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Here in Sweden GDPR is one of the hottest topics within security. There is a lot of confusion regarding what is needed to be done and what different parties need to do.

First of all, GDPR is a law. Any lawyers out there would probably want to correct me as it´s an EU thing, but in essence it needs to be abided by. Hence, the company lawyer has the last say about what is right or wrong. For me, as an architect, my goal is to deliver possible solutions to the problems that arise when you try to abide by the law.

That said, GDPR, is not the only law to follow. On the contrary, for a public entity there are a number of laws that normally are a lot stricter. GDPR more or less, just enforces those laws more, meaning that the security needs to be ramped up quite a bit to ensure that the risks are managed.

GDPR, from a public entity point of view, should be regarded for all information that is not managed by other laws, and as security and operational requirements for the more sensitive information residing in processes governed by the more stricter laws of secrecy or health data.

As many public entities, especially municipalities, have a rather complex setup of services, including partly outsourcing systems to other municipalities, the amount of information that potentially could fall under GDPR is large meaning that, from a threat perspective, there is a large need of security services.

From my point of view, as a security architect, the first action to take is to conduct a risk analysis, either on a larger scale or more focused on the technology. In the end GDPR demands that a lot of legal issues are managed as well, but as stated before, I only try to sort the problems that have a technical or procedural solution.

Second step is to create a governance structure for managing changes that make sure that GDPR in general and security in specific is adhered to and that mapping to the risk analysis is done. GDPR mandates security by design and privacy by design. This is translated in operational terms to map the risk analysis to the solution so that you could show that the risks are managed in a correct way.

Third step is to manage the standard risks that exist due to the fact that you have an infrastructure to manage, no matter the type of technology used, those are the risks that are classified as You Have if you follow my You3 model. One of the most important steps to do here is to secure your environment against credential theft and lateral movement. You could find an official Microsoft description on Securing Privileged Access here but I strongly advice you to take external help here as it is rather complex to do it yourself.

Fourth step is to secure your databases with encryption. There are many ways of encrypting your databases and if you are running Microsoft SQL Server you´ll find the process rather straight forward with only a small amount of time needed to implement the technology. The processes for key management is a rather different thing however.

Fifth step is to ensure fully working backups of all important data and that all of those are secured as well. Remember to backup your keys as well, otherwise you have built a Do-It-Yourself-wiperware.

Sixth step is to ensure that you monitor your environment and make sure that you catch any attackers sooner rather than later. There are many tools out in the market but make sure that you go for those with built in machine learning and those that utilise information of attacks globally to protect your organisation. Add a good antimalware with ransomware blocking capabilities as well.

There are many more steps to take into account to build a secure environment but the steps taken above will be more than enough to keep you busy for months to come.

Yet a former client of mine has been hit by a ransomware. They used an online backup system that used mapped drive so they was partly encrypted as well. Still they were immensely lucky to having tried Azure Recovery Vault. Before joining Microsoft I had very little knowledge of the inner workings of Azure. Currently I´m supposed to attend a mandatory training in Azure and has to sit through 60 h of training in Azure at http://openedx.microsoft.com (yes, free for all). I came in contact with Azure Recovery Vault and tried it out with a free account. I called a friend of mine and asked him about it and if they tried it. He started laughing a told me that he had tried it for backup purposes about three weeks ago and that they where hit by a ransomware the week after. But thanks to this they could recreate their data. I think I´ll start looking at using Azure as backup solution as a way to protect against ransomware.


And ransomware has been weaponised.

If you remember my post a few months back regarding the future of ransomware we now see the emerging Wiperware, malware that´s sole target is to create mass destruction rather than take files for ransom. The article mentions Maersk loss of more than $200 million to NotPetya and that ransomware will land somewhere around $5 billion this year in costs. That’s a lot of money that could be better invested in simple security functions instead. We are still looking at way to many companies having a very unsecure setup.

One of the best things with working at Microsoft is all the things you get to know and one of the worst things is all the things you are not allowed to tell (yet).

Still I took a look at Credential Guard today to understand how it works and I found this document that describes it on a bit more technical level.

Looking at it from a more architectural point of view it enables us to put a bit more trust into the clients. The viewpoint until now is that the client devices are unsecure by default and sensitive information should not be allowed to be stored on the clients. Not even with encryption software installed. Now there is a possibility that we could revisit that as Credential Guard protects the user credentials from being access by malware hence blocking possible lateral movement.

Today I start my first day at Microsoft! Wish me luck!

An architect asked me yesterday how you use a reference architecture when it comes to security architecture. ‘How can I be sure that it is applicable for me?’ was the simple and yet interesting question.

