Is it safe to move to The Cloud?

I try and stay as up-to-date with all things Cloud, and have done for the better part of a decade and a bit. But I recently came across a social media post entitled “Is it safe to move to the cloud?“, and with this much experience, I had so many immediate thoughts, that this post thus precipitated.

My immediate reaction was “Is it safe to NOT move to The Cloud?“, but then I thought about the underlying problems with all digital solutions. And the key issue is understanding TCO, and ensuring the right cost is being endured over the operating time of the solution, rather than the least cost as is so typical.

The truth is that with digital systems, things change all the time. And if those systems are facing untrusted networks (such as the Internet), or processing untrusted data (such as came from humans) then there are issues lurking.

Let me take a moment to point out, as an example, any Java implementation that used the very popular Log4J library to handle error messages. Last December (2021) a serious vulnerability arose that meant that if you logged a certain message, then it would trigger an issue. Quite often error messages being raised include the offending input that failed validation or caused an exception, and thus, you could have untrusted data triggering a vulnerability via this (wildly popular and heavily used) library.

It’s not that anyone had done anything bad on purpose. No one had spotted it (and reported it to the developer of the library) earlier.

Of course, the correct thing happened: an updated version of this library was released. And then other vendors of solutions updated their products that included this newer version of the Log4J library. And then your operations team updated your deployment of this application.

Or did they.

There’s a phrase that fills me with fear in IT operations: “Transition to Support“. It indicates we’re punting the operational responsibility of the solution to a team that a did not build it, and do not now how to make major changes to the application. We’re sending to to a team that already look after other digital solutions, and adding one more thing to their work for them to check is operational, and for them to maintain — which, as they are often overwhelmed with multiple solutions, they do the simplest thing: check it is operational, not that it is Well Maintained.

Transition to support: the death knell for Well-Maintained systems

James Bromberger

I’ve seen first hand that critical enterprise systems, line-of-business processing that is the core of the business, is best served when the smart people who built it, stay to operate it in a DevOps approach. This team can make the major surgical changes that happen after deployment, and as business conditions and cyber threats change.

The concern here is cost. Development teams cost more than dumping large numbers of systems on under staffed Support teams. Or support gets sent offshore to external providers who may spend 30 seconds checking the system works, but no time investigating the error messages and their resolution that may require a software update.

It’s a question of cost.

A short-term CIO makes their hero status by cutting costs. Immediately this has only a positive impact on the balance sheet. But as time goes on, the risks of poor maintenance goes up. But after the financial year has ended, and short term EBITDA shows massive growth, and a heroes party is given for the CIO, they then miraculously depart for another job based on the short term success.

Next up, the original company finds that their digital solution needs to be updated, but there is no one who understands it to make such a change.

The smart people were let go of. They were seen as a cost, not part of the business.

So lets rephrase the question: “Is it safe to move to the cloud with your current IT management and maintenance approach?” Possibly not: you probably have to modify the way you do a lot of things, including how you structure your teams and Org Unit. You may need to up-weight training for teams who will now take on full responsibility for workloads, instead of just being “the network guy”. But this is an opportunity; those teams can now feel that THEY are the service team for a workload that supports something more substantial than just rack-and-stack of storage. Moving to separate DevOps teams per critical workload, you can then have them independently innovate – but collaborate on standards and improvements. a friendly competition on addressing technical debt, or number of user feature improvements requested – and satisfied.

So is it safe to move to the Cloud? It depends on who is doing, how much knowledge and experience they have, and what happens next in your operating model.

The Cloud is not just another data centre. And TCO isn’t just cloud costs, and it isn’t just people cost. Sometimes the cost is the compliance failure and fine you get by inadvertently removing the operating model that would have prevented a data breach.

