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

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(Image: APH)

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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GigaOm Radar for DDoS Protection

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With ransomware getting all the news coverage when it comes to internet threats, it is easy to lose sight of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks even as these attacks become more frequent and aggressive. In fact, the two threats have recently been combined in a DDoS ransom attack, in which a company is hit with a DDoS and then a ransom demanded in exchange for not launching a larger DDoS. Clearly, a solid mechanism for thwarting such attacks is needed, and that is exactly what a good DDoS protection product will include. This will allow users, both staff and customers, to access their applications with no indication that a DDoS attack is underway. To achieve this, the DDoS protection product needs to know about your applications and, most importantly, have the capability to absorb the massive bandwidth generated by botnet attacks.

All the DDoS protection vendors we evaluated have a cloud-service element in their products. The scale-out nature of cloud platforms is the right response to the scale-out nature of DDoS attacks using botnets, thousands of compromised computers, and/or embedded devices. A DDoS protection network that is larger, faster, and more distributed will defend better against larger DDoS attacks.

Two public cloud platforms we review have their own DDoS protection, both providing it for applications running on their public cloud and offering only cloud-based protection. We also look at two content delivery networks (CDNs) that offer only cloud-based protection but also have a large network of locations for distributed protection. Many of the other vendors offer both on-premises and cloud-based services that are integrated to provide unified protection against the various attack vectors that target the network and application layers.

Some of the vendors have been protecting applications since the early days of the commercial internet. These vendors tend to have products with strong on-premises protection and integration with a web application firewall or application delivery capabilities. These companies may not have developed their cloud-based protections as fully as the born-in-the-cloud DDoS vendors.

In the end, you need a DDoS protection platform equal to the DDoS threat that faces your business, keeping in mind that such threats are on the rise.

How to Read this Report

This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding consider reviewing the following reports:

Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.

GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.

Solution Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.

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GigaOm Radar for Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) Solutions

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The security information and event management (SIEM) solution space is mature and competitive. Most vendors have had well over a decade to refine their products, and the differentiation among basic SIEM functions is fairly small.

In response, SIEM vendors are developing advanced platforms that ingest more data, provide greater context, and deploy machine learning and automation capabilities to augment security analysts’ efforts. These solutions deliver value by giving security analysts deeper and broader visibility into complex infrastructures, increasing efficiency and decreasing the time to detection and time to respond.

Vendors offer SIEM solutions in a variety of forms, such as on-premises appliances, software installed in the customers’ on-premises or cloud environments, and cloud hosted SIEM-as-a-Service. Many vendors have developed multi-tenant SIEM solutions for large enterprises or for managed security service providers. Customers often find SIEM solutions challenging to deploy, maintain, or even operate, leading to a growing demand for managed SIEM services, whether provided by the SIEM vendor or third-party partners.

SIEM solutions continue to vie for space with other security solutions, such as endpoint detection and response (EDR), security orchestration automation and response (SOAR), and security analytics solutions. All SIEM vendors support integrations with other security solutions. Many vendors also offer tightly integrated solution stacks, allowing customers to choose the solutions they need most, whether just a SIEM, a SIEM and a SOAR, or some other combination. Other vendors are incorporating limited EDR- or SOAR-like capabilities into their SIEM solutions for customers who want the extra features but are not ready to invest in multiple solutions.

With so many options, choosing a SIEM solution is challenging. You will have to consider several key factors, starting with your existing IT infrastructure. Is an on-premises SIEM the right choice for you, or do you want a cloud-based or hybrid solution? Which systems and devices will be sending data to your SIEM, and how much data will it need to collect, correlate, analyze, and store? You should also consider the relative importance of basic capabilities and advanced features, bearing in mind that the basic capabilities may be considerably easier to deploy, maintain, and operate. Will your IT and security teams be able to deploy, maintain, and operate the solution on their own, or should you look for managed services to handle those tasks?

This GigaOm Radar report details the key SIEM solutions on the market, identifies key criteria and evaluation metrics for selecting a SIEM, and identifies vendors and products that excel. It will give you an overview of the key SIEM offering and help decision-makers evaluate existing solutions and decide where to invest.

How to Read this Report

This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding consider reviewing the following reports:

Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.

GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.

Solution Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.

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Key Criteria for Evaluating a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Solution

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Although ransomware is making all the headlines today, it’s not the only kind of attack that can intrude between you and your customers. Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, in which a target website is overwhelmed with spurious traffic, have become increasingly common.

Websites and online applications have become critical to how businesses communicate with their customers and partners. If those websites and applications are not available, there is a dollars and cents cost for businesses, both directly in business that is lost and indirectly through loss of reputation. It doesn’t matter to the users of the website whether the attacker has a political point to make, wants to hurt their victim financially, or is motivated by ego—if the website is unavailable, users will not be happy. Recent DDoS attacks have utilized thousands of compromised computers and they can involve hundreds of gigabits per second of attack bandwidth. A DDoS protection platform must inspect all of the traffic destined for the protected site and discard or absorb all of the hostile traffic while allowing legitimate traffic to reach the site.

Often the attack simply aims vast amounts of network traffic at the operating system under the application. These “volumetric” attacks usually occur at network Layer 3 or 4 and originate from compromised computers called bots. Few companies have enough internet bandwidth to mitigate this much of an attack on-premises, so DDoS protection needs to be distributed to multiple data centers around the world to be effective against these massive attacks. The sheer scale of infrastructure required means that most DDoS platforms are multi-tenant cloud services.

Other attacks target the application itself, at Layer 7, with either a barrage of legitimate requests or with requests carefully crafted to exploit faults in the site. These Layer 7 attacks look superficially like real requests and require careful analysis to separate them from legitimate traffic.

Attackers do not stand still. As DDoS protection platforms learn to protect against one attack method, attackers will find a new method to take down a website. So DDoS protection vendors don’t stand still either. Using information gathered from observing all of their protected sites, vendors are able to develop new techniques to protect their clients.

How to Read this Report

This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding consider reviewing the following reports:

Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.

GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.

Solution Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.

Continue Reading

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