Microsoft Ignite | The Tour: London Recap

One of the most valuable personal development activities in my early career was a trip to the Microsoft TechEd conference in Amsterdam. I learned a lot – not just technically but about making the most of events to gather information, make new industry contacts, and generally top up my knowledge. Indeed, even as a relatively junior consultant, I found that dipping into multiple topics for an hour or so gave me a really good grounding to discover more (or just enough to know something about the topic) – far more so than an instructor-led training course.

Over the years, I attended further “TechEd”s in Amsterdam, Barcelona and Berlin. I fought off the “oh Mark’s on another jolly” comments by sharing information – incidentally, conference attendance is no “jolly” – there may be drinks and even parties but those are after long days of serious mental cramming, often on top of broken sleep in a cheap hotel miles from the conference centre.

Microsoft TechEd is no more. Over the years, as the budgets were cut, the standard of the conference dropped and in the UK we had a local event called Future Decoded. I attended several of these – and it was at Future Decoded that I discovered risual – where I’ve been working for almost four years now.

Now, Future Decoded has also fallen by the wayside and Microsoft has focused on taking it’s principal technical conference – Microsoft Ignite – on tour, delivering global content locally.

So, a few weeks ago, I found myself at the ExCeL conference centre in London’s Docklands, looking forward to a couple of days at “Microsoft Ignite | The Tour: London”.

Conference format

Just like TechEd, and at Future Decoded (in the days before I had to use my time between keynotes on stand duty!), the event was broken up into tracks with sessions lasting around an hour. Because that was an hour of content (and Microsoft event talks are often scheduled as an hour, plus 15 minutes Q&A), it was pretty intense, and opportunities to ask questions were generally limited to trying to grab the speaker after their talk, or at the “Ask the Experts” stands in the main hall.

One difference to Microsoft conferences I’ve previously attended was the lack of “level 400” sessions: every session I saw was level 100-300 (mostly 200/300). That’s fine – that’s the level of content I would expect but there may be some who are looking for more detail. If it’s detail you’re after then Ignite doesn’t seem to be the place.

Also, I noticed that Day 2 had fewer delegates and lacked some of the “hype” from Day 1: whereas the Day 1 welcome talk was over-subscribed, the Day 2 equivalent was almost empty and light on content (not even giving airtime to the conference sponsors). Nevertheless, it was easy to get around the venue (apart from a couple of pinch points).

Personal highlights

I managed to cover 11 topics over two days (plus a fair amount of networking). The track format of the event was intended to let a delegate follow a complete learning path but, as someone who’s a generalist (that’s what Architects have to be), I spread myself around to cover:

  • Dealing with a massive onset of data ingestion (Jeramiah Dooley/@jdooley_clt).
  • Enterprise network connectivity in a cloud-first world (Paul Collinge/@pcollingemsft).
  • Building a world without passwords.
  • Discovering Azure Tooling and Utilities (Simona Cotin/@simona_cotin).
  • Selecting the right data storage strategy for your cloud application (Jeramiah Dooley/@jdooley_clt).
  • Governance in Azure (Sam Cogan/@samcogan).
  • Planning and implementing hybrid network connectivity (Thomas Maurer/@ThomasMaurer).
  • Transform device management with Windows Autopilot, Intune and OneDrive (Michael Niehaus/@mniehaus and Mizanur Rahman).
  • Maintaining your hybrid environment (Niel Peterson/@nepeters).
  • Windows Server 2019 Deep Dive (Jeff Woolsey/@wsv_guy).
  • Consolidating infrastructure with the Azure Kubernetes Service (Erik St Martin/@erikstmartin).

In the past, I’d have written a blog post for each topic. I was going to say that I simply don’t have the time to do that these days but by the time I’d finished writing this post, I thought maybe I could have split it up a bit more! Regardless, here are some snippets of information from my time at Microsoft Ignite | The Tour: London. There’s more information in the slide decks – which are available for download, along with the content for the many sessions I didn’t attend.

Data ingestion

Ingesting data can be broken into:

  • Real-time ingestion.
  • Real-time analysis (see trends as they happen – and make changes to create a competitive differentiator).
  • Producing actions as patterns emerge.
  • Automating reactions in external services.
  • Making data consumable (in whatever form people need to use it).

Azure has many services to assist with this – take a look at IoT Hub, Azure Event Hubs, Azure Databricks and more.

Enterprise network connectivity for the cloud

Cloud traffic is increasing whilst traffic that remains internal to the corporate network is in decline. Traditional management approaches are no longer fit for purpose.

Office applications use multiple persistent connections – this causes challenges for proxy servers which generally degrade the Office 365 user experience. Remediation is possible, with:

  • Differentiated traffic – follow Microsoft advice to manage known endpoints, including the Office 365 IP address and URL web service.
  • Let Microsoft route traffic (data is in a region, not a place). Use DNS resolution to egress connections close to the user (a list of all Microsoft peering locations is available). Optimise the route length and avoid hairpins.
  • Assess network security using application-level security, reducing IP ranges and ports and evaluating the service to see if some activities can be performed in Office 365, rather than at the network edge (e.g. DLP, AV scanning).

For Azure:

  • Azure ExpressRoute is a connection to the edge of the Microsoft global backbone (not to a datacentre). It offers 2 lines for resilience and two peering types at the gateway – private and public (Microsoft) peering.
  • Azure Virtual WAN can be used to build a hub for a region and to connect sites.
  • Replace branch office routers with software-defined (SDWAN) devices and break out where appropriate.
Microsoft global network

Passwordless authentication

Basically, there are three options:

  • Windows Hello.
  • Microsoft Authenticator.
  • FIDO2 Keys.