Its been 7 years since I (and my colleagues at Ajilon/Modis, soon to be Akkodis) moved the Land Registry of Western Australia, the critical government registry of property ownership of the state, into the AWS Cloud for Landgate. We’ve kept a DevOps approach for the solution – ensuring it was not just Well-Architected, but Well Maintained. It’s a small DevOps crew now that ensure that Java Updates, 3rd party library updates and more get imported, but also maintenance of the Cloud environment such as load balancing, virtual machine types & images (AMIs) get updated, managed relational database versions get updated, newer TLS versions get supported and — more importantly — older versions get deprecated and disabled. FinOps, DevOps, and collaboration.

Web security and the 2022 Australian Federal Election

One thing is sure, these days every political party has a website to publish their message, and right now its one of their key places to disseminate their content from – often reticulating from the web site to the wider broadcast media.

As a source of truth for each party, how well are they implementing modern web security that’s free to implement and use?

I’ve used a number of tools in the past, but I chose just two to do a straw poll to examine them.

The first is Scott Helm’s A simple rating A through F gives the general overview of the way the curators of the various sites have activated browser support to help ensure their content – and the visitors to their sites – are as protected as possible.

Scott does a fantastic job of adjusting the ratings over time, as new capabilities are established as commonplace amongst the major web browser platforms. It’s a free service to check any site, publicly available, and you can check your favourite site (such as your employer, or band) right now!

The second services is Qualys’ (originally by Ivan Ristic, who now operates – worth a look too). Instead of looking at the simple text headers, SSLLabs looks at the encryption used over the untrusted Internet, and a few other attributes, and again gives an A through F report, so it is easy to understand who does a good job, and who is not quite there yet.

The Australian Labour Party

The ALP lives at Let’s start with the simple security headers rating:

D rating for on 14 May 2022

That’ s a pretty poor outing. The first header activated is a legacy security header used to instruct browsers about having content rendered with iframe and frame HTML elements – these days accomplished via a Content Security Policy. Secondly they have indicated to browsers that their site is an HTTPS site and should only ever be contacted using encrypted communications (TLS, or HTTPS), and never over plain-text unencrypted HTTP.

So what?

Content Security Policies (CSPs) are about to become a mandated part of the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard, currently in draft, that any payment page on the Internet (you know, the one you use every day when you buy something online and enter card holder details) will be required to have a CSP to help protect the security of the web page. A CSP doesn’t cost anything, it’s just a text field letting your browser know boundaries from where it can fetch additional content to render the page. And if it’s good enough for a payment page, then its good enough for anything you’re trying to have a strong security reputation on.

OK, let’s move to the TLS (formerly called SSL) strength, with SSLLabs: on SSLLabs on 14 May 2022

Well, they’ve left the older TLS 1.1 protocol enabled. That’s been deprecated since around 2016, so only 6 years out of date. It’ s nice to see the newest TLS 1.3 is enabled here, and the encryption ciphers are ordered with stronger crypto before weaker ciphers (why are those older ones still enabled, as they are likely ever legitimately used?). The test shows that the more efficient HTTP2 has not been enabled, and the simple Certificate Authority Authorization record in DNS has not been set – which helps declare which Certificate Authorities are permitted to issue the trust certificates for

We notice that there is just one IPv4 address returned when doing this check which raises a few questions:

  1. there is no apparent Content Delivery Network in place
  2. dual-stack support for IPv6 has not been enabled
  3. there’s possibly only one site for this service to run from?

A traceroute for this appears to disappear into in Melbourne.

Liberal Party of Australia

Move to the Liberals who are at Cranking up Security Headers shows: on Security on 14 May 2022

This is just marginally better than the Labour Party: they have enabled one extra header: the Permission Policy. This tells the browser what capabilities its allowed to use when rendering your content.

Its a good start: but the policy contains just “interest-cohort=()”. This policy is opting out of Google Analytics cohort analysis. as shown here, but its only supported on the Chrome browser. They’ve missed the chance to disable geo-location and other browser capabilities to protect their viewers.

The configured headers the admin has left enabled declare they have a Varnish Cache, and Apache/2.4.29. I’d recommend turning off as much of this identification as possible (hey admin, look up: ServerTokens PROD).

