Post offering a free Recreational Vehicle!

Social Engineering and your users

All my customers want to talk about security these days. So much of our day to day work is done on the internet now, and the security landscape has changed significantly over the last 5-10 years. Our perimeter is no longer restricted to our LAN and firewalls, but instead lives with the users identity. Users are highly likely to use their corporate network password on other sites; who knows whether this other site has been breached or not?

Things like this scare us IT admins, and even scarier now is the gargantuan amount of misinformation and misdirection on the internet. From that advert that looks like a “next page “button to the link to an article which promises to show you the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen a koala do, users will literally click on anything. Today I want to share one of these examples. I noticed this morning that a friend of mine had shared this post on Facebook:

Post offering a free Recreational Vehicle!

Wow! A free RV. Amazing right? But this post looked a little strange. Who can afford to give away an RV, let alone 15 of them? And what did “can’t be sold because they have been stock this year” mean? My curiosity got the better of me and I decided to click through. This is what I found:

RV Main Page

Now let me give you a few facts:

  • This page only had a single post. This one.
  • It has 83,045 shares and 35,015 comments. In 3 days. Both of these numbers have gone up by around 1,000 while I have been writing this.
  • The page had nothing in the about section. No website, no contact details, nothing. Nada. Zip. It was basically an empty page with one post on it.

This was clearly a ruse and nobody was going to get themselves a free RV. I mean hey, maybe I’m wrong and an awful cynic who has been scarred by the internet. But in reality, this was a more than likely a social engineering experiment or phishing scam. Maybe the “lucky winners” would be contacted and asked for some personal details so that they could claim their free prize? Maybe they were directed to a fake Facebook login page? And maybe their Facebook login password was the same as their corporate network password?

This post shows us all just how easy it is to get people to click on something, or believe something, on the internet. And this stuff is everywhere we look. As an internet user, we are faced with a constant stream of misinformation and misdirection, never quite knowing when something is real and when it isn’t.

Security has never been more important. Using web filtering, multi factor authentication and implementing features for mail scanning like Safe Links and Safe Attachments (found in Exchange Online Protection) can help to a certain degree,  but a very large part of this fight is user education. People should be taught that their first response should be one of doubt, not of excitement about the amazing thing they are about to see, or the prize they will never win.

It’s a dangerous world we live in. But at least I’ll have a new RV to protect myself.

ADFS 3.0 service will not start – error 1297

This issue is fairly well documented, but I wanted to put it here for my own purposes:

When installing a new ADFS farm, you may find that if you reboot the ADFS server, or restart the ADFS service, it will not restart and fails with a 1297 error code. In the Event Viewer you will see an error stating that;

A privilege that the service requires to function properly does not exist in the service account configuration

This error screams of an issue with the configuration of the service account…and that’s exactly what it is. On the affected ADFS server, open the Local Security Policy console (secpol.msc) and expand the following container:

Security Settings\Local Policies\User Rights Assignment

Go into the properties of the Generate Security Audits section and add the ADFS service account into here. If the option to add an account is grayed out, then that means that a Group Policy is controlling this access list, and you will need to find and modify the appropriate GP to add the ADFS service account into the group (usually the Default Domain Policy). While you are here, ensure that the ADFS service account has ‘Log on as a Service’ privileges.

Once this is done you should be able to start the ADFS service (although if you edited Group Policy then run gpudpdate first). Hopefully this helps you before you get to the point where you make the ADFS service account a Domain Admin! Remember, this account only needs Domain User privileges and should not be put into god mode!

Restrict access to OneDrive for Business

Edit: A new admin centre for OneDrive has been launched as of December 2016, and allows for much more granular control over what can be synchronised, and where from. Check it out at

A question which I get asked quite frequently is whether OneDrive for Business can be blocked, locked down, or restricted. Whatever your reasons for doing this, there are some things you can do to restrict access.

As a little bit of background information, OneDrive for Business is not the same as your personal OneDrive, and is essentially your own private SharePoint library. If you have no plans to use SharePoint Online, then the easiest way to block access to OneDrive for Business is to simply remove the SharePoint Online license from the users in question. This is done in the sub menu of the licensing options for a user and can be applied on a per user basis.

SharePoint License

Another thing you can do is to hide the OneDrive button from the portal. This is done under the SharePoint Admin section of the Office 365 portal, under the Settings Tab. This setting applies to all users.

Hide OneDrive for Business

With this option selected, OneDrive will not show up in the Portal menu, along with the Office Web Apps.

Hide OneDrive for Business

We can also stop users from being able to create a personal site at all, by going into the User Profiles area of the SharePoint admin center. Go into Manage User Permissions and remove ‘Everyone except external users’. This will stop any users from being able to create their own OneDrive for Business sites. If you like, you can then add users or groups into this list who you would like to be able to create a OneDrive for Business site.

Personal Site Lockdown

This doesn’t stop any users who have already created their OneDrive for Business sites from accessing it if they know the direct URL or have added it as a favourite into their Internet Browser. I won’t be covering that scenario here, however if this is something you would like more information on, let me know in the comments and I will put a post together!

Cloud Security 101

With Microsoft, Amazon and Google currently enticing businesses and consumers into cloud services with promises of resiliency, scalability and simplified administration, many companies are quite rightly moving services and data into the cloud in some way or other.

Before making such a leap however, questions must be asked about data security and compliance. Cloud services must be scrutinised in order to ensure that data geo location and security practices meet compliance requirements for the customer and their clients. After all, you are trusting these providers with your essential business data, and in some cases your intellectual property.