Azure tooling and utilities

Useful resources include:

Selecting data storage for a cloud application

What to use? It depends! Classify data by:

  • Type of data:
    • Structured (fits into a table)
    • Semi-structured (may fit in a table but may also use outside metadata, external tables, etc.)
    • Unstructured (documents, images, videos, etc.)
  • Properties of the data:
    • Volume (how much)
    • Velocity (change rate)
    • Variety (sources, types, etc.)
Item TypeVolume Velocity Variety
Product catalogue Semi-structured High Low Low
Product photos Unstructured High Low Low
Sales data Semi-structured Medium High High

How to match data to storage:

  • Storage-driven: build apps on what you have.
  • Cloud-driven: deploy to the storage that makes sense.
  • Function-driven: build what you need; storage comes with it.

Governance in Azure

It’s important to understand what’s running in an Azure subscription – consider cost, security and compliance:

  • Review (and set a baseline):
    • Tools include: Resource Graph; Cost Management; Security Center; Secure Score.
  • Organise (housekeeping to create a subscription hierarchy, classify subscriptions and resources, and apply access rights consistently):
    • Tools include: Management Groups; Tags; RBAC;
  • Audit:
    • Make changes to implement governance without impacting people/work. Develop policies, apply budgets and audit the impact of the policies.
    • Tools include: Cost Management; Azure Policy.
  • Enforce
    • Change policies to enforcement, add resolution actions and enforce budgets.
    • Consider what will happen for non-compliance?
    • Tools include: Azure Policy; Cost Management; Azure Blueprints.
  • (Loop back to review)
    • Have we achieved what we wanted to?
    • Understand what is being spent and why.
    • Know that only approved resources are deployed.
    • Be sure of adhering to security practices.
    • Opportunities for further improvement.

Planning and implementing hybrid network connectivity

Moving to the cloud allows for fast deployment but planning is just as important as it ever was. Meanwhile, startups can be cloud-only but most established organisations have some legacy and need to keep some workloads on-premises, with secure and reliable hybrid communication.

Considerations include:

  • Extension of the internal protected network:
    • Should workloads in Azure only be accessible from the Internal network?
    • Are Azure-hosted workloads restricted from accessing the Internet?
    • Should Azure have a single entry and egress point?
    • Can the connection traverse the public Internet (compliance/regulation)?
  • IP addressing:
    • Existing addresses on-premises; public IP addresses.
    • Namespaces and name resolution.
  • Multiple regions:
    • Where are the users (multiple on-premises sites); where are the workloads (multiple Azure regions); how will connectivity work (should each site have its own connectivity)?
  • Azure virtual networks:
    • Form an isolated boundary with secure communications.
    • Azure-assigned IP addresses (no need for a DHCP server).
    • Segmented with subnets.
    • Network Security Groups (NSGs) create boundaries around subnets.
  • Connectivity:
    • Site to site (S2S) VPNs at up to 1Gbps
      • Encrypted traffic over the public Internet to the GatewaySubnet in Azure, which hosts VPN Gateway VMs.
      • 99.9% SLA on the Gateway in Azure (not the connection).
      • Don’t deploy production workloads on the GatewaySubnet; /26, /27 or /28 subnets recommended; don’t apply NSGs to the GatewaySubnet – i.e. let Azure manage it.
    • Dedicated connections (Azure ExpressRoute): private connection at up to 10Gbps to Azure with:
      • Private peering (to access Azure).
      • Microsoft peering (for Office 365, Dynamics 365 and Azure public IPs).
      • 99.9% SLA on the entire connection.
    • Other connectivity services:
      • Azure ExpressRoute Direct: a 100Gbps direct connection to Azure.
      • Azure ExpressRoute Global Reach: using the Microsoft network to connect multiple local on-premises locations.
      • Azure Virtual WAN: branch to branch and branch to Azure connectivity with software-defined networks.
  • Hybrid networking technologies:

Modern Device Management (Autopilot, Intune and OneDrive)

The old way of managing PC builds:

  1. Build an image with customisations and drivers
  2. Deploy to a new computer, overwriting what was on it
  3. Expensive – and the device has a perfectly good OS – time-consuming

Instead, how about:

  1. Unbox PC
  2. Transform with minimal user interaction
  3. Device is ready for productive use

The transformation is:

  • Take OEM-optimised Windows 10:
    • Windows 10 Pro and drivers.
    • Clean OS.
  • Plus software, settings, updates, features, user data (with OneDrive for Business).
  • Ready for productive use.

