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ExchangeDefender Phishing Firewall goes online tomorrow, and we wanted to explain our policy and our implementation of the URL rewriting/redirection because it is a departure from a traditional IT hierarchy where organizational policies override group and user requirements.

Our goal with ExchangeDefender PF is to provide a level of alert and notification to our clients that is designed to provide additional information about the link they clicked on. As we scale this service out, that will be it’s purpose: Be aware of what you clicked on, and prepare for what you’re about to see. Phishing, and spear phishing in particular, is designed to be a convincing fraudulent identity theft of an organization you know and trust (your bank, your coworker, your vendors) and our goal is to help you discern if something is valid or not.

Our whitelist/blacklist implementation is in line with “we inform, you decide” mantra, as we cannot outright block you from actually going to the dangerous site. That is the responsibility of your IT department, your network management, and your organization.

How do Whitelists and Blacklists work?

In ExchangeDefender we have 4 sets of whitelists and blacklists: user, domain/organization, service provider, and global. Our global lists are automatically populated for our service providers and when they protect a domain with ExchangeDefender, those entries are applied on the domain/organization level, and further down to the end user. As we continue to monitor, manage, and get additional intelligence about dangerous sites we will continue to curate these lists as a part of the service.

For example, we might find out that *.vlad8150.microsoft.net is a Microsoft Azure instance that is attempting to spread malware. We will promptly add it to our global blacklist and that site will now be blacklisted for every ExchangeDefender user. When they click on a link that leads them to that domain, they will see the ExchangeDefender PF notice with the URL in red. User will then have the option of ignoring it and proceeding to the site, or adding it to their whitelist. If they whitelist a domain/web site, any future requests will bypass ExchangeDefender PF web site and automatically redirect to the target URL.

The hierarchy of whitelists/blacklists is as follows, whichever rule is defined on the top is the one that is applied to the user when they click on a link.


But why, why not implement policies like NTFS, access list, or any other policy in which global deny rules override end user policies?

Simply put: Traffic blocking should be done on the network level. We are simply the alert service, we will advise you when we see something dangerous and it’s up to you to discern if the site is trustworthy or not. We believe that this implementation will cause the least amount of interruption to the day-to-day use.

That said, we have been working on additional controls and policies to help our service providers and CIO’s better enforce company security policies. As with everything, security policies must be implemented in layers – and dangerous content should be enforced in accordance to business requirements. This means that if your clients should not be downloading .exe files, the network firewall should be doing that. We don’t have the means to do that as an email service – users can right click on the email, put it in notepad, remove https://r.xdref.com/url= from the link and go straight to the web site.

How do we manage them?

ExchangeDefender PF whitelists are available at every level of ExchangeDefender. Simply add a site to either a whitelist and blacklist and ExchangeDefender will automatically propagate your rules down through the entire organization. Users will have the ability to add / block sites from the ExchangeDefender PF in real-time and their settings will be preserved in their account only.

Service Provider Level
Domain Level

P.S. Officially the service goes online tomorrow, unofficially it’s been in place for months we just haven’t rewritten a single URL except for the emails you received from us – we have worked very hard on the implementation and we don’t expect major problems but will have staff on hand around the clock to address any issues immediately. Spear phishing is an epidemic, over 90% of compromises start with a link in an email. We will handle any glitches, bugs, and issues as fast as possible and have full confidence that having an alerting service with potential problems is far more useful than having nothing and leaving clients exposed.

ExchangeDefender Phishing Firewall officially launches tomorrow, June 12th, 2019.

Every service provider and every user will be contacted with the information about the new service. Since some users may see the redirection site, we wanted to assure everyone was aware of the service, how it works, what it looks like, and what it does to protect them.

Note from Vlad: We hate changing the user experience. We understand that every time we change anything there will be an issue, folks don’t like having their cheese moved, I get it. However, this isn’t a futile exercise in self-promotion, up-selling, cross-selling, or useless noise: we are doing this to eliminate the problem that 90% of security compromises are triggered by. This implementation comes down to ethics: If I know that something is 90% likely to hurt you, and I have the means to protect you, and I choose to let you get hurt anyhow… why would you ever do business with me or ExchangeDefender? I understand we may lose some business over this, and I am willing to make less money in order to do a better job for people that trust us with their business.

Here are the answers to some questions we’ve already received:

Q: Does ExchangeDefender PF work on every device I receive email on?
A: Yes, ExchangeDefender PF automatically encodes all links sent through our system in HTML messages and redirects them through ExchangeDefender PF. This means that the link will be secured no matter which device you use to access your ExchangeDefender-protected email.

Q: Does ExchangeDefender PF protect me from non-email links?
A: ExchangeDefender only protects you from email links in HTML messages sent to your email address through ExchangeDefender. If your mail client downloads mail from 3rd party external services (Yahoo,
AOL, Microsoft, Google) that are not protected by ExchangeDefender, you will not be protected.

