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We are proud to feature a carefully curated collection of articles and other content related to the most important technology topics of today and beyond. Our posts are composed and edited by Sentinel’s ALWAYS ENGAGED team of solutions architects, engineers, project managers and other subject matter experts.
Cisco Live 2019: Highlights From Sentinel CTO Robert Keblusek
By Robert Keblusek, Sentinel Chief Technology Officer
Just about a month ago I was fortunate enough to attend not just one Cisco event, but two (actually three, sort of). I joined a small group of partners for the Global Cisco Partner Technical Advisory Board (PTAB) and attended Cisco Live. The third event was a breakout within Cisco Live called the Partner Experience hosted by John Moses, the new Americas Partner Leader.
These were all great events that clearly demonstrated to me that Cisco really has an impressive vision and a customer-centric focus. During the week, I took the time to track many announcements from Cisco Live and captured a number of trade publications covering the event. From those publications, I created the word cloud to the right, featuring the top words published and indicating where a lot of the excitement was at Cisco Live 2019.
It is an exciting time for IT. Business driven outcomes, cloud computing, IoT, and much more are changing the way we do business and what we’ve come to expect from our technology. Spending a couple of weeks with Cisco leaders, our customers, and our partners was a great experience and reiterated the great opportunities we all have ahead of us.
A standout topic was strong momentum around networking, with a particular focus on DNA (digital networking architecture), intent-based networking, and SD-WAN. Cisco has been re-inventing networking for the past couple of years and has created world-class software-defined solutions from the data center through the enterprise, wireless, WAN and even cloud. Cisco combines industry-leading hardware and ASICs with software and cloud controllers focused on providing the best service experience within their domain (wired, wireless, data center, WAN and cloud for example). DNA Center has advanced to a very powerful network controller for the enterprise and Cisco demonstrated Artificial Intelligence coming this fall to software-defined (SD) enterprise networking that offers real business value leveraging years of networking experience to create a dynamic and self-optimizing network experience. AI-powered enterprise networking is scheduled to be available this fall with a software release for SD networking customers running Cisco DNA. If you have not seen the value of DNA yet, please reach out to Sentinel for a demonstration and DNA strategy session for your organization.
Cisco is also changing the game with SD-WAN services. They have combined a number of different strengths to turn their Viptela SD-WAN solution into a highly secure, intelligent WAN experience with a cloud and data center edge. Cisco’s SD-WAN now uses containers to run Snort IPS (intrusion prevention) powered by Cisco Talos threat intelligence. I see the WAN edge changing dramatically, which is also the primary reason for the incredible number of enterprises making SD-WAN decisions in 2019 and 2020. Cloud and SaaS are driving completely different traffic patterns, and the best user experience no longer benefits from backhauling traffic through the data center to access cloud-delivered services. This creates security challenges by forcing organizations to manage the new traffic and cloud hop off at the edge. Cisco has addressed this with their secure SD-WAN solution. Not only have they put in a strong, centrally managed firewall with Viptela and powered by Talos, but they have also combined this with Umbrella, one of their hottest security products. Cisco now offers hybrid security with Umbrella where customers have the option to secure at the edge, use the edge for east/west visibility, leverage Umbrella DNS services such as blocking and category filtering, but also use Umbrella capabilities as a secure internet gateway (SIG) and even a cloud firewall. No other vendor has such a powerful combination of tools to protect its SD-WAN customers.
For the data center, Cisco announced a number of advancements with its ACI (application centric infrastructure) offering. An exciting demonstration showed how ACI extends from your data center to leading public cloud providers Microsoft Azure and AWS. ACI is already a powerful policy centric infrastructure in the private data center, but now you can extend ACI to public cloud environments and create a true hybrid experience.
Bringing Networking Together
Over the last couple of years one of the top questions customers have asked me is, “Why so many controllers?” Normally I’d say that Cisco wants to have best-in-class SD controller-based networking for each purpose, which is true. But the proper answer has also been a bit more complicated than that, at least until now. Cisco announced that they have started providing multi-domain services driven by APIs. This will be available to customers who have invested in Cisco as their software-defined networking partner. There is an excellent blog from Cisco about this that I highly recommend reading. It describes the details behind this illustration below.
Sentinel is working with Cisco and our customers now to help define their journey to multi-domain software-defined services. If you have not already seen Cisco’s controller-based networking solutions and do not have a roadmap to an SD networking future, I encourage you to reach out to Sentinel for help and a roadmap for the future of networking.
Software-defined networking along with APIs has paved the path forward for programmable networking and automation. An example of this is Cisco’s inclusion of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Cisco DNA SD networking coming this fall. A powerful demonstration of their networking AI in action was part of the Cisco Live keynote presentation. If you missed it, I recommend reading this blog to learn more about Cisco’s AI powered SD networking
This is only one example of using software and intelligence to build a smarter network that increases business value and decreases operational costs. With this new programmability and APIs, more organizations will be looking to integrate applications and outcomes to the networking experience throughout their networks and multi-cloud services. Cisco launched a new DevNet program and certifications that mirror their existing mature networking certification program. In addition, Cisco announced a new community-based developer center called “Automation Exchange” to accelerate network automation via programmability.
The future of network engineers will require experience with programmability. I think most IT departments should use a “three strikes and you automate” policy as a consideration for introducing automation to your networking experience:
+The first time you do something, you just do it manually.
+The second time you do something similar, you wince at the repetition, but you do it anyway.
+The third time you do something similar, you automate.
If you leverage Cisco’s DevNet training, certifications, community site, and code repository, this is far more attainable than ever before. Not only can you automate your networking tasks, but Cisco has also shown how they can use years of experience to baseline a network and use software to not only identify anomalies, but actually take action. In addition, your organization might achieve some creative business outcomes as a result of software-defined networking.
A good example is a project Sentinel worked on with a customer for their Meraki network. The customer wanted to find out the most popular areas where users were connecting to and spending time on their WiFi network. This helped them determine which spots would benefit most from new wireless network investments, and which ones might not be worth the cost. Sentinel was able to use the SD networking platform and API development to deliver this solution and provide business insights that were previously unavailable. This is just one example. What could SD networking make possible in your business landscape?