The goal is to reduce the overall cost of deploying devices. Ship to a user with half a page of instructions…

Windows Autopilot overview

Autopilot deployment is cloud driven and will eventually be centralised through Intune:

  1. Register device:
    • From OEM or Channel (manufacturer, model and serial number).
    • Automatically (existing Intune-managed devices).
    • Manually using a PowerShell script to generate a CSV file with serial number and hardware hash, which is then uploaded to the Intune portal.
  2. Assign Autopilot profile:
    • Use Azure AD Groups to assign/target.
    • The profile includes settings such as deployment mode, BitLocker encryption, device naming, out of box experience (OOBE).
    • An Azure AD device object is created for each imported Autopilot device.
  3. Deploy:
    • Needs Azure AD Premium P1/P2
    • Scenarios include:
      • User-driven with Azure AD:
        • Boot to OOBE, choose language, locale, keyboard and provide credentials.
        • The device is joined to Azure AD, enrolled to Intune and policies are applied.
        • User signs on and user-assigned items from Intune policy are applied.
        • Once the desktop loads, everything is present, including file links in OneDrive) – time depends on the software being pushed.
      • Self-deploying (e.g. kiosk, digital signage):
        • No credentials required; device authenticates with Azure AD using TPM 2.0.
      • User-driven with hybrid Azure AD join:
        • Requires Offline Domain Join Connector to create AD DS computer account.
        • Device connected to the corporate network (in order to access AD DS), registered with Autopilot, then as before.
        • Sign on to Azure AD and then to AD DS during deployment. If they use the same UPN then it makes things simple for users!
      • Autopilot for existing devices (Windows 7 to 10 upgrades):
        • Backup data in advance (e.g. with OneDrive)
        • Deploy generic Windows 10.
        • Run Autopilot user-driven mode (can’t harvest hardware hashes in Windows 7 so use a JSON config file in the image – the offline equivalent of a profile. Intune will ignore unknown device and Autopilot will use the file instead; after deployment of Windows 10, Intune will notice a PC in the group and apply the profile so it will work if the PC is reset in future).

Autopilot roadmap (1903) includes:

  • “White glove” pre-provisioning for end users: QR code to track, print welcome letter and shipping label!
  • Enrolment status page (ESP) improvements.
  • Cortana voiceover disabled on OOBE.
  • Self-updating Autopilot (update Autopilot without waiting to update Windows).

Maintaining your hybrid environment

Common requirements in an IaaS environment include wanting to use a policy-based configuration with a single management and monitoring solution and auto-remediation.

Azure Automation allows configuration and inventory; monitoring and insights; and response and automation. The Azure Portal provides a single pane of glass for hybrid management (Windows or Linux; any cloud or on-premises).

For configuration and state management, use Azure Automation State Configuration (built on PowerShell Desired State Configuration).

Inventory can be managed with Log Analytics extensions for Windows or Linux. An Azure Monitoring Agent is available for on-premises or other clouds. Inventory is not instant though – can take 3-10 minutes for Log Analytics to ingest the data. Changes can be visualised (for state tracking purposes) in the Azure Portal.

Azure Monitor and Log Analytics can be used for data-driven insights, unified monitoring and workflow integration.

Responding to alerts can be achieved with Azure Automation Runbooks, which store scripts in Azure and run them in Azure. Scripts can use PowerShell or Python so support both Windows and Linux). A webhook can be triggered with and HTTP POST request. A Hybrid runbook worker can be used to run on-premises or in another cloud.

It’s possible to use the Azure VM agent to run a command on a VM from Azure portal without logging in!

Windows Server 2019

Windows Server strategy starts with Azure. Windows Server 2019 is focused on:

  • Hybrid:
    • Backup/connect/replicate VMs.
    • Storage Migration Service to migrate unstructured data into Azure IaaS or another on-premises location (from 2003+ to 2016/19).
      1. Inventory (interrogate storage, network security, SMB shares and data).
      2. Transfer (pairings of source and destination), including ACLs, users and groups. Details are logged in a CSV file.
      3. Cutover (make the new server look like the old one – same name and IP address). Validate before cutover – ensure everything will be OK. Read-only process (except change of name and IP at the end for the old server).
    • Azure File Sync: centralise file storage in Azure and transform existing file servers into hot caches of data.
    • Azure Network Adapter to connect servers directly to Azure networks (see above).
  • Hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI):
    • The server market is still growing and is increasingly SSD-based.
    • Traditional rack looked like SAN, storage fabric, hypervisors, appliances (e.g. load balancer) and top of rack Ethernet switches.
    • Now we use standard x86 servers with local drives and software-defined everything. Manage with Admin Center in Windows Server (see below).
    • Windows Server now has support for persistent memory: DIMM-based; still there after a power-cycle.
    • The Windows Server Software Defined (WSSD) programme is the Microsoft approach to software-defined infrastructure.
  • Security: shielded VMs for Linux (VM as a black box, even for an administrator); integrated Windows Defender ATP; Exploit Guard; System Guard Runtime.
  • Application innovation: semi-annual updates are designed for containers. Windows Server 2019 is the latest LTSC channel so it has the 1709/1803 additions:
    • Enable developers and IT Pros to create cloud-native apps and modernise traditional apps using containers and micro services.
    • Linux containers on Windows host.
    • Service Fabric and Kubernetes for container orchestration.
    • Windows subsystem for Linux.
    • Optimised images for server core and nano server.

Windows Admin Center is core to the future of Windows Server management and, because it’s based on remote management, servers can be core or full installations – even containers (logs and console). Download from http://aka.ms/WACDownload

  • 50MB download, no need for a server. Runs in a browser and is included in Windows/Windows Server licence
  • Runs on a layer of PowerShell. Use the >_ icon to see the raw PowerShell used by Admin Center (copy and paste to use elsewhere).
  • Extensible platform.

What’s next?

  • More cloud integration
  • Update cadence is:
    • Insider builds every 2 weeks.
    • Semi-annual channel every 6 months (specifically for containers):
      • 1709/1803/1809/19xx.
    • Long-term servicing channel
      • Every 2-3 years.
      • 2016, 2019 (in September 2018), etc.

Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2 reach the end of support in January 2020 but customers can move Windows Server 2008/2008 R2 servers to Azure and get 3 years of security updates for free (on-premises support is chargeable).

Further reading: What’s New in Windows Server 2019.

Containers/Azure Kubernetes Service

Containers:

  • Are fully-packaged applications that use a standard image format for better resource isolation and utilisation.
  • Are ready to deploy via an API call.
  • Are not Virtual machines (for Linux).
  • Do not use hardware virtualisation.
  • Offer no hard security boundary (for Linux).
  • Can be more cost effective/reliable.
  • Have no GUI.

Kubernetes is:

  • An open source system for auto-deployment, scaling and management of containerized apps.
  • Container Orchestrator to manage scheduling; affinity/anti-affinity; health monitoring; failover; scaling; networking; service discovery.
  • Modular and pluggable.
  • Self-healing.
  • Designed by Google based on a system they use to run billions of containers per week.
  • Described in “Phippy goes to the zoo”.

Azure container offers include:

  • Azure Container Instances (ACI): containers on demand (Linux or Windows) with no need to provision VMs or clusters; per-second billing; integration with other Azure services; a public IP; persistent storage.
  • Azure App Service for Linux: a fully-managed PaaS for containers including workflows and advanced features for web applications.
  • Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS): a managed Kubernetes offering.

Wrap-up

So, there you have it. An extremely long blog post with some highlights from my attendance at Microsoft Ignite | The Tour: London. It’s taken a while to write up so I hope the notes are useful to someone else!

UK Government Protective Marking and the Microsoft Cloud


I recently heard a Consultant from another Microsoft partner talking about storing “IL3” information in Azure. That rang alarm bells with me, because Impact Levels (ILs) haven’t been a “thing” for UK Government data since April 2014. For the record, here’s the official guidance on the UK Government data security classifications and this video explains why the system was changed:

Meanwhile, this one is a good example of what it means in practice:

So, what does that mean for storing data in Azure, Dynamics 365 and Office 365? Basically, information classified OFFICIAL can be stored in the Microsoft Cloud – for more information, refer to the Microsoft Trust Center. And, because OFFICIAL-SENSITIVE is not another classification (it’s merely highlighting information where additional care may be needed), that’s fine too.

I’ve worked with many UK Government organisations (local/regional, and central) and most are looking to the cloud as a means to reduce costs and improve services. The fact that more than 90% of public data is classified OFFICIAL (indeed, that’s the default for anything in Government) is no reason to avoid using the cloud.

Weeknote 4: music; teenagers; creating a chatbot; tech, more tech and tech TV; 7 day photo challenge; and cycling (Week 46, 2017)


Another week, another weeknote…

There’s not much to say about work this week – I’ve mostly been writing documentation. I did spend a good chunk of Monday booking hotels and travel, only to find 12 days of consulting drop out of my diary again on Friday (cue hotel cancellations, etc.) but I guess that’s just life!

Family life: grime, rap and teens!

Outside work, it’s been good to be close to home and get involved in family life again.

I had the amusement of my 11 year-old and his friends rapping to their grime music on my car on the way to/from football training this week (we’re at the age where it’s “Dad, can we have my music on please?”) but there’s only so much Big Shaq I can take so I played some Eminem on the way back. It was quite endearing to hear my son say “I didn’t know you knew about Eminem!” after I dropped his mates off. I should make the most of these moments as the adulation is dropping off now he approaches his teens!

Talking of teens, my eldest turned 13 this week, which was a big day in the Wilson household:

 

I’m not sure how this little fella grew into this strong chap (or where the time in between has gone) but we introduced him to the Harry Enfield “Kevin the teenager” videos a few months ago. I thought they were funny when I was younger but couldn’t believe how accurate they are now I’m a parent. Our boys clearly understood the message too and looked a bit sheepish!

Tech

I did play with some tech this week – and I managed to create my very own chatbot without writing any code:

Virtual Mark (MarkBot1) uses the Microsoft QnA Maker and runs in Microsoft Azure. The process is described in James Marshall’s blog post and it’s very straightforward. I’m using Azure Functions and so far this serverless solution has cost me absolutely nothing to run!

It’s also interesting reading some of the queries that the bot has been asked, which have led to me extending its knowledge base a few times now. A question and answer chatbot is probably more suited to a set of tightly bounded questions on a topic (the things people can ask about me is pretty broad) but it’s a nice demo…

I also upgraded my work PC to the latest Windows 10 and Office builds (1709 and 1710 respectively), which gave me the ability to use a digital pen as a presentation clicker, which is nice, in a geek-novelty kind of way:

Tech TV

I have an Amazon Prime membership, which includes access to Amazon Prime Instant Video – including several TV shows that would otherwise only be available in the US. One I enjoy is Mr Robot – which although completely weird at times is also strangely addictive – and this week’s episode was particularly good (scoring 9.9 on IMDB). Whilst I was waiting for the next episode to come around, I found that I’d missed a whole season of Halt and Catch Fire too (I binge-watched the first three after they were recommended to me by Howard van Rooijen/@HowardvRooijen). Series 4 is the final one and that’s what presently keeping me from my sleep… but it’s really good!

