BitLocker: Compliant or Practical? – Mixed Messages from Microsoft

On one hand, Microsoft says that BitLocker with pre-boot authentication (TPM + PIN) is the recommended best practice (See Here).  On the other, Microsoft admits that BitLocker with their pre-boot authentication “inconveniences users and increases IT management costs.” A mixed message for any IT pro responsible for keeping devices compliant and secure.

Read on to discover the compliance shortfalls of BitLocker and how to address them.

Is Microsoft claiming Pre-Boot Authentication for FDE is not necessary?

Is Microsoft really claiming pre-boot authentication (PBA) for Full Disk Encryption (FDE) is not necessary? One could certainly get that impression from recent articles (HERE and HERE) posted by the organization.  The first article on “Types of attacks for volume encryption keys” lists a few known historical attacks that “could be used to compromise a volume encryption key, whether for BitLocker or a non-Microsoft encryption solution”, and the second makes statements like “For many years, Microsoft has recommended using pre-boot authentication to protect against DMA and memory remanence attacks. Today, Microsoft only recommends using pre-boot authentication on PCs where the mitigations described in this document cannot be implemented.

WinMagic | Announcing our newly enhanced Customer Portal

Announcing our newly enhanced Customer Portal

Back in November of last year, I was part of a conference call with a European customer who needed some high level reassurance from us. As part of that request, they mentioned that our customer portal could not help them properly manage support tickets. Thus, I hijacked the call and started a GoToMeeting session from my desktop.  I gave them the opportunity to walk me through exactly what they found problematic about our customer portal. For the next 20 minutes they did a masterful job of highlighting what areas of the customer portal simply weren’t working for them.  And If put myself in their shoes, I could see that they were not only right, but it was likely that other customers felt this way and had never said anything to us.

With this knowledge, I did something radical, which was to hold many meetings over the next two months where I would bring a proof of concept to the table, and have the customer critique it. This helped us to get to where we are today. Which is, to announce the release of Phase One of our enhanced customer portal.

Tech Support With Headset IT

How Can I Help You?

Recently, I was on the phone with a customer who asked me this question: “How can we better help you to help us?” That’s a question that I was not used to getting. But it made me think about what customers could do to get better tech support. I ended up taking a day or two for me to really think about it, but I came up with the following which I decided to share with you:

Cloud Physical Virtual VM Servers

From Physical Servers to Hyper-Convergence – A Greater Need for Encryption

In the past I have tried to make the case for encrypting physical servers on premise.   The argument for not needing to encrypt them is usually that these servers run for weeks, months or even years without being brought down, and that they are physically protected within a well-fortified data center.  The protection that FDE (Full Drive Encryption) brings only really applies to data at rest and it seldom is at rest on these servers.   I would counter that all drives eventually leave the data center for repair or disposal and having them encrypted protects you from having your old drives with your customer data on them show up on eBay.  An encrypted drive can be quickly and easily crypto-erased if it is still operational, and if not, the data is still not accessible without the encryption key.

Today with virtualization and especially with hyperconvergence infrastructure (HCI) the attack surface has greatly expanded and therefore the need for FDE has greatly increased. But before I make my case, here is some background on HCI:

A hyper-converged system is a pre-configured virtualized server platform that combines compute, storage, networking, and management software in a single appliance.  Hyper-convergence enables customers to simply and rapidly deploy mixed-workload and virtual desktop integrated infrastructure solutions across local or remote locations. i.e. it is a mini Cloud in a box that can be connected to other HCI boxes.

HCI boxes are still physical things kept on premise, and the argument above for protecting them with FDE still applies. However, the argument for not encrypting them doesn’t.   HCI workloads run in Virtual Machines (VM) on top of the hypervisor, not directly on the physical hardware.  It is the VM and its data that needs protecting.   In today’s fast moving environment the VMs come up and go down much more often than physical machines.  In some cases VMs come and go several times a day.   When an admin takes a snapshot of running machine or turns it off, the VM is at rest and a VM at rest is just a big file.   It can be copied onto a USB memory stick or over the network.  In fact one of the advantages of HCI is that workloads (or VMs) can be moved around easily from HCI node (box) to HCI node. Looking forward, HCI vendors are working with the public cloud providers, such as Google, to move workloads seamlessly back and forth between on premise and the public cloud.  So unlike physical servers VMs can move around a lot and often are in a data at rest state.    This is the perfect application of FDE, but not at the physical (hardware) level.  If we encrypt only at the physical level, the only protection we get is for the disposal or loss of the physical drive.  However, the VM, is easy to move around, and is still in plain text if copied even when using physical level FDE.  The answer then is to encrypt the VM itself, preferably with in-guest encryption that is independent of the hypervisor with the key under the control of the enterprise.  This way even if the VM is moved to another HCI box – perhaps in another country or even into a public cloud –  the customer keeps control of the data, because it can decide to provide the key or not to decrypt and unlock the VM.

Advantages of VM encryption for HCI include:

  • Scalability: VM-level Encryption is highly scalable. It is protection that actually resides with your data and scales with each new VM brought up.
  • Security: Physical level Encryption protects against lost or stolen physical drives.   VM-level Encryption protects against lost or stolen physical drives, unauthorized data movement, access, replication, etc.
  • Continuity: With physical level Encryption, workloads are decrypted (unprotected) in-transit – no continuity in security model. VM-level Encryption protects workloads continuously, persistently as they move, clone, snapshot across your infrastructure
  • Portability: Physical level Encryption is reliant on exactly that, your hardware – but what about hybrid IT and workloads in-transit.   VM-level Encryption eliminates lock-in to hardware, hypervisors or cloud providers – it’s completely portable protection
  • Flexibility: VM-level encryption allows you to encrypt sensitive workloads and run them securely alongside your non-sensitive workloads. Different keys and policies can apply to different VMs
  • Governance: VM-level Encryption enables boot-based policies so you can control, who can access your data, where your data resides and how it is protected
  • Termination: VM-level Encryption allows you to securely terminate individual workloads as you’re finished with them – it’s simple

To summarize, in the old world some can rationalize not encrypting their physical servers, because there are compensating physical controls such as locked doors and sturdy walls.   In today’s world with HCI and virtualization, workloads are virtual, dynamic, mobile, scalable and vulnerable.   The solution is to protect them with in-guest encryption with keys under the control of the VM owner.

Read our press release on our recent collaboration with Scale Computing

Windows 10: Compatibility is Key

So you’ve heard – Windows 10 has hit the PC world by storm, with widespread adoption in the private and public sector catching up to the consumer side. According to Gartner, the adoption of Windows 10 is faster than previous OS and the traditional refresh cycles are shortening. What’s driving the movement? Well, it’s a combination of events really, all based on one common need – Security.

Yes, I Do Take Support Calls

One of the things that is unusual about me is the fact that I like to take customer support calls. Now you might find that weird as I do run a global support organization, and presumably I have better things to do than to take tech support calls when I have a staff that I have hired to do that for me.  However, I feel that in the interest of making my support organization better, I need to be on the phones from time to time, digging into cases that get submitted via our customer portal, or by e-mail.  Here’s why: