Blog

  • October 24, 2012

    Digital Security in a Networked World

    In this post we are going to review the book “Secrets and Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World ” by Bruce Schneier.  While the book is now over ten years old, some of the insights on security issues are timeless.

    Bruce’s introduction starts with a litany of computer security incidents and weaknesses in March of 2000.  He counts dozens of significant incidents in the news media in the first 7 days of the month, and he comments that there was nothing special about that week.  Readers of current security blogs can attest to the fact that the level of incidents is still too high a dozen years later.  Bruce spends the rest of the book looking at weaknesses in digital security and strategies to address them.

    The first part of the book looks at the security landscape.  There is a good discussion of who the attackers are and what they want.  The author also reviews the types of digital security that we seek.  For example: privacy, anonymity, secure electronic finance, and authentication of 3rd party entities.

    The second and largest section of the book deals with actual security technologies, such as real world cryptography and digital certificates, covering their weaknesses and strengths.  The author does go into some technical details in this section and as such you’ll get the most out of it if you have been working with troubleshooting computer systems in recent years.  However the style is very readable and enjoyable and the less technically inclined can skip a chapter on a specific technology without losing the overall message of the book.  Even when the technology he analyzes is a little dated the lessons he draws from it are still very relevant today.

    The book as a whole is a build up to the third section where the author delivers his distilled advice from years of working in the digital security field.  The author pays attention to the practical implementation of security systems and emphasizes that theoretically secure systems may not be totally secure when implemented on real computers operated by human beings.  To illustrate this he give the following quote by Yogi Berra:  “In theory there is no difference between theory and practices.  In practice there is.”

    For those reading the book looking for advice on the purchase of a silver bullet product to solve their security woes, the author has a clear message: “security is a process not a product”.  By this he means that security is an ongoing activity and challenge that cannot be solved by just buying and configuring some magical device.

    So Bruce’s motto in response to this is: Protection, Detection and Response.  Make your protection as solid as you can but accept that it cannot be perfect and have a plan ahead of time for how you will detect, respond to and recover from a crisis.  The author recounts that in his experience the vast majority of security dollars and efforts are focused on the first part – Protection.  He draws an analogy with the issue of  theft, saying that you rely not just on protection (you might have a house alarm, for example) but also on quick detection and effective and firm response from the police.  If there is never any detection or response then the bad guys will quickly learn they have free rein.

    Overall I think the author writes in an accessible and engaging way about technologies that affect many peoples’ lives.  If you have an interest in digital security issues then this book deserves a place on your bookshelf – you might not agree with all of it but it will certainly make you think.

    New Signature has years of experience resolving digital security issues, so if you are interested in reviewing and improving your digital security then please give us a call.  We would be happy to work with you, audit the security of your network, and provide concrete recommendations on steps to increase the security of your IT systems.

     

  • October 19, 2012

    New Mexico Business Weekly: New Signature sees potential in Albuquerque

    On Friday, October 19, 2012, Dan Mayfield covered New Signature’s expansion in Albuquerque, New Mexico in the New Mexico Business Weekly.

    Two years ago, software firm New Signature opened its Albuquerque office with one person. Today, the Washington, D.C.-based software company has eight people in the Duke City and is looking to hire five software engineers at its Downtown office in the Simms Building by the end of the year. “The Albuquerque office is part and parcel to everything we do here in D.C., and Albuquerque is really a center of excellence and where we’re able to find great talent,” said CEO Christopher Hertz. “We’re very bullish. Our real hope is that we’ll be able to grow the organization in New Mexico, and hopefully start servicing companies inside of New Mexico and Albuquerque.” New Signature has grown to 85 employees since Hertz and David Geevaratne, the president, founded it nine years ago. The company has appeared on the Inc. 5000 list of the nation’s fastest-growing companies.

    You can read the full article here.
  • Introducing the New Project

    Microsoft’s focus and investment in the cloud-based productivity solutions is apparent with the release of Office 2013 and the New Project. The New Project looks to address business pain points that focus on the ability to work with remote resources, manage infrastructure without up-front costs, align investment with business priorities, and improve visibility and control of resources from anywhere. The key difference from previous releases is that the online version will drive the innovation of the on-premises solution.

    The New Project allows project managers to access data virtually from anywhere, enable flexibility in managing resources and improve governance & control, and strengthen collaboration to make data-driven decisions. The online version, Project Pro 2013, and the on-premises version, Project Professional 2013, are the same product with different packaging. Project Pro 2013, therefore, includes all of the necessary Project & Portfolio Management (PPM) capabilities.

