Category Archives: Network

The Greatest Vulnerability in your Network: Users


The most thorough firewalls are useless against oblivious users, who are duped into inviting malware and spyware onto secure networks. Users are, more often than not, the biggest weakness in your network’s security, and hackers are increasingly using social engineering to gain access to secure data.

Human Hacking

Social engineering, much like classic hacking, takes note of unintentional patterns and finds openings in otherwise secure environments. Human-hacking takes advantage of our unconscious decision making patterns to gain access to secure networks.

Trojan Horses

Hackers take advantage of our assumptions about what kinds of devices and hard media are “safe.” Even air-gapped networks are vulnerable to these trojan horses. For example, hackers will leave USBs with reconnaissance software on a reception desk or in the parking lot of a business, trusting that some good samaritan will plug it into a secure computer, to see if they can identify the owner. Meanwhile, the device is taking note of the network map and transmitting that information as soon as it is plugged into a networked computer. And of course, any company with a bring-your own-device policy is highly vulnerable. Even when personal devices for work use are prohibited, in air-gapped offices, employees itching for that email or Facebook fix often turn their cell phone into a hotspot to connect work devices, however briefly, to the internet.

Malware can also be hidden within files that appear to be legitimate communication. One famous hack involved a hacker posing as a conference photographer, taking pictures of attendees during social functions, and then sending out the photos with malicious code embedded in the images.

Clever Disguises

Some USBs are programmed to appear to the computer as another kind of external device, such as a keyboard, so they can enter malicious commands. CDs and DVDs of all kinds can also hide malware and spyware. Sophisticated hackers have even intercepted shipments of software CDs, hard disk drives and other devices, installed malware, rewrapped it–reproducing shrink wrapping, packaging,  etc.– and sent it along to be installed by unsuspecting IT pros. This malware infects the firmware of hard disk drives prior to the OS load, creating a secret storage vault that survives military-grade disk wiping, formatting, and encryption. Vendors that were impacted by this type of hack include Maxtor, Samsung, IBM, Toshiba, and others.

Another example of infiltration disguised as innocuous activity are viruses that impersonate a device’s network interface card so that when the user searches for password protected sites, it can redirect to a dummy site that records the password.

Prevention: User Policies

Given the variety of ways hackers exploit users, what can IT professionals do to keep a network secure? First, a strong, highly-enforceable acceptable-use policy is a must.  Include policies that govern email, websites, and social media usage. Consider disallowing external devices. Tie compliance with this policy to promotion, advancement, or pay raises. Some highly secure organizations terminate employees for breaching these policies.

To discourage employees from visiting dangerous sites, you can send out an email every week with a recording of their web usage. They’re likely to be more careful when they know they’re being watched.

Prevention: Admin Policies 

On the admin side, IT departments should insist on user-access control and never make average users admins. Limiting their access also limits the chaos unleashed by their lapses in judgement.

Finally, all network equipment that comes into the office, from hard disk drives to network interface cards, must got through the IT department. IT pros should look carefully to make sure tamper-proof packaging is intact, to help prevent compromised devices from accessing your data.

Byline: Leslie Rutberg is a tech and IT industry blogger for CBT Nuggets. This article was based on their recent webinar “10 Tips for Locking Down End-User Security.”

One Large Data, Hold the Geek: the Rise of Hilary Mason

“Thank you for making our field less boring and depressing!” – Group thank you note from the big data industry to Hilary Mason

Okay, okay: that’s not true… But it’s close. You only need to skim through the comments on big data scientist Hilary Mason’s website to find out how stoked the nerd community is about her and how ready some dataphiles are to awkwardly propose. One fan, after outlining several elements of a lecture Mason gave that he enjoyed, concluded: “And I must say, your breathtaking voice was such a pleasure with which to listen to them…… [sic].” Yeah, really. That is true.

The IT subfield of big data is not just big really, but enormous and booming. IDC predicted in December that the field would grow to $16.1 billion this year, at a pace 6 times that of overall IT market growth.

