Why Microsoft customers don’t need to worry about EU-US Safe Harbour/Harbor

When European Courts judged the 15-year-old EU-US Safe Harbour/Harbor treaty to be invalid last October, Internet news sites started to report how terrible this was for EU companies placing data into cloud services offered (mostly) by American companies. For some, that may be true, but that assumes Safe Harbour is the only protection in place.

This week, IT news sites are at it again. The Register (the tabloid newspaper of IT news sites) has an article titled Safe Harbor 2.0: US-Europe talks on privacy go down to the wire but the actual URI belies a much more dramatic title of “Safe Harbor countdown to Armageddon”. Sensationalist at best, some might even say irresponsible.

I’m no lawyer but, for my customers, who are implementing Microsoft cloud services, there seems to be nothing to worry about and I’ll explain why in this blog post. Of course, Microsoft is just one of many cloud services providers – and for others there may be valid concerns.

The United States Export.Gov website currently displays the following text regarding Safe Harbor:

“On October 6, 2015, the European Court of Justice issued a judgment declaring as ‘invalid’ the European Commission’s Decision 2000/520/EC of 26 July 2000 ‘on the adequacy of the protection provided by the safe harbour privacy principles and related frequently asked questions issued by the US Department of Commerce.’

In the current rapidly changing environment, the Department of Commerce will continue to administer the Safe Harbor program, including processing submissions for self-certification to the Safe Harbor Framework. If you have questions, please contact the European Commission, the appropriate European national data protection authority, or legal counsel.”

EU Model Clauses trump Safe Harbour

Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer, Brad Smith, issued a statement on 6 October 2015. Quoting from that article:

“For Microsoft’s enterprise cloud customers, we believe the clear answer is that yes they can continue to transfer data by relying on additional steps and legal safeguards we have put in place. This includes additional and stringent privacy protections and Microsoft’s compliance with the EU Model Clauses, which enable customers to move data between the EU and other places – including the United States – even in the absence of the Safe Harbor. Both the ruling and comments by the European Commission recognized these types of steps earlier today.

Microsoft’s cloud services including Azure Core Services, Office 365, Dynamics CRM Online and Microsoft Intune all comply with the EU Model Clauses and hence are covered in this way.”

There’s also a follow-on post which talks in general terms about the wider issues and privacy beliefs but the key point is that Microsoft offers EU Model Clauses within its contracts, which go beyond Safe Harbour. Microsoft also has an FAQ on the EU Model Clauses that is worth a read.

Quoting again from the 6 October 2015 statement:

“We wanted to make sure all of our enterprise cloud customers receive this benefit so, beginning last year, we included compliance with the EU Model Clauses as a standard part of the contracts for our major enterprise cloud services with every customer. Microsoft cloud customers don’t need to do anything else to be covered in this way.”

That suggests to me that customers who have signed up to Azure Core Services, Office 365, Dynamics CRM Online or Intune since early 2014 already have greater privacy protection than was afforded by Safe Harbour – and that protection meets the EU’s current requirements. In short, Microsoft customers don’t need to worry about Safe Harbor (sic).

An example of how to engage customers on social media

Almost every day, I see a branded account somewhere using Twitter as a broadcast medium, rather than as a tool to engage two-way conversation with customers. Indeed Matt Ballantine (@ballantine70) called Twitter out on this one…

Then there are the accounts that are named something like @BrandnameHelp, which vary tremoundously in the amount of “help” they offer (although creds are due to @TMLewinHelp and @7DigitalHelp who have both helped me out recently with problem orders).  @BTCare and @AmazonHelp are less impressive, in my experience.

@NatWest_Help picked up on this, slighty sarcastic, tweet from yours truly:

@LondonMidland does a great job of dealing with disgruntled travellers, including gems like this, with childrens toys to illustrate the issue (sometimes real pics too – it’s easier to be sympathetic of problems getting to/from work when you can see flooded tracks/fallen trees/damaged trains from fallen overhead wires, etc.):

There are whole books on this written by people who know far more about customer service and marketing than I do but I’d like to call out one example of what I see as a great use of social media…

Yesterday evening ago, I tweeted about a very amusing Volkswagen ad, noting that my recent car purchase might have been from them had the local dealership not been so completely useless at selling me the car I wanted…

Full credit to @UKVolkswagen, they picked up on this and said “can we help”, later following through with an email address to send more details to. The resulting email response was less impressive, suggesting I should supply a phone number if I wanted a response (I didn’t want a response, but my mobile number was already in the email…).

