BPuhl’s Blog

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Archive for the ‘Randomness’ Category

Overheard in a meeting (paraphrased)…

Posted by BPuhl on October 14, 2010

…the problem is, that instead of trying to make what we have work.  Every software architect believes that that their <widget> will be the solution that everyone adopts…


Typing this, reminded me of something else that I heard recently, which was along those same lines…

Of course my idea on the whiteboard is better than all the code that you’ve written!


Posted in Babbling and Blabbering, cloud, Quotes, Random Tecnical Stuff, Randomness, Rants | Leave a Comment »

Location, Location, Location…

Posted by BPuhl on March 22, 2010

Overheard in the cafeteria, during a discussion about a big project…

It’s like eating a big box of fiber, and chasing it with a pot of coffee.  Something big is gonna happen, good or bad all depends on where you’re at when it does.

Posted in Randomness | Leave a Comment »

Got free time?…

Posted by BPuhl on March 17, 2010

This should take care of any spare time you might have had….  http://www.physicsgames.net


you’re welcome 🙂

Posted in Randomness | 2 Comments »

Forget your password?

Posted by BPuhl on January 20, 2010

Read an interesting article at http://redtape.msnbc.com/2008/08/almost-everyone.html on the issues/weaknesses of password recovery schemes. 

Most everyone remembers when Sara Palin’s Yahoo mail account was hacked, because her password recovery questions were easily discoverable.  One thing that I thought was interesting in the article though, was the idea of a “black market” for personal information – let me go buy a profile to find out the name of your dog, your favorite restaurant, etc…  How would people come up with this information in the first place, are there secret spies in black trench coats following everyone around taking notes on everything they do?  I have no idea…

…in other seemingly unrelated news – has anyone else taken all those funny Facebook quizzes where you answer questions about yourself, and they tell you how long you’re going to live, what your zodiac sign means, and things about your shopping habits and sexuality that you never even realized you knew?  There’s got to be a thousand of those things out there…  I’m sure glad that Facebook is much safer than the dangerous “internet”!


Posted in cloud, Digital Identity, Identity and Access, Random Tecnical Stuff, Randomness | 1 Comment »

Bad Combination…

Posted by BPuhl on January 5, 2010

(Non-technical rant in progress…)

Interesting trend happening around Redmond lately.  Over the past few months, there have been 5 different traffic circles built, 3 feeding into one another in Woodinville, and 2 on East Lake Sammish drive in Sammamish.  Both cities border Redmond, and both happen to be roads that I drive frequently.  In fact, I have to go through the 3 circles in Woodinville each morning after dropping my daughter off at school.

So what.  Isn’t it a good thing when a city takes out half a dozen consecutive stop lights, and replaces them with a slow but smooth flowing traffic circle?  Well, if this were in California where I grew up and learned to drive, sure, it would be great.  But this is Washington, and if you’ve ever had the chance to hop on a freeway in or around Seattle, then you’ve probably noticed:  The stop & merge.

Yeah, it seems that drivers in Washington don’t actually know how to merge with traffic, instead, they stop…sit…wait for the orderly flow to slow to a crawl and somebody to wave/honk at them, and then they gun it to try to catch up to speed… 

So kudo’s to the traffic engineers (who I suspect live out of state) for picking a control device which allows for a nice, orderly flow of traffic through these intersections.  It’s too bad they have to get screwed up by the stop and merge.

Oh yeah – and to the beige Toyota Highlander on East Lake Samm this afternoon – Although the sign is red & white – it’s an upside down triangle that says YIELD, it’s not an octagon that says STOP – there is a difference!

Posted in Randomness, Rants | 2 Comments »

The cloud doesn’t need all your passwords (just one…)

Posted by BPuhl on December 29, 2009

Patrick Harding and Pamela Dingle recently posted a great article, Grounding Enterprise Passwords.  If you haven’t already looked at it, I recommend you do so.

For a moment though, let’s say that you’ve already sold your management on the benefits of identity federation, and have deployed the infrastructure, and are rockin’ and rollin’ with SSO.  It’s time to sit back and relax, comfortable in the knowledge that your users passwords are securely locked inside your directory, so you’re enterprise is “safe” right?  Uhmm, maybe not.  Go grab your local CISSP and ask them when the enterprise is safe, and they’ll spout a bunch of stuff about risk management, defense in depth, and mitigating controls such as firewalls, virus scanners, and yes – your identity system & passwords.  If you dig in though, they often aren’t talking about protecting the “enterprise” – because that’s sort of an ambiguous amalgamation of many things – one of which is “enterprise data”.