Cisco’s acquisitions over the past three years have resulted in an end-to-end security architecture, and that really took center stage at the SD networking presentations as well as throughout the entirety of Cisco Live. IT teams are struggling to deal with the extensive amount of security information generated from security products, networking equipment, servers, endpoint protection, and more. Not only has uncovering security anomalies become as challenging as finding a needle in a haystack, but the speed at which modern attacks monetize themselves has forced IT teams to seek automated rapid threat responses from the cloud, through the network, and at the endpoint.
Cisco is one of the only providers bringing security together for a cohesive solution within their product portfolio. These products share information and add context to the security experience – from email through the network to the endpoint and the cloud. This layered approach continues to analyze files, traffic, networking information, and more, and compare it to Cisco’s world-leading threat intelligence powered by Talos. The sharing of event details with threat intelligence, policy information across products, and identification of threats allows for policy enforcement that does not require manual intervention. For example, a threat might slip through email security but be detected by Cisco’s AMP for Endpoint. Threats are automatically blocked by Cisco ISE, Cisco Firepower Threat Defense (next-generation firewall), and/or Cisco Umbrella (DNS security and secure internet gateway SIG).
No other vendor has such a complete, end-to-end security architecture able to meet most enterprise needs. Plus, Cisco is combining these with smart purchasing options such as their new secuirty choice enterprise agreements. To find out if Cisco is the right architecture for your security needs, reach out to Sentinel for more information and embark on a roadmap discussion to modernize your security architecture.
Internet of Things
While cloud consumption and Software as a Service (SaaS) are driving new traffic patterns and creating new security chellenges, IoT has also had a major impact on the needs of the modern network. Smart and dynamic segmentaiton is required throughout the network, WAN, data center, and cloud to support different traffic and security needs. It is clear that IoT has had a huge impact on consumers from mobile devices to smart homes, but enterprises are also dealing with the impact of massive IoT growth that is not slowing anytime soon.
As we address the challenges of smart and dynamic segmentation of the LAN, WAN, data center, and cloud with software-defined technology powered by machine learning, so must the network adapt to include non-traditional compute devices. Modern industrial machinery, SCADA networks, medical devices, smart utilities and building systems, and much more are all dependent on the network today. Security is at the forefront of these critical systems as the number of IoT devices we depend on continues to grow at an exponential rate.
Cisco has been actively adding intelligence to their software-defined networks and the multi-domain controller technologies to ensure that IoT information and context gets treated appropriately and passed through the network end-to-end. An example of Cisco innovation is their recent acquisition of industrial IoT (IIoT) security and management firm Sentryo. Sentryo will bring asset inventory, network monitoring, and a threat intelligence platform designed to secure Industrial Control Systems (ICS) and SCADA networks. Sentinel has recently seen an uptick in customers from the industrial and other sectors that require SCADA network and security assessments. When combined with Cisco’s intent-based networking and end-to-end security architecture, Sentryo provides a strong platform to enhance security for industrial networks tied into Cisco DNA. In addition, the threat intelligence of Talos provides an opportunity for Cisco to enhance the capabilities of Sentryo by giving them access to one of the world’s leading threat intelligence organizations, thereby increasing the capabilities of the platform.
Cisco also announced new ruggedized heavy duty series Catalyst switching, wireless, and SD-WAN offerings at Live 2019. For rugged use cases, these products offer the same DNA advantages mentioned earlier in this blog but are ready for industrialized environments with extreme conditions. Lastly, Cisco enhanced their edge compute/data service options with a new network-integrated edge compute that supports docker container services on IoT edge devices.
It is a very exciting time to be a Cisco partner and the transitions in IT are coming faster than ever, changing how IT has traditionally provided services. Unfortunately I couldn’t cover everything in this blog. There were other exciting announcements surrounding multi-cloud services, 5G, Cognitive Collaboration, customer care, and much more. Organizations expect their technology to be secure, trustworthy, reliable, and easy to use. Intelligent automation is the quickest and simplest way to support these modern digitization efforts.
Powered by software, Cisco has reinvented networking while providing the strongest end-to-end security architecture available. Gone are the days of highly skilled individuals manually configuring individual network devices. These skills are still necessary, but are now augmented by automation, development, machine learning, and AI. Cisco is leading the way. If you have not looked at Cisco lately, you should. Contact Sentinel and request a briefing. I know you will like what you see.
Frequently Asked Questions: Multicloud and SD-WAN
by DJ Coluzzi, Sentinel Product Manager for Managed Services and Cloud
What is multicloud?
Multicloud is when an organization uses multiple different cloud services. For example, you might have Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) deployed via AWS or Azure working in combination with Microsoft Office 365 or Salesforce, which are their own individual cloud services. A lot of people think of multicloud as just investing in both AWS and Azure, but they forget that Office 365, Dynamics ERP, and other types of Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms fall into that category as well. All of those different pieces have to be taken into account when you’re making changes to connectivity, security, operations, and such within your IT infrastructure.
What types of organizations would benefit most from multicloud adoption?
In all honesty, pretty much everybody. Even with Sentinel’s smaller customers we see people who are using multiple types of business applications. They have Quickbooks as a SaaS application, they have Office 365, and that’s it. Those services, and maybe a few other cloud services on top of that, cover all their business needs. On the opposite side of the spectrum you have enterprise organizations, who might have Kubernetes deployed across multiple cloud environments. There are also plenty of businesses who are somewhere in the middle, all trying to figure out how to get the most from their hybrid cloud or multicloud investments.
How is multicloud related to SD-WAN?
Both multicloud and software-defined wide-area networks (SD-WAN) are based around the need for a single, unified infrastructure. SD-WAN creates a common network infrastructure that has security, multipathing, resiliency, and redundancy all built into it, so that way you’re properly routing your network and your traffic to different areas of the cloud. In the near future we’ll likely have cloud, core, and edge infrastructures all interlinking with each other, and SD-WAN will function as the plumbing for that. That way you’ll have your corporate data center services working seamlessly in tandem with your cloud services like Salesforce, fully integrated with whatever you would need hosted at the customer edge. Use cases are ultimately going to dictate how SD-WAN connects all of those services together in a secure manner.
What building blocks do organizations need for SD-WAN?
