Wednesday, May 23, 2018

You Need to Know: Shadow IT

Troy Hunt just posted a new free Pluralsight video about "Shadow IT." That term sounds nefarious, but it's actually quite innocent. It's someone creates or uses software or a resource that hasn't been documented in the IT inventory and approved for use inside the organization. Because it hasn't been through the on-boarding process for IT resources, it also hasn't passed security checks.

Some examples include: A Google Drive or a One Drive to store or share files. A share drive with open access. Cloud services on Azure, AWS, Google Could, IBM Bluemix, etc.

What Are the Issues?

It's not that using these resources are an issue in and of itself; it's that they present potential security and management issues.

Security

Because the security of "Shadow IT Resources" are unknown to the organization, they could open security holes. Those security holes can be either external (exposing information outside the organization) or internal (exposing information to unintended people inside). It may not always be a problem per-se, but either scenario could really cause problems for the organization. Those problems can result in loss of business, legal proceedings, and even cause the business to fail.

Web app services on Cloud platforms are designed to be open to the world be default. They can be secured by deploying them inside a VPC (Virtual Private Cloud) which is accessible from within the network only. This same concept applies to many other Cloud services.

Besides Cloud services, there are countless tools, games, and application that are easily accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Security problems unknown, these could contain malicious code which is designed to leak information

Cost

Besides the costs of recovering from an information leak, another potential cost concern is an unplanned expenditure. Particularly with cloud services since its relatively easy to create a new resource on a cloud platform. Cloud services are pay as you go so it would be a slow-burn rather than a fast explosion that leaked information would present.

This kind of issue is easier to resolve since all activities are logged and can therefore be monitored easily. Services like Alert Logic and Stackify give you insight into activities on the Cloud.

Scaling is another source of cost. Cloud resources are made to scale -  meaning new servers or service handlers are created to handle increased traffic. Configure scaling appropriately and set limits to ensure that a DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack doesn't end up costing you a fortune overnight. For example: the cost difference between a single small AWS server and many XXXL servers is in orders of magnitude of 100x the cost.

Goldilocks

Despite the aforementioned concerns, it's not worthwhile to be too restrictive when it comes to using the tools available. The trick is to find a path that's just right.

The Tale of Goldilocks According to Me

In the classic Goldilocks fable, Goldilocks happens upon a cottage in the woods. The cottage is the residence of three bears (papa, mama, baby). She "innocently" does a B&E (Breaking and Entering). Besides the unauthorized entry into the abode, she eats their food; sampling the porridge of each until she finds the one that's not too hot and not too cold, but just right! After that she samples the chairs. Baby's chair is just the right size, but she breaks it. Then she proceeds upstairs to the bedroom and tries all the beds: papa's is too hard, mama's is too soft, but baby's is just right. She falls asleep only to be awakened by the angry bear family returned from their morning walk ready to maul her. She barely escapes with her life after her little crime spree.

Lock-Down?

Besides the rampant crime in the story, Goldilocks has to try what's available until she finds what's right for her. Follow this practice, starting with most restrictive. However, do be open about the strategy so that those in the organization aren't taken aback by the sudden lock-down! Some of what exists in Shadow IT-land may be business critical! In that case a total lock-down would cause serious business disruption. Consider that they do lock-downs in prison when a fight breaks out...

Stay Calm and Keep Innovating

Another extremely important factor in applying the right level and doing so with care to respect the autonomy of individuals is the innovation factor. Theodore Henderson of the Forbes Coaches Council notes that "Innovation Is Crucial To Your Organization's Long-Term Success." He cites many success stories of innovative products that have lead to serious growth of organizations. One such example is GMail, which is the fruit of Paul Buchheit's 20% time according to Time.com (free time given for the purpose of innovation).

Disallowing the use of applications and services can seriously stifle innovation. It can do so in two ways:

1. Denying access to tools that can make people more productive.
2. Making employees feel less autonomous.

Autonomy is important to innovation which stems from motivation. Going into total lock-down mode can make people like they're under total external control which stifles their innovations and productivity. As a business model, that isn't going to go well unless you're business is 20th century line assembly.

Concluding

While it may be natural to knee-jerk and enter into total lock-down, it's important to find the right level of control. The right level of control means keeping Shadow IT to a minimum and plugging security holes while keeping all employees on the same side as Info Sec and Governance.

