repo=$(aws cloudformation describe-stacks --query 'Stacks[0].Outputs[?OutputKey==`GitRepository`].OutputValue' --output text --stack-name "AMI-Builder-Blogpost")

# Clone repository locally
git clone ${git_repo}

Bootstrap the Repo with the AMI Builder Structure

 
Now that our infrastructure is ready, download all the files and templates required to build the AMI.

Your local Git repo should have the following structure:

.
├── ami_builder_event.json
├── ansible
├── buildspec.yml
├── cloudformation
├── packer_cis.json

Next, push these changes to AWS CodeCommit, and then let AWS CodePipeline orchestrate the creation of the AMI:

git add .
git commit -m "My first AMI"
git push origin master

AWS CodeBuild Implementation Details

 
While we wait for the AMI to be created, let’s see what’s changed in our AWS CodeBuild buildspec.yml file:

...
phases:
  ...
  build:
    commands:
      ...
      - ./packer build -color=false packer_cis.json | tee build.log
  post_build:
    commands:
      - egrep "${AWS_REGION}\:\sami\-" build.log | cut -d' ' -f2 > ami_id.txt
      # Packer doesn't return non-zero status; we must do that if Packer build failed
      - test -s ami_id.txt || exit 1
      - sed -i.bak "s/<<AMI-ID>>/$(cat ami_id.txt)/g" ami_builder_event.json
      - aws events put-events --entries file://ami_builder_event.json
      ...
artifacts:
  files:
    - ami_builder_event.json
    - build.log
  discard-paths: yes

In the build phase, we capture Packer output into a file named build.log. In the post_build phase, we take the following actions:

  1. Look up the AMI ID created by Packer and save its findings to a temporary file (ami_id.txt).
  2. Forcefully make AWS CodeBuild to fail if the AMI ID (ami_id.txt) is not found. This is required because Packer doesn’t fail if something goes wrong during the AMI creation process. We have to tell AWS CodeBuild to stop by informing it that an error occurred.
  3. If an AMI ID is found, we update the ami_builder_event.json file and then notify CloudWatch Events that the AMI creation process is complete.
  4. CloudWatch Events publishes a message to an SNS topic. Anyone subscribed to the topic will be notified in email that an AMI has been created.

Lastly, the new artifacts phase instructs AWS CodeBuild to upload files built during the build process (ami_builder_event.json and build.log) to the S3 bucket specified in the Outputs section of the CloudFormation template. These artifacts can then be used as an input artifact in any later stage in AWS CodePipeline.

For information about customizing the artifacts sequence of the buildspec.yml, see the Build Specification Reference for AWS CodeBuild.

CloudWatch Events Implementation Details

 
CloudWatch Events allow you to extend the AMI builder to not only send email after the AMI has been created, but to hook up any of the supported targets to react to the AMI builder event. This event publication means you can decouple from Packer actions you might take after AMI completion and plug in other actions, as you see fit.

For more information about targets in CloudWatch Events, see the CloudWatch Events API Reference.

In this case, CloudWatch Events should receive the following event, match it with a rule we created through CloudFormation, and publish a message to SNS so that you can receive an email.

Example CloudWatch custom event

[
        {
            "Source": "com.ami.builder",
            "DetailType": "AmiBuilder",
            "Detail": "{ \"AmiStatus\": \"Created\"}",
            "Resources": [ "ami-12cd5guf" ]
        }
]

Cloudwatch Events rule

{
  "detail-type": [
    "AmiBuilder"
  ],
  "source": [
    "com.ami.builder"
  ],
  "detail": {
    "AmiStatus": [
      "Created"
    ]
  }
}

Example SNS message sent in email

{
    "version": "0",
    "id": "f8bdede0-b9d7...",
    "detail-type": "AmiBuilder",
    "source": "com.ami.builder",
    "account": "<<aws_account_number>>",
    "time": "2017-04-28T17:56:40Z",
    "region": "eu-west-1",
    "resources": ["ami-112cd5guf "],
    "detail": {
        "AmiStatus": "Created"
    }
}

Packer Implementation Details

 
In addition to the build specification file, there are differences between the current version of the HashiCorp Packer template (packer_cis.json) and the one used in Part 1.

Variables

  "variables": {
    "vpc": "{{env `BUILD_VPC_ID`}}",
    "subnet": "{{env `BUILD_SUBNET_ID`}}",
         “ami_name”: “Prod-CIS-Latest-AMZN-{{isotime \”02-Jan-06 03_04_05\”}}”
  },
  • ami_name: Prefixes a name used by Packer to tag resources during the Builders sequence.
  • vpc and subnet: Environment variables defined by the CloudFormation stack parameters.

We no longer assume a default VPC is present and instead use the VPC and subnet specified in the CloudFormation parameters. CloudFormation configures the AWS CodeBuild project to use these values as environment variables. They are made available throughout the build process.

That allows for more flexibility should you need to change which VPC and subnet will be used by Packer to launch temporary resources.

Builders

  "builders": [{
    ...
    "ami_name": “{{user `ami_name`| clean_ami_name}}”,
    "tags": {
      "Name": “{{user `ami_name`}}”,
    },
    "run_tags": {
      "Name": “{{user `ami_name`}}",
    },
    "run_volume_tags": {
      "Name": “{{user `ami_name`}}",
    },
    "snapshot_tags": {
      "Name": “{{user `ami_name`}}",
    },
    ...
    "vpc_id": "{{user `vpc` }}",
    "subnet_id": "{{user `subnet` }}"
  }],

We now have new properties (*_tag) and a new function (clean_ami_name) and launch temporary resources in a VPC and subnet specified in the environment variables. AMI names can only contain a certain set of ASCII characters. If the input in project deviates from the expected characters (for example, includes whitespace or slashes), Packer’s clean_ami_name function will fix it.

For more information, see functions on the HashiCorp Packer website.

Provisioners

  "provisioners": [
    {
        "type": "shell",
        "inline": [
            "sudo pip install ansible"
        ]
    }, 
    {
        "type": "ansible-local",
        "playbook_file": "ansible/playbook.yaml",
        "role_paths": [
            "ansible/roles/common"
        ],
        "playbook_dir": "ansible",
        "galaxy_file": "ansible/requirements.yaml"
    },
    {
      "type": "shell",
      "inline": [
        "rm .ssh/authorized_keys ; sudo rm /root/.ssh/authorized_keys"
      ]
    }

We used shell provisioner to apply OS patches in Part 1. Now, we use shell to install Ansible on the target machine and ansible-local to import, install, and execute Ansible roles to make our target machine conform to our standards.

Packer uses shell to remove temporary keys before it creates an AMI from the target and temporary EC2 instance.

Ansible Implementation Details

 
Ansible provides OS patching through a custom Common role that can be easily customized for other tasks.

CIS Benchmark and Cloudwatch Logs are implemented through two Ansible third-party roles that are defined in ansible/requirements.yaml as seen in the Packer template.

The Ansible provisioner uses Ansible Galaxy to download these roles onto the target machine and execute them as instructed by ansible/playbook.yaml.

For information about how these components are organized, see the Playbook Roles and Include Statements in the Ansible documentation.

The following Ansible playbook (ansible</playbook.yaml) controls the execution order and custom properties:

---
- hosts: localhost
  connection: local
  gather_facts: true    # gather OS info that is made available for tasks/roles
  become: yes           # majority of CIS tasks require root
  vars:
    # CIS Controls whitepaper:  http://bit.ly/2mGAmUc
    # AWS CIS Whitepaper:       http://bit.ly/2m2Ovrh
    cis_level_1_exclusions:
    # 3.4.2 and 3.4.3 effectively blocks access to all ports to the machine
    ## This can break automation; ignoring it as there are stronger mechanisms than that
      - 3.4.2 
      - 3.4.3
    # CloudWatch Logs will be used instead of Rsyslog/Syslog-ng
    ## Same would be true if any other software doesn't support Rsyslog/Syslog-ng mechanisms
      - 4.2.1.4
      - 4.2.2.4
      - 4.2.2.5
    # Autofs is not installed in newer versions, let's ignore
      - 1.1.19
    # Cloudwatch Logs role configuration
    logs:
      - file: /var/log/messages
        group_name: "system_logs"
  roles:
    - common
    - anthcourtney.cis-amazon-linux
    - dharrisio.aws-cloudwatch-logs-agent

Both third-party Ansible roles can be easily configured through variables (vars). We use Ansible playbook variables to exclude CIS controls that don’t apply to our case and to instruct the CloudWatch Logs agent to stream the /var/log/messages log file to CloudWatch Logs.