I don’t have Netflix, but Silicon Cowboys has been recommended to me by Derek Goodridge (@workerthread). Just like the first series of Halt and Catch Fire, it’s the story of the original IBM PC clone manufacturers – Compaq – but in documentary format, rather than as a drama series.

iPhone images

Regular readers may recall that a few weeks ago I found myself needing to buy a new iPhone after I fell into the sea with my iPhone in my pocket, twisting my ankle in the process…

People have been telling me for ages that “the latest iPhone has a great camera” and, in daylight, I’m really impressed by the clarity and also the bokeh effect. It’s still a mobile phone camera with a tiny sensor though and that means it’s still really poor at night. If a full-frame DSLR struggles at times, an iPhone will be challenged I guess – but I’m still finding that I’m inspired to use the camera more.

7 Days 7 Photos

Last week, I mentioned the 7 days, 7 photos challenge. I’ve completed mine now and they are supposed to be without explanation but, now I have a set of 7 photos, I thought I would explain what and why I used these ones. I get the feeling that some people are just posting 7 pictures, one a day, but these really do relate to what I was doing each day – and I tried to nominate people for the challenge each day based on their relevance to the subject…

Day 1

7 Days 7 Photos Day 1

I spotted this pub as I walked to Farringdon station. I wondered if “the clerk and well” was the origin of the name for “Clerkenwell” and it turns out that it is. Anyway, I liked the view of the traditional London pub (I was on my way home from another one!) and challenged my brother, who’s a publican…

Day 2

7 Days 7 Photos Day 2

I liked the form in this photograph of my son’s CX bike on the roof of my car. It didn’t look so clean when we got back from cyclocross training though! I challenged my friend Andy, whose 40th birthday was the reason for my ride from London to Paris a few years ago…

Day 3

7 Days 7 Photos Day 3

Not technically a single photo – lets’ call it a triptych, I used the Diptic app (as recommended by Ben Seymour/@bseymour) to create this collage. I felt it was a little too personal to nominate my friend Kieran, whose medals are in the lower left image, so I nominated my friend James, who was leading the Scouts in our local remembrance day parade.

Day 4

7 Days 7 Photos Day 4

I found some failed backups on my Synology NAS this week. For some reason, Hyper Backup complained it didn’t have enough storage (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Azure that ran out of space!) so I ran several backups, each one adding another folder until I had all of my new photos in the backup set. I felt the need to challenge a friend who works in IT – so I challenged my friend Stuart.

Day 5

7 Days 7 Photos Day 5

My son was cake-baking, for Children in Need, I think – or maybe it was my other son, baking his birthday cake. I can’t really remember. I challenged a friend who runs a local cafe and regularly bakes muffins…

Day 6

7 Days 7 Photos Day 6

Self-explanatory. My son’s own creation for his birthday. I challenged my wife for this one.

Day 7

7 Days 7 Photos Day 7

The last image is following an evening helping out at Scouts. Images of attempts to purify water through distillation were not that great, so I took a picture of the Scout Badge, and nominated my friend Phil, who’s another one of the local Scout leaders.

(All seven of these pictures were taken on an iPhone 8 Plus using the native camera app, then edited in Snapseed and uploaded to Flickr)

Other stuff

I like this:

And I remember shelves of tapes like these (though mine were all very neatly written, or computer-generated, even back in the 1980s):

On the topic of music, look up Master Boot Record on Spotify:

And this “Soundtrack for Coding” is pretty good for writing documentation too…

I added second-factor authentication to my WordPress blog this week. I couldn’t find anything that uses the Microsoft Authenticator, but this 2FA WordPress plugin from miniOrange uses Google Authenticator and was very easy to set up.

Some UK libraries have started loaning BBC Microbits but unfortunately not yet in my manor:

Being at home all week meant I went to see my GP about my twisted ankle (from the falling-into-the-sea incident). One referral later and I was able to see a physio… who’s already working wonders on helping to repair my damaged ligaments. And he says I can ride my bike too… so I’ll be back on Zwift even if cyclocross racing is out for the rest of the season.

Cycling

On the subject of Zwift, they announced a price rise this week. I understand that these things happen but it’s gone up 50% in the US (and slightly more than that here in the UK). All that really does is drive me to use Zwift in the winter and to cancel my membership in the summer. A more reasonable monthly fee might make me more inclined to sign up for 12 months at a time and create a recurring revenue for Zwift. Very strange business model, IMHO.

I particularly liked the last line of this article:

“Five minutes after the race
That was sooo fun! When can I do it again?!”

I may not have been riding cyclocross this weekend, but my son was, and Sunday was the popular Central Cyclocross League race at RAF Halton. With mud, sand, gravel and steep banks, long woodland sections and more, it looked epic. Maybe I’ll get to ride next year!

I did get to play with one of the RAF’s cranes (attached to a flatbed truck) though – amazing how much control there is – and had a go on the road safety rig too.

And of course, what else to eat at a cyclocross event but Belgian fries, mayo and waffles!

Finally, my friends at Kids Racing (@kidsracing) have some new kit in. Check out the video they filmed at the MK Bowl a couple of weeks back – and if you have kids in need of new cycling kit, maybe head over to HUP CC.

Wrap-up

That’s it for this week. Next week I have a bit more variation in my work (including another Microsoft event – Azure Ready in the UK) and I’m hoping to actually get some blog posts written… see you on the other side!

Securing the modern productive enterprise with Microsoft technology


“Cybercrime costs projected to reach $2 trillion by 2019” [Forbes, 2016]

99: The median number of days that attackers reside within a victim’s network before detection [Mandiant/FireEye M-Trends Report, 2017]

“More than 63% of all network intrusions are due to compromised user credentials” [Microsoft]

The effects of cybercrime are tremendous, impacting a company’s financial standing, reputation and ultimately its ability to provide security of employment to its staff. Nevertheless, organisations can protect themselves. Mitigating the risks of cyber-attack can be achieved by applying people, process and technology to reduce the possibility of attack.

