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Commonwealth Ombudsman singles out Home Affairs over stored communications and metadata handling

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The Commonwealth Ombudsman report [PDF] into how 20 agencies across federal and state levels government agencies across Australia handle stored communications and metadata over the period of the 2016-17 financial year has been released, with Home Affairs being the only agency that was handed recommendations.

Home Affairs was called upon to ensure it could “accurately account for the number of telecommunications data authorisations it issues in any given period” to comply with its record keeping obligations, and have a central system to store or monitor telecommunications data once it had been handed to investigators.

The recommendations were a result of the former Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) having 8 record keeping issues identified, as well as a statistical issue, and 42 instances of telecommunications data being accessed outside the parameters of authority. The Ombudsman explained that 41 of those instances were due to an automatic input from DIBP’s database which has since been resolved.

Also falling under the Home Affairs banner following its transferral into the Peter Dutton-helmed superministry is the Australian Federal Police, which disclosed that between October 13 to 26, 2015, all authorisations by ACT Police were not authorised, due to the AFP Commissioner failing to authorise any ACT officers for that period.

“In response to this disclosure, our Office suggested the AFP quarantine all telecommunications data obtained under the 116 authorisations made by the unauthorised ACT Policing officer between 13–26 October 2015 from further use and communication,” the report said.

“Following the inspection, the AFP accepted this suggestion; however it did not act to quarantine the affected data at that time, which resulted in additional use and communication of the data.”

Must read: Why Australia is quickly developing a technology-based human rights problem (TechRepublic)

In February 2018, the data was partially quarantined only after being prodded by the Ombudsman.

“In April 2018 the AFP advised the affected telecommunications data had not yet been fully quarantined and it was seeking legal advice regarding the use of the affected telecommunications data, the report said.

“Due to the scale of this non-compliance, we will continue to monitor this issue closely with the AFP.”

The Ombudsman also found one area of NSW Police that routinely used its power without written or electronic approvals.

“The area’s process at the time of our inspection was for access to telecommunications data to be verbally approved and a written record of the verbal approval to be made in a log,” the report said.

“We do not consider this practice is permitted by the Act and suggested to NSW Police that it review its policies and procedures to ensure all authorisations for telecommunications data are in written or electronic form and signed by the relevant authorised officer.”

Overall, the report said agencies were “generally exercising” their powers appropriately.

In the prior installment of the report released in 2017, which covered the 2015-16 financial year, Australian Customs was handed the only three recommendations contained within the report.

“In our view, Customs does not have sufficient processes in place to demonstrate that it is only dealing with lawfully accessed stored communications,” the report said.

The Ombudsman said when it conducted its inspection on February 18, 2016, there was no stored communications product that would allow it to determine if Customs was only dealing with lawfully accessed information, and no records were kept to determine whether telcos had stored information when relevant warrants were in force.

“In every instance, we were unable to determine who had received the stored communications from the carrier and, therefore, whether the communications had been properly received in accordance with s135 of the Act,” the report said.

“Furthermore, for the assessed destruction of stored communications, there were no records available to demonstrate who within Customs had authorised the destruction to occur or when the approval had been granted.

Also: Duelling ghosts battle over encryption laws in a dying Parliament

The Ombudsman said Customs was not equipped with the appropriate procedures to determine whether stored communications were properly received and destroyed.

It was also found that 11 of 14 historic preservation notices covered by the inspection were made by officers who were not authorised to apply for stored communications warrants, but Customs has subsequently adjusted its nominated officers after the Ombudsman visit.

The first two recommendations made by the Ombudsman called for Customs to have processes to demonstrate it was only dealing with lawfully accessed stored communications, and that the agency manage stored communications in accordance with the Telecommunications Act.

The third recommendation called for Customs to have a new record keeping system as the Ombudsman had found a litany of issues.

On the issue of whether the agency was cooperative and frank, the Ombudsman found it was “Non-compliant with the exception of staff from one branch, who were cooperative and attempted to provide our office with access to relevant information.”

Customs was not well prepared for its inspection, the Ombudsman added.

Echoing the sort of excuses it would use again in the future, Customs said the period covered was “a time of significant organisational disruption” as it shifted across to the DIBP, before it would be subsumed into Home Affairs.

On the issue of data retention, across three inspections of the DIBP between November 2015 and May 2016, the Ombudsman was told that while authorisation was at the senior executive level, authorisations were mostly made by those who were at the non-executive level.

Although no other agencies were given recommendations at the time, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Australian Federal Police, Crime and Corruption Commission Queensland, Independent Commission Against Corruption South Australia, Tasmania Police, Victoria Police, and Western Australia Police all had to undertake remedial action.

In November 2017, a Commonwealth Ombudsman report into how the Australian Federal Police managed to trip over the one caveat in Australia’s metadata retention system — needing a warrant to access the metadata of a journalist when attempting to identify a source — found AFP officers did not “fully appreciate their responsibilities” when using metadata powers.