If you need to add more OS or application logs, you can easily duplicate the playbook and make changes. The CloudWatch Logs agent will ship configured log messages to CloudWatch Logs.

For more information about parameters you can use to further customize third-party roles, download Ansible roles for the Cloudwatch Logs Agent and CIS Amazon Linux from the Galaxy website.

Committing Changes

 
Now that Ansible and CloudWatch Events are configured as a part of the build process, commiting any changes to the AWS CodeComit Git Repository will triger a new AMI build process that can be followed through the AWS CodePipeline console.

When the build is complete, an email will be sent to the email address you provided as a part of the CloudFormation stack deployment. The email serves as notification that an AMI has been built and is ready for use.

Summary

 
We used AWS CodeCommit, AWS CodePipeline, AWS CodeBuild, Packer, and Ansible to build a pipeline that continuously builds new, hardened CIS AMIs. We used Amazon SNS so that email addresses subscribed to a SNS topic are notified upon completion of the AMI build.

By treating our AMI creation process as code, we can iterate and track changes over time. In this way, it’s no different from a software development workflow. With that in mind, software patches, OS configuration, and logs that need to be shipped to a central location are only a git commit away.

Next Steps

 
Here are some ideas to extend this AMI builder:

  • Hook up a Lambda function in Cloudwatch Events to update EC2 Auto Scaling configuration upon completion of the AMI build.
  • Use AWS CodePipeline parallel steps to build multiple Packer images.
  • Add a commit ID as a tag for the AMI you created.
  • Create a scheduled Lambda function through Cloudwatch Events to clean up old AMIs based on timestamp (name or additional tag).
  • Implement Windows support for the AMI builder.
  • Create a cross-account or cross-region AMI build.

Cloudwatch Events allow the AMI builder to decouple AMI configuration and creation so that you can easily add your own logic using targets (AWS Lambda, Amazon SQS, Amazon SNS) to add events or recycle EC2 instances with the new AMI.

If you have questions or other feedback, feel free to leave it in the comments or contribute to the AMI Builder repo on GitHub.

Sync vs. Backup vs. Storage

Post Syndicated from Yev original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/sync-vs-backup-vs-storage/

Cloud Sync vs. Cloud Backup vs. Cloud Storage

Google Drive recently announced their new Backup and Sync feature for Google Drive, which allows users to select folders on their computer that they want to back up to their Google Drive account (note: these files count against your Google Drive storage limit). Whenever new backup services are announced, we get a lot of questions so I thought we should take a minute to review the differences in cloud based services.

What is the Cloud? Sync Vs Backup Vs Storage

There is still a lot of confusion in the space about what exactly the “cloud” is and how different services interact with it. When folks use a syncing and sharing service like Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, OneDrive or any of the others, they often assume those are acting as a cloud backup solution as well. Adding to the confusion, cloud storage services are often the backend for backup and sync services as well as standalone services. To help sort this out, we’ll define some of the terms below as they apply to a traditional computer set-up with a bunch of apps and data.

Cloud Sync (ex. Dropbox, iCloud Drive, OneDrive, Box, Google Drive) – these services sync folders on your computer to folders on other machines or to the cloud – allowing users to work from a folder or directory across devices. Typically these services have tiered pricing, meaning you pay for the amount of data you store with the service. If there is data loss, sometimes these services even have a rollback feature, of course only files that are in the synced folders are available to be recovered.

Cloud Backup (ex. Backblaze Cloud Backup, Mozy, Carbonite) – these services work in the background automatically. The user does not need to take any action like setting up specific folders. Backup services typically back up any new or changed data on your computer to another location. Before the cloud took off, that location was primarily a CD or an external hard drive – but as cloud storage became more readily available it became the most popular storage medium. Typically these services have fixed pricing, and if there is a system crash or data loss, all backed up data is available for restore. In addition, these services have rollback features in case there is data loss / accidental file deletion.

Cloud Storage (ex. Backblaze B2, Amazon S3, Microsoft Azure) – these services are where many online backup and syncing and sharing services store data. Cloud storage providers typically serve as the endpoint for data storage. These services typically provide APIs, CLIs, and access points for individuals and developers to tie in their cloud storage offerings directly. These services are priced “per GB” meaning you pay for the amount of storage that you use. Since these services are designed for high-availability and durability, data can live solely on these services – though we still recommend having multiple copies of your data, just in case.

What Should You Use?

Backblaze strongly believes in a 3-2-1 Backup Strategy. A 3-2-1 strategy means having at least 3 total copies of your data, 2 of which are local but on different mediums (e.g. an external hard drive in addition to your computer’s local drive), and at least 1 copy offsite. The best setup is data on your computer, a copy on a hard drive that lives somewhere not inside your computer, and another copy with a cloud backup provider. Backblaze Cloud Backup is a great compliment to other services, like Time Machine, Dropbox, and even the free-tiers of cloud storage services.

What is The Difference Between Cloud Sync and Backup?

Let’s take a look at some sync setups that we see fairly frequently.

Example 1) Users have one folder on their computer that is designated for Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, or one of the other syncing/sharing services. Users save or place data into those directories when they want them to appear on other devices. Often these users are using the free-tier of those syncing and sharing services and only have a few GB of data uploaded in them.

Example 2) Users are paying for extended storage for Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, etc… and use those folders as the “Documents” folder – essentially working out of those directories. Files in that folder are available across devices, however, files outside of that folder (e.g. living on the computer’s desktop or anywhere else) are not synced or stored by the service.

What both examples are missing however is the backup of photos, movies, videos, and the rest of the data on their computer. That’s where cloud backup providers excel, by automatically backing up user data with little or no set-up, and no need for the dragging-and-dropping of files. Backblaze actually scans your hard drive to find all the data, regardless of where it might be hiding. The results are, all the user’s data is kept in the Backblaze cloud and the portion of the data that is synced is also kept in that provider’s cloud – giving the user another layer of redundancy. Best of all, Backblaze will actually back up your Dropbox, iCloud Drive, Google Drive, and OneDrive folders.

Data Recovery

The most important feature to think about is how easy it is to get your data back from all of these services. With sync and share services, retrieving a lot of data, especially if you are in a high-data tier, can be cumbersome and take awhile. Generally, the sync and share services only allow customers to download files over the Internet. If you are trying to download more than a couple gigabytes of data, the process can take time and can be fraught with errors.

With cloud storage services, you can usually only retrieve data over the Internet as well, and you pay for both the storage and the egress of the data, so retrieving a large amount of data can be both expensive and time consuming.

Cloud backup services will enable you to download files over the internet too and can also suffer from long download times. At Backblaze we never want our customers to feel like we’re holding their data hostage, which is why we have a lot of restore options, including our Restore Return Refund policy, which allows people to restore their data via a USB Hard Drive, and then return that drive to us for a refund. Cloud sync providers do not provide this capability.

One popular data recovery use case we’ve seen when a person has a lot of data to restore is to download just the files that are needed immediately, and then order a USB Hard Drive restore for the remaining files that are not as time sensitive. The user gets all their files back in a few days, and their network is spared the download charges.

The bottom line is that all of these services have merit for different use-cases. Have questions about which is best for you? Sound off in the comments below!

The post Sync vs. Backup vs. Storage appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

BPI Breaks Record After Sending 310 Million Google Takedowns

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/bpi-breaks-record-after-sending-310-million-google-takedowns-170619/

A little over a year ago during March 2016, music industry group BPI reached an important milestone. After years of sending takedown notices to Google, the group burst through the 200 million URL barrier.

The fact that it took BPI several years to reach its 200 million milestone made the surpassing of the quarter billion milestone a few months later even more remarkable. In October 2016, the group sent its 250 millionth takedown to Google, a figure that nearly doubled when accounting for notices sent to Microsoft’s Bing.

But despite the volumes, the battle hadn’t been won, let alone the war. The BPI’s takedown machine continued to run at a remarkable rate, churning out millions more notices per week.

As a result, yet another new milestone was reached this month when the BPI smashed through the 300 million URL barrier. Then, days later, a further 10 million were added, with the latter couple of million added during the time it took to put this piece together.