    A non-trivial characteristic of the New Project is the integration with SharePoint 2013. The end user can start in SharePoint to create tasks and timelines, and as the project’s size and complexity increases, the user can use the functionality specific to the New Project. Tasks can be copied and pasted from Excel and match the resources created in the account, but SharePoint does not have a scheduling or resource allocation capability so the user will have to open up the New Project for scheduling. The tasks can be directly uploaded into Project, and all the resources assigned to tasks are integrated with the online directory tenant.

    Even more impressive is that Project Server and Project Pro can use SharePoint Designer or Visio with no coding required. Workflows can be created on SharePoint Designer, synced to Project, and displayed in Visio without customization. In order to display the Visio workflow, however, Visio Professional is required. If the user does not need to view the workflow, then the text based editor on Project can be used without Visio.

    The integration of the New Project with SharePoint 2013, Office 365, and other Microsoft solutions demonstrates Microsoft’s move toward a seamless collaborative experience. The ability to integrate tasks and timelines from SharePoint to Project, the dynamic Project reports generated from Excel, the integration with the Office Store, and the ability to connect to Exchange are some examples of ways Microsoft works to significantly improve overall productivity.

    Links

    Timing of the Release
    Volume Licensing customers with Software Assurance will be able to download Project Professional 2013, Project Standard 2013 and Project Server 2013 through the Volume Licensing Service Center by mid-November. These products will be available on the Volume Licensing price list on December 1.

  • October 18, 2012

    Skydrive Pro in Sharepoint 2013

    Microsoft Sharepoint Workspace is going away in Office/Sharepoint 2013, and is now being replaced by Microsoft Skydrive Pro. Skydrive Pro will offer each user 7GB of total personal storage space in the cloud, but for on-premise implementations of Sharepoint 2013 a per-user storage capacity can be managed by administrators.

    How is this be a fundamental change in architecture for Sharepoint 2013? Microsoft realized that in Sharepoint Workspace 2010, end-users primary utilized the program for offline document synchronization. In order to help streamline investments and product quality, Microsoft made a significant investment in Skydrive to provide enhanced functionality and ease of use.

    Previously, using Sharepoint Workspace was often quite cumbersome and confusing to end-users. With Skydrive Pro the user interface has been simplified, and is accessible two ways:

    1. In the cloud with Office 365– after users sign in to Office 365, they are presented with a new option on the top menu bar that says “Skydrive”. Opening this brings up the web interface for Skydive where personal and public documents are stored for that user.Documents can be managed and edited in the Office 365 cloud directly from the portal, or opened directly in Microsoft Office.

    2. On the desktop with Synchronization– signing into Office 365 for the first time gives users the option to “sync” files directly to their desktop computers. By clicking the SYNC button at the top of the SkyDrive account, users are then given the option to open/save/edit documents directly from the local Office programs, as well as drag and drop files into their Skydrive from any application.

    These new enhancements are set to be fully released with the new version of Office 365 and Office 2013, which are just around the corner. Preparing now for this architectural change should be quite easy and seamless for both users and administrators with proper planning and training.

    SharePoint Workspace 2010 will continue to work with both SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2013 environments—including SharePoint Online—and will run side-by-side with SkyDrive Pro.

  • October 17, 2012

    Microsoft Forefront Identity Manager 2010 R2 Handbook

    In the preface the author, Kent Nordstrom, states “If you are implementing and managing Microsoft Forefront Identity Manager 2010 R2 in your business, then this is the book for you”.  I think this is true in many respects and not just because it is the only book on FIM 2010 R2 available!  Chapter 2 “Overview” is a good introduction to the terminology and technology of Forefront Identity Manager (FIM).  It’s easy to read and gives you a start with the many moving parts that make up a FIM implementation.  I’d bookmark the diagram on pages 15 & 17 as you’ll find yourself referring to them as you read the rest of the book.  However, this book is not for the network beginner – Kent assumes, for example, that you have a reasonable knowledge of managing an Active Directory environment.  In a number of places he describes what to do without giving the technical details of how to do it.  For example, in chapter 3 “Installation” there is good coverage of the key steps and major pitfalls are highlighted, but you’ll want to read the instructions on the Microsoft Technet site for the details of the installation process.  

