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Ransomware Backup Protection | 1 of 2

Given the breach at the UK Governments leader in all things cyber security, the National Cyber Security Centre, perhaps now is a good time to discuss cyber security again, especially ransomware backup protection? As a little background the NCSC was opened to much fanfare by Her Majesty the Queen, and is headed up by chief executive Ciaran Martin, Director-General Cyber at GCHQ. The centre was announced by then chancellor, George Osborne, with £1.9 billion being made available for tackling cyber crime by 2020. Interestingly, the budget indicated an undisclosed amount to launch cyber attacks against terrorists and other countries.

To sum up, they have the right people, they have plenty of money, they have the full backing of government and industry. So why exactly do they not have a clue? The deliverables of the Cyber Security Essentials are, in my opinion, woefully inadequate, with the assumption of an organisations IT being in the 20th Century and not the 21st Century. By way of a simple example, their infographic regarding Password Guidance is nothing short of laughable. Such as, “Only use passwords where they are needed?” Passwords are a minimum requirement for every single element of an organisational network. No ifs or buts, which I said in Password, encryption and good Practice in 2015. I can’t stress enough the importance of Multi-Factor Authentication alongside passwords.

Why use Ransomware Backup Protection?

Using the recent WannaCry Ransomware incident as an example of how ransomware backup protection should be used, in October 2016 the NCSC published the guidance Protecting your organisation from ransomware. In the original guidance they recommended:

“Backups should be considered a last resort only, as the adoption of good security practices will mean not getting ransomware in the first place.”

Where I agree wholeheartedly with good practice to begin with, ransomware backup protection must form part of that. In mid-December they received feedback that “this line could be misinterpreted by a busy reader as”

“the NCSC does not advocate keeping backups”

Which therefore precipitated clarification, almost a month later! Backing up a bit, proving the Technical Director for Assurance has a sense of humour at least, although falling short of recommending ransomware backup protection:

Just to be clear: the NCSC recommend organisations use backups as a way to help mitigate against a wide range of potentially catastrophic problems, such as fire, theft, flooding, and – naturally – ransomware. Our intention with this paragraph was to note that whilst a backup can help minimise the harm that a ransomware incident causes to an organisation (assuming the backup is current, and is not able to be compromised itself by the ransomware), backups shouldn’t be seen as the primary defence against ransomware. Backups are a last resort, rather than a primary protection. It’s better to design and operate your systems in such a way as to minimise the chances of ransomware gaining a foothold, and to use backups as a mitigation should this occur.

Right then. Ransomware backup protection is good, according to the NCSC. In part two I’ll dicuss what to backup, and how to backup, whilst still wondering that perhaps the undisclosed element of the £1.9 billion was the greater proportion of the pot. And constantly looking over my shoulder, as I’m probably on a list, because of Britain’s nuclear submarines at risk of same cyber attack that crippled the NHS say experts on 21st May. The 36 page follow-up report, released by BASIC last week, HACKING UK TRIDENT: A Growing Threat makes really interesting reading.

With over 20 years of experience, Serviceteam IT design and deliver sophisticated connectivity, communication, continuity, and cloud services, for organisations that need to stay connected 24/7. We take the time to fully understand your current challenges, and provide a solution that gives you a clear understanding of what you are purchasing and the benefits it will bring you.

To find out how we can help you, call us on 0121 468 0101, use the Contact Us form, or why not drop in and visit us at 49 Frederick Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 1HN.

We’d love to hear from you!

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Leased Line Connectivity: What is it?

If your organisation needs connectivity to support business critical data and applications, it’s important to find a solution that works for you, and a leased line connection is often part of that. Leased lines provide connections between networks that require data to ease communication. This could mean they connect offices to the Internet, or to other geographically distant offices and sites, or they might even carry telephony data such as a call centre.

In short:

A leased line is a dedicated, uncontended, symmetric, resilient data connection often used by businesses or distributed organisations.

Since that contains a lot of technical jargon, let’s run through those terms individually:

Leased Line Features


Dedicated

This means your leased line connection is solely used for your data.

This is important for two reasons. Firstly it’s better for data security as your data doesn’t travel on public routes. But it also means other users don’t affect the quality of your connection.

Uncontended

Contention ratio is the maximum potential demand at any one time, over the actual available bandwidth.

Often with shared Internet connections such as home broadband there are peaks and troughs in terms of bandwidth. You may notice in the evenings that Internet seems ‘slower’. The higher the ratio, the more likely that your connection will be affected and ‘slowed down’ at peak times.

A dedicated leased line will have a 1:1 contention ratio. This means that the provider can guarantee a fixed speed or bandwidth, regardless of the time of day.

