Category Archives: Security

Accelerate Your AI with Machine Learning on Azure Data Box Edge

In some past blogs I’ve discussed Azure Data Box and how the Data Box family has expanded. Today I’ll talk about Azure Data Box Edge (in preview) and elaborate on the machine learning service that it provides in your premises with the power of Azure behind it.

If you don’t know, Azure Data Box Edge is a physical hardware device that sits in your environment and collects data from environment sources like IOT data and other sources where you might take advantage of the AI features offered by the device. It then takes the data and sends it to Azure for more processing, storage or reporting purposes.

Microsoft recently announced Azure Machine Learning hardware accelerated models provided by Project Brain Wave on the Data Box Edge. Because most of our data is in real world applications and used at the edge of our networks – like image and videos collected from factories, retail stores or hospitals – it can now be used for things such as manufacturing defect analysis or inventory out of stock detection in diagnostics.

By applying machine learning models to the data on Data Box Edge, it provides lower latency (and savings on bandwidth cost) as we don’t have to send all the data to Azure for analysis. But it still offers that real time insight and speed to action for critical business decisions.

You can enable data scientists to simplify and accelerate the building, training and deployment of machine learning models using the Azure Machine Learning Service which is already generally available. They can access all these capabilities in their favorite Python environment, using the latest open source frameworks such as PyTorch, TensorFlow and sci-kit-learn.

These models can run on CPUs and GPUs, but this preview expands that out to field programmable gate array processes (FPGA), which is the processor on the Data Box Edge.

The preview is currently a bit limited but, in this case, you’re able to enhance the Azure Machine Learning Service by training a TensorFlow model for image classification scenarios. So, you would containerize that model in a docker container and then deploy it to the Data Box Edge IOT hub.

A good use case for this is if you’re using AI models for quality control purposes. Let’s say you know what a finished product should look like and what the quality specs are, and you build a model defining those parameters. Then you take an image of that product as it comes off the assembly line; now you can send those images to the Data Box Edge in your environment and more quickly capture defects.

Now you’re finding the root cause of defects quicker and throwing away fewer defective products and therefore, saving money. I’m looking forward to seeing how enterprises are going to leverage this awesome technology.

What is Azure Active Directory B2C?

How important is secure identity management to you? If you’re like most, it is a top priority. In today’s post I’ll talk about Azure Active Directory B2C which is an identity management service that enables you to customize and control how users securely interact with your web, desktop, mobile or even single applications.

Using Azure AD B2C, users can sign up, sign in, reset passwords and edit profiles for the various applications they’re using.

When implementing these policies, we’ll have two choices:

  • Using common identity user flows within the Azure portal or,
  • For the more skilled developer or if the templates in the portal don’t support your use case, you can use XML based custom policies.

Once you make that decision, your choice will define the path of authentication, commonly referred to as the user journey. User journeys allow you to control behaviors by configuring some settings; things like social accounts (like Facebook) that the user uses to sign up for the application.

Data collected from the user as a first name or postal code would be used for authentication. You also have multi-factor authentication options, as well as the look and feel of how users interact with pages and information returned to the application.

Azure Active Directory B2C supports the open ID connect and the OAuth 2 protocols for these user journeys. These protocols will help ultimately receive a token that will allow for you to be authenticated. The interaction of every application follows a similar high-level pattern shown in the graphic below:

AAD B2C Flow

The steps here are:

1. The application directs the user to run a policy.

2. The user completes the policy according to the policy definition.

3. Then the application receives a token.

4. And then uses that token to try to a resource.

5. The resource server then validates the token to verify that access can be granted.

6. And the application will periodically refresh in the background ( there really are 5 steps but this 6th step is happening over and over).

Azure AD B2C can also work with additional identity providers such as Amazon, Facebook and Google that will create, maintain and manage identity information while providing authentication services to their (and other) applications.

Typically, you would only use one identity provider in your application but there are no restrictions for using more if your use case calls for it.