Enter the cloud.  Do you care about applications moving to the cloud?  Absolutely (so does your CxO by the way)!  Do you care about how users are getting to that data?  Of course, as Patrick, Pamela, and others point out – it’s critical to ensure the identity of your users.  But we also have to be concerned about the data that resides in the cloud, and what that means to the rest of the enterprise.  Quick illustration:

Cloud Collaboration Vendor:  Move your data to my service, and I’ll save you bazillions of dollars over your on-premise suite, plus I’ll give you these value added features like letting your users view their data directly through my service from anywhere (without having to download everything locally), powerful indexing, blah, blah, blah…

CIO:  Ok, so let me play back to you what I heard, “I sign here, my users quit complaining about our VPN solution AND you save me bazillions of dollars” – GREAT!  Go work with my team and make it so…

CCV:  Ok IT guys – your CIO has signed off, now here’s the migration plan:  Train your users, copy the data, and…oh yeah – we need the private key that you used to encrypt any of that data so we an index it and decrypt it for your users when they ask…

IT Guy:  Como say WHAT?!?  That’s the key we use to encrypt ALL of our enterprise data, not just the stuff we’re hosting with you

Does your business require data encryption for some things, like high-business-impact data?  If so, how do you reconcile this with pushing the data out to a cloud service?  Or do you not?  How many instances of your data protection infrastructure do you have (is there more than one key?)  Does your vendor support data encryption at all, and if so – do they use their keys or is there a dependency on your service?  In my experience, most cloud services are loath to take too many dependencies on customer infrastructure, SLA discussions become big finger-pointing exercises. 

Back to data encryption though.  The conversation becomes even tougher when you start to talk about the “cross-premise” scenario, which is where you maintain a set of infrastructure on-premise, and host the rest of it in the cloud.  I should be able to protect my on-premise data – that a vendor should never have access to anyway – from the vendor, right?  Of course I should – so I need to have data protection FOR the vendor, and data protection FROM the vendor. 

In this thought exercise, there is an interesting tension about “who” are you protecting the data from.  In the on-premise world, the reason you protect data is so outsiders (and even some insiders) can’t get to it.  Where on the scale of trusted entities, does your vendor fall?  Even if you’ve done your due diligence, and funded new Ferrari’s for an army of lawyers, what data do you give access to?  Let’s assume you give your vendor access to all the data that is “relevant to their service”, so the vendor can decrypt any data which is hosted in their site.  What’s the process for re-encrypting the data in the case of a breach, either of the on-premise key or of the cloud key?  Often times this is a herculean task, which requires knowing/finding all of the encrypted data, and then re-encrypting it with a new key. 

If you decide to cancel your contract with a vendor – is that roughly equivalent to a compromise of the key?  Everyone I talk to says yes, that somebody with protected content and the ability to decrypt it, who is not authorized to do so – is a security problem.  As far as I can see, this is going to need to be something that the lawyers cover, otherwise the off-boarding costs of a vendor skyrocket.

These are just a few, there are a bunch of hard questions when it comes to the cloud – which is what makes this space so much fun! – I don’t have all the answers.  Here in MSIT, where we classify and encrypt A LOT of data, we’re having conversations with everyone, business owners, security folks, lawyers.  I can’t say we always tread carefully, sometimes we just “go for it”, but when it comes to adopting cloud services, we’re looking hard as we’re taking the next step, and part of that is how we protect our enterprise data IN the cloud, as well as FROM the cloud.

Posted in ADFS, Digital Identity, Identity and Access, Random Tecnical Stuff, Randomness | Leave a Comment »

EASI ID (pt. 2)

Posted by BPuhl on August 7, 2009

Back in March, I posted EASI ID (pt 1.5), posting a question about who owns the rights to resources within a namespace, specifically email addresses.  The reason was to stimulate some braincells, about what could happen if users chose to protect personal content with a digital identity that they thought they owned, but which later they found out the didn’t (in this case their work email address).

Ariel Gordon, one of the rock stars on the Microsoft Identity Strategy team (along with Kim Cameron and others…), recently posted this comment:

Ariel Gordon said

August 7, 2009 at 2:34 pm e

Contoso owns the domain and any identifier in its realm.
Email addresses bear a claim of employment. I.e. my @contoso.com address shows (with a certain level of certainty) that I work for Contoso. Using this address after I leave the company is akin to keeping distributing business cards with the address on it.

Today, 99% websites leverage email providers’ infrastructure for user authentication: you type your email address as a login then create a password that can be reset/resend via email, effectively handing the keys to the account to anyone who controls the mailboxn including the new guy–Jerry Smith in your example.

Websites who implement authentication delegation (aka federation in the consumer sense of the term), could be informed by the IdP of user account deprovisionning and, as best practice, take action to close the account, prompt the user to create alternate credentials (if they have a fallback email address or phone #), etc.