BPI takedown notices, as reported by Google

While demanding that Google places greater emphasis on its de-ranking of ‘pirate’ sites, the BPI has called again and again for a “notice and stay down” regime, to ensure that content taken down by the search engine doesn’t simply reappear under a new URL. It’s a position BPI maintains today.

“The battle would be a whole lot easier if intermediaries played fair,” a BPI spokesperson informs TF.

“They need to take more proactive responsibility to reduce infringing content that appears on their platform, and, where we expressly notify infringing content to them, to ensure that they do not only take it down, but also keep it down.”

The long-standing suggestion is that the volume of takedown notices sent would reduce if a “take down, stay down” regime was implemented. The BPI says it’s difficult to present a precise figure but infringing content has a tendency to reappear, both in search engines and on hosting sites.

“Google rejects repeat notices for the same URL. But illegal content reappears as it is re-indexed by Google. As to the sites that actually host the content, the vast majority of notices sent to them could be avoided if they implemented take-down & stay-down,” BPI says.

The fact that the BPI has added 60 million more takedowns since the quarter billion milestone a few months ago is quite remarkable, particularly since there appears to be little slowdown from month to month. However, the numbers have grown so huge that 310 billion now feels a lot like 250 million, with just a few added on top for good measure.

That an extra 60 million takedowns can almost be dismissed as a handful is an indication of just how massive the issue is online. While pirates always welcome an abundance of links to juicy content, it’s no surprise that groups like the BPI are seeking more comprehensive and sustainable solutions.

Previously, it was hoped that the Digital Economy Bill would provide some relief, hopefully via government intervention and the imposition of a search engine Code of Practice. In the event, however, all pressure on search engines was removed from the legislation after a separate voluntary agreement was reached.

All parties agreed that the voluntary code should come into effect two weeks ago on June 1 so it seems likely that some effects should be noticeable in the near future. But the BPI says it’s still early days and there’s more work to be done.

“BPI has been working productively with search engines since the voluntary code was agreed to understand how search engines approach the problem, but also what changes can and have been made and how results can be improved,” the group explains.

“The first stage is to benchmark where we are and to assess the impact of the changes search engines have made so far. This will hopefully be completed soon, then we will have better information of the current picture and from that we hope to work together to continue to improve search for rights owners and consumers.”

With more takedown notices in the pipeline not yet publicly reported by Google, the BPI informs TF that it has now notified the search giant of 315 million links to illegal content.

“That’s an astonishing number. More than 1 in 10 of the entire world’s notices to Google come from BPI. This year alone, one in every three notices sent to Google from BPI is for independent record label repertoire,” BPI concludes.

While it’s clear that groups like BPI have developed systems to cope with the huge numbers of takedown notices required in today’s environment, it’s clear that few rightsholders are happy with the status quo. With that in mind, the fight will continue, until search engines are forced into compromise. Considering the implications, that could only appear on a very distant horizon.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

FreeNAS 11.0 is Now Here

Post Syndicated from ris original https://lwn.net/Articles/725509/rss

FreeNAS 11.0 has been released. “This
version brings new virtualization and object storage features to the
World’s Most Popular Open Source Storage Operating System. FreeNAS 11.0
adds bhyve virtual machines to its popular SAN/NAS, jails, and plugins,
letting you use host web-scale VMs on your FreeNAS box. It also gives users
S3-compatible object storage services, which turns your FreeNAS box into an
S3-compatible server, letting you avoid reliance on the cloud.
” LWN
looked at FreeNAS in February 2015.

Making Waves: print out sound waves with the Raspberry Pi

Post Syndicated from Alex Bate original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/printed-sound-wave/

For fun, Eunice Lee, Matthew Zhang, and Bomani McClendon have worked together to create Waves, an audiovisual project that records people’s spoken responses to personal questions and prints them in the form of a sound wave as a gift for being truthful.

Waves

Waves is a Raspberry Pi project centered around transforming the transience of the spoken word into something concrete and physical. In our setup, a user presses a button corresponding to an intimate question (ex: what’s your motto?) and answers it into a microphone while pressing down on the button.

What are you grateful for?

“I’m grateful for finishing this project,” admits maker Eunice Lee as she presses a button and speaks into the microphone that is part of the Waves project build. After a brief moment, her confession appears on receipt paper as a waveform, and she grins toward the camera, happy with the final piece.

Eunice testing Waves

Waves is a Raspberry Pi project centered around transforming the transience of the spoken word into something concrete and physical. In our setup, a user presses a button corresponding to an intimate question (ex: what’s your motto?) and answers it into a microphone while pressing down on the button.

Sound wave machine

Alongside a Raspberry Pi 3, the Waves device is comprised of four tactile buttons, a standard USB microphone, and a thermal receipt printer. This type of printer has become easily available for the maker movement from suppliers such as Adafruit and Pimoroni.

Eunice Lee, Matthew Zhang, Bomani McClendon - Sound Wave Raspberry Pi

Definitely more fun than a polygraph test

The trio designed four colour-coded cards that represent four questions, each of which has a matching button on the breadboard. Press the button that belongs to the question to be answered, and Python code directs the Pi to record audio via the microphone. Releasing the button stops the audio recording. “Once the recording has been saved, the script viz.py is launched,” explains Lee. “This script takes the audio file and, using Python matplotlib magic, turns it into a nice little waveform image.”

From there, the Raspberry Pi instructs the thermal printer to produce a printout of the sound wave image along with the question.

Making for fun

Eunice, Bomani, and Matt, students of design and computer science at Northwestern University in Illinois, built Waves as a side project. They wanted to make something at the intersection of art and technology and were motivated by the pure joy of creating.

Eunice Lee, Matthew Zhang, Bomani McClendon - Sound Wave Raspberry Pi

Making makes people happy

They have noted improvements that can be made to increase the scope of their sound wave project. We hope to see many more interesting builds from these three, and in the meantime we invite you all to look up their code on Eunice’s GitHub to create your own Waves at home.

The post Making Waves: print out sound waves with the Raspberry Pi appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

More notes on US-CERTs IOCs

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2017/06/more-notes-on-us-certs-iocs.html

Yet another Russian attack against the power grid, and yet more bad IOCs from the DHS US-CERT.

IOCs are “indicators of compromise“, things you can look for in order to order to see if you, too, have been hacked by the same perpetrators. There are several types of IOCs, ranging from the highly specific to the uselessly generic.

A uselessly generic IOC would be like trying to identify bank robbers by the fact that their getaway car was “white” in color. It’s worth documenting, so that if the police ever show up in a suspected cabin in the woods, they can note that there’s a “white” car parked in front.

But if you work bank security, that doesn’t mean you should be on the lookout for “white” cars. That would be silly.

This is what happens with US-CERT’s IOCs. They list some potentially useful things, but they also list a lot of junk that waste’s people’s times, with little ability to distinguish between the useful and the useless.

An example: a few months ago was the GRIZZLEYBEAR report published by US-CERT. Among other things, it listed IP addresses used by hackers. There was no description which would be useful IP addresses to watch for, and which would be useless.

Some of these IP addresses were useful, pointing to servers the group has been using a long time as command-and-control servers. Other IP addresses are more dubious, such as Tor exit nodes. You aren’t concerned about any specific Tor exit IP address, because it changes randomly, so has no relationship to the attackers. Instead, if you cared about those Tor IP addresses, what you should be looking for is a dynamically updated list of Tor nodes updated daily.

And finally, they listed IP addresses of Yahoo, because attackers passed data through Yahoo servers. No, it wasn’t because those Yahoo servers had been compromised, it’s just that everyone passes things though them, like email.

A Vermont power-plant blindly dumped all those IP addresses into their sensors. As a consequence, the next morning when an employee checked their Yahoo email, the sensors triggered. This resulted in national headlines about the Russians hacking the Vermont power grid.

Today, the US-CERT made similar mistakes with CRASHOVERRIDE. They took a report from Dragos Security, then mutilated it. Dragos’s own IOCs focused on things like hostile strings and file hashes of the hostile files. They also included filenames, but similar to the reason you’d noticed a white car — because it happened, not because you should be on the lookout for it. In context, there’s nothing wrong with noting the file name.

But the US-CERT pulled the filenames out of context. One of those filenames was, humorously, “svchost.exe”. It’s the name of an essential Windows service. Every Windows computer is running multiple copies of “svchost.exe”. It’s like saying “be on the lookout for Windows”.