    Chapters 5, 6 and 7 cover user and group management, looking at synchronization between systems and the tricky issue of whether and how to delete items that have ended their life-cycle.  One of the popular uses of FIM is also covered: self-service password reset, which allows users to reset their own passwords when they forget them.  These chapters are where the text gets more technical and makes more assumptions regarding your previous knowledge.  It was at this point that I started to need my own FIM test environment to follow along with the author.  Now is a good time to go back and re-read chapters 2 and 4 and then re-read chapters 5, 6 and 7 for a better understanding.  

    Chapter 8 lacks the depth of previous chapters.  It gives an overview of Office 365, Microsoft’s cloud-based email and collaboration service, and discusses how Office 365 Directory Synchronization relates to FIM.  You’ll need some prior experience with Office 365 to get the most out of this chapter.

    The FIM reporting functionality covered in chapter 9 is a new feature of the R2 version of FIM 2010.  The reporting setup uses System Center Service Manager (SCSM) 2012 technology and you’ll want to reach out to your SCSM specialist for support on this area as the coverage in the book is very brief.

    The next three chapters introduce the reader to customizing the user interface and data transformations, and the penultimate chapter covers using FIM for certificate management.  Chapter 13 describes how the author troubleshoots real-world issues when working on a Forefront Identity Manager implementation project.

    You might be reading this book if you are preparing  for the Microsoft Exam 70-158 “Forefront Identity Manager 2010″.  If so you’ll definitely want to study the plentiful extra documents that Kent provides the links to throughout the book.

    Once you’ve finished the book you’ll probably want to set up your own Forefront Identity Manager 2010 R2 test environment to learn more about this powerful product.  Fortunately Microsoft has some excellent resources on how you can continue your education – for example: 

    Overall I think that those people planning to work with Microsoft Forefront Identity Manager 2010 R2 have good reason to be grateful that Kent Nordstrom took the trouble to create this book. It certainly serves as an excellent starting point for learning about the product.

    “Forefront Identity Manager 2010 R2 Handbook” by Kent Nordstrom, Packt Publishing (2012)

  • October 16, 2012

    Technology Shootout: SharePoint Online versus Box

    ​Keeping abreast of all the latest technology changes can be a full time occupation. Fortunately, here at New Signature we have a deep bench of experts who are regularly testing early release software from Microsoft and other software vendors. In today’s edition of the Technology Shootout, we’ll be focusing on two hosted business workflow suites: SharePoint Online and Box.

    Both of these hosted applications are positioned as “platforms”, meaning that developers have the ability to layer on additional services from the start. Yet the two originated from very different ideas: SharePoint from two disparate projects at Microsoft hooking together web-based dashboards and search functionality with bottom up site design and file collaboration; Box from a simple “hosted file service”. As the two packages have matured, both have gained a litany of new features, with SharePoint focusing on automation and collaboration, and Box focusing on adding platform services to become much more than a simple file-sharing site.

    Because SharePoint began as on-premise server, specifically designed to supplement file shares already in use, it has always been strongest from an automation perspective. In the latest version, SharePoint 2010, staff are able to edit office documents simultaneously, whether in Word, Excel or PowerPoint. In addition, the inclusion of the Office Web Apps allows staff who are not in front of a machine with a full copy of Office to be able to edit and design from the road, as long as they have a connection to the internet. With SharePoint Online, Microsoft has evolved the product to provide anywhere access and a clear roadmap for future features, hooked into a 99.9% up-time SLA for mission critical enterprises. Microsoft has also worked to position the Skydrive product (which offers simple file storage, hooked into a SharePoint Online back-end, for free) as a way for consumers to gain access to SharePoint technologies without any financial commitment.

    Box began as a online replacement for file services, and has rapidly moved to add additional features including online previewing of documents and the ability to embed box documents on other websites (using the backend Box storage). Buoyed by strong investments from SAP and Salesforce, Box has tried to integrate with other Microsoft competitors such as Google, while retaining cross-platform goals such as continuing to support SharePoint. Much like Skydrive, Box offers a “freemium” model in which consumers can utilize services for little or no money, and enterprises have to pay to get additional components such as added security and access controls.

    Security is a great place to begin our comparison. Currently, SharePoint Online offers very granular access for individuals within an organization, and requires individuals who are outside an organization to be able to access documents only through signing up for a Microsoft account (nee LiveID). Box, by comparison, offers full controls for individuals who sign up for Box (and are thus registered in the system) and for those outside the system, two low-level “read-only” and “download only” options. The ability to send a link to a document to someone who is effectively outside the system is both a powerful feature as well as a significant security risk. Those links can be limited in terms of access time, but even so, when a document is downloaded or previewed, the default setting in Box is to email the person who owns the document and to record the IP address of the individual who downloaded the information. This obviously scales poorly, as document owners may not wish to be inundated with emails announcing access, but is necessary to maintain control over these anonymous links. SharePoint Online, by contrast, can take advantage of some of the incredibly granular powers of Microsoft Rights Management Services, but setting this up is limited to an on-premise SharePoint 2010 environment. Advantage: neutral.

