Tag Archives: Cloud adoption

Think Before You Sync. Why just moving to the cloud does not solve the ransomware threat.

27 July 2019

On May 7th, 2019 the city of Baltimore was hit by a ransomware attack.  Although the city hired Microsoft and five other firms it has not fully recovered from the attack yet.(1)

Since the city’s email system was down officials started to use Gmail accounts for communications.(1)(2) This makes sense in the case of an emergency. Not communicating in the case of a publicly visible cyber-attack commonly has a large financial impact on businesses; but in the case of cities this may result in the loss of public security.

The ransomware attack on Norsk Hydro on March 19th, 2019 impressively shows the effect of good communications(3)(4): Investor’s confidence was not endangered at any time, the share price remained unchanged.

But from a strategic point of view, just moving to the whatever cloud is not a good idea. Google’s idea behind ChromeOS was simply clever: If everything (applications and data) is stored in the cloud the impact of e.g. ransomware will be negligible because the malware cannot jump across the https barrier to your cloud storage. The same holds for O365.

Unfortunately, users are not used of this way of working in the browser. It’s often slow, requires a change in working habits, travelling requires extra preparation, etc. So, Microsoft invented OneDrive and Google came up with Sync for Windows. Similar tools are available for Box and DropBox, and for all desktop operating systems, even for Linux.

Linux Setup Online Accounts

Linux setup online accounts during first login

With these syncing tools, the data stored in the cloud is made available on the user’s desktop. Changes to local files are synchronized immediately to the cloud and vice versa. And with this, the ransomware problem still exists because if a ransomware encrypts the synchronized files on the local copy the change is immediately synchronized to the cloud.
Game over.

So, if you want to take advantage of the cloud you have to run a vast change project: The whole working environment with all forms, templates, etc. must be provided in the cloud. And the employees must get used of the new way of working.

We need change!

We need change!

But the effort pays off: Your network becomes more resilient against cyber-attacks, workstations can be easily exchanged, the endpoint complexity can be reduced, windows domains and in the end, the campus network, will become dispensable.

So, think before you sync!

Have a great weekend.


  1. Duncan I. Google Pitches to Baltimore after Ransomware Attacks [Internet]. Government Technology. 2019 [zitiert 27. Juli 2019]. Verfügbar unter: https://www.govtech.com/computing/Google-Pitches-to-Baltimore-after-Ransomware-Attacks.html
  2. Cyber-spies tight-lipped on Baltimore hack. BBC News [Internet]. 27. Mai 2019 [zitiert 27. Juli 2019]; Verfügbar unter: https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-48423954
  3. Norsk Hydro. Update: Hydro subject to cyber attack [Internet]. 2019 [zitiert 24. Mai 2019]. Verfügbar unter: https://www.hydro.com/de-DE/medien/news/2019/update-hydro-subject-to-cyber-attack/
  4. Norsk Hydro ASA. Norsk Hydro: Update: Hydro subject to cyber-attack – 19.03.19 – News – ARIVA.DE [Internet]. de. 2019 [zitiert 24. Mai 2019]. Verfügbar unter: https://www.ariva.de/news/norsk-hydro-update-hydro-subject-to-cyber-attack-7476743
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Windows 2008 Server End of Life: The best chance to move to the cloud

30 June 2018

Windows 2008 Server End of Life is near. Within the next months many companies are busy with the replacement of Windows 2008 based infrastructure and application servers to avoid the next Wannacry or NotPetya.

It appears to me that this is the best opportunity to migrate at least application servers to the cloud. And, in the best case, to get rid of the servers at all by transforming the application to SAAS. If technical or the organizational limitations do not allow this at least the transformation to PAAS and IAAS should be considered.

What stops us from doing this? Very often it is the fear of loss of access to critical business data or the fear of loss of the data at all. At least in the latter case technical protection measures can be applied to mitigate this issue.

Transparent database encryption

Transparent database encryption (TDE) is often the matter of choice. All encryption is performed transparently by the database service, with no impact on the application and the users because only the database files or critical attributes in tables are encrypted. User interaction is required only during database startup to activate the encryption engine.

Unfortunately, TDE provides only encryption at rest. Thus TDE stops infrastructure admins from using unauthorized copies of a database or a virtual database server because they cannot activate the encryption engine. Once the database is started all users and database administrators have access.

Application level encryption

With Application level encryption (ALE) all encryption is performed by the application. Data is encrypted when entered in or retrieved through the application. Thus data is encrypted during transfer and at rest.

As long as the access is not routed through the application server the data are accessible for no one. Even infrastructure or database admins are barred unless they have access to the encryption key.

The security problem is shifted towards that of operational security of the application server. A solution to this problem could be to encrypt the data in the database with a key that is encrypted against the users access keys. This ensures that the encrypted data cannot be decrypted without access to at least one users key.

The remaining risk is that an attacker reads the keys or the plain text data from the process memory of the application service.

The effort to implement application level encryption is high because the application has to be changed. In addition, a key infrastructure must be set up to avoid data loss in the case a user key is e.g. inaccessible. But the gain in information and operational security is high.

The pros and cons of the encryption concepts in summary.

Table 1: Database Encryption Concepts Summary

Table 1: Database Encryption Concepts Summary

With Application Level Encryption, outsourcing or cloud adoption is made easy.

Have a good weekend.