Tesla & Business Poster Children

It can help a field enormously when there is a standout expert who defies expectations. For instance, look at Elon Musk of Tesla Motors: his company revolutionized the electric car last year (and brushed off the hooplah over three Model S fires last fall – see the “What About Safety Overall?” Section here).

Musk was not made by Tesla but by previous business experience, particularly as cofounder of PayPal, and no one considered him a tree-hugging enviro-maniac in light of his CEO position at private space shuttle company SpaceX. Part of the reason for the success of Tesla is that it had an improbable poster child who was charismatic but turned heads because he didn’t fit the expected mold.

Hilary Mason is similar. Sure, she’s smart, and she’s much more than just a superficial representative of big data: she’s a thought leader who was Chief Scientist at bitly for four years and is currently Data Scientist in Residence at Accel. Part of the reason she is getting so much attention in the press, though, is that she was as improbable as Musk. In a field dominated by men and mechanistic, mathematical thought, a pretty young woman whose bio states, “I <3 data and cheeseburgers” earns a double-take. In effect, Mason is making big data more fun to discuss. Sure, she’s nerdy, but she’s also attractive and personable.

So She’s Photogenic, What Else?

It isn’t just that Mason doesn’t look the part, but that she wants to communicate with everyone rather than using esoteric jargon only understood by tech professionals. In interviews, she discusses the applications of big data in terms of empathy and understanding human behavior. Put another way, she understands that data isn’t really about data. It’s a means to an end, and big data analysis allows us to process the world quantitatively so that we can improve it qualitatively.

Furthermore, she has helped to define a field the Harvard Business Review calls the sexiest segment of the century (and as we all know, Harvard experts are known for their mind-boggling sexual prowess). Mason is relatively new to the business world, but she started making advances immediately, helping to build the idea of data science and figure out how it could best integrate with business. She rallied data nerds to join forces and juice the field with more power through collaboration. Specifically, she started an annual conference in New York (in partnership with others) called DataGotham and was co-founder of HackNY, an organization to locate and develop young computing talent.

Mason wanted to work with others because she promotes understanding the perspective of a business by listening and feeling for their needs. Of course that makes sense, but it helps to have someone spell it out that analyzing data is just like anything else: the good stuff helps us better understand the world, better understand each other, and better meet the needs of business customers.

What’s New – Fast Forward Labs

Hilary Mason does not want to give out all her secrets for free, though. She has started a consulting group called Fast Forward Labs. The organization doesn’t build applications to mine and analyze data but instead empowers its customers to work with big data themselves and find tools themselves. The company produces an expensive newsletter discussing current and emerging software that can be used to process chunks of data more effectively.

Mason certainly doesn’t care about stepping on toes. She knows that the science is young and still has much ground to cover before it will start realizing its potential – the jaw-dropping capabilities we seemingly all assume are on the horizon. Predictive algorithms that could determine who we are and what we want with small pieces of information are still ridiculously unrefined, Mason told the Wall Street Journal: “They’re actually fairly terrible.”

Hadoop, a repository for data created originally through a partnership of Yahoo and Google, stores data and then analyzes what it has collected. Mason instead is interested in real-time data analysis, understanding information as it streams.

Data at Mach Speed: About Us

Hillary Mason appreciates that data doesn’t exist in a vacuum but in relationship to time. In other words, she knows the incredible value of immediacy, and so do we. Plus, like Mason’s various enterprises, our cloud system is results-based and research-driven. We guarantee optimal performance for app development, and some folks find us as alluring as Mason (we hope).

By Kent Roberts

Image Credit: Crains New York

Choosing Colocation vs. Leasing Dedicated Servers & Landlord Appreciation – Part 2


¿Qué es el Web Hosting?

As discussed in the first part of this series, choosing whether to own or rent is sometimes a challenge to determine. With some products, you have to buy. For instance, underwear only comes as a rental in Belgium, South Korea, and Nauru. More sizable and sophisticated products, though, are available to lease or own worldwide. Dedicated servers are one example of the latter, with the options to use colocation (at a datacenter or web host) or to lease with a hosting service.