    Once a document is shared out, on both SharePoint Online and Box, the next issue is one of collaboration. Box has invested a great deal of time and energy in preview plug-ins to display the content of documents shared online. When this works (assuming the plugin is loaded) the result is that one can click on a Word document and “see” the actual document. To edit it, of course, one must download the document and open up Word. SharePoint Online, by comparison, will bring up the Word document *within* Microsoft Word Web App, for both viewing and editing. For documents that there aren’t web apps for, you’ll be reduced to viewing/downloading them, depending upon your plug-ins. For shops with a large percentage of Microsoft office applications, SharePoint Online is a superior choice here. If there are large number of non-Microsoft documents, Box has an edge. Given the makeup of most offices these days, the advantage goes to SharePoint Online.

    Let’s next examine basic functionality. Box has long prided itself on being an easy to use file-server replacement, and the existing drag-and-drop functionality brings that home. Staff can easily begin using the services as a replacement for a file share quite easily. SharePoint online offers “explorer mode” as a way to similarly provide drag-and-drop functionality, but it’s hidden and not easy to access. The free Skydrive application does offer drag-and-drop functionality, but one still has to click a button marked “upload” to get to that particular page. Advantage: Box.

    Finally, let’s look at the road-map for both applications. Box has clearly leveraged the additional backing from Microsoft competitors to try to bridge into an “all-things-to-all-people” mentality. Out of the box there’s integration with many other providers, so the biggest gap currently involves building workflows, as well as identity management. Box has worked hard to ensure that whenever a new feature is added, the requirement for full functionality becomes a requirement for utilizing Box’s identity model, which currently is simply a list of accounts on Box. It is unclear if this will change in the future. SharePoint Online has already released the preview versions (which were finalized last week) and many of the features areas Box has excelled at are met or eclipsed in the next version. It is obvious that having a lengthy development cycle has helped SharePoint on-premise versions, but has hindered the online versions, because of the ability for competitors to introduce new features in a more agile manner. Now that SharePoint has committed to developing in shorter (months as opposed to years) bursts, we no longer see any limitation with the online version. Some of the features that work today, out of the “box” in SharePoint 2013 include drag-and-drop file functionality, the ability to use guest links to provide anonymous access, as well as an incredibly granular rights management service baked in, for free, to restrict the rights of recipients to email, view and even print particular documents. These latter two points easily best Box’s current security model, and the former equals the simplicity of starting with Box. Advantage: SharePoint Online.

    In conclusion, both of these products have a rich group of partners, are industry funded and fairly mature from a development cycle. Therefore we don’t anticipate differences in consumer-focused feature parity lasting for more than 3-6 months whenever a new item is added to a competitor’s product. Both products offer a “free” version (whether Skydrive or the lowest level of Box) to get consumers involved, and both segment to ensure profitability across their customers.

    If we can’t discuss consumer focused features or pricing, then how can we declare a winner? One obvious comparison point is that Microsoft has worked hard to target large customers with enterprise features and work those down to smaller customers, while Box has worked hard to target consumers and work up towards the enterprise space. Another key difference: customers who are using Microsoft Office are best served by SharePoint Online. Customers who are not currently using office documents, whether Word, Excel or PowerPoint, may find Box a compelling product, primarily because they also lack the features enterprises require such as identity management, rights management and complex work-flows. In many ways, this mirrors the distinction between SharePoint Online and other competitors such as Google: SPO tends to have a greater breadth of enterprise features and works best in organizations utilizing Microsoft Office. In this shootout, then, SharePoint Online comes out on top. If you’re interested in discussing how SharePoint Online can assist your business, reach out to us at New Signature today!