Edward Snowdens leaks regarding NSA/GHCQ snooping, along with the leakage of personally identifiable information from services at Sony, eBay and the like has left many people suspicious and wary of who exactly can get to your information. This blog post is here to show you a sample of the security features used to protect your data in Office 365 and Azure, and some of the ways your data is protected in transit.

Office 365 Security

The Office 365 service provides many layers of security. Microsoft want to be seen as a safe pair of hands to help drive adoption and for this reason they have the interests of security and privacy at the very top of their lists of priorities.

The data in all Office 365 services is encrypted at rest using BitLocker and in addition to this, as of November 2014, all Office 365 data is encrypted again on a per file basis. This means that each individual file is encrypted using different keys, which are stored in an alternate location to the master key.

All Administrative actions taken on Office 365, either by the tenant administrators or the service administrators, are audited and fully transparent. As an Office 365 customer, you can view and export a list of Powershell commands run by Microsoft Support or your own administrators. Microsoft support technicians are given administrative access when required based on the least privilege model, and this access is time limited by default.

Data theft from inside or outside of the service is a serious concern to Microsoft and the Office 365 team work on the assumption that a compromise has already been made. A Red team exists whose sole job is to attempt to compromise the systems protecting customer data. They do this by attempting to gain access to test data, and a Blue team works in parallel to identify the Red team and counteract this threat. This is the equivalent of having your IT systems constantly penetration tested, which is more than most companies can say for their own IT systems!

Compliance in Office 365 is a hot topic and is critical to getting governmental departments, and health and financial companies on board. Office 365 are compliant with many of the standards required in these sectors, such as ISO 27001, FISMA, and HIPAA.

All of these security features help to make Office 365 a platform which is likely to be far more secure and compliant than your own On Premise environment. Microsofts transparency on security and privacy are also far superior to any of their rivals, giving you the peace of mind needed to begin your move to the cloud.

Much more information can be found at the Office 365 Trust Center –

Azure & Microsoft Datacentre Security

The Microsoft Azure IaaS environment should be considered by customers as an extension of their Datacentre. Microsoft are staunch supporters of the concept that the data you place in cloud services is your data, not theirs. Encryption is in place across all servers, and nobody with physical access in the Datacentre has knowledge of which customer’s data is in which rack or server.

Direct access to the Azure Hypervisors is unavailable to customers and network isolation is used to separate traffic between tenants. There are also various methods customers can use to increase the privacy of their Azure traffic, such as using Azure Private Virtual Networks and Azure ExpressRoute, which creates a direct connection to Azure, keeping your inter-site traffic off the Internet.

The physical environment is highly secured and access is extremely limited by using separation of duties and roles to make sure that no one person has too much knowledge of the systems. Failure to abide by the Microsoft Datacentre security policies means instant dismissal for the employee. In addition to this, personally identifiable information is stored separately to non-personally identifiable information.

All access to customer data is blocked by default, using a zero privileges policy. If this is allowed, it is time limited and fully audited. In addition to this, staff members who receive this access to customer data will not have physical datacentre access. These same physical and data based access controls are also in place for the Office 365 and all other Microsoft Online services.

From a compliance point of view, you can rest assured that Azure complies with the majority of major standards across the world. These compliance standards are not easy to achieve by any standards, but Microsoft remain committed to keeping their compliance up to date and as broad as possible. Some of the specific compliance standards which are verified for the Azure Service are:

  • ISO/IEC 27001
  • SOC 1 and SOC 2 SSAE 16/ISAE 3402
  • UK G-Cloud
  • EU Model Clauses
  • Singapore MCTS
  • FedRAMP
  • Australia IRAP

Much more information can be found at the Azure Trust Center –

Convincing your boss, management boards and other business trustees that a move to the cloud is a secure one is a tough job, but Microsofts commitment to privacy, security and transparency makes it much easier to put together a viable business case which can help you reap the rewards of scalability, resiliency and compliance.

Exchange Online – Lock down mail flow

By default, Office 365/Exchange Online allows mail to be received from any external source. This is done using a ‘hidden’ default inbound connector. The properties of this connector cannot be viewed or modified, even in Exchange Online Powershell.

This is all well and good and allows you to be able to send/receive mail out of the box in Office 365, however is does cause a problem if you are using a 3rd party mail solution such as Mimecast or Websense. If you do happen to be using a 3rd party mail filter and you leave the default inbound connector alone, somebody could bypass your filter by sending you mail directly to your Office 365 hostname. From a best practices and security point of view, this is most definitely a bad thing.

To combat this and limit Office 365 from receiving mail only from your mail filter, go into your Exchange Admin centre and create a new Inbound Connector under Mail Flow>Connectors.

New Inbound Connector

The settings of your Inbound Connector should be as follows:

Type: Partner
Connection Security: Force TLS (only if your mail filter supports forced TLS. This will add an extra layer of security. Otherwise, use Opportunistic TLS)
Sender Domains: *
Sender IP Addresses: (enter your mail filters IP addresses here)

This example states that Office 365 will only receive mail from the IP address and nothing else. The * wildcard under Sender Domains applies the connector to all mail. If I were to use Exchange Online Powershell to perform the same task, my command would look like this:

New-InboundConnector -Name Lockdown -ConnectorType Partner -RequireTls $true -SenderIPAddresses -SenderDomains *

This simple configuration change will ensure that nobody can bypass your mail filter and spam you with invitations to enlarge something or other 🙂