The main value for this service is the ability to lessen the need for username and password management for so many applications, thus improving the user experience. Our lives have been made a bit easier since we now have many applications, both web and desktop based, that allow that single sign on or no sign on experience because they are already pre-authenticated with a service like this.

What is Azure Active Directory Seamless Single Sign On?

We’re all dealing with many usernames and passwords in our everyday life, right? Today I’d like to talk about an authentication feature within Azure Active Directory that can help you with easier, faster access.

Azure Active Directory Seamless Single Sign-on (Azure AD Seamless SSO) automatically signs users in when they are on their corporate devices connected to their corporate network. When this is enabled, users don’t have to type their passwords, or even their username, to sign in to Azure Active Directory.

This feature provides users with easy access to cloud-based applications without needing any additional on premises components.

First let’s discuss how this is set up:

  • SSO is enabled used Azure AD Connect. The following steps will occur while enabling this feature:
    • A computer account representing Azure AD is created in your on premises Active Directory in each AD forest.
    • The computer account Kerberos decryption key is shared securely with Azure AD and then 2 Kerberos service principal names (SPNs) are created to represent 2 URLs that are used during Azure AD sign-on.

Authenticating in Browser

  • When doing authentication from a web browser for a web app, essentially a user navigates to a website and signs into Azure AD (see below).
AADSSSO-Image 1
  • Azure AD sends a Kerberos requests to on premises AD and on premises AD looks for an account related to the device you’re signing in on and a user account. If authorized, you get access.

Authenticating with Native Application

  • For a native client, like Outlook for instance, the process is a bit different (see below).
AADSSSO-Image 2
  • Here, the request is made from the device you’re using and authenticated off Azure AD, issuing a Kerberos ticket when it is successful.
  • When that ticket is authenticated off Azure AD and approved, a SAML token is sent to the app. Then it gets sent back to AAD for OAuth-2 authentication.
  • Once all that checks out, access is granted.

Now let’s talk about the benefits.

  • First, it’s a much better user experience. Users are automatically signed in both on premises and cloud-based applications using their built-in authentication, so there’s no need for users to repeatedly reenter their passwords.
  • It’s also easy to deploy and administer. There are no additional components needed on premises; it synchronizes your Azure Active Directory to your AD. Plus it works with any method of cloud authentication using password hash synchronization or pass through authentication.
  • Additionally, it can be rolled out to only some or all of your users by using group policy.

So, this is a great way to allow users to have multiple authentications into multiple websites and applications using only one authentication tool. This will minimize the amount of administration required to set up those users once it’s in place. And it should reduce the number of password resets for your help desk team or whomever oversees that.

5 Ways Azure Makes Your Enterprise More Secure

Security is, or should be, a top priority; nothing is more important than making your enterprise secure. In this post I’ll tell you 5 ways Azure makes your enterprise more secure.

First off, Azure is a Microsoft product. When you’re one of the world’s largest companies, there are an enormous amount of threats that need to be evaluated every second of the day. So, obviously Microsoft is aware of these challenges.

With that in mind, Microsoft developed centers of excellence over the past ten years in order to be ready for these attacks. The Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center processed over 6.5 trillion signals so they could better understand what kind of information and what types of attack vendors there are.

Each month they block over 5 billion distinct malware threats. And they staff over 3500 security professionals in their defense operations centers to help thwart these attacks. Since Active Directory is a standard for user authentication control, they introduced Azure Active Directory years ago to extend that to their Azure platform.

All that being said, here are 5 ways that Azure makes your enterprise more secure:

1. Minimize the requirement for password use – By using Microsoft Authenticator and connecting to Software as a Service applications (like Drop Box, Salesforce, etc.) The authenticator replaces your password with a multi-factor sign in using something like your phone and your fingerprint, face ID or a pin based on the Windows device that you’re using.

With a 2-factor authentication when using those devices, you have a more simplified method instead of remembering a bunch of different passwords.