     

  • October 12, 2012

    Next Version of Microsoft Exchange Has Been Released to Manufacturing

    As one of the many Exchange Enterprise Messaging Administrators on staff, I was elated to see that the next version of Microsoft Exchange (v.Next) was released to manufacturing (RTM). Exchange 2010 was a pivotal release in the Microsoft messaging family and Exchange v.Next steps up the ante with exiting new features. Here are just some of the many new includes:

    • Data Loss Prevention. Out of the box deep content analysis policies with an extensive library of existing options. Say good bye to manually coding a Transport Rule to look out for credit card numbers and much more!
    • Built-in Malware Protection. Native Malware protection that can be used independently or paired with Exchange Online Protection Hosted services for email and attachment scanning.
    • Public Folders. Exchange v.Next reintroduces the Public Folder concept but does so utilizing the latest benefits of Exchange Mailbox stores. Exchange v.Next provides Public Folder-like mailboxes that provide the legacy features users are used to but with the trusted protection and availability of Exchange Database Availability Group (DAG) Single-master database replication.
    • Site Mailboxes. A new feature that offers a more precise and manageable alternative to Public Folder Storage. Site Mailboxes make use of SharePoint file storage to provide managed and compliant file storage that is easily accessible via Outlook.

    The amazing Exchange Team has put together a great post that makes for great weekend reading, and goes into much greater depth on Exchange v.Next. If you are as passionate about Exchange as we are, or even if you are evaluating it for the first time, I urge you to take a deep dive into Exchange v.Next.

  • October 8, 2012

    Best Practices on Case Documentation and Troubleshooting

    New Signature actively collects and maintains best practices on case documentation and troubleshooting. Below are some examples and guidelines.

    Case Information

    Issue Description:
    Exact error message at the time of the issue:
    Event ID at the time of the issue:
    Time of Issue/Frequency of issue:
    Version, Service Pack and architecture of Operating System:
    Machine Name:
    Server Role:
    Physical or Virtual:
    RAM:

    Case Scope:

    We will proactively troubleshoot the server issue. If the issue is caused by a one of our component, we will work diligently and efficiently to resolve this issue. If the cause of the issue is identified to be a third party or custom component, we will be happy to discuss our findings in detail and provide possible methods of resolution/workaround. It will ultimately be up to the third party vendor to resolve these types of issues.

    Through the life of this case, we will do our best to decipher the root cause of the problem using the various data we can get. However, sometimes, it is difficult to get to the root cause because the data we need may have already been written over.

    More Information:

    History of Behavior:
    Behavior In-State:

    General Scoping Questions

    When did the issue start?
    Has it always occurred since the system(s) were put into production?
    Where any changes made prior to the start of the issue?
    How often has it occurred?
    How long does it last?
    Specific days and times it occurs (to Sync with the MSDT event logs)?
    How do they recover when it’s happening? (Wait? Reboot? Reduce load? Kill a process or service?)
    How do they know the issue is happening? – (What symptoms they see, End users? Admins? System monitor alerts?)
    Is it always the same symptoms? What’s the same, What’s different? (customers often lump BAD behaviors into one issue even though there could be multiple problems)
    Is the issue Gradual or Sudden?
    On a specific Day or at a specific Time? (use the MSDT event logs or other data collected to confirm customer information)
    How many servers/systems are impacted?
    Has load or configuration changed? (More users added? Additional programs installed?
    Are any scheduled jobs running when it occurs?

    Case Study – Errors on any Windows application

    Issue: Isolate and research errors for any Windows application.

    Environment: Windows Servers and Clients.

    Solution: Identify the application and error, Isolate the issue, Review the logs, Search
    Identify the application and error:

    If an error message is shown, the information in the title and the message would indicate the application name and the problem that it faces. In some cases, a link to a detailed error description would also be available and could contain more details about the issue.

    Isolate the issue:

    1. Did the application ever work without this error for the particular operation being attempted? If no, check the system requirements for the application and ensure it is matched.

    2. Does the issue happen all the time or at some times?  If the issue happens only at some times, there could be something taking place at the same time that contributes to the issue. It could be another program interfering with the application, some system activity, inadequate availability of resources like memory and CPU, etc. When this occurs, one can test by stopping all other unwanted/unrelated applications and then checking whether the issue happens. One can also try restarting the computer to see if the issue occurs when the application is launched immediately after that, without using other applications.

    3. Do multiple applications face issues at the same time?  Finding this can help isolate whether the issue is with the application or Windows itself. Issues encountered by multiple applications could be due to Windows encountering some issues. They could be due to insufficient resources (disk space/ memory/ CPU) or could be due to issues with the computer itself.

    4. Does the issue happen on all user logons on the computer?  If the issue does not happen for all users on a computer, there could be issues with the logged on user for whom the issue takes place.