Symmetric

This means the downloads speeds are the same as the upload speeds. This is useful for a number of common activities such as:

  • Online Backups
  • Desktop as a Service
  • Video Conferencing
  • IP Telephony
  • Uploading large files

Additionally, leased line connections usually come at higher bandwidths than ordinary connections with up to 10Gbps capacity available.

Resilient

Resilience means that the connection doesn’t go wrong, and if it does, it has the ability the quickly recover. Most leased line connections have around 99.99% uptime. That’s about 60 seconds of downtime a week.

If your organisation is dependent on connection to the outside world, then it is vulnerable if this connection is lost. Having a connection with resilience mitigates this and provides business continuity.

A resilient leased line solution will ensure there is no single point of failure. This can be done by incorporating secondary lines to increase diversity, which means using multiple providers, fibre routes, and entry points. If connectivity is at the forefront of your operations, then a diverse leased line solution provides much better protection against interruptions or outages.

Leased Line Benefits


Save Time & Money

An improved connection provides an excellent return on investment, and enables organisations to take full advantage of cost-saving cloud services. Additionally the increased resilience of leased line connections means that the impact of costly downtime is mitigated.

Improve Productivity

Work smarter, not harder. Every organisation is somewhere on the way to being on the cloud, if not already fully cloud based. Cloud based software and collaboration services improves the way people work, and link them more effectively to sites or customers located in other sites or even across the globe.

Security & Continuity

Enjoy peace of mind with secure private virtual cloud. Mitigate both cost challenges and migration risks with flexibility and ensure business critical functions stay online around the clock with high availability backed by SLAs.

How do you get one?


Serviceteam IT have enterprise solutions for organisations of any size. We offer scalability and flexibility that would otherwise be unavailable from legacy services, and deliver dedicated, secure, uncontended fibre connections for all your voice and data traffic. What Serviceteam IT offer is:

  • Extensibility – Our infrastructure can grow, adapt and scale to your business
  • Continuity – Network designed with contingency options for business continuity
  • Cost Savings – Do away with expensive hardware, switching, and set-up costs
  • Fully managed – Eliminate admin and billing headaches
  • Proactively monitored SLA – with up to 99.999% uptime
  • Maintainence – Hardware maintenance included in standard service
  • 24/7 Support – From a dedicated fault management team

With over 20 years of experience, Serviceteam IT design and deliver sophisticated connectivity, communication, continuity, and cloud services, for organisations that need to stay connected 24/7. We take the time to fully understand your current challenges, and provide a solution that gives you a clear understanding of what you are purchasing and the benefits it will bring you.

To find out how we can help you, call us on 0121 468 0101use the Contact Us form, or why not drop in and visit us at 49 Frederick Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 1HN.

We’d love to hear from you!

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Office 365 Email Continuity & Disaster Recovery | HowTo

Email continuity is critical. Learn how to protect email with simple, and old hat, methods in tandem with Exchange Online for email continuity & email disaster recovery.

Email continuity & Email Disaster Recovery: I’m not sure if it’s just me, but there does seem to be an incessant whine regarding the demise of email. Usually from some thought leader or other, who quite possibly only reads his emails in Outlook and has never had to configure a monitoring service, a notification tracker or a Line of Business Application for email continuity.

Of course in order for humans to communicate there are many other channels available, such as Slack, which I use for notifications that I’ve arrived at the office, but not left;). Skype for Business too, which is our go-to application for video conferences, chat with end users and to see if someone is both sentient and available. I even have a mobile phone and an IP Telephony desk phone, plus FaceTime, iMessage, Zoiper and many more. There are those other things, such as Social Media, where I occasionally play in the LinkedIn pool. Personally, I prefer an actual face to face conversation, sometimes involving a pen and paper and a cup of coffee.

Declaring the demise of email is a rather bold, personally I’d say a little ignorant. Not merely because of the pervasive implementation in things that don’t actually get read, but also because it is still a mechanism where you can write something, attach something and consider something prior to sending it. Radical Group reports that approximately 205 billion email messages are sent per day.  That is 2,372,685 emails per second. I had to turn my phone sideways to calculate that. One of our own customers sends and receives several million emails each month. On balance, email is not about to cease anytime soon.

Why implement Email Continuity & Email Disaster Recovery for Office 365 Exchange Online?

Okay, email can sometimes feel like an annoyance, however, imagine if email were suddenly cut off? Most organisations rely on email to not only conduct day-to-day business, but to also ensure the wheels in the background are turning. Loss of email access or usability can not only slow productivity, it can also cost money.