OK, on to SSLLabs analysis, but as we do, we get a different initial screen compared to our first review: on SSL labs on 14 May 2022

This time, we’ve detected two distinct site locations that this content has been served from. Again we’re only talking IPv4, but the reverse DNS shown gives away where; the AWS Sydney Region (which I helped launch as an AWS staff member in 2013).

This is possibly an AWS managed load balancer, configured across two Availability Zones (for those coming here for the first time, an Availability Zone, or AZ, is a cluster of data centres, so each AZ can be through of as a site: Central North Sydney, South Sydney. Indeed, The Sydney AWS Region has three AZs available as at May 2022, and not using the third AZ when its just sitting there is possibly a missed opportunity for higher fault tolerance.

Of course, both site locations are configured identically so we already know they rate as an A, so we can inspect any of the two in detail: on SSLLabs on 14 May 2022

That’s pretty satisfying to start with.

We still note a missing DNS Certificate Authority Authorization (CAA) entry, as per the Labour Party. But we note that ONLY TLS 1.2 is enabled, and not the current best-in-show, TLS 1.3 (which is slightly optimised in connection establishment).

What is unusual is the ordering of the encryption ciphers here; some weaker ones are priorities over stronger ones: on SSL labs on 14 May 2022

Normally you would want your strongest encryption ciphers first before the ones that are known to be weak are selected (or better yet, don’t even support the weak ones).

We note that only HTTP 1.0 is supported, not HTTP/1.1 not HTTP/2.

The Australian Greens

Start with the headers: on on 14 May 2022

This is looking marginally more polished. It’s a Drupal 9 site (the headers show this – would be good to not advertise it). This time one additional legacy security header is set: x-content-type-options; this tells browsers to trust the mime content-type that is sent with objects, and not try and double-guess them (if the website admin got it wrong). For example, if we try and download an image, and the response is a content-type of image/jpeg, but the payload is JavaScript, then treat it as a broken image! Don’t keep guessing as browsers have in the past, as that guessing may trick the browser into executing some browser code that the admin had not intended.

OK, move to the crypto on SSLLabs – and this time we have three sites serving this content: on SSL Labs on 14 May 2022

Nice, the Greens are also using AWS in Sydney, and are spread across all three Availability zones. (Shout out to an old friend: Grahame Bowland, are you doing this? 😉 ). Its still only IPv4, sadly. But already see see a stellar A+ rating: on SSL Labs on 14 May 2022

The same DNS CAA record is missing, but we see HTTP/2 is enabled, as well as just TLS 1.2 and 1.3. More over the cipher suite is super strong, with nothing weak supported: on SSL Lab son 14 May 2022

This is what a site that doesn’t take weak encryption as acceptable is supposed to look like!

The Climate200 Collective

There are a lot of candidates under this umbrella, and instead of reviewing them all independently, I’ll just pop over to Lets roll with security headers: on on 14 May 2022

But this is stronger than it looks, because we finally have a Content Security Policy. However the extend of the policy is to limit frames and iframes, with “frame-ancestors ‘self’“. So much more has been missed, like enforcing everything the browser loads comes form the same domain, over HTTPS.

Now, headers are indicating this is an Open Resty server running on Containers (with Kubernetes management) in AWS’s US West 2 Region – also known as the AWS Oregon Region. AWS often speaks of this Region as running from a lot of green energy, which may be the reason for this.

OK, lets scoot to the network transport encryption report from SSL Labs, and again we have the three site presentation choice: on SSLLabs on 14 May 2022

As with, the confirmation of using AWS, this time US-west-2 (Oregon) Region. All sites rating an A, but only using IPv4.

The Australian Election Commission

Now lets look at who is running the election, the AEC. A hat tip to their social media team who have been having a right ripper time with some bon humeur in the lead up to Democracy Sausage day (many polling booths in Australia will have a local, volunteer, non-partisan community group running a barbecue (bbq) with a sausage in a roll, possibly with grilled onion – oh I can smell it now!).