I started to reply with a bit of the backstory in the comments, but figured I’d give this it’s own post, if for no other reason than (I think) it’s a fun look into some of the dynamics of digital identity…not to mention internal politics… So here is my response:


Hi Ariel!

Thanks for replying.  Yes, you’re correct, this is exactly what happens, and I agree with you.

The motivation for this post, was a series of conversations that I was in with an internal group here at Microsoft, about who "owned" the @microsoft.com namespace for user identities.  Historically, the internal identity management team has owned corp.microsoft.com, but the actual microsoft.com namespace was owned by the team that supports the www.microsoft.com website.  However, way back when, somebody in the Live ID team also decided that the microsoft.com namespace was theirs (in the Live ID sense)

It turns out, that today, there are approx. 2.5 million Windows Live ID’s in the @microsoft.com namespace.  Obviously we haven’t had that many employees.  But back in the day, there was a time when the Live ID team believed that @microsoft.com would be a good namespace for customers to use, similar to @hotmail.com or @live.com.  This isn’t really as crazy as it sounds, because it’s analogous to users creating a Yahoo ID in the @yahoo.com namespace. 

However many years later though, as we enter the age of federation, the challenge is that Microsoft Corporation uses @microsoft.com as our corporate namespace.  In contrast, Yahoo Corporation uses @yahoo-inc.com for their corporate email addresses.  So Yahoo can choose to give @yahoo.com to their customers, whereas Microsoft had a conflict.

This was a fun debate at the time, and ultimately we came to the decision that @microsoft.com is our corporate identity.  The question though, of what should come to those 2.5 million user ID’s.  Fortunately the Live ID team has the solution for this, and added a flag into the federation setup so that a company can choose to “evict on reserve” or “allow merge” of any existing users when they federate.

Allow Merge means that anyone with an existing user account in a namespace that’s federated, will have the option of associating their existing WLID with their new federated ID.  In Live ID speak, it means they keep the same PUID.  The result is that you keep anything you had access to, but you do so with your new corporate-account-backed, federated Live ID rather than your older, separate username/pw WLID.

Evict on reserve is just what it sounds like, where any user accounts which exist in a namespace when it’s reserved, will be moved into a “forced rename” state.  This means that the next time the user logs on with their separate user name and password, they will be forced to change their user name (keeping the same account/PUID) to a different email address, one which is hopefully their personal address.

For Microsoft employees, we chose evict-on-reserve, and are in the process of working through the details of implementation.  Our thinking behind this, is that even though they are in the @microsoft.com namespace, any existing accounts are all “personal use” accounts.  Therefore, we should protect the personal data, and have a user rename their account to a personal account.  When a user logs in with their “new” federated @microsoft.com account, they will be doing “business” work with an account that is backed by their corporate credentials (and which goes away when their employment ends).  And yes, we’re working with the Live ID team to get some controls put in place for companies that federate, so that they can limit where corporate backed WLID’s are used.

So that’s where we’re at.  Hopefully this gives other folks who are federating something to think about as well, as they integrate with service providers such as Live ID.

I’d love to hear what you, or anyone else thinks about these fun, “moving to the cloud” challenges!


Posted in ADFS, Digital Identity, Randomness | 1 Comment »

Enabling RSAT tools in Win7

Posted by BPuhl on August 6, 2009

Does anyone else think it’s odd that you have to go through and click every one of these darn little boxes to enable all of the RSAT tools?  Odd defaults…


Posted in Randomness, Rants, Win 7 | 2 Comments »

Facebook is going to allow user names on June 12th

Posted by BPuhl on June 10, 2009

If you use Facebook, you might notice a box when you log in that says beginning June 12th, Facebook will allow registration of user names.  If you “click here” to have them send more info, you’ll receive this in your registered email inbox:

Starting on Friday, June 12th, at 9:01pm, you’ll be able to choose a username for your Facebook account to easily direct friends, family, and coworkers to your profile.

To select your username, visit the link below after 9:01pm on June 12th:


To learn more about usernames, visit the Help Center:



The Facebook Team


So what does this mean?  Well, for one thing, it means that if you’ve got a common name – or – if your like me, and you KNOW that there’s someone else on Facebook with the same name (since he and I are actually friends on Facebook), then it means that you want to “claim” your user name as soon as the application opens.

I did seen an interesting article here http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-handel/trademark-protection-and_b_213756.html about trademark registrations and how Facebook intends to handle squatters.  So don’t bother trying to register facebook.com/McDonalds, you won’t have it for long if you do. 

I like the very last part of that article though.  There is already a recommendation for what to do, if somebody maliciously claims not only your trademark, but also fills out the forms sufficiently such that you (the legitimate owner of the trademark) actually can’t use the automation to claim it back.

Oh how much fun Identity Management can be 🙂

Posted in Babbling and Blabbering, Digital Identity, Friends and family, Identity and Access, Random Tecnical Stuff, Randomness | Leave a Comment »

Collection agencies….