Read Troy Hunt's post here: https://www.tyroyhunt.com/new-pluralsight-course-the-role-of-shadow-it-and-how-to-bring-it-out-of-the-darkness/

Friday, March 9, 2018

Do The Gemba Walk

As a developer or analyst, you should sit in your users' seats so that you fully understand how to meet their needs. Interviewing is merely an introduction to those needs. In Kanban, they do a Gemba walk, which means going to where the work is done. We call it management by walking around. This is fine for management, but for actually creating something that helps the users or the business, one needs to actually do the work to comprehend the actual problems in order to solve them in the best way
While doing so, keep in mind the user's technical skill and framework. You may find that your applications have more than one persona using the application. A persona is different from a role. You can have many personas in each role. Let's say a Legal Assistant is a role. Those users may or may not be tech savvy. Consider that in your UX design!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

What a Story! An Agile Story


You've heard of this thing called a User Story right? Perhaps you've even seen the template:

"As a <type of user>,
 I want <some feature>
 So that <some goal>."

But perhaps you've wondered how to put a feature like "read the users name from the database and put the value in txtbxUserName" into that format.

Occasionally, I write about Agile on this blog. In that entry, I wrote about a broader view of Agile from a developer perspective. In this one, I made a case for leaving the work up to the pros. This time I'm focusing on something much narrower — the User Story.

The Wrong Way



Perhaps not "wrong" way, just not something that's going to align very well with the benefits of Agile.

"As the one telling you how to do your job, I need you to write code that reads the username from the Users table and put that value in the txtbxUserName field so that it shows up on the page".


Or perhaps "as the project sponsor, I want a check box there so the users have to check the box before they can submit the page."

It can be a bit awkward to put those kinds of instructions into User Story format...especially when the goal is not for the user but for the project sponsor or manager to tell a developer what to do. You can succeed at writing good user stories if you frame them in more general terms — don't think about implementation details. A good test is — if it's awkward it isn't right.

Maybe Better

"As a user with access to multiple user accounts, I want to know who I'm logged in as so I know which account I'm using at any given time."

"As the company's legal counsel, I want the user to accept responsibility for using our services so that we have a leg to stand on if something goes wrong." That's the "I have read and understand the 30,000 words of legalese" checkbox.

Real Life Example

For another look, let's imagine were doing some work for a burger joint where their customers expect one thing — getting their food quickly. They want to order quickly and they want everyone else to do the same so the whole thing can flow like clockwork and they can be on their way to consuming those cals in under 5 minutes.

What does that story look like? Actually it may be helpful to have multiple User Stories since there are multiple user types or personas. Let's see about defining those now:

Regular Customer - knows what they want and orders the same thing all the time.

Infrequent Customer - didn't visit much and needs a minute.

Bulk-Orderer (team mom) - is ordering for the office or a party and has a bunch of items to order.

A story from each persona might look like this:

"As a regular customer, I want to place my usual order and get on my way so that I don't have to hassle with getting my food."

"As an infrequent customer, I want to take my time browsing the menu so that I can figure out what I want to order."

"As a bulk-orderer, I want to place my order without confusion so everyone gets what they wanted."

We're going to need a lot of cheeseburgers to feed that many Air-Force Cadets!
Who ordered no onions?


Next Steps

Now that we see the user stories in a more "user-need-goal" format, we can start to think through different ways to resolve the issue. That part of the process is a conversation. A conversation between the team and the customer.

That's a Wrap...(for now)

In this entry, we've seen how we van write User Stories from the perspective of the users, through different user personas. I haven't captured all of them and that's inevitable. The magic is that as we start rolling out features to support the users based on their stories, related stories will filter in.

You may have heard a little about different roles such as Team Member and Customer — especially about who plays which roles. We'll take a look at how that works in the next entry — there are some things to think about depending on your organization.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Web Basics - TLS/SSL https

We've been looking at the basics of the internet. If you've been wondering about how it all works or are interested in web programming, you need to know the things in this series of posts.

Today's topic is TLS - Transport Layer Security. The transport layer is essentially the connection itself. The web can be divided into a model with 4 layers - two of which we've been talking about: application (HTTP) and transport (TCP and UDP). The other two are "network goo" that we really don't interact with directly. They're important, don't get me wrong, just not important to this series.