Right, AEC, how are your security headers: on Security headers on 14 may 2022

Oh. Erm.

Lets move to your crypto and see if we can recover this: on SSLLabs on 14 May 2022

What a save! They are using a Content Delivery Network (CDN) to front their origin web service. That’s the fourth time in this article it’s been an AWS based service as well, but again its IPv4 only. Let’s lean in to the first site: on on 14 May 2022

So we have TLS 1.3 enabled, with TLS 1.2 as a backdrop, but none of the older risky protocols. Nice. But the ciphers for TLS 1.2 are a little confused: on on 14 May 2022

That CBC use of AES in yellow should be either below the other green ones, or removed. However, custom configuration is very limited with Amazon CloudFront; AWS does permit you to chose some good TLS options (I’ve worked for years with them to ensure these choices are available to customers).

Moving down the details shown, we saw HTTP/1.0, 1.1 and 2 are all available, which is also good.

An Overview

Lets put those ratings for the above organisations, and add a few more for good order, into a table:

PartySec HeadersSSLLabsHostingMulti-siteIPv6
Labour PartyDBMelb?NoNo
Liberal PartyCAAWS Sydney2 AZNo
Australian GreensBA+AWS Sydney3 AZNo
Climate 200DAAWS Oregon3 AZNo
Australian Electoral CommissionFAAWS CloudFrontMany (4 sites in DNS response)No
United Australia PartyFBCloudFlareMany (6 sites in DNS response)Yes
One NationCBCloudFlareMany (4 sites in DNS response)Yes
Liberal DemocratsDACloudFlareMany (4 sites in DNS response)Yes
Australian ChristiansFAHost Universal in MelbourneNoNo
All assessments as at 14 May 2022

So what can we deduce?

  1. None of them have populated a DNS CAA record to help ensure only their authorised Certificate Authority is issuing certificates in their name.
  2. Minor parties are using CloudFlare and permitting IPv6; none of the major parties have discovered IPv6!
  3. None of them have strong Content Security Policies
  4. Most major parties and the AEC are AWS Customers.
  5. I didn’t observe any of them implement Network Error Logging (NEL). Now there’s a nice feedback loop to help detect web security incidents as they happen…

So who would I chose as my winner here? It would be… the Greens, with the stronger ratings they have. There’s still room for improvement (like dual-stack IPv6, using CloudFront, a proper CSP), but they are ahead of the rest leading both of these basic assessments.

And the loser? Well, let’s not punch down too much; the explanations here are plain enough for any tech to follow the bouncing ball and enable better security, availability, and speed (at no additional cost!).

Does this make any difference to policies, fairness, environment (well, Australian Greens are using the AWS Oregon Region)? No, not really right now. I doubt any future minister for telecommunications is going to understand if the simple security adjustments shown could help increase security in any cyber attack. I just find this interesting…

As always, my thanks to Scott Helme for Security Headers, Ivan Ristic for SSLLabs, and the people who contribute to web and browser security improvements.

Unifi Protect Viewport

Like many, I ditched my out of date ISP provided home gateway a few years back, and about a year ago put in a Unifi Dream Machine Pro as a home gateway, and a pair of Unifi Access Points, implementing WiFi 5 (802.11ac), and able to take better advantage of the 1GB/50MB NBN connection I have.

Now, I find that WiFi 5 maxes out at around 400 MBit/sec, so I’ve been waiting for the newer WiFi 6 APs to launch – in particular the In-Wall access point. However, then comes along WiFi 6E, using the newly available 6 GHz spectrum, as well as dropping to the 5Gz and 2.4 GHz spectrum.

Then I went one further, and acquired a 16 TB HDD into the Unifi Dream Machine Pro and a single G4 Pro camera. This gave me around 3 months of continuous recording, and has helped pin point the exact time a neighbours car got lifted, as well as showing us the two times before that the perps drove past – all from the end of a 50 meter driveway an the other side of a closed vehicle gate.

I wanted to have an easy way my family can bring up the video feed on the TV, large enough to see detail from each camera.