    5. Is there a particular operation within the application that causes the issue?  If the application works fine most of the time, and the issue occurs in response to a particular operation that could be worth observing. For example, if the error occurs only during a Save operation, it could be related to system operations needed to do that and permissions that go along with it. Like that, there could be some operation in the application which is going wrong. Knowing that failing operation can further narrow our definition of the problem

    Review the logs:

    Most applications will log errors and warnings to the Windows event log, and sometimes to the application’s own log files. One can search by application name and log file location to see if such logs exist. In any case, one can launch Event Viewer (Start>Run>eventvwr) and access the Windows Logs>Application to see the errors and warning details being logged. System log and Security log can also be reviewed for errors and warnings. The security log is useful when the issue is related to the user logon being used as it could show logon failures and related info. While reading the logs, one has to match the time when the issue occurs with the information in the log. If not able to match that, one can reproduce the problem again while noting the time and then review the logs. Apart from matching the time and looking for errors from the problematic application, one can also check whether other issues are taking place around the same time, and which could lead to problems with the application or Windows.

    Search:
    Until search engines become super intelligent, we will need to spell out specifically what we are looking for. Here are some tips to search when faced with errors or warnings for the applications we use on Windows.

    (a) Check whether the application or company has a website – The site info could be present in Help>About screen within the application. One can also search using the company or application name to find if there’s a website dedicated.

    (b) If a website is there: (i) First search for the issue there using keyword searches or by accessing the support pages. Issues that are popular or current are usually highlighted or shared on support sites to quickly solve those issues; (ii) Focus search engine queries to that website by using site: website (For example, site:Microsoft.com) so that official steps are reviewed first.

    (c) If a website is not there, use a search engine (www.bing.com) with these keywords – application name, error title, error message, any specific error number of event ID. Do remember to put phrases within double quotes to get exact matches.

  • October 5, 2012

    The Social Networking Landscape

    Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter… The list goes on. There can be no denying the fact that social networking is a huge part of our lives these days. Wading through the sea of social networking sites can be daunting for some.

    Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, has been attributed with something people are now calling “Zuckerberg’s Law of Sharing”. He said that right now, people share, on average, twice as many things as they did last year; he goes on to postulate that next year, we will be sharing twice what we are now. Even if sharing numbers don’t actually double, as Zuckerberg thinks they will, we already know that social networks are a major repository of potential customers. Businesses of all types and sizes have begun to see the benefit of using social networking sites as a place to advertise to, engage, and pull in customers.

    Facebook

    Facebook is the second most-visited website on the internet today (Google.com is first, not surprisingly). There are 845 million users on Facebook who actively participate on the site each month. That is a staggering number of users! Facebook content circulates with “Likes” and “Shares”; users can choose either option in response to a post, page, or outside website with the correct functionality. A like denotes the fact that the user enjoys the post or page, and a share is how a user reposts the content to their wall for their friends to see. You can share any outside web page by copying the URL in to a status update, but the functionality to like a page must be added in to it directly, however, users can still like the URL posting in the newsfeed.

    Facebook recently launched a new profile interface they call “Timeline”. The Timeline interface has been controversial, as most changes to Facebook interfaces are. The Timeline features a banner, called “cover” by Facebook, photo as well as a profile picture when viewing someone’s profile. Information and photos are now accessible by clicking on links under the cover profile; the next section of content is a complete listing (which auto-populates as you scroll down the page) of all the public posts of the user, in order by date. Many people have had reservations over the privacy of this new format, and it is recommended that users adjust their privacy settings to adapt to the Timeline. Regardless of liking or disliking the new format, most users have, by now, been forced to adopt the new Timeline. Now, Facebook is pushing Timeline for business pages. Right now the change isn’t required, but I suspect that soon any business using Facebook as a platform for reaching customers will soon need to adapt to the new interface.

    There have also been a few business-related developments for Facebook recently. On April 9, 2012, Facebook announced that they were purchasing Instagram for $1 billion in a combination of stocks and cash. Shortly after Facebook bought Instagram, on May 18, 2012, Facebook gave out its Initial Public Offering (IPO) of over 150 million stocks which opened at $38 a share. They sold 82 million shares in the first 30 seconds. The shares closed on the market at $38.23, not a huge jump in value. This was a big move for Facebook, and not everyone thinks this is a good thing; but I’ll leave that decision up to you. The Facebook stock (FB) is, at the time of writing, valued at $20.94 per share.

    Twitter

    Twitter holds strong for its 465 million users as a place to post quick updates for others to see. The profiles are much less image-intensive; the emphasis is on the updates, or “Tweets” that a user posts during their day. Users can “Follow” other users, brands, or celebrities. Once you follow an account, you will see their updates in your newsfeed. Each Tweet can be reposted as a re-Tweet. This will repost a Tweet from a user’s newsfeed in to their updates, where their followers can see it; re-Tweeting even keeps a reference to the original user, so Tweets can easily be tracked to the source.