As we saw in the last post on TCP, your information is flying around the world at light speed. With the right equipment and wrongful intent, someone looking to make a buck could easily tap into your data in transit (that's what we call it when its on the move) and sell your information (usually a big batch of information) to someone who will exploit it to steal money. That is, unless its scrambled before it's sent, then unscrambled on the receiving side. Enter encryption.


Encryption



The newest big business buzz of currency - crypto-currency -  is all possible because of encryption (that's the crypto- part). It's built on the premise of uniquely encoding a "block-chain" and adding that to the existing chain to make it more valuable.

Encryption took off during WWII because radio transmissions were used by all of the militaries participating in that war. As we know, anyone can tune into radio frequencies and listen in (we can also listen to the radio transmissions of the cosmos - all the way back to the beginning of our universe!). Unless you can send a message in a way that only the receiver knows how to understand, you're toast! Every one of your moves will be known. It would be like playing chess while thinking your whole strategy out loud - you just can't win that way!

So they encoded the messages. With the messages encoded only those listeners with the decoding sequence would be able to understand. The U.S. got really good at cracking the code - which was one of the main reasons why the Allies won. Another was the perseverance and sacrifice of millions of lives of Russian soldiers. And the third was massive industrialization in the U.S. - both automated and manual industry.

History lesson aside, encryption has been used to protect privacy long before the internet. In modern times, it is used to protect data both in transit and at rest (in a database or on a hard-drive). TLS represents encryption in transit. SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is the outdated predecessor to TLS - it's been deprecated by the authorities on internet security (the IETF*) as of June 2015.

TCP establishes a connection to communicate between two servers. TLS secures that connection by ensuring that all information transmitted through it is encrypted. The mechanisms for applying this encryption involve a certificate.

Certificates



Certificates operate on a trust basis. There are companies that issue certificates (issuer). Those companies are called certificate authorities (CA) and your computer has their root certificate pre-installed. If you are securing your server, you would purchase a certificate from one of those companies. Your URL would then be registered to that certificate. You install the certificate on your web server. When https requests are made to your server, the requester gets a copy of your certificate. Your certificate is used to establish your authenticity. It's kind of like a driver's license, passport, or other form of id.



If you are the requestor, your browser will check the certificate's signature against the signature you have on the root certificate of the issuer. The domain in the URL also has to match the domain name on the certificate you receive from the server. If there is a match, the server has been Authenticated. Once the Authenticity of the server has been established, your computer and the server will generate an encryption key for the session. All of the information shared between you and server will be encrypted and decrypted on either end using that key.

Issues

This site is not https, but it's readonly - you don't exchange any sensitive information. Be careful when you have sites that require sending sensitive info and there is no https or it is mis-configured.
This site is configured for https.


This is how most of your information is secured on the internet today - provided you and the server are using https properly. Often we see misconfigurations on servers or servers that still support unencrypted http connections (http without TLS). There are also different versions of TLS which creates more configuration issues. The best you can do is pay attention to what your browser is telling you and think a bit about what kind of information you are willing to compromise - and remember some hackers are fairly sophisticated and can piece information together from multiple sources if you are a specific target (e.g. have a lot of money or power or work for a target organization/industry).

TLS works well to protect us when configured properly, but we should still remain vigilant. It can be easy to think that https solves all of our internet security problems, but there are other ways that hackers will try to pwn you.

Continued Learning



Encryption is a vast subject in and of itself. It comes in many flavors and varieties. There are one-way and two-way hashing algorithms, asymmetric and symmetric keys, private-private and private-public keys. And it all involves some pretty intense mathematics. Crypto-masters are a rare breed but the work they do is vital to our lifeblood - secure data!


IETF - Internet Task Force



OWASP is the go-to for internet security - they have great info about TLS



Some certificate authorities along with more details are listed on WikiPedia here:


Wikipedia has a lot on the subject of TLS in general:



Thursday, February 1, 2018

Web Basics - The Internet - TCP/IP

Yesterday, I posted about the basics of HTTP. Of all the message protocols, it is the most common one used on the web. If you are in IT or use the internet - basically if you have a pulse - and you are curious about how the internet works...or, I don't know...want to learn web programming, then you should also learn about TCP/IP. That's TCP over IP.