But then the pandemic hit, and the global supply chain brought things to a standstill. Unifi, and their Australian distributors and retailers, have been sorely out of stock for a long time. Only one WiFi 6E product has launched from Ubiquiti thus far, and like most of their products, immediately sold out on their US store and hasn’t made it to Aus yet. Even the UDM Pro Special Edition hasn’t surfaced either in stock in the US, or from the Australian Distributors.

So it was with some glee I found just 5 of the Unifi Viewport devices had made it to Australia last week, the first time I’d seen stock in a year (I could have missed it). So I pounced on it, and today I unboxed it.

Unifi Protect Viewport
Contents and box of the Unifi Protect Viewport

The device shipped with an HDMI cable, some screws and a wall mount, and a small slip of instructions.

At one end of the device is a standard Ethernet port, th eother end has an Ethernet-out port, and an HDMI-out port. That’s handy if you already have a device that’s on Ethernet, like your TV itself, without running another patch back to your switch.

The actual Viewport itself was larger than I had expected, as shown when I hold it in my hand here:

Unifi Protect Viewport

I plugged it into a patch to a POE port on my Switch-8, and immediately it powered up, took a DHCP lease, and was shown as pending for adoption into my network.

The adoption took a moment, then a firware update and reboot, and then it automatically connected and started showing the default layout of cameras from Unifi Protect.

There were no visible lights to indicate the unit was powered on. Meanwhile, the device showed up in the console, with the following settings:

Unifi Protect settings

As you can see from the above, the “Select a Live View” comes from the Protect web app. I created a second Live view configured for four cameras, dragged the one camera I g=do have to one of the quadrants, and then could update the Viewport to instantly show the alternate 4 quadrant view.

The end result, on an 80″ TV looks like this:

Viewport displaying on a TV

I left the unit streaming to the TV for several hours, and it didn’t miss a beat. I could feel a little warmth from the Viewport, but not enough that I would be alarmed.

If I were running a larger security setup, I could imagine having several large TVs each with their own Viewport, but showing different Live Views (with one showing just he primary camera of interest).

There’s no administrative control that I’ve seen on the Viewport itself. You cant change or select cameras, you cant shuttle/jog the stream forwards or backwards. It seems to do one thing – stream current feeds – and do it reliably (thus far).

The video image was crisp and clear (the above image was when it had changed to night mode). The time stamp in the stop left corner appeared to roll forward smoothly. I couldn’t measure the frame rate, but it seemed pretty good – perhaps 20 fps, maybe 25 fps.

AWS RDS Goes Dual-stack: IPv4 and IPv6

I’ve spoken of the IPv6 transition for many, many years. Last month I gave a presentation at the AWS User Group (Perth) on this, and included a role play on packets through the network.

Earlier in 2022 we saw AWS VPC support IPv6-only subnets, a great way to scale out vast numbers of instances with 18 billion billion addresses per subnet. Today sees one of the most commonly used services with virtual machines – managed databases via the Relational Database Service – finally get its first bit of IPv6 support!

When creating a database, you now have a new option as shown here:

AWS Console Wizard for starting an RDS instance

It’s worth noting that, the Database Subnet defined in RDS can (at this point in time) select subnets that are either IPv4 only, or dual stack IPv4 and IPv6. To put this clearer, RDS is not (yet?) supporting IPv6 only deployment.

But that’s a small limitation. The power of scale-out of application servers in vast subnets can now natively talk to a dual-stack deployed RDS Instances using IPv6 as the transport protocol. No other proxies or adaptors or work-around required.

Of course, there’s more managed AWS services to even get this far – ElasticCache, for example, or even IPv6 as first class (eg: CloudFront origin fetch).

This is incremental improvement.

Frustrating IoT Devices!

I’ve been continuing my IoT journey, finding that IoT devices are a little fickle.

My first LGT92 GPS Tracker device failed back in 2021; and I tried contacting both the retailer (IoT Store Perth), and the manufacturer. I was instructed by the manufacturer to open the clamshell case and take numerous photos to send to them. They suggested a fault, and that they would organise a replacement, but after 6 months, nothings happened.