Q: Is ExchangeDefender PF available in ExchangeDefender Essentials?
A: ExchangeDefender PF is only available in ExchangeDefender Pro and ExchangeDefender Enterprise.

Q: Is there any way to turn off URL encoding for specific domains or users?
A: ExchangeDefender encodes the URL at the edge, as the message is being scanned for malware and other phishing forgeries.

Q: I don’t want to see the ExchangeDefender PF warning/site, can I bypass it?
A: Yes, you can simply whitelist the domain and ExchangeDefender PF will not be displayed. Whitelisted domains are automatically displayed without ExchangeDefender PF. ExchangeDefender maintains a list of known good/legitimate domains so the likelihood that you will see a dangerous (or questionable) website is very low. Additionally, your IT department or IT Solution Provider has access to organization-wide whitelist and can bypass ExchangeDefender PF to any site you need to visit.

Q: Is it possible to still get hacked/compromised even with ExchangeDefender PF?
A: ExchangeDefender PF simply applies your organizational policies to traffic and gives you additional information about the link you have clicked on. If you ignore warnings, or if you proceed to a dangerous site as a part of your organizational policy, you can still be compromised.

Q: Is there anything special I need to do on my network in order to support the redirection?
A: No, you should not have to make any modifications to your clients network in order to support this. If you do something exceptionally unusual (we would have contacted you separately, DoD requirement) and only have an allow access policy while blacklisting the rest of the Internet, redirection happens through https://r.xdref.com domain that needs to be in the safe sites.

Q: Can I turn URL rewriting off?
A: The ExchangeDefender URL rewriting code is implemented at the edge without regard for domain/user policies. In order not to introduce delays in processing, this is a global rule. If you are concerned about your clients seeing the redirection screen, whitelist the domains they typically go through. If we get complaints about it, we will look at deploying this policy further down in the scanning path which will slow down processing times for domains that opt out of the service and that feature is already in the development queue.

Q: Can I see the copy of the messages you are sending users, so I know what to expect?
A: Here is a copy of the message in PDF and Outlook format.

Q: Will the links stay live for X number of years for compliance purposes?
A: There is no expiration date for the links, as clearly stated in our Privacy Policy we do not collect or archive the links that you click on or that we encode, they will stay in your downloaded / cached / archived messages. While many regulatory requirements have message retention policy expectations, those requirements do not extend to external content, ie: you have to archive the message, you DO NOT have to archive the documents that are externally linked on third party sites. Either way, messages will continue to redirect as long as we stay in business.

Q: Can I get a list of good/bad sites for my compliance records?
A: Please contact our compliance officer at compliance@ownwebnow.com with the letter from your regulatory body and we will do our best to provide this confidential information ASAP.

ExchangeDefender is happy to announce the enhancement of it’s Service Provider branding options. ExchangeDefender is primarily distributed and managed by other IT Solution Providers (MSPs, VARs, IT professionals) and we have exposed as much of our infrastructure as possible for white label functionality. Starting this week, we are also encouraging you to brand messages sent by ExchangeDefender:

ExchangeDefender Email Notice Branding is available at https://admin.exchangedefender.com under your Service Provider login. Click on Configuration > Branding and you will see a section that will allow you to provide any content you’d like us to include on messages sent to users automatically.

We encourage all of our Service Providers to provide at least their basic contact information and a note in this section. While we are always concerned with our partners brand, system notices and urgent security issues may at times require us to contact the user directly. In the event that we do that, it’s helpful for the client to see your information at the top of the message instead of the bottom.

We’re also working hard on delivering additional features to ExchangeDefender sites, so if you have any suggestions or wishes, please let us know by hitting the feedback link anywhere in our system.

P.S. This feature was discussed in detail during our webinar on June 6th, 2019. Watch the webinar here: https://www.exchangedefender.com/media/XDNewPhishing.mp4

ExchangeDefender is thrilled to announce the new Phishing Firewall in the cloud, going into full production – Wednesday, June 12th, 2019 for all ExchangeDefender Pro and Enterprise protected clients. The old way of highlighting, underlining, inserting warnings and so on will be removed from the service at the same time because it lacks the ability to protect clients in real-time.

The ExchangeDefender Phishing Firewall (EPF) is a real-time, active pishing protection. As ExchangeDefender processes inbound mail, it will rewrite every link to proxy it through EPF when user clicks on it. If the site is safe, the user will be automatically redirected to it and will not even know that EPF is in the way. If the site is not on the safe list, end users will see this warning:

They will have the option to just click on the link and proceed, add to whitelist (at which point they are automatically allowed through in the future) or add to blacklist.