Yes, it’s true that viruses use the same filenames as essential Windows files like “svchost.exe”. That’s, generally, something you should be aware of. But that CRASHOVERRIDE did this is wholly meaningless.

What Dragos Security was actually reporting was that a “svchost.exe” with the file hash of 79ca89711cdaedb16b0ccccfdcfbd6aa7e57120a was the virus — it’s the hash that’s the important IOC. Pulling the filename out of context is just silly.

Luckily, the DHS also provides some of the raw information provided by Dragos. But even then, there’s problems: they provide it in formatted form, for HTML, PDF, or Excel documents. This corrupts the original data so that it’s no longer machine readable. For example, from their webpage, they have the following:

import “pe”
import “hash”

Among the problems are the fact that the quote marks have been altered, probably by Word’s “smart quotes” feature. In other cases, I’ve seen PDF documents get confused by the number 0 and the letter O, as if the raw data had been scanned in from a printed document and OCRed.

If this were a “threat intel” company,  we’d call this snake oil. The US-CERT is using Dragos Security’s reports to promote itself, but ultimate providing negative value, mutilating the content.

This, ultimately, causes a lot of harm. The press trusted their content. So does the network of downstream entities, like municipal power grids. There are tens of thousands of such consumers of these reports, often with less expertise than even US-CERT. There are sprinklings of smart people in these organizations, I meet them at hacker cons, and am fascinated by their stories. But institutionally, they are dumbed down the same level as these US-CERT reports, with the smart people marginalized.

There are two solutions to this problem. The first is that when the stupidity of what you do causes everyone to laugh at you, stop doing it. The second is to value technical expertise, empowering those who know what they are doing. Examples of what not to do are giving power to people like Obama’s cyberczar, Michael Daniels, who once claimed his lack of technical knowledge was a bonus, because it allowed him to see the strategic picture instead of getting distracted by details.

Who’s To Blame For The Kodi Crackdown?

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/whos-to-blame-for-the-kodi-crackdown-170611/

Perfectly legal as standard, the Kodi media player can be easily modified to turn it into the ultimate streaming piracy machine.

Uptake by users has been nothing short of phenomenal. Millions of people are now consuming illicit media through third-party Kodi addons. With free movies, TV shows, sports, live TV and more on tap, it’s not difficult to see why the system is so popular.

As a result, barely a day goes by without Kodi making headlines and this week was no exception. On Monday, TorrentFreak broke the news that the ZEMTV addon and TV Addons, one of the most popular addon communities, were being sued by Dish Network for copyright infringement.

Within hours of the announcement and apparently as a direct result, several addons (including the massively popular Phoenix) decided to throw in the towel. Quite understandably, users of the platforms were disappointed, and that predictably resulted in people attempting to apportion blame.

The first comment to catch the eye was posted directly beneath our article. Interestingly, it placed the blame squarely on our shoulders.

“Thanks Torrentfreak, for ruining Kodi,” it read.

While shooting the messenger is an option, it’s historically problematic. Town criers were the original newsreaders, delivering important messages to the public. Killing a town crier was considered treason, but it was also pointless – it didn’t change the facts on the ground.

So if we can’t kill those who read about a lawsuit in the public PACER system and reported it, who’s left to blame? Unsurprisingly, there’s no shortage of targets, but most of them fall short.

The underlying theme is that most people voicing a negative opinion about the profile of Kodi do not appreciate their previously niche piracy system being in the spotlight. Everything was just great when just a few people knew about the marvelous hidden world of ‘secret’ XBMC/Kodi addons, many insist, but seeing it in the mainstream press is a disaster. It’s difficult to disagree.

However, the point where this all falls down is when people are asked when the discussion about Kodi should’ve stopped. We haven’t questioned them all, of course, but it’s almost guaranteed that while most with a grievance didn’t want Kodi getting too big, they absolutely appreciate the fact that someone told them about it. Piracy and piracy techniques spread by word of mouth so unfortunately, people can’t have it both ways.

Interestingly, some people placed the blame on TV Addons, the site that hosts the addons themselves. They argued that the addon scene didn’t need such a high profile target and that the popularity of the site only brought unwanted attention. However, for every critic, there are apparently thousands who love what the site does to raise the profile of Kodi. Without that, it’s clear that there would be fewer users and indeed, fewer addons.

For TV Addons’ part, they’re extremely clear who’s responsible for bringing the heat. On numerous occasions in emails to TF, the operators of the repository have blamed those who have attempted to commercialize the Kodi scene. For them, the responsibility must be placed squarely on the shoulders of people selling ‘Kodi boxes’ on places like eBay and Amazon. Once big money got involved, that attracted the authorities, they argue.

With this statement in mind, TF spoke with a box seller who previously backed down from selling on eBay due to issues over Kodi’s trademark. He didn’t want to speak on the record but admitted to selling “a couple of thousand” boxes over the past two years, noting that all he did was respond to demand with supply.

And this brings us full circle and a bit closer to apportioning blame for the Kodi crackdown.

The bottom line is that when it comes to piracy, Kodi and its third-party ‘pirate’ addons are so good at what they do, it’s no surprise they’ve been a smash hit with Internet users. All of the content that anyone could want – and more – accessible in one package, on almost any platform? That’s what consumers have been demanding for more than a decade and a half.

That brings us to the unavoidable conclusion that modified Kodi simply got too good at delivering content outside controlled channels, and that success was impossible to moderate or calm. Quite simply, every user that added to the Kodi phenomenon by installing the software with ‘pirate’ addons has to shoulder some of the blame for the crackdown.

That might sound harsh but in the piracy world it’s never been any different. Without millions of users, The Pirate Bay raid would never have happened. Without users, KickassTorrents might still be rocking today. But of course, what would be the point?

Users might break sites and services, but they also make them. That’s the piracy paradox.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Nintendo & BREIN Target Seller of ‘Pirate’ Retro Gaming System

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/nintendo-brein-target-seller-of-pirate-retro-gaming-system-170610/

As millions of often younger gamers immerse themselves in the latest 3D romp-fests from the world’s leading games developers, huge numbers of people are reliving their youth through the wonders of emulation.

The majority of old gaming systems can be emulated on a decent PC these days, opening up the possibility of reanimating thousands of the greatest games to ever grace the planet. While that’s a great prospect, the good news doesn’t stop there. The games are all free – if you don’t mind pirating them.

While many people go the do-it-yourself route by downloading emulators and ROMs (the games) from the Internet, increasingly people are saving time by buying systems ready-made online. Some of these are hugely impressive, housed in full-size arcade machine cabinets and packing many thousands of games. They also have sizeable price tags to match, running in some cases to thousands of dollars. But there are other options.

The rise of affordable compact computers has opened up emulation and retro gaming to a whole new audience and inevitable some people have taken to selling these devices online with the games pre-bundled on SD cards. These systems can be obtained relatively cheaply but despite the games being old, companies like Nintendo still take a dim view of their sale.

That’s also the case in the Netherlands, where Nintendo and other companies are taking action against people involved in the sale of what are effectively pirate gaming systems. In a recent case, Dutch anti-piracy outfit BREIN took action against the operator of the Retrospeler (Retro Player) site, an outlet selling a ready-made retro gaming system.

Retro Player site (translated from Dutch)

As seen from the image above, for a little under 110 euros the player can buy a games machine with classics like Super Mario, Street Fighter, and Final Fantasy pre-installed. Add a TV via an HDMI lead and a joypad or two, and yesteryear gaming becomes reality today. Unfortunately, the fun didn’t last long and it was soon “Game Over” for Retro Player.

Speaking with TorrentFreak, BREIN chief Tim Kuik says that the system sold by Retro Player was based on the popular Raspberry Pi single-board computer. Although small and relatively cheap, the Pi is easily capable of running retro games via software such as RetroPie, but it’s unclear which product was installed on the version sold by Retro Player.

What is clear is that the device came pre-installed with a lot of games. The now-defunct Retro Player site listed 6,500 titles for a wide range of classic gaming systems, including Gameboy, Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, Megadrive and Playstation. Kuik didn’t provide precise numbers but said that the machine came packaged with “a couple of thousand” titles.