But First - UDP


Our journey though the internet begins at your computer. Let's imagine that it's only connected to one other computer through a wire. That's the simplest kind of network. Your computer is networked with another. Both computers have a network interface - which is a card or microchip or something on your computer that knows how to connect to the outside world. Think of this device as a telephone.


The telephone allows you to connect with another person at a distance. You can talk and listen. A network interface card (NIC) can send and receive data (as packets) over a network. Your computer talks into its NIC, and its NIC uses the network to talk to other computers...just like your phone!

With the 2 computer network, the NICs in both computers will need to know how to exchange data. The simplest way is to just send the data to the other side. This is called UDP (User Datagram Protocol). This would work well in a simple network like two computers over a single wire. But lets imagine those computers are very far apart - one in New York and another in Los Angeles. And let's imagine they're connected over a telephone wire. And let's imagine they're sending data over that wire.

TCP


Since those old phone wires weren't designed for data - they were designed for talking - some of the data might get lost along the way. Luckily there's TCP (Transmission Control Protocol). TCP is a network protocol where the receiver tells the sender that it got the message and how much of the message it got. If it didn't get all of it, the sender sends the missing pieces. Sending this way takes longer, but it makes sure the right message was received.

Protocols are there to make sure we get the right message. They exist in everyday life, we call them manners - the pleases and thank you that ensure clear communications. The army has protocols for sending messages over radio. Imagine if a platoon heard the wrong thing over the radio - it could march straight into enemy hands! There are even communications protocols for Presidents of the United States of America! Those protocols keep the people of the world informed without going into a frenzied panic - or marching straight into enemy hands!

IP


The internet is a wide network - it spans the globe. Even into near-earth orbit. The ISS and its occupants tweet from the space station! This web of computers is very complex - it has smaller networks within and it has branched off networks. It exists over wires and radio signals. Each connection has an address. The address schema (a schema is a way to organize something) is called IP. Don't confuse this IP with Intellectual Property - also technology related. This IP is Internet Protocol.

IP is how the systems that run the network know how to find your computer. It's how your computer knows how to find NASA.gov. It's how your computer sometimes knows how to find your printer...and sometimes when it doesn't.

Your computer can use IP to talk to itself. There's a special address for this: 127.0.0.1 there's also a special name for it (called an alias): localhost. Your computer is also configured with an IP address for the internet - the network gateway. That IP address is where your NIC sends all of your requests that are bound for the internet. There could be other devices connected to your network - like your printer, other computers, servers, storage, your home, TV, etc. Those have their own IP address on your network. They can communicate within your internal network using that IP address. They can also communicate on the internet through the same internet gateway as your computer!

Ports


Along with the IP address, computers listen for incoming calls on Ports. Ports allow one computer to have many "conversations" at the same time. Ports can be numbered 0 to 65535 (that's 16-bits unsigned). Some common ports are:
80 - http
443 - https
There are many other common ports for things like ftp, ssh, and mail.
When your NIC sends a message, it opens up a port. It uses that port to send and receive messages to and from the other side.
What the receiver sees is your internet gateway - your router. Actually the last router in your network before your message gets sent into the great beyond of the internet. After that, it gets passed around the internet routers to your destination - if it can be found.

Continued Learning


The internet may be a fascinating and complex web of networks that span the globe, but almost every bit of it operates on a few core technologies. TCP/IP is how connections exchange data over a not-so-reliable network and HTTP is how two computers know how to interpret what's sent over the networks.

There is a glaring issue with all of this - if all this data is flying over the network and it really is possible to tap into those messages, how do we keep others from prying in on our messages? The answer is encryption! TSL to be specific - that's https to you. Well see how that works and how your computer knows the IP addresses of websites in upcoming posts in this series.

More information on UDP, TCP and IP is available in Wikipedia:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_Datagram_Protocol
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transmission_Control_Protocol

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Web Basics - HTTP

I occasionally get asked to mentor by those interested in learning to code. My response and approach will vary depending on the situation. I've done this in a pair programming context, over the wire, and by simply offering advice from time to time. I enjoy mentoring, especially when the mentee shows commitment and drive. This blog was originally started on the basis of providing mentorship to my readers. With that, let me get back to my roots for this post.