Creating a proper SD-WAN solution for your organization primarily depends on what vendor or vendors you use. Cisco offers Viptela and Meraki, which are two great SD-WAN solutions for different types of businesses. Both have native enhancements and native abilities built into them already. Meraki tends to function best at small- and medium-sized organizations, while Viptela was built with enterprise-level support for SD-WAN. Start by determining what you’d like to accomplish with your WAN from a business perspective, then figure out which products and services most natively map to those goals.
What benefits and opportunities for growth are created with SD-WAN?
The main benefit of SD-WAN for most organizations is going to be network redundancy, along with using the transport layer however they want. The best SD-WAN solutions will reduce the cost of expensive circuits such as MPLS, use direct internet access at the edge to enable technology at small or remote offices, and bring those things together so your network connectivity, from your end user to your core data center to your cloud service, remains highly secure. So SD-WAN is really the marriage of not only your traditional routing and VPN services across your WAN and end users, but it also incorporates security into that model too. It takes an overlay, puts it across the wide area network, and makes sure that everything routes and functions properly through automated and orchestrated means.
If you would like to know more about Sentinel’s multicloud and SD-WAN offerings, please contact us. We are also hosting a highly informative multicloud and security-focused event later this month in Arlington Heights, IL. Click here to learn more if you are interested in attending.
Cisco Live 2019: The Major Announcements
There are a number of reasons to attend the Cisco Live! conference every year. The keynote speeches, the panel discussions, the hands-on training sessions, and the opportunities to meet Cisco executives are only part of what this annual five-day event has to offer. Beyond expanding your knowledge base and learning more about IT industry trends, areas like the World of Solutions places the spotlight on Cisco’s many partners showcasing their own unique solutions and services. Having so many different IT executives, experts, and customers gathered in a single location also creates a great atmosphere for networking.
Sentinel was proud to have a strong presence at Cisco Live! 2019, as several members of our team flew out to San Diego for the conference. Some went to explore the many different panels and sessions, while others spent a majority of their time engaging with IT professionals at the Sentinel booth and at the hour happy hour event we hosted. You can read a little about both types of experiences and the key takeaways from each in last week’s blog. This week, we wanted to share some additional details surrounding the major announcements that were made by Cisco at this year’s event.
IoT AR and VR Are Changing Networks
New and emerging technologies, including Internet of Things (IoT) devices, blockchain, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), are quickly being adopted by consumers and integrated into their daily lives. Many organizations are working to adapt and keep up with these trends, but are finding that their networks aren’t exactly equipped to handle the heavy demands created by these advanced technologies. As a result, significant network upgrades and refreshes are becoming increasingly common so businesses can ensure they remain prepared for anything and everything that lies ahead.
The Continued Growth of Multicloud
Multicloud is an increasingly popular strategy in which an organization uses different cloud platforms (public, private, hybrid) and providers to meet specific application and workload requirements in an effort to streamline operations and meet business goals. As the number of users and devices connecting to corporate networks continues to skyrocket, multicloud offers greater flexibility, connectivity, efficiency, and customization compared to a more traditional cloud setup. There are also security benefits to having different portions of your environment spread out across multiple clouds and vendors. Cisco wants to help businesses get the most from their multicloud strategy, and have announced they are developing advanced data analytics tools for greater insights and overall management of assets. Sentinel will be hosting a multicloud event in July if you’re interested in learning more!
Advanced Machine Learning Integration
Cisco announced new software enhancements designed to use machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze network data and deliver more valuable insights that will accelerate business and application development. The basic idea is that machine learning collects relevant data from local networks and combines it with aggregated data to create a unique network baseline able to grow and evolve as users, devices, and applications are added. Machine learning on the network will also be able to spot potential issues or threats and alert the proper IT personnel so they can take care of it before things take a turn for the worse.
SD-Access Combines with SD-WAN and Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI)
As Sentinel’s own Matt LaSota said in last week’s summary blog, “The future is seamless integration and automation between SD-Access, SD-WAN, and ACI platforms to deliver an end-to-end network experience, and it’s right on the horizon.” Cisco’s ultimate goal is to make it easier for enterprise IT teams to securely add users and devices to the data center and cloud networks from any branch location. They’ve also managed to improve the user experience by ensuring all application requirements are automatically shared between the data center and WAN. Lastly, Cisco has extended its encrypted traffic threat detection into public clouds, to help make those environments even more secure.
Overall it was another fascinating and fun Cisco Live!, and we’re excited to share these new innovations with our customers so they can remain ahead of the curve. If you would like additional information about any of the announcements or solutions detailed above, please contact us.
Cisco Live 2019: Top Takeaways from Sentinel Staff
Cisco Live! is Cisco’s annual conference for their partners and customers that focuses on technology trends, education, thought leadership, and networking. The primary goal of the event is to provide inspiration and showcase innovation as technology continues to evolve at an incredibly fast rate.
This year’s Cisco Live conference took place from June 9-13 at the San Diego Convention Center in California. Several members of the Sentinel team were in attendance, eager to connect with customers and learn more about the solutions set to transform the technology landscape in the coming months.
As the conference wrapped up, we asked some members of our staff to share the major takeaways or themes from the speeches, seminars and/or networking events they attended. Here are their insights:
Matt LaSota - Sr. Director of Sentinel’s Enterprise Support Services, Network, and CloudSelect
This year’s Cisco Live! focused largely on software-defined, security, and automation solutions. At least those were the topics that most interested me. The keynote made it clear that software-defined is at the heart of what Cisco is doing. They highlighted new innovations and integrations between the current platforms, with particular emphasis on SD-Access, SD-WAN, and ACI. The future is seamless integration and automation between those platforms to deliver an end-to-end network experience, and it’s right on the horizon.
The sessions specifically on SD-WAN and automation were most important for me this year. Even taking products that have been around for a long time, and a part of the regular line card like ASAv and NGFWv and scripting and automating their deployment, configuration, and management were great to see, and very much aligned with many of things we do today in CloudSelect.
A special highlight this year was an invitation to the NetVets CCIE/DE Lunch with Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins. Only a small group of people were given the opportunity to participate in Q&A with Chuck and his leadership team. No topic was off limits, and the discussion ranged from the future direction of products to certifications to recommendations and feedback around experiences with Cisco TAC (Technical Assistance Center).