Fellow risual architect Tim Siddle (@tim_siddle) and I have published a white paper that looks at how Microsoft technology can be used to secure the modern productive enterprise. The tools we describe are part of Office 365, Enterprise Mobility + Security, or enterprise editions of Windows 10. Together they can replace many point solutions and provide a holistic view, drawing on Microsoft’s massive intelligent security graph.

Read more in the white paper:

Securing the modern productive enterprise with Microsoft technology

Missing Office 365 icons after blocking untrusted fonts in Windows 10


One of my customers contacted me recently to ask about a challenge they had seen with Windows 10. After blocking untrusted fonts in Windows 10, they noticed that parts of the Office 365 portal were missing icons.

The problem

The issue is that Office 365 uses a font to display icons/glyphs (to improve the experience when scaling to adapt to different screen sizes). It appears some browsers are unable to display the embedded fonts when they are untrusted – including Internet Explorer according to one blog post that my colleague Gavin Morrison (@GavinMorrison) found – apparently Edge has no such issues (though I can think of many more issues that it does have…) – Chrome also seemed to work for me.

There’s some good information about blocking untrusted fonts on TechNet and this highlights that:

“Using Internet Explorer to look at websites that use embedded fonts. In this situation, the feature blocks the embedded font, causing the website to use a default font. However, not all fonts have all of the characters, so the website might render differently.”

The fix

So, that appears to be the issue. What’s the fix?

It seems there are two workarounds – one includes excluding processes from the font blocking (but it’s no good excluding a browser – as the most likely attack vector for a malicious font would be via a website!) and the other includes installing the problematic font to %windir%\Fonts.

Tracking down the Office 365 font

So, where do you get hold of the Office 365 font? I thought it should be part of the Office UI fabric but I couldn’t find it there, nor any reference to it in the Office developer documentation (there are some icons in the fabric – but they don’t seem to be the ones used for the Office 365 portal).

There is a site where you can select Office 365 glyphs and download a font file but I’m not sure that will address the issue with the Office 365 fonts being blocked in the portal, so some more detective work was required…

Stefan Bauer has posted quite a lot of information on the Office 365 fonts (there’s more in his “lab”) but it seems the CDN location Stefan highlights has changed. Thomas Daly found some new locations (and helpfully hosts a copy of the font on his site) but I wanted to signpost my customer to a Microsoft-provided source.

One of the locations that Thomas highlights is https://outlook.office365.com/owa/prem/16.0.772.13/resources/styles/fonts/office365icons.ttf but that results in an HTTP Error 404 now (not found). So I opened the Office 365 portal in my browser and started the Debugger. Then, I found the following line of code that gave me a clue:

<meta name="msapplication-TileImage" content="https://r1.res.office365.com/owa/prem/16.1630.11.2221454/resources/images/0/owa_browserpinnedtile.png"/>

I used that base location (up to and including the version number) with the tail end of the URI that Thomas had provided and was pleased to find that https://r1.res.office365.com/owa/prem/16.1630.11.2221454/resources/styles/fonts/office365icons.ttf got me to an installable TrueType font file for the Office 365 fonts on Windows.

I expect the location to change again as the version number is updated but the method of tracking down the file should be repeatable.

Testing my theory

Testing on one of my PCs with HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Kernel\MitigationOptions set to 0x1000000000000 resulted in Internet Explorer loading the Office 365 portal without icons and Event ID 260 recorded in the Microsoft-Windows-Win32k/Operational log:

C:\Program Files (x86)\Internet Explorer\iexplore.exe attempted loading a font that is restricted by font loading policy.
FontType: Memory
FontPath:

Office 365 fonts blocked - missing icons

After installing the Office 365 icons font (office365icons.ttf) and refreshing the page, I was able to view the icons:

Office 365 fonts installed - icons visible

Uninstalling the font locally and refreshing once more took me back to missing icons.

I then tidied up by setting the MitigationOptions registry key to 0x2000000000000 and restarting the PC, before removing the registry entry completely.

Further reading

Block programs from loading untrusted fonts in Windows 10.

Forcepoint’s 2017 Security Predictions


Last week, I spent an evening at my local BCS branch meeting, where Scott Bullock (Cloud Trust Officer at Forcepoint Cloud) was presenting Forcepoint’s 2017 Security Predictions.

For those who aren’t familiar with Forcepoint, they were formed from a combination of Websense, Ratheon Cyber Products and Stonesoft. Most of us have heard of Websense (and maybe Ratheon) but it seems Forcepoint have a suite of email, web and data protection products. They cite metrics like 27 globally distributed data centres, 5 billion web transactions a day, and 400 million emails processed per day. Those numbers may be a fraction of those processed by Microsoft (it would be interesting to compare with Symantec) but they are still significant.

What follows are my notes from Scott’s talk. My observations are in the square parentheses [].