    In recent news, Twitter is making changes in the way their Application Programming Interface (API) can be used by developers. One major change is that in the new version, there will be a cap on the number of user tokens an application may possess. Permission can be granted by Twitter for more tokens, but it seems unclear as to how. Twitter has also recently announced that they now support the “Do Not Track” option to their users. This is a browser setting the user can activate that tells sites that the user does not want their personal information tracked. This option is part of a larger movement to bring more control to the users over their information on the internet.

    Google +

    Google now has its own social network. Google + is much like Facebook, and it pioneered the idea of different groups (“circles”) of friends. Each post a user makes may be filtered to be shown to only certain circles, or filtered to be hidden from specific circles. This allows for much easier customization of post privacy. Google + has a “+1” button which basically has the functionality of Facebook’s like and share options. You +1 a page to say you like it, and then can share it to your chosen circles. A user’s +1’s get a special tab on their profile page, so that everything they have shared using +1 can be viewed, or not, as their settings allow.

    Google + is yet another aspect of a Google account, joining with the rest of the Google suite of applications. The network is holding its own, and even expanding; with over 90 million users and counting, it looks like they may be able to hold their own against giants Facebook and Twitter. Being part of the Google brand gives the network a definite leg-up, but they’ve been able to keep their user base by constantly refining the interfaces and layouts to make them more appealing and easy to use. What started as a fairly convoluted process is now becoming more streamlined and intuitive.

    Google has very recently made a move that will impact their social network in a big way. Recently, they purchased an online marketing company called Wildfire. Wildfire is a service for brands to centralize all their social network marketing in one place. Using Wildfire’s services, a company can simultaneously advertise to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google + and other. Brands such as Sony, Verizon, and Unilever all use Wildfire.

    LinkedIn

    LinkedIn is a social networking site that is centered on professional networking. Profiles are based around education, work experience, and professional relationships rather than the personal lives of the user. LinkedIn is a great place to meet people in your field. LinkedIn has over 135 million members, in every imaginable field of experience, from students to CEOs. Companies can have profiles, as well as individuals. Many organizations use LinkedIn to help them recruit people in the correct field for employment positions.

    LinkedIn has been steadily increasing their reach, recently rolling out many language options such as Czech, Polish, and Norwegian. They also recently bought SlideShare, a site based around giving professionals and students a place to upload presentations. Presentations can then be shared on several social networks. You can even set up meetings through the website. No doubt, the functionality of this website will be a boon to LinkedIn, whose target audience is professionals looking to network and collaborate.

    Pinterest

    Pinterest is a new network that lets users “pin” pages they like to a sort of virtual corkboard. Started in December of 2009, Pinterest has experienced immense growth, and now has over 10 million users. Pinterest links up with a Facebook account to share the board across both platforms; this has undoubtedly contributed to its success.

    Instagram

    Instagram is a photo sharing app, and so much more. Users can snap photos with their mobile devices, add filters to the image, and post the images directly to Facebook, Twitter or email from their device. Instagram now has 10 million users, and is even younger than Pinterest. Expect to continue to see Instagram photos pop up in your favored social network soon, if they don’t already.

    YouTube

    YouTube is everywhere. With over 24 hours of video being uploaded every minute, it would be impossible to ever watch them all. YouTube has over 2 billion views every day, and is the third most visited website on the internet. Old Spice recently ran a very engaging ad campaign on YouTube. This network doesn’t seem to change much, but when they do it is in small ways designed specifically for a better user experience. Layouts are constantly tweaked, and video views are tracked for each user so as to give better suggestions for future visits.

    So right now, there is probably one question on your mind:

    Why Should I Care?

    Every business owner and web developer should be paying close attention here. Social networks are a great way to interact with your customers. Your brand can potentially reach the eyes of millions of consumers via social networks. Companies can create custom apps and pages in Facebook to engage customers, while they can post promotional updates in real-time to Twitter. With the huge potential reach of social networks, you can be sure that if your basic marketing strategy is good, the brand will be shared and re-tweeted and +1’d all over the internet.

    “Fantastic!” I hear you say. “So all I have to do is set up some social networking functionality, and the customers will just roll in!”

    Not so fast. There is so much more to this picture. Keep an eye out for my next post, which will an overview of marketing in social networks versus email lists.

    Need help integrating social networking in to your website? We here at New Signature can help with that! Contact us for more information.