2. Security Scorecard – A while back I did a post on the Azure Secure Score and the Secure Score Center. With this, you’re using the Azure portal for having awareness where there are potentials for exposure or for best practices that need to be followed which helps your organization stay better secured.

3. Microsoft Threat Protection Suite – Helps detect, investigate and remediate issues across your organization, including endpoints, email, documents, identity and infrastructure elements. It also helps your security team automate many of those manual, mundane security tasks.

4. Confidentiality – Microsoft was the first cloud vendor to introduce confidential integrity in data while it’s in use. So, consumers don’t worry about their data being put in the wrong hands (like some of those other clouds vendors you may have heard of recently in the news).

Data is always encrypted at rest and in transit. The security will soon extend to the chip level for added security on certain Azure VMs. Intel has built in some security measures inside their chips and now Microsoft is going to interact directly with those chips to keep you more secure.

5. Microsoft Information Protection Service – This enables you to automatically discover, classify, label, protect and monitor data no matter where it lives or travels on your Microsoft devices.

We’re now seeing many more open source capabilities and seeing more of these applications being sent over to Macs and Linux PCs for instance. Essentially this labeling capability is built into office apps and such across all the major platforms and can add protection capability to things like PDF documents, a feature currently in preview.

But the idea is it’s going to help you protect from things such as PII being extended. So, it’s an added level of protection to ensure there are no security leaks.

So, it’s clear from all this that Microsoft not only has a commitment to securing their own services and software, but also enterprises and individuals are of critical importance when talking about security.

If you’re concerned about security, check out some of the things I mentioned here and remember, Microsoft is making the investment and doing all they can to keep things secure.

What is Azure Network Watcher?

Most of us are starting to deploy more and more cloud assets. When you think about how you deploy some assets in Azure, you basically build out a virtual network and you can set that up so it ties in with your on premises network through express route or VPN or you can run it independently in the cloud and have your virtual network set. The question is, how do you monitor and manage that virtual network, like some of the components and how the virtual machines interact? Here’s where Azure Network Watcher comes in.

Azure Network Watcher allows you to monitor, diagnose and gain insight into your network performance between various points in your network infrastructure.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the elements:

1. The Monitoring Element – You can monitor from one endpoint to another with connection monitor to ensure connectivity between 2 points, like a web application and a database for instance. You’ll be alerted with potential issues such as a disconnect between those two services.

It also monitors latency times for evaluation. When you look at those latency times over a period, you’ll know what the average latency is and the max and min. Then you can think about you possibly getting better service in a different Azure region.

2. The Network Performance Monitor – Allows monitoring between Azure and on-premises resources for hybrid scenarios using VPN or express route. It also has some advanced detection to traffic blackholing and routing errors – in other words, some advanced intelligence when it comes to these network issues.

Best of all, as you add more endpoints it will develop a visual diagram of your network with a topology tool which will look like a visio-diagram, showing IP addresses, host names, etc.

3. Diagnostic Tools – From a diagnostic standpoint there are several diagnostic tools that give you better insight into your virtual network by diagnosing possible causes of traffic issues.

IP Flow – Tells you which security rule allowed or denied traffic to or from a virtual machine in your virtual network for further inspection or remediation.

Another tool tests communication for routing rules by letting us add a source and destination IP, then shows the results of that route, again to investigate further or remediate.

The Connection Troubleshooting Tool – Enables you to test a connection between two VMs, FQDN, URI or IDP4 addresses and returns info like the Connection Monitor but only about that point and time latency, not over a span of time.

The Packet Capture Tool – Allows traffic to be captured to and from a virtual machine with some fine-grained filtering to be stored inn Azure storage and further analyzing with network encapture tools like Wire Shark, for instance.

4. Metrics Tools – There are some limitations as to how many resources you can deploy within an Azure network which can be based on subscriptions or regions. The Metric Tool gives you the visibility that you need to understand exactly where you are inside of those limitations. It shows you how many of those resources you’ve deployed and how many are still available that you can deploy – so it helps you set up planning for the future as you deploy more and more resources.