BREIN says in this particular case it was acting on behalf of Nintendo, among others. However, it doesn’t appear that the case will be going to court. Like many other cases handled by the anti-piracy group, BREIN says it has reached a settlement with the operator of the Retro Player site for an unspecified amount.

The debate and controversy surrounding retro gaming and emulation is one that has been running for years. The thriving community sees little wrong with reanimating games for long-dead systems and giving them new life among a new audience. On the other hand, copyright holders such as Nintendo view their titles as their property, to be exploited in a time, place and manner of their choosing.

While that friction will continue for a long time to come, there will be few if any legal problems for those choosing to pursue their emulation fantasies in the privacy of their own home. Retro gaming is here to stay and as long as computing power continues to increase, the experience is only likely to improve.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

NSA Document Outlining Russian Attempts to Hack Voter Rolls

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/06/nsa_document_ou.html

This week brought new public evidence about Russian interference in the 2016 election. On Monday, the Intercept published a top-secret National Security Agency document describing Russian hacking attempts against the US election system. While the attacks seem more exploratory than operational ­– and there’s no evidence that they had any actual effect ­– they further illustrate the real threats and vulnerabilities facing our elections, and they point to solutions.

The document describes how the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, attacked a company called VR Systems that, according to its website, provides software to manage voter rolls in eight states. The August 2016 attack was successful, and the attackers used the information they stole from the company’s network to launch targeted attacks against 122 local election officials on October 27, 12 days before the election.

That is where the NSA’s analysis ends. We don’t know whether those 122 targeted attacks were successful, or what their effects were if so. We don’t know whether other election software companies besides VR Systems were targeted, or what the GRU’s overall plan was — if it had one. Certainly, there are ways to disrupt voting by interfering with the voter registration process or voter rolls. But there was no indication on Election Day that people found their names removed from the system, or their address changed, or anything else that would have had an effect — anywhere in the country, let alone in the eight states where VR Systems is deployed. (There were Election Day problems with the voting rolls in Durham, NC ­– one of the states that VR Systems supports ­– but they seem like conventional errors and not malicious action.)

And 12 days before the election (with early voting already well underway in many jurisdictions) seems far too late to start an operation like that. That is why these attacks feel exploratory to me, rather than part of an operational attack. The Russians were seeing how far they could get, and keeping those accesses in their pocket for potential future use.

Presumably, this document was intended for the Justice Department, including the FBI, which would be the proper agency to continue looking into these hacks. We don’t know what happened next, if anything. VR Systems isn’t commenting, and the names of the local election officials targeted did not appear in the NSA document.

So while this document isn’t much of a smoking gun, it’s yet more evidence of widespread Russian attempts to interfere last year.

The document was, allegedly, sent to the Intercept anonymously. An NSA contractor, Reality Leigh Winner, was arrested Saturday and charged with mishandling classified information. The speed with which the government identified her serves as a caution to anyone wanting to leak official US secrets.

The Intercept sent a scan of the document to another source during its reporting. That scan showed a crease in the original document, which implied that someone had printed the document and then carried it out of some secure location. The second source, according to the FBI’s affidavit against Winner, passed it on to the NSA. From there, NSA investigators were able to look at their records and determine that only six people had printed out the document. (The government may also have been able to track the printout through secret dots that identified the printer.) Winner was the only one of those six who had been in e-mail contact with the Intercept. It is unclear whether the e-mail evidence was from Winner’s NSA account or her personal account, but in either case, it’s incredibly sloppy tradecraft.

With President Trump’s election, the issue of Russian interference in last year’s campaign has become highly politicized. Reports like the one from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in January have been criticized by partisan supporters of the White House. It’s interesting that this document was reported by the Intercept, which has been historically skeptical about claims of Russian interference. (I was quoted in their story, and they showed me a copy of the NSA document before it was published.) The leaker was even praised by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who up until now has been traditionally critical of allegations of Russian election interference.

This demonstrates the power of source documents. It’s easy to discount a Justice Department official or a summary report. A detailed NSA document is much more convincing. Right now, there’s a federal suit to force the ODNI to release the entire January report, not just the unclassified summary. These efforts are vital.

This hack will certainly come up at the Senate hearing where former FBI director James B. Comey is scheduled to testify Thursday. Last year, there were several stories about voter databases being targeted by Russia. Last August, the FBI confirmed that the Russians successfully hacked voter databases in Illinois and Arizona. And a month later, an unnamed Department of Homeland Security official said that the Russians targeted voter databases in 20 states. Again, we don’t know of anything that came of these hacks, but expect Comey to be asked about them. Unfortunately, any details he does know are almost certainly classified, and won’t be revealed in open testimony.

But more important than any of this, we need to better secure our election systems going forward. We have significant vulnerabilities in our voting machines, our voter rolls and registration process, and the vote tabulation systems after the polls close. In January, DHS designated our voting systems as critical national infrastructure, but so far that has been entirely for show. In the United States, we don’t have a single integrated election. We have 50-plus individual elections, each with its own rules and its own regulatory authorities. Federal standards that mandate voter-verified paper ballots and post-election auditing would go a long way to secure our voting system. These attacks demonstrate that we need to secure the voter rolls, as well.

Democratic elections serve two purposes. The first is to elect the winner. But the second is to convince the loser. After the votes are all counted, everyone needs to trust that the election was fair and the results accurate. Attacks against our election system, even if they are ultimately ineffective, undermine that trust and ­– by extension ­– our democracy. Yes, fixing this will be expensive. Yes, it will require federal action in what’s historically been state-run systems. But as a country, we have no other option.

This essay previously appeared in the Washington Post.

An Open Letter To Microsoft: A 64-bit OS is Better Than a 32-bit OS

Post Syndicated from Brian Wilson original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/64-bit-os-vs-32-bit-os/

Windows 32 Bit vs. 64 Bit

Editor’s Note: Our co-founder & CTO, Brian Wilson, was working on a few minor performance enhancements and bug fixes (Inherit Backup State is a lot faster now). We got a version of this note from him late one night and thought it was worth sharing.

There are a few absolutes in life – death, taxes, and that a 64-bit OS is better than a 32-bit OS. Moving over to a 64-bit OS allows your laptop to run BOTH the old compatible 32-bit processes and also the new 64-bit processes. In other words, there is zero downside (and there are gigantic upsides).

32-Bit vs. 64-Bit

The main gigantic upside of a 64-bit process is the ability to support more than 2 GBytes of RAM (pedantic people will say “4 GBytes”… but there are technicalities I don’t want to get into here). Since only 1.6% of Backblaze customers have 2 GBytes or less of RAM, the other 98.4% desperately need 64-bit support, period, end of story. And remember, there is no downside.

Because there is zero downside, the first time it could, Apple shipped with 64-bit OS support. Apple did not give customers the option of “turning off all 64-bit programs.” Apple first shipped 64-bit support in OS X 10.6 Tiger in 2009 (which also had 32-bit support, so there was zero downside to the decision).

This was so successful that Apple shipped all future Operating Systems configured to support both 64-bit and 32-bit processes. All of them. Customers no longer had an option to turn off 64-bit support.

As a result, less than 2/10ths of 1% of Backblaze Mac customers are running a computer that is so old that it can only run 32-bit programs. Despite those microscopic numbers we still loyally support this segment of our customers by providing a 32-bit only version of Backblaze’s backup client.

Apple vs. Microsoft

But let’s contrast the Apple approach with that of Microsoft. Microsoft offers a 64-bit OS in Windows 10 that runs all 64-bit and all 32-bit programs. This is a valid choice of an Operating System. The problem is Microsoft ALSO gives customers the option to install 32-bit Windows 10 which will not run 64-bit programs. That’s crazy.

Another advantage of the 64-bit version of Windows is security. There are a variety of security features such as ASLR (Address Space Layout Randomization) that work best in 64-bits. The 32-bit version is inherently less secure.

By choosing 32-bit Windows 10 a customer is literally choosing a lower performance, LOWER SECURITY, Operating System that is artificially hobbled to not run all software.

When one of our customers running 32-bit Windows 10 contacts Backblaze support, it is almost always a customer that did not realize the choice they were making when they installed 32-bit Windows 10. They did not have the information to understand what they are giving up. For example, we have seen customers that have purchased 8 GB of RAM, yet they had installed 32-bit Windows 10. Simply by their OS “choice”, they disabled about 3/4ths of the RAM that they paid for!