I recently read a post where it was suggested that an emergency inbox in the cloud was an ideal solution in order to achieve email continuity. It’s not. Look at the numbers above. It would be impractical to have a days worth of the several million emails per month for one business delivered in to one big bucket. How would you make sense of them? What would you do with them if you could? Where would they be stored? When would you be able to restore them to the primary mailboxes? Whilst I’m not laughing and pointing at the idea, much, there is a far better solution.

MX Fallback for Email Continuity & Email Disaster Recovery for Office 365 Exchange Online

Aside from having a reliable, enterprise designed provider, such as Microsoft Office 365, I have to confess to being a little distrusting of any particular service as the only resource. The very nature of technology means it will break or cease to operate correctly for some reason or other and email continuity is too important to ignore.

MX, and the possibility of MX Fallback, was implemented in January 1986 in RFC973 and RFC974 and is perfect for email continuity with Office 365 Exchange Online. In simple terms, Mail Xchange was given a list, mail-1.serviceteamit.co.uk, mail-2.serviceteamit.co.uk and so on. Each MX can be given what is often referred to as a priority, but is in actual fact just an ordered list. Ordinarily your first entry is O, 1 or 10.

Adding MX Records to DNS

With Office 365 and Exchange Online there is only a single entry. Since the last update to Exchange Online the MX entry is in the form:

domain-suffix.mail.protection.outlook.com.

Prior to the previous update to Exchange Online the MX entry was in the form:

domain-suffix.mail.eo.outlook.com.

Both style entries work correctly and there are no current notices that the previous syntax will be deprecated.

For the purpose of fallback we want to add another MX record immediately following the main entry. For example our first two MX records are:

MX 0 serviceteamit-co-uk.mail.protection.outlook.com

MX 1 serviceteamit-co-uk.mail.eo.outlook.com

Our MX Fallback server records for email continuity and email disaster recovery are:

MX 11 mx00.1and1.co.uk

MX 12 mx01.1and1.co.uk

The first two entries. MX 0 and MX 1, are to our primary mail provider, Office 365 Exchange Online. Both of these records land on the same email servers and are of course not the fallback. The third and fourth entries are the Fallback servers. MX 11 or MX 12 will be chosen for delivery of email should either of the first two hosts not respond. There are a number of reasons the primary servers may not respond including network issues, DNS issues, DDoS issues, simply being offline and many others.

Adding recipients to the Fallback host

The simplest way to implement recipients is to enable a catch all on the Fallback server. Practically any email server has the functionality to receive at catch all, or catchall, denoted as *@serviceteamit.co.uk. This way any recipient for email disaster recovery,  firstname.lastname@serviceteamit.co.uk or random@serviceteamit.co.uk, will be delivered, albeit to one big bucket. The catch all instructions for 1&1 can be found here. A catch all is obviously not recommended as it’s merely a big bucket of email, the reasons not to have are outlined above.

The most sensible approach would be to add all users as mail recipients. All mail user recipients can be exported from Exchange Online as a CSV. Almost any mail server will support importing these users via the same CSV. You may need to alter the CSV headers.

In order to export your users:

1. Log in to your Office 365 Portal via https://portal.office.com.

2. Navigate to Admin and Exchange on the bottom-right of the page:
Exchange Online Admin for MX Fallback

 

3. Click on Mailboxes:
Exchange Online Recipients MX Fallback

 

4. Click on the three dots and select Export Data to a CSV file:
Exchange Online Export to CSV MX Fallback

 

5. A new window will have opened. Select the columns you wish to export, I prefer to select all of them. Then click Export:
Exchange Online Export to CSV Columns MX Fallback

 

You can now use this CSV file to import your user accounts in to your Fallback server as recipients for total email continuity with Office 365.

If you do not wish to import all users you can choose to only enable your highest priority accounts, whether they be individuals, groups, distribution or service accounts for monitoring and notification.

Once the accounts are imported you can now monitor the mail on the Fallback server in Office 365 Exchange Online in order to synchronise emails back to the primary account in Office 365 Exchange Online. This will ensure you have all the user emails in one place once the Office 365 Exchange Online service is available again. If I get time, I’ll update this post with the methods.

One final note regarding the MX Fallback method is that it is still subject to the availability of DNS, the Name Server for the DNS and the integrity of the Zone File. Please feel free to leave any comments you may have regarding High Availability DNS, in order to mitigate DDoS and Black Swan events. There are methods to almost completely protect your DNS integrity. Perhaps that’s for a future post?

