Long Live Windows XP…. And Mobile Security

At one point or another, we’ve all been blindsided by news that has literally changed our lives. Though we’re often left momentarily stunned, it’s imperative to figure out how to adjust and carry on. It’s not always easy, but you know the expression – where there’s a will, there’s a way. However, the discontinuation of support for Windows XP is not news that should take anyone by surprise, as its April 8, 2014 retirement date was officially announced almost a full year ago. Cyber criminals surely have the date circled on their calendars, as the security risks posed to the numerous users and enterprises still using Windows XP beyond that date have been well documented. Recently, these risks have become both more prominent and dangerous. ZDNet reports that, using a form of malware called Backdoor.Ploutus, hackers are starting to remotely access a portion of the 95 percent of ATMs in the United States still using the soon-to-be deceased operating system (OS). “By simply sending a text message to the compromised system, hackers can control the ATM, walk up to it, and collect dispensed cash.” Clearly, this is a major cause for concern. And it’s not exactly as if Microsoft has been trying to sweep the retirement of XP under the rug, either. In addition tosending pop-up dialog boxes encouraging users of the 488 million systems still using XP to upgrade to another Microsoft OS, the corporation even went so far as to recruit tech-savvy friends and family to help “old holdouts” make the transition. Unfortunately, the results have been lackluster. HelpNetSecurity reports that many users call these efforts a...

NCP engineering Supports Microsoft Windows Users’ Evolving Remote Access Needs

Organizations tasked with safely connecting their employees to the corporate network are under pressure to not only accommodate various devices, but also offer multi-platform support. In fact, analysts predict  that through 2017, 90% of enterprises will have two or more mobile operating systems to manage! Adding to this pressure is the recent onslaught of Windows 8-based systems in the enterprise, which means the demand for secure remote access solutions is following suit. Heeding this call for adaptation, NCP engineering has upgraded its enterprise IPsec VPN client suite to offer compatibility with laptops and tablets running Windows 8, in particular, its Professional and Enterprise editions. The centrally managed remote access software also supports devices using Windows 7/Vista/XP 32-/64-bit. NCP has also added several new security benefits to its enterprise IPsec VPN client, including prompting users via warning messages if they fail to log on to hotspots without established Wi-Fi connections. When this occurs, the software solution advises users on creating suitable connection profiles, and helps them determine if alternative network selections are necessary. The NCP Secure Enterprise Client also includes the recently added Access Point Name (APN) management feature, which eliminates the need to manually update each device’s APN when switching out SIM cards from different mobile operators. For more information on the new product version and how NCP is meeting Windows users’ evolving remote access needs, check out the full press release...

Q&A on VPNs & DirectAccess with Patrick Oliver Graf, Part 4

This is part four in a series of questions related to DirectAccess and VPNs. Last week we addressed whether Microsoft can improve the implementation of DirectAccess under Windows Server 2012. Earlier in our series we examined the hardware requirements with DirectAccess and whether DirectAccess, in combination with Windows 8, supersedes VPNs.  Question: Do networks that employ the Windows Server 2008 R2 and the Windows Server 2012 also feature the improved configuration and management features of DirectAccess? Patrick Oliver Graf: No, they do not. The improvements for DirectAccess are only available for Windows Server 2012. It can be expected that users will slowly migrate their systems from Windows Server 2008 R2 to version 2012. This means, companies will have to continue living with the restrictions resulting from DirectAccess in a Windows Server 2008 environment for quite a time. Question: Can companies use DirectAccess in combination with a VPN? For example can they use DirectAccess for computers running on Windows 7 and Windows 8 while they need an IPsec/SSL VPN for Windows XP, MacOS, iOS, Android or Linux at the same time? Patrick Oliver Graf: Windows Server 2012 does not change anything in this scenario. DirectAccess can only be used for Windows 7/8 clients. Anybody who wants to use other clients (MacOS, iOS, Android, Linux, Unix) has to setup and operate a parallel VPN infrastructure. Although Windows Server 2012 offers the default setting of an additional installation of VPNs for non-Windows clients upon implementation of DirectAccess, two separate worlds remain if a user also uses clients with other operating systems, other than Windows 7 and 8. This naturally increases the installation, configuration and operating effort....