A look back at 2016

Before looking at the 2017 predictions, Scott took a look at last year’s score card:

  • US Elections will drive significant themed attacks – A+
  • Mobile wallets and new payment technologies introduce increased fraud risks – C
  • New GTLD domains provide new opportunities for attackers – B
    • These are mostly spelling errors on recognised sites – for example rnarkwilson.name instead of markwilson.name. With the number of GTLDs in existence now, it’s harder than ever for companies to register all of the domains associated with their brands/trademarks.
  • Cyber insurers will require more evidence for coverage – B+
    • It’s no longer good enough to forget about implementing security measures and rely on insurance.
  • DLP adoption will dramatically increase – B
    • Data loss prevention is coming back into favour [I’m not sure it ever went away…]
  • Forgotten technology will increase risks to organisations – B
    • [Technical debt is never good]
  • IoT will help but also hurt more – B
    • Worm took over DVR and DoS…
  • Social views of privacy will evolve – great impact to defenders – B

Forcepoint give themselves a B+ overall… and you can read what you like into whether that means the predictions are worth taking note of (Matt Ballantine has some comments on that in his WB40 podcast with Chris Weston where he discusses Foxes and Hedgehogs). Nevertheless, let’s see what they are predicting for this year…

So what’s in store for 2017?

  1. The digital battlefield is the new cold (or hot?) war
    • Enhanced NATO policy on collective defence (article 5 – if one nation is attacked, then will work together) could lead to military responses to cyber attack
    • The potential and consequences of misattribution could lead to destabilization of the policy.
    • Essentially, cyber warfare could have physical impacts. [Worrying]
  2. Millennials in the machine
    • The digital generation know how to mix business and pleasure – millennials bring an understanding of the digital realm into the workplace.
    • Millennials are used to over-sharing information. [So they are also used to the consequences.]
    • The potential for accidental data leakage has risen (e.g. take a picture of a whiteboard at work and it’s automatically uploaded to iCloud)
    • [I’m calling BS on this one – if indeed there is any difference in the ways that each generation uses tech – which I doubt – then it’s more likely that there is a bigger issue with Generation X and Baby Boomers not being as cyber-savvy as millennials.]
  3. Compliance and Data protection convergence
    • EU GDPR is around the corner and will come into place in May 2018
    • Businesses will redefine their organisational processes to accommodate new controls
    • The onset of new data protection controls will incur costs for businesses and that impact will be most felt by large enterprises that have not yet begun to prepare:
      • Companies need to appoint a Data Protection Officer
      • Fines can be 4% of global annual turnover…
      • Will apply on top of DPA (enforced by Data Protection Office)
  4. Rise of the corporate-incentivised insider threat
    • Corporate abuse of PII will increase; business goals will drive poor decisions resulting in bad behavior
      • Corporate-incentivized insider abuse of customer PII – is it just too tempting?
    • Regulations will further restrict corporate and personal access to digital information
  5. Technology convergence and security consolidation 4.0
    • Mergers and acquisitions change the security vendor space
    • Cybersecurity corporations are buying up smaller vendors
    • Vendors that are not consumed or do not receive venture capital funding will exit the market
    • Products will stagnate/orphans as a result of mergers and acquisitions
    • Adjustments in employee base will benefit the cyber security skills shortage
    • [Whilst I can see the convergence taking place in the security sector, I have to take this prediction with a massive pinch of salt, bearing in mind its source!]
  6. The cloud as an expanding attack vector
    • Cloud infrastructure provides an ever-expanding attack vector with possibilities for hacking the hypervisor
      • [I’d suggest this is more of an issue for so-called “private clouds” as the major players – Amazon, Microsoft, Google cannot afford a breach and are investing heavily in security – Microsoft spends over $1bn annually on security-related R&D and acquisitions]
    • Organisations will combine on premises and cloud infrastructure – a hybrid approach
      • [Yes, but this is for much broader reasons than security]
    • DOS of cloud providers will increase so ask what anti-DDoS protection they have and check that you have the right to audit…
      • [Isn’t that just due diligence?]
  7. Voice-first platforms and command sharing
    • Voice-first AI and command sharing bring a new level of convergence
    • Voice activated AI will radically change our interactions with technology
    • AI will be able to distinguish between individuals and their patterns of behaviour
      • For example it will know when you’re at home, tech in house, when to burgle you!
    • AI will influence our normal or default settings
    • The number of voice-activated apps will rise significantly in 2017 – and so will attacks
      • [I already mute Alexa in my home office when I’m working – do you really want your conversations being overheard and used for analysis?]
  8. AI and the rise of autonomous machine hacking
    • The rise of the criminal machines
    • Automated hacking machines vs. AI cyber defence machines
    • Widespread weaponisation of autonomous hacking machines will occur in 2017
    • State actors could use such systems to overwhelm rival national cyber defences
  9. Ransomware escalation
    • Ransomware is here to stay
    • Data will be held to ransom, and traded
    • Ransomware will morph to gain data exfiltration capabilities
      • Taken to another network and sold to others… pay multiple times…
  10. Abandonware vulnerability
    • Legacy tools leave holes in your defences
      • [This is not new. We call it technical debt!]
    • End-of-life abandoned software will lead to data breaches
      • Lapsed domains are bought up and used to inject code into software that phones home for updates
      • Systems are not patched
    • Businesses will start to consider the perils of abandonware
      • [And some will continue to ignore it, at their peril!]

In conclusion

Security challenges arise from the convergence of the digital and physical worlds and treating each world as insulated is an obsolete view.

The full report is available from the Forcepoint website.

Short takes: super-sized Windows desktop icons; LastPass multifactor authentication; MTP on Windows 10 1607


A collection of short posts that don’t justify their own blog post!

Fixing super-sized Windows desktop icons

Mostly, I don’t get on with track pads – there’s just something about them that I find awkward and before I know it the cursor is shooting off somewhere that I don’t want it to be, icons are being resized, or something equally annoying.

