The first thing about security

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

_ Comet


Hello Readers,

My first blog post, Comet's Home Page, is a document that contains settings and freeware that I typically install on my own Windows machines.  The purpose of that page is to serve as a reference, because there are many things that only need to be done once on a new machine, such as installing software or tweaking internet connection limits.  [The document also contains pointers to many software projects that are very useful for information security professionals.]

I maintain a living copy of that document, for one reason--backup.  Yep, that's right, backup.

If there is anything you should ensure for the security of your computer system, it is this:  "ALWAYS have a backup."  This is the first part of disaster resiliency, and is useful not only as a protection against malicious crackers, but also against accidental modification or deletion, and it also acts as insurance against the eventual physical failure, whether it's just electromechanical fatigue or a large earthquake or other natural disaster that takes out the computer room.

I have held several jobs in the computer field, including programming; systems operations, management and administration; customer support and consultancy; quality assurance, and white hat hacker.  One gets to hear and experience many amusing stories of information insecurity.

For instance, I was a sysadmin during the big earthquake about a decade ago in San Francisco.  During the aftermath, many field support engineers were sent to Silicon Valley from out of state, and I got to hear about computers that crashed through the floor onto the floor below, and other tales of woe.  The stories always talked about what went wrong, what could have gone wrong, and how complicated it was to get things back going.  (The computer that fell was a MicroVAX, and it booted up just fine.)

Most people had their servers running with all the best security policies and tools (that they could afford), and they even had backups.

Unfortunately, some of these people still had issues using the backups.

#1] The backup media was reused many times, and the oxide had worn out, making it unreadable.

#2] The backup media was in good condition, but was only tested on the device that made it; because of idiosyncratic issues with that device (e.g. alignment), the backup could not be read on another device of that same type.

#3] The backup media was in good condition.  The backup hardware was in standard condition.  The backups were made of a running Oracle database and the database was not set in backup mode at the time, so the data cached in memory were not flushed to disk to be read and recorded in a consistent state, both for the user data and the system metadata.

Of course, these are old stories, and I am sure that all of you reading this blog post have ensured that YOU HAVE USABLE BACKUPS of everything important.

Confession:  When I was a newbie sysadmin, I kept a file handy with the service contracts and phone numbers of field service.  Of course, the disk went bad, so I couldn't look up the phone number, and so calling the problem in was delayed as I had to find the information elsewhere.  After that, I always kept a hardcopy handy.] 

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Anthony M. Freed Nice firsthand advice - seems even the best backup systems still need frequent tweaking to perform adequately. Hopefully the all-powerful cloud holds some secure, convenient, and low cost options for enterprise...
_ Comet Just make sure to have local backups of information that is needed to access the cloud, and that the cloud storage is, itself, backed up. You wouldn't want the ToS of your cloud provider to change in a way that costs you more for your storage, unless you have a way of moving your data to a lower-cost provider that may offer equivalent or better benefits. Also, there is the possibility that a provider may cease; I expect that many readers have experienced the loss of some of the online data storage services.
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