Posted by BPuhl on April 10, 2009

I have had a few discussions recently at work about ways to make things more convenient.  Either convenient for our users (cloud services), convenient for our customers (single sign on), etc… 

But a one-two punch hit me, when I just had 2 close friends – both of whom have been impacted by the financial mess – have their identity attacked because something that had built in security controls (checks) was made to be more convenient (by phone), and in the process all of the controls were removed so my friends were vulnerable.

Really, I call it fraud, or identity theft, or just plain robbery…  But in both cases, the banks say that there are no laws against this:

My friend lost her job, and fell behind on payments.  She owed $1100 for this months rent, $4400 to a creditor that by this point had gone to a collection agency, and some other bills (credit cards, gas, electricity, etc…).  Through creative budgeting and working with parents, friends, and anyone else, she scraped together $5000 that she could use. 

With the new money available, she came up with the following plan:

   $1100 for rent
      900 for the other bills
      500 to the collection agency
      The rest to be used for the following months rent, payments, etc…

She called the collection agency, and agreed to pay them $500 now, and then set up a payment plan for the rest of the money.  That’s where the first mistake happened:  They wanted the payment as a “check by phone”.  So she voided a check, gave them the info, etc…

The collection agency first attempted to clear the check for the full $4400.  Because the money was in the account, the check cleared – of course, this meant that she couldn’t pay any of the other bills, or her rent, etc…  And she had already tapped out her friends, parents, etc…

You can imagine that the calls to the collection agency were like:  “Sorry, sucks to be you – we’ve got our money now”

The bank was equally useless:  “You gave them a check by phone, the money was in the account, they cleared it…Sucks to be you”

This was just completely ridiculous, but it shows that in the absence of standards or protocols, there is no shortage of people that will offer things for the sake of “convenience” which blow the hell out of “security”.  If you have to write a check and sign it, then you fill in the amount, etc…  modification of that is check fraud.  But those security controls went out the window when banks allowed people to do “checks by phone”, and there is absolutely nothing to prevent unscrupulous people from raping your bank account if you give them the information.

The second case is similar, but with a slight twist

My friend has slowly but surely been paying off debts that were racked up over a period of time, and has been working through one of those debt consolidation management companies.  Since she wasn’t getting the resolution that she needed from the company, she took back the money that was in their escrow account and started working with the collection agency independently.

On the first phone call, she had an $7,000 debt and worked with the agency to negotiate down to where they would accept $4300.  Seems like a good deal, so again, check by phone for $4300.

A couple of days later, she received a notice from the collection agency, indicating that they “Had an agreement for an initial payment of $4300”.  In other words, the deal they made on the phone was a lie, instead of negotiating the total, they just wanted an initial payment and were going to keep going after her for the remaining balance.

Ahhh…but the check by phone hadn’t cleared yet.

So a quick call to the bank, a $28.00 stop payment charge, and there was a stop-payment for that check before it cleared.

Good right?

Not so much.  2 days later, $4300 was withdrawn from the account anyway, by check #1001 (not the check number she gave them).  A long, convoluted, multi-transfer call back with the bank this time, and they could see where the initial check number had attempted to clear, been rejected (the stop payment), and then the company had re-submitted another check by phone with the different check number and got the money.

After several days of arguing, it’s still unclear whether the bank is going to say “Sorry, sux to be you” or if they are actually going to help.  I’m not holding my breath.

So again, the safety features around checks – being numbered, signed, amounts written (twice) – are all placed into the trusting hands of the least trustworthy person (the merchant that wants your money), and there is remarkably little recourse.  I suppose you could go get a lawyer, etc…  But during that time the money is gone, life still needs to be lived, and a lawyer is going to take 30% of whatever you get back anyway (or some amount of payment)…

All for the sake of convenience (to whom?)

There are better ways, one of which I really like.  I’ve had a credit card with CitiBank since college.  And many years ago, they came up with this idea of virtual account numbers for your credit card.  You can go to their website (or they have a downloadable application), and if you want to make a purchase, you can get a one-time use credit card number (with expiration and CVC) for that one purchase.  I haven’t used it in a while, but IIRC you can even specify the amount of the purchase you’re going to make (which is really the protection).  This is great, because the security of a credit card is handing the piece of plastic with the signature on the back to the person behind the register.  With online purchases, you can’t do that, so instead lets take the things which you can control (amount of purchase, usefulness of the number after it’s been used properly) and control those instead.  Reasonable mitigations.

This is the type of control that we’re going to need if we want to protect our resources in a more “convenient” (read: Online) world.

Posted in ADFS, Digital Identity, Friends and family, Identity and Access, Randomness, Rants | 3 Comments »