Let’s put some numbers around it: Approximately 4.3% of Backblaze customers with Windows machines are running a 32-bit version of Windows compared with just 2/10ths of 1% of our Apple customers. The Apple customers did not choose incorrectly, they just have not upgraded their operating system in the last 9 years. If we assume the same rate of “legitimate older computers not upgraded yet” for Microsoft users that means 4.1% of the Microsoft users made a fairly large mistake when they choose their Microsoft Operating System version.

Now some people would blame the customer because after all they made the OS selection. Microsoft offers the correct choice, which is 64-bit Windows 10. In fact, 95.7% of Backblaze customers running Windows made the correct choice. My issue is that Microsoft shouldn’t offer the 32-bit version at all.

And again, for the fifth time, you will not lose any 32-bit capabilities as the 64-bit operating system runs BOTH 32-bit applications and 64-bit applications. You only lose capabilities if you choose the 32-bit only Operating System.

This is how bad it is -> When Microsoft released Windows Vista in 2007 it was 64-bit and also ran all 32-bit programs flawlessly. So at that time I was baffled why Microsoft ALSO released Windows Vista in 32-bit only mode – a version that refused to run any 64-bit binaries. Then, again in Windows 7, they did the same thing and I thought I was losing my mind. And again with Windows 8! By Windows 10, I realized Microsoft may never stop doing this. No matter how much damage they cause, no matter what happens.

You might be asking -> why do I care? Why does Brian want Microsoft to stop shipping an Operating System that is likely only chosen by mistake? My problem is this: Backblaze, like any good technology vendor, wants to be easy to use and friendly. In this case, that means we need to quietly, invisibly, continue to support BOTH the 32-bit and the 64-bit versions of every Microsoft OS they release. And we’ll probably need to do this for at least 5 years AFTER Microsoft officially retires the 32-bit only version of their operating system.

Supporting both versions is complicated. The more data our customers have, the more momentarily RAM intensive some functions (like inheriting backup state) can be. The more data you have the bigger the problem. Backblaze customers who accidentally chose to disable 64-bit operations are then going to have problems. It means we have to explain to some customers that their operating system is the root cause of many performance issues in their technical lives. This is never a pleasant conversation.

I know this will probably fall on deaf ears, but Microsoft, for the sake of your customers and third party application developers like Backblaze, please stop shipping Operating Systems that disable 64-bit support. It is causing all of us a bunch of headaches we do not need.

The post An Open Letter To Microsoft: A 64-bit OS is Better Than a 32-bit OS appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Secure API Access with Amazon Cognito Federated Identities, Amazon Cognito User Pools, and Amazon API Gateway

Post Syndicated from Ed Lima original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/compute/secure-api-access-with-amazon-cognito-federated-identities-amazon-cognito-user-pools-and-amazon-api-gateway/

Ed Lima, Solutions Architect

 

Our identities are what define us as human beings. Philosophical discussions aside, it also applies to our day-to-day lives. For instance, I need my work badge to get access to my office building or my passport to travel overseas. My identity in this case is attached to my work badge or passport. As part of the system that checks my access, these documents or objects help define whether I have access to get into the office building or travel internationally.

This exact same concept can also be applied to cloud applications and APIs. To provide secure access to your application users, you define who can access the application resources and what kind of access can be granted. Access is based on identity controls that can confirm authentication (AuthN) and authorization (AuthZ), which are different concepts. According to Wikipedia:

 

The process of authorization is distinct from that of authentication. Whereas authentication is the process of verifying that “you are who you say you are,” authorization is the process of verifying that “you are permitted to do what you are trying to do.” This does not mean authorization presupposes authentication; an anonymous agent could be authorized to a limited action set.

Amazon Cognito allows building, securing, and scaling a solution to handle user management and authentication, and to sync across platforms and devices. In this post, I discuss the different ways that you can use Amazon Cognito to authenticate API calls to Amazon API Gateway and secure access to your own API resources.

 

Amazon Cognito Concepts

 

It’s important to understand that Amazon Cognito provides three different services:

Today, I discuss the use of the first two. One service doesn’t need the other to work; however, they can be configured to work together.
 

Amazon Cognito Federated Identities

 
To use Amazon Cognito Federated Identities in your application, create an identity pool. An identity pool is a store of user data specific to your account. It can be configured to require an identity provider (IdP) for user authentication, after you enter details such as app IDs or keys related to that specific provider.

After the user is validated, the provider sends an identity token to Amazon Cognito Federated Identities. In turn, Amazon Cognito Federated Identities contacts the AWS Security Token Service (AWS STS) to retrieve temporary AWS credentials based on a configured, authenticated IAM role linked to the identity pool. The role has appropriate IAM policies attached to it and uses these policies to provide access to other AWS services.

Amazon Cognito Federated Identities currently supports the IdPs listed in the following graphic.

 



Continue reading Secure API Access with Amazon Cognito Federated Identities, Amazon Cognito User Pools, and Amazon API Gateway

Tor Browser 7.0 released

Post Syndicated from ris original https://lwn.net/Articles/724806/rss

The Tor Browser Team has announced the first stable release in the 7.0 series. “This release brings us up to date with Firefox 52 ESR which contains progress in a number of areas:

Most notably we hope having Mozilla’s multiprocess mode (e10s) and content sandbox enabled will be one of the major new features in the Tor Browser 7.0 series, both security- and performance-wise. While we are still working on the sandboxing part for Windows (the e10s part is ready), both Linux and macOS have e10s and content sandboxing enabled by default in Tor Browser 7.0. In addition to that, Linux and macOS users have the option to further harden their Tor Browser setup by using only Unix Domain sockets for communication with tor.”

Mysterious Group Lands Denuvo Anti-Piracy Body Blow

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/mysterious-group-lands-denuvo-anti-piracy-body-blow-170607/

While there’s always excitement in piracy land over the release of a new movie or TV show, video gaming fans really know how to party when a previously uncracked game appears online.

When that game was protected by the infamous Denuvo anti-piracy system, champagne corks explode.

There’s been a lot of activity in this area during recent months but more recently there’s been a noticeable crescendo. As more groups have become involved in trying to defeat the system, Denuvo has looked increasingly vulnerable. Over the past 24 hours, it’s looked in serious danger.

The latest drama surrounds DISHONORED.2-STEAMPUNKS, which is a pirate release of the previously uncracked action adventure game Dishonored 2. The game uses Denuvo protection and at the rate titles have been falling to pirates lately, it’s appearance wasn’t a surprise. However, the manner in which the release landed online has sent shockwaves through the scene.

The cracking scene is relatively open these days, in that people tend to have a rough idea of who the major players are. Their real-life identities are less obvious, of course, but names like CPY, Voksi, and Baldman regularly appear in discussions.

The same cannot be said about SteamPunks. With their topsite presence, they appear to be a proper ‘Scene’ group but up until yesterday, they were an unknown entity.

It’s fair to say that this dramatic appearance from nowhere raised quite a few eyebrows among the more suspicious crack aficionados. That being said, SteamPunks absolutely delivered – and then some.

Rather than simply pre-crack (remove the protection) from Dishonored 2 and then deliver it to the public, the SteamPunks release appears to contain code which enables the user to generate Denuvo licenses on a machine-by-machine basis.

If that hasn’t sunk in, the theory is that the ‘key generator’ might be able to do the same with all Denuvo-protected releases in future, blowing the system out of the water.

While that enormous feat remains to be seen, there is an unusual amount of excitement surrounding this release and the emergence of the previously unknown SteamPunks. In the words of one Reddit user, the group has delivered the cracking equivalent of The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, yet no one appears to have had any knowledge of them before yesterday.

Only adding to the mystery is the lack of knowledge relating to how their tool works. Perhaps ironically, perhaps importantly, SteamPunks have chosen to protect their code with VMProtect, the software system that Denuvo itself previously deployed to stop people reverse-engineering its own code.

This raises two issues. One, people could have difficulty finding out how the license generator works and two, it could potentially contain something nefarious besides the means to play Dishonored 2 for free.

With the latter in mind, a number of people in the cracking community have been testing the release but thus far, no one has found anything untoward. That doesn’t guarantee that it’s entirely clean but it does help to calm nerves. Indeed, cracking something as difficult as Denuvo in order to put out some malware seems a lot of effort when the same could be achieved much more easily.