  • Windows Azure Active Directory

    It’s been at the beating heart of all the latest Microsoft Online services, from Office 365, to Windows Intune, to Dynamics CRM Online. What is this glue that ties the Microsoft Public Cloud togther? Windows Azure Active Directory. With the latest release, Microsoft has finally taken the covers off to allow administrators and developers access behind the scenes to one of the most foundational technologies for the next several years.

    Currently, the web-based user interface is as clean and minimalist as many of the new Azure management portals, as seen in the image to the right. Within seconds, it’s easy for an administrator to create a series of users, groups, and even to setup directory sync to enable an existing Active Directory solution to connect into Microsoft’s Public Cloud solution. Steps for advanced configurations, such as leveraging Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS) are also a click away to enable single sign on.

    Because the service is running within Microsoft’s data centers, the obvious question many may ask is this: can Azure Active Directory be used to extend, rather than federate with an existing Active Directory implementation? In the current model, the best way to leverage this functionality would be to take advantage of Azure Infrastructure as a Service (Azure IaaS), and to spin up a fully functional Azure virtual machine, running full-blown Active Directory, within the Azure data centers. There are many use case scenarios for such a service, and one of the more popular architectural reference designs we’ve seen customers asking for is a system in which several Windows Server Active Directory domain controllers are hosted within Azure IaaS, and linked via ADFS, back to Azure Active Directory, to reduce single points of failure and allow organizations to shift their entire identity management infrastructure into a secure hosted facility run by Microsoft, and adhering to international standards and compliance regulations that most organizations cannot afford to implement within their own datacenters.

    Beyond the implementation scenarios, Azure Active Directory also offers rich scripting and integration with Microsoft’s own PowerShell automation language, allowing system administrators full control into the components running within Azure AD. With just a few lines of code, I was able to authenticate into Azure AD, enumerate a list of groups, and then move particular staff into different groups. Here’s a quick sample of those lines of code:

    PS C:\Users\000026> $yutaniad = get-credential

    PS C:\Users\000026> Connect-MsolService -Credential $yutaniad

    PS C:\Users\000026> $goid = Get-MsolGroup

    PS C:\Users\000026> $goid

    ObjectId DisplayName GroupType Description

    ——– ———– ——— ———–

    6d042f36-9e1a-4928-97a3-20809f929568 Synthetics Security Synthetic Humans

    PS C:\Users\000026> $goid.ObjectId

    Guid

    —-

    6d042f36-9e1a-4928-97a3-20809f929568

    PS C:\Users\000026> Get-MsolGroupMember -GroupObjectId $goid.ObjectId

    GroupMemberType EmailAddress DisplayName

    ————— ———— ———–

    User Bishop@yutani.onmicrosoft.com Bishop

    PS C:\Users\000026> Get-MsolUser

    UserPrincipalName DisplayName isLicensed

    —————– ———– ———-

    admin@yutani.onmicrosoft.com Yutani False

    Bishop@yutani.onmicrosoft.com Bishop False

    Ash@yutani.onmicrosoft.com Ash False

    PS C:\Users\000026> $ash = Get-MsolUser -UserPrincipalName ash@yutani.onmicrosoft.com

    PS C:\Users\000026> $ash.ObjectId

    Guid

    —-

    df3dbce3-edd0-4c46-9acb-424e2a1ce85a

    PS C:\Users\000026> Add-MsolGroupMember -GroupObjectId $goid.ObjectId -GroupMemberObjectId $ash.ObjectId

    PS C:\Users\000026> Get-MsolGroupMember -GroupObjectId $goid.ObjectID

    GroupMemberType EmailAddress DisplayName

    ————— ———— ———–

    User Bishop@yutani.onmicrosoft.com Bishop

    User Ash@yutani.onmicrosoft.com Ash

     

    As you can see, it’s hardly onerous, requiring only that for particular objects, one must grab the ObjectID parameter to manipulate them. The ability to move staff into groups isn’t the only function: you can also get Role Groups and move particular staff between them, allowing an administrator to pre-stage admin accounts. Of course, these tasks can also be performed in the GUI, letting your staff who aren’t PowerShell savvy the ability to manipulate their environment, as seen on the right.

    Whether using the powershell command or the GUI, Azure Active Directory allows organizations to have a safe, secure identity management solution, available with the press of a few buttons, anywhere that the internet can reach. It’s truly a game-changing addition the suite of services found within Windows Azure, and if you’re interested in seeing a demonstration, please reach out to us at New Signature to let us show you how it can help your organization.