Overall, this year’s Cisco Live! conference was top notch! I learned a lot from the educational seminars and discussion panels, but also had plenty of fun at social and networking events.
Chris Vasquez – Sentinel Sr. Sales Executive
Cisco Live! can be a really interesting and engaging experience, even if you aren’t watching keynote speeches and attending sessions to learn more about certain technologies. Beyond those things, there’s a sprawling convention floor to explore, where all different types of companies offer all different types of solutions. Many of them try to hook you in with appealing visual displays and plenty of giveaways. If you forgot to pack a spare set of socks, for example, there are probably a dozen or more booths giving away pairs for free, branded with their particular company logos of course.
Most of my time at Cisco Live! was spent at Sentinel’s booth on the convention floor, where we too had shirts and mints to hand out if people asked nicely. Along the way I had the chance to talk with a number of different people, from other Cisco partners to potential future customers. While there wasn’t a specific topic or solution that everyone seemed to be talking about, many were interested in learning more about our service offerings. They seemed to feel pretty confident and comfortable with their hardware, software, and cloud technologies, it’s just become tough for them to keep all of it fully secure, optimized, and up to date. This is where things like Sentinel’s Managed Services, NOC monitoring, SOC monitoring, and SIEM can really shine, because we handle all of the day-to-day operations along with regular maintenance and support, so our customers can focus more on their own goals and growth for the future.
It was a great time meeting so many new people, telling them a bit about Sentinel, and generally seeing what other partners are up to. Sentinel held a happy hour event one evening at a nearby bar after the conference that was a whole lot of fun, and Cisco also put together a wild concert with Foo Fighters and Weezer so conference attendees could let off a little steam. I’m hoping I can go back again next year!
If you are interested in learning more about any of the solutions and services outlined above, or are curious about some of the major announcements made at this year’s Cisco Live! please contact us for additional information.
Is Hyperconvergence Right for Your Organization?
By Geoff Woodhouse, Sentinel Solutions Architect
There’s been a lot of interest lately in hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) solutions, and as a result plenty of big names like Dell Technologies and Commvault have introduced new offerings such as PowerProtect and HyperScale to help satisfy security and backup needs across all types of hyperconverged environments. Of course there’s also Cisco Hyperflex and Dell Technologies’ VxRail, both of which can run your production environment. Even though the market for HCI solutions continues to expand, it’s important to note that hyperconverged isn’t for everyone.
We’ve spoken with customers who have complained that HCI has added complexity to their environment and left them feeling ill-equipped to handle day-to-day operations. One of the biggest benefits of hyperconverged is that it places everything into one appliance for easier management, but that also makes it much harder to debug if something goes wrong. So some people want to keep their servers, storage, and network separate so they can make size adjustments to the individual parts as needed when experiencing growth or acquiring other businesses. Additionally, some organizations have designated server administrators, storage administrators, and network administrators. When you place all three of those pieces into an HCI platform, who does what? It’s all in one pool, so that can be a major challenge on the administration side of things.
Your purchasing cycle can also make it difficult to invest in an HCI platform. Many organizations spread out their technology purchases over three to five years, so one year they’ll refresh their network, the next year they’ll buy servers, and the year after that they’ll buy storage. As pieces start to become older or outdated they’ll create plans to replace them. With hyperconverged however, you have to purchase everything all at once. So you may have just bought new servers last year, but if you decide to invest in a new HCI solution then the servers are going to be replaced as part of the all-in-one package. Your overall refresh cycle needs to change to accommodate the new structure of your environment. Instead of laying out a three to five year plan, you have to budget differently, which can make things easier and more predictable financially but more difficult politically as IT managers negotiate their yearly funding.
So how do you know if hyperconverged infrastructure is right for your organization? If you’re operating from a smaller environment with about 5TB or data or less, I would recommend keeping all of your infrastructure pieces separate. The smallest HCI systems come with around 15-20TB of space, so you’d be overbuying which doesn’t make any sense. If you have anywhere between 20-50TB of data, that’s a sweet spot for HCI. If you’re operating a large environment with around 100TB of data however, you need to think carefully about whether HCI really is the best solution for your organization. It would be very expensive because you’d need to buy a lot of compute and memory, but you might be able to make it work. I’d also advise checking into other solutions too, because with such a large amount of data investing in a separate storage area network (SAN) would keep that data separate so it can be managed better than having it all in one platform where it might be too much.
A lot of the marketing around HCI will tell you it’s the best solution for every type of organization, but at Sentinel we’re focused on providing our customers with the right technology to meet their unique needs. If your organization uses 20-50TB of storage and 3-4 servers, I’d say that investing in HCI would be a smart choice about 80% of the time. For everyone else, especially smaller and larger companies that fall outside of those parameters, I’d strongly encourage you to investigate other options for enhancing your environment. If you are interested in learning more about hyperconverged infrastructure or other any other innovative technology for your servers, storage, and network, please contact us for additional information.
Time to Upgrade Your Microsoft Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008
Back in 2014, Microsoft announced it would be ending mainstream support for Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 products. At the time, Microsoft strongly encouraged customers to immediately upgrade to newer versions, or at the very least develop a strategy to quickly phase out the 2008 versions. Thankfully they also understood that these sorts of things take time, and promised that both products would continue to receive extended technical support such as security updates for another five years.
As of July 9, 2019, Microsoft will officially end the extended support period for SQL Server 2008. Extended support for Windows Server 2008 will end a few months later on January 14, 2020. Despite ample advance warning, many organizations still haven’t upgraded their systems in advance of this deadline. If your company falls into that category, here’s what you need to know:
The end of Microsoft extended support also means an end to critical security updates. Failure to upgrade would create vulnerabilities that could be exploited by cyber criminals to gain access to your network and environment. The absence of regular security bulletins also makes it impossible to fully protect against hackers and malware.
Continuing to use SQL Server 2008 and/or Windows Server 2008 after extended support expires may place your organization out of compliance and industry regulations such as GDPR. This can lead to significant financial penalties as well as damage to your corporate reputation.