“There is no need to break into Fort Knox to give out flyers for your pyramid scheme,” one user’s great analogy reads.

That being said, people with experience are still urging caution, which should be the case for anyone running a cracked game, no matter who released it.

Finally, another twist in the Denuvo saga arrived yesterday courtesy of VMProtect. As widely reported, someone from the company previously indicated that Denuvo had been using its VMProtect system without securing an appropriate license.

The source said that legal action was on the horizon but an announcement from VMProtect yesterday suggests that the companies are now seeing eye to eye.

“We were informed that there are open questions and some uncertainty about the use of our software by DENUVO GmbH,” VMProtect said.

“Referring to this circumstance we want to clarify that DENUVO GmbH had the right to use our software in the past and has the right to use it currently as well as in the future. In summary, no open issues exist between DENUVO GmbH and VMProtect Software for which reason you may ignore any other divergent information.”

While the above tends to imply there’s never been an issue, a little more information from VMProtect dev Ivan Permyakov may indicate that an old dispute has since been settled.

“Information about our relationship with Denuvo Software has long been outdated and irrelevant,” he said.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

How to Deploy Local Administrator Password Solution with AWS Microsoft AD

Post Syndicated from Dragos Madarasan original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/security/how-to-deploy-local-administrator-password-solution-with-aws-microsoft-ad/

Local Administrator Password Solution (LAPS) from Microsoft simplifies password management by allowing organizations to use Active Directory (AD) to store unique passwords for computers. Typically, an organization might reuse the same local administrator password across the computers in an AD domain. However, this approach represents a security risk because it can be exploited during lateral escalation attacks. LAPS solves this problem by creating unique, randomized passwords for the Administrator account on each computer and storing it encrypted in AD.

Deploying LAPS with AWS Microsoft AD requires the following steps:

  1. Install the LAPS binaries on instances joined to your AWS Microsoft AD domain. The binaries add additional client-side extension (CSE) functionality to the Group Policy client.
  2. Extend the AWS Microsoft AD schema. LAPS requires new AD attributes to store an encrypted password and its expiration time.
  3. Configure AD permissions and delegate the ability to retrieve the local administrator password for IT staff in your organization.
  4. Configure Group Policy on instances joined to your AWS Microsoft AD domain to enable LAPS. This configures the Group Policy client to process LAPS settings and uses the binaries installed in Step 1.

The following diagram illustrates the setup that I will be using throughout this post and the associated tasks to set up LAPS. Note that the AWS Directory Service directory is deployed across multiple Availability Zones, and monitoring automatically detects and replaces domain controllers that fail.

Diagram illustrating this blog post's solution

In this blog post, I explain the prerequisites to set up Local Administrator Password Solution, demonstrate the steps involved to update the AD schema on your AWS Microsoft AD domain, show how to delegate permissions to IT staff and configure LAPS via Group Policy, and demonstrate how to retrieve the password using the graphical user interface or with Windows PowerShell.

This post assumes you are familiar with Lightweight Directory Access Protocol Data Interchange Format (LDIF) files and AWS Microsoft AD. If you need more of an introduction to Directory Service and AWS Microsoft AD, see How to Move More Custom Applications to the AWS Cloud with AWS Directory Service, which introduces working with schema changes in AWS Microsoft AD.

Prerequisites

In order to implement LAPS, you must use AWS Directory Service for Microsoft Active Directory (Enterprise Edition), also known as AWS Microsoft AD. Any instance on which you want to configure LAPS must be joined to your AWS Microsoft AD domain. You also need a Management instance on which you install the LAPS management tools.

In this post, I use an AWS Microsoft AD domain called example.com that I have launched in the EU (London) region. To see which the regions in which Directory Service is available, see AWS Regions and Endpoints.

Screenshot showing the AWS Microsoft AD domain example.com used in this blog post

In addition, you must have at least two instances launched in the same region as the AWS Microsoft AD domain. To join the instances to your AWS Microsoft AD domain, you have two options:

  1. Use the Amazon EC2 Systems Manager (SSM) domain join feature. To learn more about how to set up domain join for EC2 instances, see joining a Windows Instance to an AWS Directory Service Domain.
  2. Manually configure the DNS server addresses in the Internet Protocol version 4 (TCP/IPv4) settings of the network card to use the AWS Microsoft AD DNS addresses (172.31.9.64 and 172.31.16.191, for this blog post) and perform a manual domain join.

For the purpose of this post, my two instances are:

  1. A Management instance on which I will install the management tools that I have tagged as Management.
  2. A Web Server instance on which I will be deploying the LAPS binary.

Screenshot showing the two EC2 instances used in this post

Implementing the solution

 

1. Install the LAPS binaries on instances joined to your AWS Microsoft AD domain by using EC2 Run Command

LAPS binaries come in the form of an MSI installer and can be downloaded from the Microsoft Download Center. You can install the LAPS binaries manually, with an automation service such as EC2 Run Command, or with your existing software deployment solution.

For this post, I will deploy the LAPS binaries on my Web Server instance (i-0b7563d0f89d3453a) by using EC2 Run Command:

  1. While signed in to the AWS Management Console, choose EC2. In the Systems Manager Services section of the navigation pane, choose Run Command.
  2. Choose Run a command, and from the Command document list, choose AWS-InstallApplication.
  3. From Target instances, choose the instance on which you want to deploy the LAPS binaries. In my case, I will be selecting the instance tagged as Web Server. If you do not see any instances listed, make sure you have met the prerequisites for Amazon EC2 Systems Manager (SSM) by reviewing the Systems Manager Prerequisites.
  4. For Action, choose Install, and then stipulate the following values:
    • Parameters: /quiet
    • Source: https://download.microsoft.com/download/C/7/A/C7AAD914-A8A6-4904-88A1-29E657445D03/LAPS.x64.msi
    • Source Hash: f63ebbc45e2d080630bd62a195cd225de734131a56bb7b453c84336e37abd766
    • Comment: LAPS deployment

Leave the other options with the default values and choose Run. The AWS Management Console will return a Command ID, which will initially have a status of In Progress. It should take less than 5 minutes to download and install the binaries, after which the Command ID will update its status to Success.

Status showing the binaries have been installed successfully

If the Command ID runs for more than 5 minutes or returns an error, it might indicate a problem with the installer. To troubleshoot, review the steps in Troubleshooting Systems Manager Run Command.

To verify the binaries have been installed successfully, open Control Panel and review the recently installed applications in Programs and Features.

Screenshot of Control Panel that confirms LAPS has been installed successfully

You should see an entry for Local Administrator Password Solution with a version of 6.2.0.0 or newer.

2. Extend the AWS Microsoft AD schema

In the previous section, I used EC2 Run Command to install the LAPS binaries on an EC2 instance. Now, I am ready to extend the schema in an AWS Microsoft AD domain. Extending the schema is a requirement because LAPS relies on new AD attributes to store the encrypted password and its expiration time.

In an on-premises AD environment, you would update the schema by running the Update-AdmPwdADSchema Windows PowerShell cmdlet with schema administrator credentials. Because AWS Microsoft AD is a managed service, I do not have permissions to update the schema directly. Instead, I will update the AD schema from the Directory Service console by importing an LDIF file. If you are unfamiliar with schema updates or LDIF files, see How to Move More Custom Applications to the AWS Cloud with AWS Directory Service.

To make things easier for you, I am providing you with a sample LDIF file that contains the required AD schema changes. Using Notepad or a similar text editor, open the SchemaChanges-0517.ldif file and update the values of dc=example,dc=com with your own AWS Microsoft AD domain and suffix.

After I update the LDIF file with my AWS Microsoft AD details, I import it by using the AWS Management Console:

  1. On the Directory Service console, select from the list of directories in the Microsoft AD directory by choosing its identifier (it will look something like d-534373570ea).
  2. On the Directory details page, choose the Schema extensions tab and choose Upload and update schema.
    Screenshot showing the "Upload and update schema" option
  3. When prompted for the LDIF file that contains the changes, choose the sample LDIF file.
  4. In the background, the LDIF file is validated for errors and a backup of the directory is created for recovery purposes. Updating the schema might take a few minutes and the status will change to Updating Schema. When the process has completed, the status of Completed will be displayed, as shown in the following screenshot.

Screenshot showing the schema updates in progress
When the process has completed, the status of Completed will be displayed, as shown in the following screenshot.