5. Logging – We’ve done some interesting things with log analytics. Log analytics provides the ability to capture data about a bunch of Azure networking components, like network security groups, public IP addresses, load balances, virtual networking and application gateways, to name a few.

All these logs can be captured and stored in Azure storage and further analyzed. Many can be fed into Operations Management Studio (OMS). This gives you a single pane of glass experience when you want to look at your environment at that “50,000-foot level”.

So, as you begin to deploy more and more assets into your Azure environment, this is a helpful service to monitor and manage your virtual network. You get a high-level overview of what that network looks like.

Improve Your Security Posture with Azure Secure Score

Security is a top priority for every business and we can never have enough of it, right? But at what point does it become too much to administer and prioritize security threats? I’m excited to tell you about a newly announced offering called Azure Secure Score which is part of the Azure Security Center.

If you’re unfamiliar, the Azure Security Center is a centralized place where you can get security recommendations based on the workloads you’ve deployed. In September at Ignite, Microsoft announced Secure Score as a security analytics tool that provides visibility of your organization’s security posture, as well as help you understand how secure your workloads are by assigning them a score.

The new Secure Score helps you prioritize and triage your response to security recommendations. It takes into consideration the severity and impact of the recommendation and based on that info it assigns a numerical value to show how fixing the recommendation can improve your security posture.

Once you implement a recommendation, the score and the overall Secure Score updates.

The main goals of Secure Score are:

  • To provide the capabilities that allow you to visualize the security posture.
  • Quickly triage and make suggestions to provide impactful actions that increase your security posture.
  • Measures the workload of the security over time.

So, how does Azure Security Center and Secure Score work?

  • Azure Security Center constantly reviews your active recommendations and calculates your Secure Score based on these.
  • The score of a recommendation is derived from its severity and security best practices that will affect your workload security over time.
  • It looks at your security and where you sit over a period. It’s not an immediate result and it won’t immediately change but it’s going to help you build up your score as you implement any recommendations and then you can silence them.
  • The Secure Score is calculated based on the ratio between your healthy resources and your total resources. If the number of healthy resources is equal to your total resources, you get the highest score value.
  • The overall score is an accumulation of all your recommendations. You can view your overall Secure Score across your subscriptions or management groups depending on the scope you select. The score will also vary based on the subscriptions selected and the active recommendations on them.

Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time to do the remediation, whether it be patching machines or closing ports or shutting off services. There are so many remedies offered that will make you more secure down the road. With this offering, you get a ‘scorecard’ for yourself and a look at what’s most imperative to implement first.

Be sure to check out the Azure Security Center. There are a lot of free options there as well as options to add additional services at a cost.

Using Azure to Drive Security in Banking Using Biometrics

In the digital world we live in today, it’s getting harder to verify identity in industries such as banking. We now do less and less transactions in person. No longer do we go into banks with passbook in hand and make deposits or withdrawals face to face with a bank teller. Many of us have moved from ATM transactions to digital banking.

With this move, banks have tried many approaches of 2-factor authentication, some better than others and obviously the need is there for secure forms of authentication for the users. Let me tell you how Azure is driving identity security in banking using biometric identification. By combining biometrics with artificial intelligence, banks are now able to take new approaches at verifying the digital identity of their customers and prospects.

If you don’t know, biometrics is the process of uniquely identifying a person’s physical and personal traits. These are then recorded into a database and those images or features are captured into an electronic device and are used as a unique form of identification. Some methods we use biometrics are fingerprint and facial recognition, hand geometry, iris or eye scan and even odor or scents.

Because of their uniqueness, these are much more reliable in confirming a person’s identity than a password or access card. So, how do you verify a person is who they say they are if they’re not in person? Microsoft partners are now leveraging some of the Azure platform offerings to do this—things such as Cognitive Service’s Vision API and Azure Machine Learning tools for performing multi-factor authentication in the banking industry.