Attempting to maintain and support portions of your environment such as legacy servers, firewalls, intrusion systems, and other areas on your own tends to require a substantial investment of time and money, both of which would be saved with an upgrade.
An upgrade from Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 creates an opportunity to extend the digital transformation of your business further into the cloud. This can help create a competitive advantage in your industry, improve the overall user and customer experience, increase productivity, and generate additional revenue. If that wasn’t enough, the scalability, compatibility, and security offered by the cloud makes an upgrade easy to integrate into your environment, so you can worry less and focus more on other important tasks. Meet compliance and data regulation standards as part of a reliable, high performance platform ready to handle your business needs.
While there are a number of different ways that your organization can approach an upgrade from Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008, Sentinel wants to make the process as easy and painless as possible. We offer special Jumpstart packages for each product so everything from initial system assessments to the development of migration strategies to complete deployment that includes installation and data transfer are handled in an efficient, professional, and cost-effective fashion.
If you are interested in learning more about the end of extended support for Microsoft Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008, as well as the Jumpstart packages Sentinel offers to help your organization upgrade, please contact us.
The Anatomy of a Comprehensive Disaster Recovery Plan
by Dr. Mike Strnad, Sentinel Strategic Business Advisor
Cyber-attacks are becoming more frequent, more sophisticated, and can have devastating consequences on businesses. Determined hackers have proven that with enough commitment, planning, and persistence they will inevitably find a way to access your sensitive corporate data. It is not enough for organizations to merely defend themselves against cybersecurity threats. They need to take proactive measures by developing cyber incident response plans or updating existing disaster recovery plans in order to quickly mitigate the effects of a cyber-attack and/or prevent and remediate a data breach. Small businesses tend to be the most vulnerable, as they are often unable to dedicate the necessary resources to protect themselves. Some studies have found that nearly 60% of small businesses close within six months following a cyber-attack. Today, risk management requires that you plan ahead to prepare, protect, and recover from a cyber-attack.
Disaster Recovery Institute International (DRII) and Business Continuity International (BCI), along with ISO 22701 provide guidance and structure when creating Business Continuity Plans. There are three types of recovery plans built into the structure of traditional Business Continuity: Infrastructure Recovery, Application Recovery, and Disaster Recovery. All three have a specific purpose and form a strategic approach as an organization transitions from the Continuity Phase to the Recovery Phase. These plans should be incorporated with a solid infrastructure defense by using such appliances as IDS/IPS, a well-defined Security Operations Center (SOC), and a highly knowledgeable security monitoring staff.
No organization is immune. The world is unpredictable, and disaster could strike at any time. You buy insurance to protect your business financially against losses, but insurance cannot replace valuable data and the key applications that make your business work. To protect these items you must plan ahead, creating a plan to restore your data when it is lost. Here are five dangerous situations that could significantly impact your business:
1. Natural Disasters - Mother Nature can be cruel. Storms, fires, and floods can all do irreparable damage to your business. Without a disaster recovery plan in place, you may find it extremely difficult to resume operations, putting the future of your company in jeopardy. Many studies have shown that over eighty percent of companies that close for more than 5 days never reopen, so getting back on your feet is critical in the event of a natural disaster.
2. Hardware Failures - Whether from a power surge or other cause, if your hardware fails it can take all your data with it. While you can take steps to protect your hardware with cooling systems, power surge protectors and other technology, it is essential to regularly back up your data. Using a cloud-based or off-site storage can add additional protections, as it is unlikely both locations will fail at the same time. Your disaster recovery plan should include these steps to ward off any potential data loss that could occur.
3. Human Errors - No one is perfect, and that includes you and your employees. Forgetting to save changes, accidentally deleting an important document, or flipping the wrong switch could lead to a significant loss for your company. Training programs can help reduce errors, but the only way to keep your business truly safe from a data loss due to human error is to back up your data on a regular basis.
4. Cybercrimes - Unfortunately, cybercrimes are on the rise and most businesses are affected at some point. A virus or ransomware attack could hold your data hostage, grinding your business to a halt and causing massive profit losses. Your disaster recovery plan should include steps to recover from a hacking attempt, keeping your data safe and accessible.
5. Customer Service - Ultimately, you need a disaster recovery plan to provide your customers the service they have come to expect from you. If your business must shut down or has a prolonged service interruption, you could lose valuable customers to a competitor. The faster you can get back on your feet, the happier your clients will be.
Let’s look at how the three primary Business Continuity Plans fit together. Disaster Recovery Plans have a specific focus that provides multiple types of guidance (as shown in the diagram), and can be expanded based on your organization’s strategies. A strong disaster recovery strategy should start at the business level and determine which applications are most important to running the organization. The Recovery Time Objective (RTO) describes the target amount of time a business application can be down, typically measured in hours, minutes, or seconds. The Recovery Point Objective (RPO) describes the previous point in time when an application must be recovered. Recovery strategies detail an organization's steps for responding to an incident, while disaster recovery plans describe how the organization should respond. In determining a recovery strategy, organizations should consider a number of different things, including budget, resources, people and physical facilities, as well as management's position on risks, technology, data, and suppliers. Management approval of recovery strategies is essential. All strategies should align with the goals of the organization. Once disaster recovery strategies have been developed and approved, they can be translated into disaster recovery plans.
Infrastructure Recovery Plans focus on many types of infrastructure. Plans can be specific to the following areas:
1. Data centers - After the aggressive virtualization of servers and networks in data centers over the past few years, many networks now need to be redesigned to meet today’s business demands.
2. Cloud Strategy - Whether using a public cloud, private cloud or a hybrid mix, every organization needs a workable cloud strategy that can transform service delivery.
3. Mobile-first strategy - More and more businesses have adopted “mobile-first” strategies.
4. Telecommunications – Communications across locations, platforms, and devices have become more essential than ever for a majority of organizations.
5. Wireless - Faster network speeds, more WiFi availability, and increased reliability have created new challenges and opportunities for businesses to evolve.
6. Internal and External Networks – As networks have become increasingly complex, it has become more important than ever to understand the topology and dependencies required for a quick recovery.