I recently found myself in a situation where an errant trackpad response to my hot hands hovering over it whilst typing had left me with super-sized desktop icons but I couldn’t work out how/why. Luckily this Lifehacker article helped me put things right – a simple Ctrl + mouse scroll got my icons back to the size they should be…

LastPass Multifactor Authentication

For many years, I’ve used LastPass as my Password Manager. I don’t normally reuse passwords and have gradually been increasing the complexity of my passwords but these days I don’t know the password for the majority of the sites I visit – LastPass fills it in for me. The one weakness in all of this though is my master password for LastPass. It’s a long and secure passphrase but what if it was compromised? Well, now I have multifactor authentication enabled for LastPass too. It’s really simple to set up (just a couple of minutes) and options include Google Authenticator as well as LastPass’ own Authenticator app.

MTP not working on Windows 10 anniversary update (1607)

My son has an Elephone P9000 smartphone, running Android Marshmallow.  He was struggling to get it working with our family PC to import his pictures until I found this forum post that explains the process. It seems that, on the Windows 10 Anniversary Update (1607), the Media Transfer Protocol (MTP) driver needs to be manually installed:

  1. Go to C:\Windows\INF
  2. Type “wpdmtp.inf” in search bar provided to the right of the address bar in Windows.
  3. Once you found it, just right click on it and select install. It will take a very few seconds.
  4. Connect your device to the PC.

Short takes: a password generator; cybercrime 101 and an HTML table generator


Some more browser tabs turned into mini-snippets of blog post…

Password generator and cybercrime advice

The Random number service (random.org) has a useful password generator (though I tend to let LastPass generate mine, this is useful when creating passwords in customer implementations).

And, whilst on the subject of security – Microsoft Researcher Shawn Loveland has written a useful introduction to understanding cybercrime.

HTML table generator

I know that HTML tables fell out of fashion when we started to use CSS but they do still have a place – for displaying tabular data on a web page – just not for controlling page layouts!

I needed to create a table for a blog post recently and I found this HTML Table Generator that did a fair chunk of the legwork for me…

A “Snooper’s Charter” for the postal system?


I spotted this on my Facebook feed today, from an old University friend, who now works as a Senior Cyber Security Consultant:

“I will shortly be writing to my MP urging him to push the Cabinet to extend it’s Investigatory Powers Bill to mandate that all mail carriers must open all letters they collect, scan their contents, and store those images in an archive for a given period in case law enforcement agencies needed to review their contents. Furthermore, I think it would be reasonable outlaw glue on envelopes altogether…with a recommendation to allow postcards only.

I urge the rest of the UK to do the same as a matter of priority due to concerns around National Security.”

He always had a wicked sense of humour but for those who think this is just banter, it really is the postal mail equivalent of what the UK Government is proposing for email in the Investigatory Powers Bill (nicknamed “The Snooper’s Charter”). The staggering thing is that the UK public is largely unaware – generally engagement with politics here is low and I’d wager that the combination of politics and technology has a particularly high “snooze factor”.

[Perhaps Parliament needs to be transformed to involve some kind of “bake-off” type element with MPs getting voted out each week based on their performance. The Westminster Factor. Britain’s Got Legal Talent. Would that get the public involved?]

Putting aside low social engagement in politics (or anything that’s not a big competition on TV) this quote highlights how out of touch our legislators are with the realities of digital life – and how ridiculous the new law would be if applied to analogue communications…

Short takes: calculating file transfer times; Internet breakout from cloud datacentres; and creating a VPN with a Synology NAS


Another collection of “not-quite-whole-blog-posts”…

File transfer time calculations

There are many bandwidth/file transfer time calculators out there on the ‘net but I found this one particularly easy to work with when trying to assess the likely time to sync some data recently…

Internet breakout from IaaS

Anyone thinking of using an Azure IaaS environment for Internet breakout (actually not such a bad idea if you have no on-site presence, though be ready to pay for egress data) just be aware that because the IP address is in Holland (or Ireland, or wherever) location-aware websites will present themselves accordingly.

One of my customers was recently caught out when Google defaulted to Dutch after they moved their client Internet traffic over to Azure in the West Europe region… just one to remember to flag up in design discussions.

Creating a VPN with a Synology NAS

I’ve been getting increasingly worried about the data I have on a plethora of USB hard disks of varying capacities and wanted to put it in one place, then sync/archive as appropriate to the cloud. To try and overcome this, I bought a NAS (and there are only really two vendors to consider – QNAP or Synology).  The nice thing is that my Synology DS916+ NAS can also operate many of the network services I currently run on my Raspberry Pi and a few I’ve never got around to setting up – like a VPN endpoint for access to my home network.

So, last night, I finally set up a VPN, following Scott Hanselman’s (@shanselman) article on Setting up a VPN and Remote Desktop back into your home. Scott’s article includes client advice for iPhone and Windows 8.1 (which also worked for me on Windows 10) and the whole process only took a few minutes.

The only point where I needed to differ from Scott’s article was the router configuration (the article is based on a Linksys router and I have a PlusNet Hub One, which I believe is a rebadged BT Home Hub). L2TP is not a pre-defined application to allow access, so I needed to create a new application (I called it L2TP) with UDP ports 500, 1701 and 4500 before I could allow access to my NAS on these ports.

Creating an L2TP application in the PlusNet Hub One router firewall

Port forwarding to L2TP in the PlusNet Hub One router firewall