The answer is not that obvious. First of all, we need to position your own security to the reference architecture. We do this with the risk analysis. Without the risk analysis you cannot know what risks you actually have. A risk analysis needs to have both an administrative part and a technical part to be valid. When you know your first batch of risks you´ll start to map them towards the risks that the reference architecture mitigates. A skilled security architects does that in a few minutes.

When you done that you know if the reference architecture is applicable for you. In some cases (like Microsoft’s SPA concept) the risks are valid for everyone having an Active Directory making it very easy to tell if it fits you.

This is sadly not the end of your peril. When you know the reference architecture to use you now have to map the cost of implementing it with the values you are trying to protect. First when that is done you know if the reference architecture is the right thing for you.

I don´t know how many of you that spend your time reading about security issues during your vacation but you have probably heard about the struggles at the Swedish Transport Agency.

There are quite a few things not right in the current rounds of the news but that will be sorted eventually. All in all, the problem is that the one responsible have decided that a few laws governing security of information was possible to opt out from (they aren´t) and allowed a number of systems to be outsourced to IBM giving a few foreign administrators that was not approved by SÄPO (Swedish Security Police) full access to all information.

The news currently say that information has leaked but that is to mistrust IBM quite a bit but the real problem is that information security is not regarded as an important topic when outsourcing. Using a cloud service is not the problem, not managing your security is a problem.

If you are a pentester you a perfectly aware of lateral movement but if you are a bit more far away from technology you probably won’t read any more right now but I would advice you to continue reading.

What is lateral movement? It’s the process of getting access to a computer, capture the credentials and use those to move to the next computer in the network, get the next set of credentials and continue until you find a workstation that a domain admin has logged into.
And that’s where the attacker strikes gold for with those credentials it is possible to take control of the Active Directory and with that take full control of everything in the organization.

So, is lateral movement a problem? Yes, it is a problem if you have not implemented a Tier model because sooner or later (often sooner) they will find that workstation where the domain administrator logs in. It is still a problem if you have implemented the Tier model and PAWs but at least the keys to the kingdom is safe (for now). If you have followed best practice how clients access applications and use domain accounts then lateral movement becomes a lesser problem but still it could be blocked rather easily if you implement a few group policies that blocks ‘Local account and member of Administrators group’ from logging on to this computer from the network.

Read more here.

I´m not to fond of not manage to help my clients recover but sometimes shit happens and you´ll have to just stand there looking at a disaster evolving in front of your eyes.

This particular case was in April. I was recovering from a surgery so I wasn´t working. My phone rang and a friend of mine told me that he has a friend that has been hit by a ransomware. It´s not a big company so they can´t afford a specialist helping them but he promised me a good discount if I manage to do something. Being bored in bed I decided to give them a call and was quickly informed that they didn´t have time for my advice as they had some production problems.

About two hours later they called me back and told me that they could use my help as they had no access to their files. They bluntly asked me if I could crack the password and I said no. “Aren’t you supposed to be a security expert?”. I decided that they most probably are in a lot of stress so I swallowed the insult and continued with saying that the tools they use are standard encryption modules with very ling complex passwords so cracking those is possible but it will take a number of years and cost millions so it is not the way you attack this problem.

I asked what has happened and they told me that several users had clicked on a link and activated a ransomware that had encrypted their file server several times. The cost to get the key was about 0.5 Bitcoins. I was sent a file and saw that it was encrypted four times hence impossible to decrypt. This ransomware apparently encrypted everything and added .CRY so the file I was sent was named Financial 2017.xlsx.CRY.CRY.CRY.CRY.

I told them that it was virtually impossible to decrypt and that the only way to recover the files was to pay for the decryption key and have the files decrypted in the right order. The other way was to restore from a backup and lose a few days’ worth of work. That’s when they told me that they haven’t taken any backup ever.

I told them to create an instant backup of the encrypted files so that they could restore them to an encrypted state in case they ran the decryption in the wrong order.

They didn´t take my advice and I later found out that they lost 100% of their data on the fileservers including designs that’s taken them years to finalise.

Cybersecurity has been a thing for quite some time now but the real change here in the Nordics came this year with a lot of ransomware attacks with WannaCry as the current leader of the pack closely followed by GDPR that is every security consultants wet dream. Almost every company have put cybersecurity on the top three things they need to do the following years.

The saddest thing is that most of them actually could have done it a lot easier a few years back. Today the have very complex environments and are integrating everything creating a security disaster waiting to happen. The chances of a company not being hit by a ransomware or an attack is slim to nil. The only hope is that the users don´t click on links or that the antivirus was updated.

I think that we will see a number of devastating attacks this year and also a few companies that will fail due to policy problems or administrative routines that are not followed.

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