Infrastructure Recovery Plans focus on specific areas (shown in the diagram) but are expanded by an organization’s unique strategies. Technology upgrades are essential to enable certain online services, which require an upgraded electronic transport infrastructure that is both safe and fast. In order to take full advantage of the explosive growth in data as well as new service opportunities, there is a desperate need for infrastructure modifications. The trouble is, achieving progress isn’t as simple as just buying new technology. New and innovative software, hardware, networks, tools, databases, monitoring equipment and more are available for purchase, but legacy systems often slow down progress dramatically. Industry experts have long recognized that the right mix of people, process, and technology is needed to integrate new solutions with solid infrastructure plans for recovery.
Application Recovery Plans have become as common as any other Business Continuity Plan. It documents the strategies, personnel, procedures and resources necessary to recover an application following any type of short- or long-term disruption. Maximize the value of contingency planning by establishing recovery plans that consist of the following phases:
1. Notification/Activation: Activate the plan and notify vendors, customers, employees, etc. of the recovery activities.
2. Recovery Phase: Recover and resume temporary IT operations on alternate hardware (equipment) and possibly at an alternate location.
3. Restoration Phase: Restore IT system processing capabilities to normal operations at either the primary location or the new location.
Start by preparing plans for any applications that are mission critical. Define the activities, procedures, and essential resources required during prolonged periods of disruption to help restore normal operations. Allocate responsibilities to designated personnel and provide guidance for recovery. Coordinate with other staff and important external contacts such as vendors and suppliers who will participate in the recovery process. Remember that applications evolve over time with updates and new revisions.
In conclusion, good Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plans will keep your company up and running through interruptions of any kind: power failures, IT system crashes, natural disasters, supply chain problems and beyond.
Here are absolute basics your plan should cover:
1. Develop and practice a contingency plan that includes a succession plan for your CEO.
2. Train backup employees to perform emergency tasks. The employees you count on to lead in an emergency will not always be available.
3. Determine offsite crisis meeting places and crisis communication plans for top executives. Practice crisis communication with employees, customers, and the outside world.
4. Invest in an alternate means of communication in case the phone networks go down.
5. Make sure that all employees, as well as executives, are involved in the exercises so that they get practice in responding to an emergency.
6. Make business continuity exercises realistic enough to tap into employees' emotions so that you can see how they will react when the situation gets stressful.
7. Form partnerships with local emergency response groups—firefighters, police and EMTs—to establish a good working relationship. Let them become familiar with your company and site.
8. Evaluate your company's performance during each test, and work toward constant improvement. Continuity exercises should reveal weaknesses.
9. Test your continuity plan regularly to reveal and accommodate changes. Technology, personnel, and facilities are in a constant state of flux at any company.
Sentinel has all of the solutions, advisory services, and training required to help ensure your organization is fully prepared in the event of a disaster or any other sort of emergency that can significantly impact your business. Please contact us if you are interested in learning more about our Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery planning services.
Frequently Asked Questions: Webex Calling
by Ron Boscaccy, Sentinel VP of Solution Engineering and Product Demonstration
Webex Calling takes the complex infrastructure and management required to maintain a traditional phone system and simplifies it through the cloud. Users can access the system across all types of devices and locations, making it easier to communicate and collaborate with co-workers, partners, and customers. To help give you a better idea of what Webex Calling is all about, Ron Boscaccy, Sentinel’s VP of Solution Engineering and Product Demonstration, provided answers to a few commonly asked questions.
What is Webex Calling?
Webex Calling is a Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) solution from Cisco. It’s a cloud-based service that functions as your phone system, so you don’t need any on premise hardware other than the phones themselves. Everything else sits up in the cloud. This is the latest evolution in voice technology.
What are some features of Webex Calling?
The nice thing about Webex Calling is that it’s tied into the whole Webex platform. It’s a very feature-rich system that’s similar to a traditional Private Branch Exchange (PBX) most businesses have today, but it also incorporates Webex Meetings so you can create shared meetings and bridges, as well as Cisco Teams, which gives you a portal for collaboration and sharing documents or other important information. There are mobile capabilities built into the system too, so you don’t have to worry about location. I can use a laptop, a standard landline phone, or even my cell phone to access the system and it’s all tied back to my corporate network.
Does Webex Calling work with different types of non-Cisco environments and solutions?
Yes, absolutely. The nice thing about Webex Calling is that not only is it compatible with Teams and other Cisco products, it also will work with a platform like Office 365. So even if you have a Microsoft platform and their suites, we can still connect and drive your calling while maintaining the communication and management of your applications.
What types of organizations could benefit most from Webex Calling?
There are two primary benefits to Webex Calling. The first is that companies with branch offices or multiple locations can consolidate and bring their phone systems together if they haven’t done so already. The second is that it enables companies to move from a CapEx to an OpEx pricing model. This can be done all at once, or shifted slowly to include any current hardware. A hybrid solution would allow you to move the branch offices at first before eventually expanding to include the corporate headquarters as well. This helps you save money over time while also unifying under a single system.
Are there any other noteworthy benefits to Webex Calling?
One of the biggest pluses about Webex Calling is that it utilizes Broadsoft technology. Broadsoft played a major role in the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) and a number of other high profile phone projects for some very large carriers. They have been around for a long time and know how to create a powerful UCaaS solution. Most people have used Broadsoft technology without even knowing it. Now that Cisco bought them, they’re creating this tie-in with Webex and Webex Teams to bring it all into one platform. So it’s consolidating different applications and giving you a single pane of glass to manage it all.
If you are interested in learning more, Sentinel will be hosting a special Webex Calling event next Wednesday, May 29th at our headquarters in Downers Grove. There is a morning session and an afternoon session, so please register for one of them today if you are able to attend! If you are unable to attend the Webex Calling event but would still like some additional information about the solution, please contact us.
Five Major Announcements from Dell Technologies World 2019
The annual Dell Technologies World conference took place in Las Vegas last week, and a few employees and managers from Sentinel were among the 14,000 attendees at the four-day event. It was one of Dell Technologies’ biggest and most action-packed conferences to date, as the company laid out their roadmap for the future that included new products/services, greater integration with VMware, and a fresh strategy for growth. While there were many important announcements made during the event, here are five that we feel are particularly noteworthy.