But what really impressed me, and showed:

  1. Excellent social media monitoring skills (clearly tracking disgruntled customers with rival brands); and
  2. An ability to use social media to engage and potentially attract new custom

was the Twitter conversation I had with @ToyotaGB this evening.

It was too late, as I’d already bought a Volvo (I may have mentioned that once or twice on Twitter…) but still excellent use of social media. Other brands could learn a thing or two…

Short takes: file and folder management from the command line

Turning more open tabs and notes into mini-blog posts…

Some Unix commands when working with directories

A couple of months back, I wrote about having to hurriedly back up my Mac after the file system got corrupted

Along the way I had to pick up some Unix commands that were previously outside my vocabulary… worth noting here for future reference:

Force deleting a folder on Windows

I’ve been cleaning down a PC that is no longer needed for regular use, but we’re hanging onto as a spare PC. I figured the quickest way would be to remove some user profiles but Windows Explorer was having difficulty with some temporary files in the AppData folder structure.  After a while, I fell back to a trusty cmd prompt…

rd /s /q foldername

The equvalent for a file is del /f /q /a filename.

Thanks to Techverse for pointing me in the right direction.

Encrypting Windows 10 with BitLocker

In common with many small business owners (indeed any business owner, it could be argued), my wife needs to be sure that her customer’s data is adequately protected. In her case that means professional cloud services for email (Office 365) and PC backup (Azure) but the data on the PC needs to be protected too…

All major operating systems come with whole drive encryption technologies these days – and for Windows that feature is BitLocker.

When we replaced my wife’s PC a few months ago, I picked what seemed a good small business laptop from Lenovo – a Thinkpad E550 – and, by and large, I’ve been pleased with the purchase.  Somewhat frustratingly though, the PC shipped with Windows 8 (not Pro) and so it has been updated to Windows 8.1 then to Windows 10 Home. That meant that, when I attempted to encrypt the drive by right-clicking in File Explorer, there was no Manage BitLocker option (and the BitLocker Settings stub in Settings, System, About didn’t do anything). Folder-level encryption with the Encrypted File System (EFS) was similarly unavailable (although greyed out, rather than invisible), even when I tried to manually enable it with sc config EFS start= demand.

Whilst there are alternatives available, my support model for my wife’s PC is KISS (“keep it simple, stupid”), as the last thing I need whilst I’m consulting with my own customers is to be worrying about support issues with family devices, so I decided to stick with the technology that’s built into Windows. That meant an upgrade to Windows 10 Pro.

Thinking $99 isn’t too bad a price to pay (after all, this is a business expense for my wife)… I clicked Settings, Update & Security, Activation, Go to Store, only to find that it’s £99.99 in the UK – a £33, or 50%, uplift at today’s exchange rates. By this point I’m starting to feel a little ripped off… although I’m not sure if I’m more annoyed with Lenovo selling a small business PC with an inadequate version of Windows, or Microsoft for only putting encryption in the high-end Windows versions…

Windows 10 Edition upgrade completed

The final point to remember is that not all PCs have a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) chip.

BitLocker error on PC without a trusted platform module

That’s not a problem if you’re prepared to use a USB flash drive as a startup-key. It just needs a little policy change (run gpedit.msc, then Local Computer Policy\Computer Configuration\Administrative Templates\Windows Components\Bit Locker Drive Encryption\Operating System Drives\Require additional authentication at startup) after which you can work through the BitLocker encryption process as usual but with an extra choice whether to use a USB key or enter a password:

Allow BitLocker without a compatible TPM

Choose how to unlock your drive at startup

Compact and bijou – my home office!