Q&A on VPNs & DirectAccess with Patrick Oliver Graf, Part 3

This is part three in a series of questions related to DirectAccess and VPNs. Earlier this week we addressed the hardware requirements with DirectAccess and whether DirectAccess, in combination with Windows 8, supersedes VPNs. Question: Its inflexible and complex implementation was one of the greatest weaknesses of DirectAccess in combination with Windows Server 2008 R2. Microsoft has improved Windows server 2012 in this regard. Are there still issues Microsoft could improve or optimize? Patrick Oliver Graf: Microsoft has considerably improved the implementation of DirectAccess under Windows Server 2012. For example, users can now implement DirectAccess through a single console where they had to use several before. Network Access Translation (NAT) is now able to direct incoming remote access connections to a central DirectAccess Server. Through the new features, there is no need for several servers any more. The system furthermore supports global server load balancing. This means that now a Windows 8 client is easily able to log on to the closest network entry point. However, there are still several unsolved issues. In Windows Server 2012 and DirectAccess, multi-site support still causes quite a bit of hassle. Apart from that, multi-site implementations strictly require a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI). This increases the users’ effort and contradicts Microsoft’s statement, maintaining that with Windows 8, setting up secure connections with DirectAccess and Windows Server 2012 has become easier than it is within a VPN infrastructure. According to users’ experiences, it is essential to configure DHCP and DNS entries (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol / Domain Name Server) of DirectAccess implementations with particular care. This, too, increases the implementation effort and makes the system prone...

Q&A on VPNs & DirectAccess with Patrick Oliver Graf, Part 2

This is part two in a series of questions related to DirectAccess and VPNs. Last week, we addressed why VPNs are still necessary with Windows 8. Question: Does DirectAccess have any hardware requirements? Patrick Oliver Graf: While DirectAccess doesn’t require the Trusted Platform Module (TPM) – based virtual smart card capabilities in Windows Server 2012/Windows 8, it is an optional component. It’s worth noting, as small and medium-sized businesses, in particular, often use Windows consumer PCs that do not feature TPM. However, Microsoft does require TPM to be enabled and configured for its employees who wish to enable DirectAccess connectivity. VPN solutions do not have such requirements. Question: Does DirectAccess in combination with Windows 8 supersede VPNs? Patrick Oliver Graf: No, it does not, because Windows 8 systems are only able to use DirectAccess to communicate with servers and clients in pure Windows environments. Users of mixed environments cannot forego a VPN, if their environments include Linux Server, MacOS computers or end devices running on the Android operating system. The BYOD trend will only put further momentum towards environments with a multitude of platforms, which will further diminish the influence of DirectAccess. Moreover, a lot of companies and public institutions, like educational institutions or authorities, have already implemented a VPN infrastructure. Those customers will unlikely abandon their VPNs in favor of Windows 8, in combination with Windows Server 2012. Stay tuned as Patrick addresses more questions related to DirectAccess and VPNs. If you have any questions that you would like answered, send them to editor@vpnhaus.com.  Patrick Oliver Graf is General Manager at NCP...

Q&A on VPNs & DirectAccess with Patrick Oliver Graf, Part 1

Today’s post kicks off a series of questions related to DirectAccess and VPNs that we’ll post over the next few weeks. Question: Microsoft equipped Windows 8 with additional DirectAccess features. Why should companies that have deployed Windows 8, continue using VPNs? Patrick Oliver Graf: At first glance, the reasons for implementing VPNs in a pure Windows environment with Windows 8 clients seem few and far between. After all, Windows 8 does not require the user to install a separate DirectAccess client – a task that was still required under Windows 7. Windows 8, however, shows certain weaknesses in combination with DirectAccess. For example, only Windows 8 Enterprise supports the improved DirectAccess management features of Windows Server 2012. In fact, many users, including business, run their systems on Windows 8 Pro, which means they do not benefit from the new features. A further, potentially problematic, issue is the close interlocking of DirectAccess and the Windows 8 operating system. This means security vulnerabilities or direct attacks on the operating system could also compromise DirectAccess connections. Stay tuned as Patrick addresses more questions related to DirectAccess and VPNs next week. If you have any questions that you would like answered, send them to editor@vpnhaus.com.  Patrick Oliver Graf is General Manager at NCP...