VMware Cloud Integrates with Dell EMC
Dell Technologies introduced a powerful new consumption-based on premise Cloud Data Center-as-a-Service that integrates multiple VMware Cloud solutions into a Dell EMC infrastructure. This includes VMware Cloud Foundation, the VMware Cloud Stack, and the hyperconverged solution VxRail. When utilized properly, it will significantly improve public cloud power and agility for organizations while making it easier to manage on premise workloads. It’s also compatible across multi-cloud environments, creating a seamless infrastructure where minor day-to-day tasks are handled by VMware and Dell EMC so IT departments can focus more on innovation and growth. The Cloud Data Center-as-a-Service is expected to be available as a subscription-based service in the second half of this year.
New, More Powerful Switches
As enterprise organizations continue to generate and consume massive amounts of data, it’s more essential than ever to have switches able to handle the traffic coming from the cloud, on premise, and endpoints. With that in mind, Dell EMC announced a new line of open networking portfolio switches called PowerSwitch. The first model set for release is the PowerSwitch S5200-ON, which is 2.5x more powerful than previous Dell EMC switches and was designed with hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) environments in mind. Its low density connectivity helps with automation and transitional changes across all different types of deployments or upgrades.
Dell EMC have bundled their hardware with VMware’s SD-WAN by Velocloud to create a powerful new software-defined networking solution that’s available in one-year or multi-year subscription. SD-WAN Edge is a network optimized server designed to run virtualized network functions. The goal is to provide a more cost-effective and flexible solution to make it easier for organizations to solve their problems at the edge. SD-WAN Edge is expected to be available this July.
The Dell EMC storage platform Unity gets a next-generation upgrade with the Unity XT. This new version was designed with NVMe drives in mind, and is both twice as fast as the original Unity and 67 percent faster than any other storage solution currently on the market. It’s optimized for up to 5:1 data reduction and perfect for smoothly shifting data to public cloud or multi-cloud environments.
Dell EMC Cloud Storage Services
Extend your data center into the public cloud with the new Dell EMC Cloud Storage Services. This high-speed, low-latency connection uses managed services to establish a seamless combination with Dell EMC’s Unity, PowerMax, and Isilon ata center storage lines. The initial Cloud Storage offerings will include Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) as well as multi-cloud access to perform workload analytics and testing/development.
Sentinel is proud to be a Dell EMC Platinum Partner, and we’re looking forward to sharing these new solutions and innovations with you as they become available. If you would like any additional information about these Dell Technologies World 2019 announcements and how they can benefit your organization, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
A Guide to Modern Password Security
by Jason Olmstead, Sentinel SOC Senior Exploitation Analyst
As of the latest draft version of the Security Configuration Baseline document for Windows 10 and Windows Server (versions 1903), Microsoft has dropped their recommendation for a password expiration policy for both operating systems. Previously, Microsoft’s baseline recommendation for password expiration policy would force users to change their passwords every 60 days. Prior to the 60-day recommendation, Microsoft’s recommendation was a forced change every 90 days. The theory behind having users change their passwords more often, and on a regular basis was that passwords would always be “fresh” and would be harder to compromise. Additionally, compromised passwords would be usable for a shorter period of time. A moving target is much harder to hit than a fixed target, right?
To answer that question, let’s first think about the most common ways that user credentials are compromised. There are three very common attack vectors that an attacker would use to target user credentials - social attacks, technical attacks, and reconnaissance attacks.
Social attacks are very common and are primarily composed of several types of phishing attacks. There are a few specific subtypes of phishing attacks, but in general the primary goal of a phishing attack is for an attacker to convince a user to hand over access credentials. A common way to achieve this is to provide the user with a fake login screen, typically on a webpage or other form, which looks authentic so that the user provides their credentials. Credentials are then captured by the attacker, and sometimes those valid credentials are passed to an authentic login mechanism so the user isn’t ever suspicious. Tools that automate this type of attack are freely available and not difficult to use. In order for social attacks to be successful, the attacker has to convince the user to perform an action which will result in compromised credentials.
Having to convince users means having to interact with them, and that opens the door for exposure to an attack attempt. If a user is wary of phishing and other social attacks, they could might alert their IT or security department. Although social attacks are still very common, most cyber criminals are looking for the path of least resistance. Technical or reconnaissance attacks tend to be a safer option.
Technical attacks rely on a hacker’s ability to compromise and exploit systems or networks in order to gain access to user credentials. These attacks do not rely on any communication with users directly, and often go undetected by IT staff. A common way of exploiting a Windows network in order to obtain user credentials is to use a tool like Responder, which exploits a flaw in the way Microsoft Link Local Multicast Name Resolution (LLMNR) works.
When a client attempts to access a trusted network resource, an LLMNR broadcast request gets sent in an attempt to locate the resource. Since the request is IP broadcast traffic, all other clients on the network segment are able to see that request. A tool like Responder will automatically respond to the client’s request and assume the role of the intended resource. Responder will respond to the request and ask for login credentials, which the client’s Windows machine is more than happy to provide. Responder captures the client’s username, NTLM/v2 password hash, domain/workgroup info, and IP address, then stops communicating with the client. After a certain period the session times out, and the client makes the request again. Responder knows that it has already captured information for that client (based on IP address), so Responder ignores subsequent requests and allows the appropriate network resource to respond. At this point the attacker can take the password hash offline to crack or use it in a pass-the-hash attack against other resources.
The third type of password attack has traditionally not been very common, but is gaining steam very quickly. Reconnaissance attacks involve collecting, indexing, and making searchable large databases of known usernames and passwords from questionable parts of the Internet (typically “deep web” and “dark web” sites). These databases contain usernames and passwords from users that have been involved in high-profile password breaches over the past several years. These password databases contain tens of billions of usernames and passwords from various system breaches ranging from the mid-2000s up to and including weeks before today’s date. Although these databases typically don’t contain password dumps from end-user systems (for example, an organization’s Active Directory database), they are still very valuable to attackers.