The one recommendation from the report called on the AFP to make all staff that use metadata powers undergo training to have a “thorough understanding” of the laws and their responsibilities.

Australia’s data retention laws, passed by both major parties in March 2015, force telecommunications carriers to store customer call records, location information, IP addresses, billing information, and other data for two years, and make this information accessible without a warrant by law-enforcement agencies.

Last week, the Australian Communications and Media Authority said nine telcos did not have such a system in place as of June 30, 2018.

The cost to telcos of developing, installing, and maintaining an interception capability on their networks has slowly decreased, from AU$22.6 million in 2015-16 down to AU$22 million in 2016-17, and then further down to AU$21.5 million in 2017-18.

Related Coverage

Nine telcos had no metadata interception plan by mid-2018: ACMA

The ACMA’s 2017-18 report also reported almost 2.3 million disclosures of customer information by carriers under legal obligations to assist government agencies and departments.

Home Affairs cannot be bothered listing all agencies with access to metadata

With a disclosure notice or court order, government agencies otherwise exempted are able to tap Australia’s metadata stores.

Local councils and taxi commission continued to seek telco metadata: Comms Alliance

The Communications Alliance has detailed a list of agencies that tried to access telco metadata following the introduction of Australia’s metadata retention regime.

Home Affairs reveals Australian authorities already using new encryption powers

The Department of Home Affairs has been told law enforcement and national security agencies are already using the Act as the department continues to ‘support’ its implementation.

Home Affairs attempts to allay concerns about Australian exporters for encryption-busting Bill

ASIO will immediately seek to use the legislation when it comes into force.

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Defeating Distributed Denial of Service Attacks

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It seems like every day the news brings new stories of cyberattacks. Whether ransomware, malware, crippling viruses, or more frequently of late—distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. According to Infosec magazine, in the first half of 2020, there was a 151% increase in the number of DDoS attacks compared to the same period the previous year. That same report states experts predict as many as 15.4 million DDoS attacks within the next two years.

These attacks can be difficult to detect until it’s too late, and then they can be challenging to defend against. There are solutions available, but there is no one magic bullet. As Alastair Cooke points out in his recent “GigaOm Radar for DDoS Protection” report, there are different categories of DDoS attacks.

And different types of attacks require different types of defenses. You’ll want to adopt each of these three defense strategies against DDoS attacks to a certain degree, as attackers are never going to limit themselves to a single attack vector:

Network Defense: Attacks targeting the OS and network operate at either Layer 3 or Layer 4 of the OSI stack. These attacks don’t flood the servers with application requests but attempt to exhaust TCP/IP resources on the supporting infrastructure. DDoS protection solutions defending against network attacks identify the attack behavior and absorb it into the platform.

Application Defense: Other DDoS attacks target the actual website itself or the web server application by overwhelming the site with random data and wasting resources. DDoS protection against these attacks might handle SSL decryption with hardware-based cryptography and prevent invalid data from reaching web servers.

Defense by Scale: There have been massive DDoS attacks, and they show no signs of stopping. The key to successfully defending against a DDoS attack is to have a scalable platform capable of deflecting an attack led by a million bots with hundreds of gigabits per second of network throughput.

Table 1. Impact of Features on Metrics
[chart id=”1001387″ show=”table”]

DDoS attacks are growing more frequent and more powerful and sophisticated. Amazon reports mitigating a massive DDoS attack a couple of years ago in which peak traffic volume reached 2.3 Tbps. Deploying DDoS protection across the spectrum of attack vectors is no longer a “nice to have,” but a necessity.

In his report, Cooke concludes that “Any DDoS protection product is only part of an overall strategy, not a silver bullet for denial-of-service hazards.” Evaluate your organization and your needs, read more about each solution evaluated in the Radar report, and carefully match the right DDoS solutions to best suit your needs.

Learn More About the Reports: Gigaom Key Criteria for DDoS, and Gigaom Radar for DDoS

The post Defeating Distributed Denial of Service Attacks appeared first on GigaOm.

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Assessing Providers of Low-Power Wide Area Networks

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Blog Title: Assessing Providers of Low-Power Wide Area Network Technology

Companies are taking note of how Low-Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) can provide long-distance communications for certain use cases. While its slow data transfer rates and high latency aren’t going to be driving any high intensity video streaming or other bandwidth-hungry situations, it can provide inexpensive, low power, long-distance communication.

According to Chris Grundemann and Logan Andrew Green’s recent report “GigaOm Radar for LPWAN Technology Providers (Unlicensed Spectrum) v1.0,” this growing communications technology is suitable for use cases with the following characteristics:

  • Requirement for long-distance transmission—10 km/6 miles or more wireless connectivity from sensor to gateway
  • Low power consumption, with battery life lasting up to 10 years
  • Terrain and building penetration to circumvent line-of-sight issues
  • Low operational costs (device management or connection subscription cost)
  • Low data transfer rate of roughly 20kbps

These use cases could include large-scale IoT deployments within heavy industry, manufacturing, government, and retail. The LPWAN technology providers evaluated in this Radar report are currently filling a gap in the IoT market. They are certainly poised to benefit from the anticipated rapid adoption of LPWAN solutions.