Screenshot showing the process has completed

If the LDIF file contains errors or the schema extension fails, the Directory Service console will generate an error code and additional debug information. To help troubleshoot error messages, see Schema Extension Errors.

The sample LDIF file triggers AWS Microsoft AD to perform the following actions:

  1. Create the ms-Mcs-AdmPwd attribute, which stores the encrypted password.
  2. Create the ms-Mcs-AdmPwdExpirationTime attribute, which stores the time of the password’s expiration.
  3. Add both attributes to the Computer class.

3. Configure AD permissions

In the previous section, I updated the AWS Microsoft AD schema with the required attributes for LAPS. I am now ready to configure the permissions for administrators to retrieve the password and for computer accounts to update their password attribute.

As part of configuring AD permissions, I grant computers the ability to update their own password attribute and specify which security groups have permissions to retrieve the password from AD. As part of this process, I run Windows PowerShell cmdlets that are not installed by default on Windows Server.

Note: To learn more about Windows PowerShell and the concept of a cmdlet (pronounced “command-let”), go to Getting Started with Windows PowerShell.

Before getting started, I need to set up the required tools for LAPS on my Management instance, which must be joined to the AWS Microsoft AD domain. I will be using the same LAPS installer that I downloaded from the Microsoft LAPS website. In my Management instance, I have manually run the installer by clicking the LAPS.x64.msi file. On the Custom Setup page of the installer, under Management Tools, for each option I have selected Install on local hard drive.

Screenshot showing the required management tools

In the preceding screenshot, the features are:

  • The fat client UI – A simple user interface for retrieving the password (I will use it at the end of this post).
  • The Windows PowerShell module – Needed to run the commands in the next sections.
  • The GPO Editor templates – Used to configure Group Policy objects.

The next step is to grant computers in the Computers OU the permission to update their own attributes. While connected to my Management instance, I go to the Start menu and type PowerShell. In the list of results, right-click Windows PowerShell and choose Run as administrator and then Yes when prompted by User Account Control.

In the Windows PowerShell prompt, I type the following command.

Import-module AdmPwd.PS

Set-AdmPwdComputerSelfPermission –OrgUnit “OU=Computers,OU=MyMicrosoftAD,DC=example,DC=com

To grant the administrator group called Admins the permission to retrieve the computer password, I run the following command in the Windows PowerShell prompt I previously started.

Import-module AdmPwd.PS

Set-AdmPwdReadPasswordPermission –OrgUnit “OU=Computers, OU=MyMicrosoftAD,DC=example,DC=com” –AllowedPrincipals “Admins”

4. Configure Group Policy to enable LAPS

In the previous section, I deployed the LAPS management tools on my management instance, granted the computer accounts the permission to self-update their local administrator password attribute, and granted my Admins group permissions to retrieve the password.

Note: The following section addresses the Group Policy Management Console and Group Policy objects. If you are unfamiliar with or wish to learn more about these concepts, go to Get Started Using the GPMC and Group Policy for Beginners.

I am now ready to enable LAPS via Group Policy:

  1. On my Management instance (i-03b2c5d5b1113c7ac), I have installed the Group Policy Management Console (GPMC) by running the following command in Windows PowerShell.
Install-WindowsFeature –Name GPMC
  1. Next, I have opened the GPMC and created a new Group Policy object (GPO) called LAPS GPO.
  2. In the Local Group Policy Editor, I navigate to Computer Configuration > Policies > Administrative Templates > LAPS. I have configured the settings using the values in the following table.

Setting

State

Options

Password Settings

Enabled

Complexity: large letters, small letters, numbers, specials

Do not allow password expiration time longer than required by policy

Enabled

N/A

Enable local admin password management

Enabled

N/A

  1. Next, I need to link the GPO to an organizational unit (OU) in which my machine accounts sit. In your environment, I recommend testing the new settings on a test OU and then deploying the GPO to production OUs.

Note: If you choose to create a new test organizational unit, you must create it in the OU that AWS Microsoft AD delegates to you to manage. For example, if your AWS Microsoft AD directory name were example.com, the test OU path would be example.com/example/Computers/Test.

  1. To test that LAPS works, I need to make sure the computer has received the new policy by forcing a Group Policy update. While connected to the Web Server instance (i-0b7563d0f89d3453a) using Remote Desktop, I open an elevated administrative command prompt and run the following command: gpupdate /force. I can check if the policy is applied by running the command: gpresult /r | findstr LAPS GPO, where LAPS GPO is the name of the GPO created in the second step.
  2. Back on my Management instance, I can then launch the LAPS interface from the Start menu and use it to retrieve the password (as shown in the following screenshot). Alternatively, I can run the Get-ADComputer Windows PowerShell cmdlet to retrieve the password.
Get-ADComputer [YourComputerName] -Properties ms-Mcs-AdmPwd | select name, ms-Mcs-AdmPwd

Screenshot of the LAPS UI, which you can use to retrieve the password

Summary

In this blog post, I demonstrated how you can deploy LAPS with an AWS Microsoft AD directory. I then showed how to install the LAPS binaries by using EC2 Run Command. Using the sample LDIF file I provided, I showed you how to extend the schema, which is a requirement because LAPS relies on new AD attributes to store the encrypted password and its expiration time. Finally, I showed how to complete the LAPS setup by configuring the necessary AD permissions and creating the GPO that starts the LAPS password change.

If you have comments about this post, submit them in the “Comments” section below. If you have questions about or issues implementing this solution, please start a new thread on the Directory Service forum.

– Dragos

How The Intercept Outed Reality Winner

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2017/06/how-intercept-outed-reality-winner.html

Today, The Intercept released documents on election tampering from an NSA leaker. Later, the arrest warrant request for an NSA contractor named “Reality Winner” was published, showing how they tracked her down because she had printed out the documents and sent them to The Intercept. The document posted by the Intercept isn’t the original PDF file, but a PDF containing the pictures of the printed version that was then later scanned in.

As the warrant says, she confessed while interviewed by the FBI. Had she not confessed, the documents still contained enough evidence to convict her: the printed document was digitally watermarked.

The problem is that most new printers print nearly invisibly yellow dots that track down exactly when and where documents, any document, is printed. Because the NSA logs all printing jobs on its printers, it can use this to match up precisely who printed the document.

In this post, I show how.

You can download the document from the original article here. You can then open it in a PDF viewer, such as the normal “Preview” app on macOS. Zoom into some whitespace on the document, and take a screenshot of this. On macOS, hit [Command-Shift-3] to take a screenshot of a window. There are yellow dots in this image, but you can barely see them, especially if your screen is dirty.

We need to highlight the yellow dots. Open the screenshot in an image editor, such as the “Paintbrush” program built into macOS. Now use the option to “Invert Colors” in the image, to get something like this. You should see a roughly rectangular pattern checkerboard in the whitespace.

It’s upside down, so we need to rotate it 180 degrees, or flip-horizontal and flip-vertical:

Now we go to the EFF page and manually click on the pattern so that their tool can decode the meaning:

This produces the following result:

The document leaked by the Intercept was from a printer with model number 54, serial number 29535218. The document was printed on May 9, 2017 at 6:20. The NSA almost certainly has a record of who used the printer at that time.

The situation is similar to how Vice outed the location of John McAfee, by publishing JPEG photographs of him with the EXIF GPS coordinates still hidden in the file. Or it’s how PDFs are often redacted by adding a black bar on top of image, leaving the underlying contents still in the file for people to read, such as in this NYTime accident with a Snowden document. Or how opening a Microsoft Office document, then accidentally saving it, leaves fingerprints identifying you behind, as repeatedly happened with the Wikileaks election leaks. These sorts of failures are common with leaks. To fix this yellow-dot problem, use a black-and-white printer, black-and-white scanner, or convert to black-and-white with an image editor.

Copiers/printers have two features put in there by the government to be evil to you. The first is that scanners/copiers (when using scanner feature) recognize a barely visible pattern on currency, so that they can’t be used to counterfeit money, as shown on this $20 below:

The second is that when they print things out, they includes these invisible dots, so documents can be tracked. In other words, those dots on bills prevent them from being scanned in, and the dots produced by printers help the government track what was printed out.

Yes, this code the government forces into our printers is a violation of our 3rd Amendment rights.


While I was writing up this post, these tweets appeared first:


Comments:
https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14494818