It’s pretty standard for users to sign up for services like Dropbox, Adobe, LinkedIn, Twitter, OneDrive, and other online services using their corporate email address as a username. It’s no secret that a very common practice among users is to reuse passwords across many sites, as doing so makes passwords easy to remember. Users also typically choose passwords that are only long enough to meet password requirements for any given system, so most passwords tend to be between 8 and 12 characters long and contain dictionary words or names. An attacker can use this information to derive a fairly powerful list of potential passwords for a corporate user based on their password history as exposed in breach databases. This list can be used against Internet-facing corporate systems in an attempt to brute-force a user’s login information, or it can be used in conjunction with a technical attack as described above to more easily crack a user’s stolen password hash.
Qualifying Microsoft’s Password Recommendation
Now that we understand the three most common vectors to obtain a user’s credentials, does Microsoft’s latest recommendation make sense?
There are several reasons why reconnaissance attacks are becoming so popular with attackers, and they’re closely tied the weaknesses we’ve all known about passwords for years. Users tend to select short, weak passwords that are easy to remember. Users tend to reuse these short, weak passwords across many sites and services. When forced to change a password at a regular interval, users tend to simply modify their existing password, typically by incrementing a number within the password or something similar. If systems prevent users from using dictionary words in their passwords, users tend to replace letters of a dictionary word with numbers or special characters that look like those letters (4 for A, ! for i, 0 for O, etc.) Modern password cracking tools have automated rules that exploit all of these weaknesses via automated guessing to the tune of literally billions of guesses per second using a modern GPU.
Knowing user habits in regard to the creation of weak passwords, and knowing how users typically only increment passwords when forced to change them on a regular basis, Microsoft understands that forcing a user to change a weak password every 3 months isn’t nearly as important as forcing the user to create a “long and strong” password once and allow them to use it for a much longer period of time. If a user increments a number at the end of weak, 8 character password, the password is still weak and can still be cracked in a matter of hours or days. If an attacker knows this password and the user changes it, the attacker can simply make logical guesses to figure out the “new” variant with ease. If a user isn’t forced to change a strong 24-character password for a year or two that’s fine, because the length of that password alone would take 20+ years to crack with modern technology.
So to answer the original question, yes, Microsoft’s recommendation of eliminating password expiration policies does make sense, however, the shortcomings of the initial password requirements should also be remedied. Microsoft acknowledges that password expiration policies don’t make systems any more secure. From the latest Microsoft Security Baseline document:
“Periodic password expiration is a defense only against the probability that a password (or hash) will be stolen during its validity interval and will be used by an unauthorized entity. If a password is never stolen, there’s no need to expire it. And if you have evidence that a password has been stolen, you would presumably act immediately rather than wait for expiration to fix the problem. … And if it’s not a given that passwords will be stolen, you acquire those problems for no benefit. Further, if your users are the kind who are willing to answer surveys in the parking lot that exchange a candy bar for their passwords, no password expiration policy will help you.”
Microsoft goes on to explain that they are not proposing that organizations weaken requirements for minimum password length, history, or complexity, as all of those factors combined are much more important than forced password expiration.
Ways to Improve Your Password Security
Ideally, we would do away with passwords altogether and use a better form of authentication. This is the dream, but the reality today is that many systems will still only allow authentication via passwords. Since our reality includes a system whereby users are expected to create and manage secure passwords themselves, the following steps should be taken to make the most of a less than optimal situation.
+Use multi-factor authentication (MFA) wherever possible. This is especially important on Internet-facing services like VPN and Outlook Web Access / Office 365. Often, organizations neglect the importance of securing email with MFA. If an attacker can access a user’s inbox via Outlook Web Access, s/he can dump the Global Address Book and easily harvest usernames for everyone inside the organization. If that email account can be used as a second factor avenue for something like a VPN login, the VPN would then be compromised as well.
+Enforce banned password lists in Active Directory. Microsoft provides a service through Azure AD that can be implemented with on premise Active Directory. This service automatically checks user passwords against a large database of known weak and compromised passwords, and if whatever password the user attempts to use matches a password in that database, the system will not allow the password to be used.
+Perform regular password audits against the Active Directory SAM database. As an administrator, it’s rather trivial to export a dump of the password hashes within the Active Directory database. This dump can then be provided to a trusted partner such as Sentinel, where a skilled penetration tester can use common password databases, breach password databases, and heuristic brute force attacks against hashes within the database to expose weak passwords. This will measure the effectiveness of an organization’s password policy, as well as the effectiveness of its users to choose secure passwords.
+Ensure that all Microsoft best practices are followed in regard to how passwords are handled from a technical perspective. Disable the use of LLMNR on the network via Group Policy. Require Server Message Block (SMB) signing to mitigate against SMB man-in-the-middle attacks, which can be used to expose password hashes. Add a DNS entry in Active Directory to mitigate the ability for attackers to exploit Web Proxy Auto-Discovery Protocol (WPAD) to obtain cleartext credentials from users.
+Educate users on the dangers of social engineering attacks. Sentinel’s Advisory Services team offers training to teach users how to identify many types of attacks, including obfuscated links in email, dangerous attachment types, forged emails that appear to come from a trusted source, and many others. Education like this helps users stay safe at work as well as at home.
+Encourage users to create passwords that are “long and strong.” A long and strong password should contain more than just lowercase letters, but doesn’t have to look like alphabet soup to be effective. A password like “S&&4$2j0*jf!!3Nmf)3=@+2&5” might take a long time to crack, but it’s impossible to remember, frustrating to type, and will get written down. Something like “&WeWentToTheZooLastWeek&” is easy to remember, is 24 characters long, contains characters from 3 attack sets (upper, lower, special) and should take a prohibitively long time to crack. Using “pass phrases” like this instead of “passwords” is quickly becoming popular to create long and strong passwords. To encourage the use of pass phrases, high minimum password length policies can be implemented, but only after users are educated on how to create easy to remember long and strong passwords.
Personally, I think Microsoft’s recommendation is a sound one, as long as the above information is followed. It serves to start a conversation about how we think of and formulate passwords today, and helps us to understand that they are typically the weakest link to an organization’s security. Taking steps to mitigate weak password creation and use, discouraging password reuse, and implementing multi-factor authentication wherever possible are solid steps in enhancing the security stigma that surrounds passwords.
If you are interested in learning more about password security and ways that Sentinel can help your organization stay safe from all types of threats, please contact us for additional information.