The way this works is the user provides a government issued ID (a license or passport for example) and they validate it against standards provided by the ID issuer, so they’re building an algorithm for verification of that ID and putting that into a database. So, when someone submits an ID from a particular state, we know what that ID is supposed to look like and we look for all the distinguishing features of that ID.

To take this a step further, the second factor is they’re using facial recognition software on things like your phone or computer, like Face ID for the iPhone. It will take your photo, but it will also take a video of you and force you to move your head in certain motions in order validate that is it you – you’re not wearing a mask or something – and that you’re alive.

It takes a picture of your ID and matches it to your facial constructions and compares them side by side; this becomes your digital signature. This is considered extremely secure as now you have two forms of verification and you’re using biometrics. Crazy stuff when you think about it but in the digital world we live in, you must go to these lengths to verify someone’s identity when they are not right in front you.

This is still in the early phase of what we’ll see but it’s cool to see how it’s being used and will be interesting to see how it progresses in the future. We’ve got great consultants working with Cognitive Services and Machine Learning. Anything data or Azure related, we’re doing it.

What is Azure Automation?

So, what do you know about Azure Automation? In this post, I’ll fill you in on this cool, cloud-based automation service that provides you the ability to configure process automation, update management and system configuration, which is managed across your on-premises resources, as well as your Azure cloud-based resources.

Azure Automation provides complete control of deployment operation and decommissions of workloads and resources for your hybrid environment. So, we can have a single pane of glass for managing all our resources through automation.

Some features I’d like to point out are:

  • It allows you to automate those mundane, error-prone activities that you perform as part of your system configuration and maintenance.
  • You can create Runbooks in PowerShell or Python that help you reduce the chance for misconfiguration errors. And it will help lower operational costs for the maintenance of those systems, as you can script it out to do it when you need instead of manually.
  • The Runbooks can be developed for on-premises or Azure resources and they use Web Hooks that allow you to trigger automation from things such as ITSM, Dev Ops and monitoring systems. So, you can run these remotely and trigger them from wherever you need to.
  • On configuration management side, you can build these desired state configurations for your enterprise environment. This will help you to set a baseline for how your systems will operate and will identify when there’s a variance from the initial system configuration, alerting you of any anomalies that could be problematic.
  • It has a rich reporting back end and alerting interface for full visibility into what’s happening in your Windows and Linux systems – on-premises and in Azure.
  • Gives you update management aspects (in Windows and Linux) to help you define the aspects of how updates are applied, and it helps administrators to specify which updates will be deployed, as well as successful or unsuccessful deployments and the ability to specify which updates should not be deployed to systems, all done through PowerShell or Python scripts.
  • It can share capabilities, so when you’re using multiple resources or building those Runbooks for automation, it allows you to share the resources to simplify management. You can build multiple scripts but use the same resources over and over as references for things like role-based access control, variables, credentials, certificates, connections, schedules and access to source control and PowerShell modules. You can check these in and out of source control like any kind of code-based project.
  • Lastly, and one of the coolest features in my opinion, where these are templates you’re deploying out in your systems, everyone has some similar challenges. There’s a community gallery where you can go and download templates others have created or upload ones you’ve created to share. With a few basic configuration tweaks and review to make sure they’re secure, this is a great option for making the process faster by finding an existing script and cleaning it up and deploying it in your systems and environment.

So, there’s a lot you can do with this service and I think it’s worth checking out as it can make your maintenance and management much simpler.

What is Azure Firewall?

I’d like to discuss the recently announced Azure Firewall service that is now just released in GA. Azure Firewall is a managed, cloud-based network security service that protects your Azure Virtual Network resources. It is a fully stateful PaaS firewall with built-in high availability and unrestricted cloud scalability.

It’s in the cloud and Azure ecosystem and it has some of that built-in capability. With Azure Firewall you can centrally create, enforce and log application and network connectivity policies across subscriptions and virtual networks, giving you a lot of flexibility.

It is also fully integrated with Azure Monitor for log analytics. That’s big because a lot of firewalls are not fully integrated with log analytics which means you can’t centralize these logs in OMS, for instance, which would give you a great platform in a single pane of glass for monitoring many of the technologies being used in Azure.