Depending on the use case you’re looking to fulfill, you can select from four basic deployment models from these LPWAN providers:

  • Physical Appliance: This option would require a network server on-premises to receive sensor data from gateways.
  • Virtual Appliance: Network servers could also be deployed as virtual appliances, running either on-premises or in the cloud.
  • Network Stack as a Service: With this option, the LPWAN provider fully manages your network stack and provides you with the service. You only need devices and gateways to satisfy your requirements.
  • Network as a Service: This option is provided by mobile network operators, with the provider operating the network stack and gateways. You would only need to connect to the LPWAN provider.

Figure 1. LPWAN Connectivity

The LPWAN providers evaluated in this report are well-positioned from both a business and technical perspective, as they can function as a single point of contact for building IoT solutions. Instead of cobbling together other solutions to satisfy connectivity protocols, these providers can set up your organization with a packaged IoT solution, reducing time to market and virtually eliminating any compatibility issues.

The unlicensed spectrum aspect is also significant. The LPWAN technology providers evaluated in this Radar report use at least one protocol in the unlicensed electromagnetic spectrum bands. There’s no need to buy FCC licenses for specific frequency bands, which also lowers costs.

Learn More: Gigaom Enterprise Radar for LPWAN

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The Benefits of a Price Benchmark for Data Storage

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Why Price Benchmark Data Storage?

Customers, understandably, are highly driven by budget when it comes to data storage solutions. The cost of switching, upkeep and upgrades are high risk factors for businesses, and therefore, decision makers need to look for longevity in their chosen solution. Many factors influence how data needs to be handled within storage, including data that is frequently accessed, or storing rarely-accessed legacy data. 

Storage performance may also be shaped by geographic location, from remote work or global enterprises that need to access and share data instantly, or by the necessity of automation. Each element presents a new price-point that needs to be considered, by customers and by vendors.

A benchmark gives a comparison of system performance based on a key performance indicator, such as latency, capacity, or throughput. Competitor systems are analyzed in like-for-like situations that optimize the solution, allowing a clear representation of the performance. Price benchmarks for data storage are ideal for marketing, showing customers exactly how much value for money a solution has against competitor vendors.

Benchmark tests reinforce marketing collateral and tenders with verifiable evidence of performance capabilities and how the transactional costs relate to them. Customers are more likely to invest in long-term solutions with demonstrable evidence that can be corroborated. Fully disclosed testing environments, processes, and results, give customers the proof they need and help vendors stand out from the crowd.

The Difficulty in Choosing

Storage solutions vary greatly, from cloud options to those that utilize on-premises software. Data warehouses have different focuses which impact the overall performance, and they can vary in their pricing and licensing models. Customers find it difficult to compare vendors when the basic data storage configurations differ and price plans vary. With so many storage structures available, it’s hard to explain to customers how output relates to price, appeal to their budget, and maintain integrity, all at the same time.

Switching storage solutions is also a costly, high-risk decision that requires careful consideration. Vendors need to create compelling and honest arguments that provide reassurance of ROI and high quality performance.

Vendors should begin by pitching their costs at the right level; they need to be profitable but also appealing to the customer. Benchmarking can give an indication of how competitor cost models are calculated, allowing vendors to make judgements on their own price plans to keep ahead of the competition. 

Outshining the Competition

Benchmark testing gives an authentic overview of storage transaction-based price-performance, carrying out the test in environments that imitate real-life. Customers can gain a higher understanding of how the product works in terms of transactions per second, and how competitors process storage data in comparison.

The industry-standard for benchmarking is the TPC Benchmark E (TPC-E), a recognized standard for storage vendors. Tests need to be performed in credible environments; by giving full transparency on their construction, vendors and customers can understand how the results are derived. This can also prove systems have been configured to offer the best performance of each platform.

A step-by-step account allows tests to be recreated by external parties given the information provided. This transparency in reporting provides more trustworthy and reliable outcomes that offer a higher level of insight to vendors. Readers can also examine the testing and results themselves, to draw independent conclusions.

Next Steps

Price is the driving factor for business decisions and the selection for data storage is no different. Businesses often look towards low-cost solutions that offer high capacity, and current trends have pushed customers towards cloud solutions which are often cheaper and flexible. The marketplace is full in regard to options: new start-ups are continually emerging, and long serving vendors are needing to reinvent and upgrade their systems to keep pace. 

Vendors need evidence of price-performance, so customers can be reassured that their choice will offer longevity and functionality at an affordable price point. Industry-standard benchmarking identifies how performance is impacted by price and which vendors are best in the market – the confirmation customers need to invest.

 

The post The Benefits of a Price Benchmark for Data Storage appeared first on GigaOm.

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