This series looks at colocation versus leasing, using thoughts from, ITworld, and About Colocation. The first installment focused on the basics. This part and the next one get a little more opinionated, with both of the perspectives I’m citing arguing for colocation (which is an easy argument because you get to build the server, but the investment and expertise required to do so may not be for you).

Beyond dedicated server leasing and colocation, we are also assessing different ways to approach housing: renting versus owning. One great thing about owning a house is that you get to do the yardwork. Yardwork is fun, no matter what your immediate instincts might tell you. For example, you might think, “I have better things to do than pick up sticks and leaves all day,” or “I am horribly allergic to my yard.” You know what, though? Being active by walking around with a rake in the hot sun is healthy.
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Using CloudFlare to protect and speed up your website & brain


Wow! If you run a forum you need Cloudflare - ...
Wow! If you run a forum you need Cloudflare - it cut my webserver CPU usage in half!

Speed: it’s crucial online. The rate at which a page loads is important both to keep customers happy and to keep them from leaving your site. However, your site’s speed is not just about UX (user experience) but about search engine rankings. That latter factor is becoming more and more important as the Google algorithm weighs it more heavily. Tumblr’s servers, for example, do not meet Google’s standards for speed.

Obviously the speed at which your site populates content depends on a mixture of diverse factors. For example, how many images do you have on your page? Are they compressed? What type of hardware are using (server, etc.)? Are there a lot of WordPress plugins on your site? Simple sites running off of great equipment load very quickly, and complex sites on clunky equipment don’t. However, there is a cheat.

CloudFlare is that cheat. It’s free. It makes your site faster. It makes it more difficult for spammers to harass you. It strengthens the security of your site. I know… It sounds implausible. In this three-part series, we will look at CloudFlare from a variety of different angles.
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Many Different Flavors of Linux: A Look at Distros & How They Taste


English: Pentubuntu, the different Linux Distr...
Pentubuntu, the different Linux Distribution

When you look at servers, one of the most important decisions you need to make is the operating system. Typically that means choosing between Windows and Linux. However, you may choose to use a dedicated server (a server you control, with a hosting company or on your own) or co-location (using a hosting company’s data center to store your server in an ultra-secure environment). In that case, you will have a wide variety of types of Linux you can potentially explore. The same is true of your PC desktop.

Linux has all these options to choose from because it is an open-source (freely available source code) version of UNIX. UNIX, then, is the real base operating system. Linux became an incredibly popular version of UNIX, the standard for use by high-tech folks and many companies around the globe. Due to its widespread adoption and the fact that it is open source and can be manipulated as desired, a widespread array of versions has proliferated.

Perhaps the best part of Linux flavors is, in fact, not how they operate or feel but how they taste. Probably the most ridiculous comment Bill Gates ever made was when he complained that “all species of Linux taste like chicken.” He then explained that Windows tasted “like a warm blueberry muffin at one moment, like crisp roast duck the next.” Granted, he was a little inebriated when he made these comments, and it’s also possible it wasn’t him. Some guy who looked like Gates definitely said this, though.
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Firewalls 101: Hardware, Software & Web Application Firewalls


SVG version of Image:DMZ network diagram 2 fir...
DMZ network diagram 2 firewalls

Firewalls: We all know they are vital for Internet security, but what are their basic purposes and flavors? This series serves as a basic beginner’s guide to firewalls of the three major types: hardware, software, and web application (WAFs).

For this three-part series, we will look at information from several different sources. The primary ones will be “Hardware Firewall vs. Software Firewall,” from the Michigan Cyber Initiative; “Best Practices: Use of Web Application Firewalls,” from the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP); and “What You Should

Know About Firewalls,” by Michael Desmond for PCWorld. This first part will focus on firewalls generally. The second part will target the differences between hardware and software firewalls; and web application firewalls will be explored in-depth in the third installment.
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