Some of the features within:

  • Built in high availability, so there’s no additional load balances that need to be built and nothing to configure.
  • Unrestricted cloud scalability. It can scale up as much as you need to accommodate changing network traffic flows – no need to budget for your peak traffic, it will accommodate any peaks or valleys automatically.
  • It has application FQDN filtering rules. You can limit outbound HTTP/S traffic to specified lists of fully qualified domain names including wildcards. And the feature does not require SSL termination.
  • There are network traffic filtering rules, so you can create, allow or deny network filtering rules by source and destination IP address, port and protocol. Those rules are enforced and logged across multiple subscriptions and virtual networks. This is another great example of having availability and elasticity to be able to manage many components at one time.
  • It has fully qualified domain name tagging. If you’re running Windows updates across multiple servers, you can tag that service as an allowed service to come through and then it becomes a set standard for all your services behind that firewall.
  • Outbound SNAT and inbound DNAT support, so you can identify and allow traffic originating from your virtual network to remote Internet destinations, as well as inbound network traffic to your firewall public IP address is translated (Destination Network Address Translation) and filtered to the private IP addresses on your virtual networks.
  • That integration with Azure Monitor that I mentioned in which all events are integrated with Azure Monitor, allowing you to archive logs to a storage account, stream events to your Event Hub, or send them to Log Analytics.

Another nice thing to note is when you set up an express route or a VPN from your on premises environment to Azure, you can use this as your single firewall for all those virtual networks and allow traffic in and out from there and monitor it all from that single place.

This was just released in GA so there are a few hiccups, but if none of the service challenges effect you, I suggest you give it a try. It will only continue to come along and get better as with all the Azure services. I think it’s going to be a great firewall service option for many.

What is Azure Data Box and Data Box Disk?

Are you looking to move large amounts of data into Azure? How does doing it for free sound and with an easier process? Today I’m here to tell you how to do just that with the Azure Data Box.

Picture this: you have a ton of data, let’s say 50 terabytes on-prem, and you need to get that into Azure because you’re going to start doing incremental back ups of a SQL Database, for instance. You have two options to get this done.

First option is to move that data manually. Which means you have to chunk it, set it up using AZ copy or a similar Azure data tool, put it up in a blob storage, then extract it and continue with the process. Sounds pretty painful, right?

Your second option is to use Azure Data Box which allows you to move large chunks of data up into Azure. Here’s how simple it is:

  • You order the Data Box through Azure (currently available in the US and EU)
  • Once received, you connect it to your environment however you plan to move that data
  • It uses standard protocols like SMB and CIFS
  • You copy the data you want to move and return the Data Box back to Azure and then they will upload the data into your storage container(s)
  • Once the data is uploaded, they will securely erase that Data Box

With the Data Box you get:

  • 256-bit encryption
  • A super tough, hardened box that can withstand drops or water, etc.
  • It can be pushed into Azure Blob
  • You can copy data up to 10 storage accounts
  • There are two 1 gigabit/second and two 10 gigabit/second connections to allow quick movement of data off your network onto the box

In addition, Microsoft has recently announced the Data Box Disk, which is a small 8 terabyte disk that you can order up to five of as part of the Data Box Disk.

With Data Box Disc you get:

  • 35 terabytes of usable capacity per order
  • Supports Azure Blobs
  • A USB SATA 2 and 3 interface
  • Uses 128-bit encryption
  • Like Data Box, it’s a simple process to connect it, unlock it, copy the data onto the disk and it send it back to copy those into a single storage account for you

Here comes the best part—while Azure Data Box and Data Box Disk are in Preview, this is a free service. Yes, you heard it right, Microsoft will send you the Data Box or Data Box Disk for free and you can move your data up into Azure for no cost.

Sure, it will cost you money when you buy your storage account and start storing large sums of data, but storage is cheap in Azure, so that won’t break the bank.