In order to offer our clients complete peace of mind regarding email, we’re a Silver Productivity Partner with Microsoft and use Office 365 Exchange Online as the primary provider and select partners for Fallback and High Availability. Through our partnerships, you can choose from multiple service tiers to target specific security and email integrity requirements.

If you have any questions, or would like to speak to someone regarding Email Continuity and Email Disaster Recovery, please get in touch. Birmingham Research Park, 97 Vincent Drive, Birmingham, B15 2SQ. 0121 468 0101.

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Prepare for winter with Cloud Business Continuity & Disaster Recovery

We can all agree that winter is almost here, given the weather in the UK this last week or so. Hats and gloves were out. I even had to listen to my daughter complain she was cold on the way to the Christmas Market in Birmingham. Obviously, she was not prepared for the cold, wearing a coat designed for spring! Just goes to show that planning, even with instruction, is not always adhered to.

More foresight than goes into my daughters personal winter planning should be applied to your organisations Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery, BCDR.  Business Continuity is an all-encompassing concept that should address everything. Business operations, to high-level risk management, security and a whole lot more. Regardless of the forecasts for this winter, being prepared for bad weather is always better than being, well, left out in the cold.

Failure of critical systems is almost inevitable in a technology driven world. I say almost, as virtually everything can be mitigated, with a well thought out plan executed properly. External factors, such as weather, are obviously uncontrollable. The outcomes are not out of your control. It is important to approach Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery as a proactive rather than a reactive incidence. Take a minute to run your business resiliency plan through a review process. Failing that, at the very least, have a plan!

Business Continuity - Serviceteam IT

Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail

To ensure any Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery plan is appropriate, it’s critical to make regular updates to you overall plan as regulations and business needs change. Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery strategies need to be updated every time there is a change in IT structure. New systems brought online, old systems deprecated, new users, key personnel leaving. There is no doubt, Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery is a continuous process. Seriously, I’m someone who has a generator in my garage so I can run my lights, my boiler pump, my fridge and my router. I am not a caveman. Sitting in the dark with candles is not romantic. Experiencing ‘blitz’ conditions is not exciting.

Start with the right ‘stuff’

Obviously, your strategy should at least include a hosting or service partner that can act as a second location for your IT operations. I don’t mean someone with lots of desks, filled with those awful tiny little computers running Windows XP and a telephone with a circular dial on it. Technology has actually progressed so much I would hope a large proportion of your operational IT is flexible. For example, the office is inaccessible because we’ve had that 3cm of snow. No problem, everyone in the contact centre can work from home through a browser to a Desktop as a Service (DaaS) application. All their applications, call queues and Telephony is in the data centre.

Ah, but perhaps your data centre is unavailable because an especially large tree fell on the power systems. Work with me here. Once again, no problem. Your services, applications and your data are all synchronised securely to a third party with Virtual Machines pre-configured. All for the cost of a handful of Starbucks per day. You really can enable critical core infrastructure in minutes. Your IT partners should be able to support your range of platforms, operating systems and provide your most important capabilities. The phone rings, it gets answered. An email arrives, it gets dealt with. Someone wants to buy something, wow, they can.

Audit those applications

Oh dear, sadly the previous point requires that your existing circumstances can actually take full advantage of business resilience? Okay, why not examine your applications and requirements thoroughly? Are they able to behave flexibly? If not, what scope of work is required to re-architect them to do so? By auditing your needs, you can safeguard against a failure in the event of a disturbance. I’m of the belief that these can almost always be done at least cost effectively, if not always painlessly.

Benchmark what you have now

There is no easy way of saying this, it really is imperative that you undertake complete testing of your infrastructure, processes, people and all their dependencies. How long does it actually take to recover from a disaster? What is the nature of the disaster? For example, do you have servers and storage devices that are replicated, respond quickly, can be accessed easily and completely secure? What hurdles do you encounter in your simple day-to-day? What steps do you need to take to eliminate them? If you understand what your baseline performance is, you can better track and monitor any changes in overall operations required.

Partner with experts

This to me is the most obvious of all of the elements of Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery. Primarily due to the fact that Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery is complex, time consuming, expensive and completely unforgiving should you get it wrong if you go it alone. Make sure you work with experts, or at the very least don’t work with people who are unable to grasp the importance of getting it as close to right as is humanly possible. When the pressure is on, you want smart options and insights and it is really important to work with a team that has both experience and capability in these areas.

Don’t send your business out dressed for a Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery spring this winter.

If you have any questions, or would like to speak to someone regarding Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery, please get in touch. Birmingham Research Park, 97 Vincent Drive, Birmingham, B15 2SQ. 0121 468 0101.