During that period, i ordered a second LGT92, and it failed on first use. I contacted IoT Store again – by webform, email, and phone, and after many weeks, spoke to “Sam”, who from the sound of it was on the phone in his car. While he said he would look into this (and the original, nothing came of it, and I tried following up several times.

I then tried to get an IP67 rated, solar power device; however, what IoT Store sent me had no solar panel or GPS tracker device, just a box with some wires and screws. Again I spoke with “Sam” (in his car again) having tried webforms, email and his mobile number multiple times, and again he said he’d follow up on it, and that’s been three months and no success.

So I’m never buying anything from IoT Store again, and I strongly advise against anyone else doing so. The customer service is terrible. Not one of the emails I’ve sent have been replied to. Not one of the contact me forms have been responded to. And when I have managed to speak with Sam, he is evasive, and does not follow up on the actions he says he’ll take.

Next up is the RAK Wireless 10700, a new GPS tracker device, again IP67 rated, with solar power. Released in 2022, these devices shipped from China after about 3 months, but without a battery that the solar panel would charge. I ordered a LiPO battery from, but naturally these had a different connector, so I find myself soldering again after 15 years.

But they do power up, with device firmware 1.0.4 installed. I connected a serial power and enter the AT command to dump the config: Dev EUI, App EUI and App Key.

I enter this into the AWS IoT Core device registration, and ensure thing slike the frequency are correct, but the device refuses to join the LoRaWAN network with the local gateway running basicstation (current build at this time), with the best log output from the basicstation gateway showing:

Mar 28 14:15:19 rak-gateway basicstation[12538]: 2022-03-28 13:15:19.629 [S2E:VERB] RX 917.0MHz DR2 SF10/BW125 snr=-14.8 rssi=-89 xtime=0x6900001BA46F94 - jreq MHdr=00 JoinEUI=ac1f:9ff:f915:4631 DevEUI=ac1f:9ff:fe06:7117 DevNonce=35258 MIC=1390227384

Mar 28 14:15:20 rak-gateway basicstation[12538]: 2022-03-28 13:15:20.093 [S2E:WARN] Unknown field in dnmsg - ignored: regionid

And the output on the tracker device showing:


Out of interest, the AT+STATUS shows (with some of the keys and addresses hidden with underscores):

Device status:
   Auto join enabled
   Mode LPWAN
   Network not joined
LPWAN status:
   Dev EUI AC1F09FFFE______
   App EUI AC1F09__________
   App Key AC1F09__________________________
   Dev Addr 26021F__
   NWS Key 323D155A000DF335307A16DA0C______
   Apps Key 3F6A66459D5EDCA63CBC4619CD______
   OTAA enabled
   ADR enabled
   Public Network
   Dutycycle disabled
   Send Frequency 2
   Join trials 2
   TX Power 0
   DR 3
   Class 0
   Subband 1
   Fport 2
   Unconfirmed Message
   Region AU915
LoRa P2P status:
   P2P frequency 916000000
   P2P TX Power 22
   P2P BW 125
   P2P SF 7
   P2P CR 1
   P2P Preamble length 8
   P2P Symbol Timeout 0

I did notice the documentation from RAKWireless says that firmware 1.0.1 supports LoRaWAN MAC version 1.0.2 (not the 1.0.3 that the LGT92 supported); and this version difference is defined in a device profile in AWS IoT Core for LoRaWAN.

What I also noticed was the documentation for the RAK 10700 at mentioned that the firmware version available is 1.0.1, so older than what shipped to me on the device:

+VER:1.0.4 Jan 14 2022 14:17:02

But, on that same documentation page, is a link to download for a firmware, but is unfortunately a 404!

So, my journey continues, but I’ve learnt a few lessons. The IoT device landscape seems… littered with failures. The quality, of commodity devices is low, the compatibility is bewildering, and the standards are evolving.