If you want to learn web programming, you should probably start with the basics - HTTP. If you are mildly in IT (or have a pulse) you should understand the HTTP protocol to some extent. I'll start you on your journey to understanding this lifeblood of the internet.

http logo

What is it?

HTTP is a protocol for communication between two computers. In fact, it is an acronym for Hypertext Transfer Protocol. In HTTP, there is a request sent by a sender (client) to a receiver (server). And the server should send back a response.

The request has two parts, the headers and the body. The headers has information about the request and the body is where you put data you want to send to the server.

Verbs


There are different types of requests. Each type uses a different HTTP Verb (also called Method). Verbs are an important part of HTTP. They tell the server what you (the client) would like to do.

Verbs can be split into two categories - queries and commands. The most common are GET and POST.

GET is used to get a web page or some data. It is a query.

POST is widely used to do something, such as send an email or submit an order form. It is a command.

PUT is another command. PUT is meant for updating something. You might POST a file and later need to update the file's contents so you would PUT an update. There's also a DELETE command.

Another common query is OPTIONS. This is a request foe the server to tell you what you can do. Often servers will only accept certain verbs. OPTIONS can tell you which ones.

There are many others verbs. You can find more at the official w3 site at the end of this post.

Responses

When a request is made, the server can respond. One thing included in a response is a response code. A response code has 3 digits and ranges from 100-599. Each hundred has a different meaning. 100's are reserved, 200 level is success, 300 is content changed, 400 is a client error, 500 is server error.

Some common codes are 200 - OK, 204 - OK with no data returned, 302 - temporary redirect, 404 - not found, 500 - server error.

In addition to the response code, there may be other headers and content returned from the server. Some of the headers describe the content. For example, Content-Type and Content-Length. These tell your client (browser for instance) how to handle the content in the response. Should it display the content in a browser? Save it to a file? Open it in a plugin?

The Network

When we use the web, we are primarily using HTTP over TCP/IP (your next topic :) ). TCP is the transport mechanism/protocol (how) and IP is the addressing schema (where).

When you send an HTTP request, the server will need to know where and how to respond. Some of that information is in the request headers. And some of it is handled by the networking systems (everything that moves your request over the internet, from your client to the server).

Continued Learning

Most programming languages have HTTP clients that you can use is your programs. This is so common nowadays, that you cannot do programming for long without using an HTTP client. And when you do web programming, its at the core!

For example, web apps you use all the time use AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) to make HTTP requests using the JavaScript code that the app runs in your browser! These requests do all sorts of things like fetch data for part of the page and send data to the server. When you see part of page spinning while it loads, that's usually the app waiting for a server to respond to an AJAX request!

You can find version 1.1 of the official protocol at rfc2616 

Learning HTTP is the start of your journey to understanding how the internet works. We'll explore TCP/IP in the future...its another core technology behind what the world runs on today.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Customer Redirection

When your company no longer offers a product and you run out of stock you have to inform your customers. This communication could lead to two different reactions from your customer. On the one hand they could buy an alternative from you, on the other hand they could look elsewhere for the same product.


You could be proactive in keeping your customer happy by offering an alternative that you sell. Make it as easy as possible for them - and while you're at it, offer it at a discount or send a sample size. They're already disappointed that a brand or product they have come to love and trust is no longer available. That broken trust could easily transfer to you...this is an opportunity to make it right.


Here's an anecdote to illustrate the point. Today my wife received a disappointing email that a key product in her melody of beauty products was no longer available, and this coming after she ordered a refill. Needless to say she is going to have to find another product - but which one and from where?


First, she'll scan the web for the same product. Then she'll see what others are recommending as an alternative. No one likes to go on a whim with this kind of thing, it's all about word of mouth or endorsement by someone she trusts.


She does trust the company she placed the order with, as do many women and men. This email is an opportunity to redirect her toward a viable alternative - if it costs more, offer a discount for the first purchase just to make things even out.


But remember, you've also got to make up for the negative impression so offer another discount on top of that or offer to throw in a selection from some items based on her shopping history (another opportunity to make a second product introduction). Use your customers' product ratings or in-house expertise to drive product selection. Or for a more advanced solution use machine learning.


With machine learning, we can build smarter solutions to match your customers with the right redirection. When you incorporate our solutions in your communications chain, you turn missed opportunities into sales opportunities.