As the Christmas holidays draw to a close (and they have certainly rushed by), I’m reminded to write about how I spent my previous “holiday”. October half term was a busy one as we swapped my eldest son’s bedroom and our home office, redecorating and refitting along the way… or, as I wrote on Facebook at the time:

“1 half term: 9 days of DIY; 3 visits to IKEA; 40+ boxes of flat-packs; 2 trips to the tip; a car full of cardboard; 11 sacks for the bin men…

…a new (smaller) office for us and two happy boys – one with a much bigger bedroom!

Back to work for a rest tomorrow!”

Now, where’s the relevance of all that for my blog? Well, I thought I might write some notes on how we converted the smallest bedroom in the house (approx. 2.15×2.59m) into a reasonable workspace for two people.

Decorating

First up – making good any damage to walls, etc. A plasterer once recommended Gyproc Easi-Fill to me and it’s wonderful stuff. Easy to work with, and sands to a smooth finish.

Next, white paint.

It wasn’t that I didn’t believe Garry Martin’s comment on an earlier post, more that I’d had limited time to prepare and that I thought I’d support a local business instead of my usual decorators merchant. Hey, ho!

Luckily Homebase had an offer on Dulux white emulsion, although I actually used a couple of coats of their own-brand high opacity paint in the end…

Fitting out

With the room repainted (albeit taking more time than I hoped), my attention could turn to fitting things out. My previous office had a length of IKEA Pragel kitchen counter installed as a desk (my son has it in his bedroom now). IKEA don’t make that counter any more, but they do make some good table-tops  (Linnmon) that are very reasonably priced (and also a lot lighter to carry, because the centre filling is basically cardboard – not chipboard).

I needed to cut the table-tops to fit the room and make an L shape, and I also decided to fix them to the wall – lengths of 50x25mm (planed) timber screwed to the wall as battens did the trick there (no need to paint as they are out of sight), with strategically-placed IKEA Adils legs and some brackets to fix the table-tops to the battens (and to hold the table-tops together). The Linnmon tops are also pre-drilled with holes for the Adils legs, which makes things a little easier.  I found some good advice for setting the desk height too.

IKEA Signum desk grommetNext came cable-management. My previous desk had used IKEA Signum desk grommets but they’ve been discontinued. Luckily they are the same size (65mm) as a spare I had from an old desk, so that could be used in my son’s room, whilst I recovered a matching set of 3 for the office.

I also used some IKEA Koppla extension leads with built-in USB ports to provide some above-desk power. Cheaper alternatives are available, but I think they look good screwed to the wall just above the desk.

Shelving came in the form of the ubiquitous Billy bookcase (re-using an existing set of shelves), added to which I put a Bestå frame with a shelf under my desk.  A Stuva wall-cupboard lets me hide away most of my clutter, and some Mosslanda picture ledges finish things off for personal odds and ends around the workspace with a Jansjö LED lamp for desk lighting.

Fixing the cupboard to the wall was a challenge. The wall it’s fixed to is just a stud wall with plasterboard and normal fixings were not really up to the task.  I picked up some 25mm GripIt fixings from my local DIY store that claim to be good for 180kgs each. These fixings (featured on Dragons’ Den) are really strong and easy to use (although drilling a 25mm hole in my wall did fill me with some trepidation at first). I haven’t tested the load up to the full weight but I can say that the cupboard is fixed really solidly now (although I did use some longer M6 bolts to make up for the gap between the back of the cupboard and the wall).

Finally, somewhere to sit. Whilst my wife prefers one of our dining chairs at her desk, I bought a Flintan swivel chair with Nominell armrests (and so far have been very happy with it).

Compact and bijou: my home office
Ignore the apparent curves on the desk – that’s just a dodgy iPhone stitched image!

What next?

I’m trying to keep as little in the room as possible but I think some more bookshelves/another cupboard are inevitable and there’s also the matter of fitting a new blind to the window (on my to-do list, already made to measure by Blinds 2 Go).  I’m also reducing the installed IT: the Cisco 7940 is no longer in use, nor is my old Fujitsu-Siemens S20-1W monitor; and I’m sure Microsoft will want their Lenovo B50 all-in-one PC back soon as I’m doing really badly at writing Windows 10 blog posts (the reason it’s loaned to me), although that means I’ll need to buy another monitor (or two). If you look closely, you’ll also see that I have some work to do tidying some of the cables under the desk…