Because of the way phishing works, and all identity theft or forgery in general, it is impossible to secure email messages in transit without making annoying modifications to the message that often distort the look and feel of it. Majority of those links are in the 95% of the mail that passes through ExchangeDefender as SPAM/SureSPAM, meaning that they would never even be seen by anyone. By moving the Phishing Firewall to the cloud, we can now secure every device and provide additional metrics and advisory on top of it to protect our clients from 0-day exploits.

This feature is provided to our clients free of charge and replaces expensive “security awareness training” solutions that users typically hate and do nothing to adequately secure the client. With Exchange Phishing Firewall we enable our clients to create custom policies, maintain whitelists, blacklists, get enterprise reporting and more. It further allows us to go one step beyond – in the upcoming releases we’ll offer the ability to display a screenshot of the site as well as link intelligence data (How long ago was the domain name registered? Where is the IP you’re about to go to located? Is the domain a close spelling error of a widely recognized site? Is the forged site just a cloud hosted Google, Microsoft or Amazon cloud service instance that is holding or redirecting you to another more dangerous location?)

If you’re currently on ExchangeDefender Essentials, we encourage you to schedule a demo with our team to check this feature out as it’s significantly cheaper than antivirus or “security training” solutions and will do a far better job. If you’re on ExchangeDefender Pro or ExchangeDefender Enterprise, you will get this feature free of charge. On Monday, June 10 we will send an email notification announcing this launch to our partners, MSPs, and Service Providers. On Tuesday, June 11 we will send an email notification to end users. Finally, on Wednesday, June 12th we will go live with the service and hope to minimize the annoyance of phishing once and for all. Email is the single most popular attack vector, with 91% of the compromises starting through a phishing attack, and we look forward to protecting all our users even better.

This Thursday, June 6th, we will be announcing a major overhaul in the way we deal with spear phishing SPAM. No, it’s not a mind-blowing patent-pending stroke-of-genius sort of stuff, it’s much closer to what your parents told you growing up: Don’t get into a car with strangers don’t click on links or open attachments from strangers.

In a way, ExchangeDefender has had protection from this issue for years. If you had a decent IT Solution Provider implementing ExchangeDefender for you, they would have setup your SPF record and eliminated this issue – but many don’t. Or they would have turned on ExchangeDefender protection where all messages spoofing/forging your domain would automatically get junked – almost none of them do. Which is why ExchangeDefender as a service has become less of an IT tool and more of an end user suite of services to get stuff done.

When features like this are left disabled “because they might become support issues” it becomes really difficult to secure users. But I get it, IT companies have a business to run too, which is why we’ve really stepped up our support efforts and are going to be there to help folks get things done without becoming an additional problem for the IT department. Doing so has really made us rethink how we implement features and how the service behavior needs to speak the same language as the end user. Which brings me to phishing beyond forgeries.

Can you spot a stranger?One of the new phishing protection features in ExchangeDefender will allow you to flag messages that are coming from outside of your organization. You will have two settings – to modify the subject and to modify the header of the message so when you look inside of your mailbox you’ll know what came from a stranger right away. Try it:

Even from the message listing you’ll know which messages shouldn’t even be opened. But suppose you ignored even that – you can set another warning, printed inside of the message, giving the user even more of an instruction of what to do.

Warning: Message was sent from outside of the organization. Do not click on links or open attachments if you don’t recognize the sender.

Far from subtle. And it has to be – because most people check email quickly, between tasks, or are simply interrupted by it. ExchangeDefender has your back, and we’ll make sure we alert you to possible issues before they become problems. Which we hope everyone will be aboard with.

Please join us, June 6th at Noon, for our NEW webinar featuring ExchangeDefender’s Phishing and Spoofing protection, plus see what’s new with Encryption, WFS, and Wrkoo!

It’s no secret to anyone that’s been paying attention to this space that ExchangeDefender is getting a lot more user friendly – both in service and in design. We’ve been improving the way we communicate with our clients and our partners through efforts like embedded help, in-line training and support, real-time chat support, self service portals, NOC sites, etc

Next week we will launch a major feature in ExchangeDefender. It will address one of the biggest pain points in email security and it will give users a ton of control that will help close what is currently the biggest exploitable hole in email security: spear phishing. This will require us to give users a heads up about what they are about to see and training/documentation about how to use it to the fullest.

Which is where we have to make sure our partners are a part of the process too. During the webinar we’ll go over the details about how to insert branding and a message/note at https://admin.exchangedefender.com. This is generally not a big issue, since almost all of our partners would rather have us do more work for them than less, but if you’re really sensitive about this topic make sure you’re in the webinar to see what options you have and how to best leverage them for your own business purposes.

Looking forward to showing you all of this, and the redesigned ExchangeDefender Encryption product on June 6th at noon. https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/198414968804117507


ExchangeDefender is opening a wider beta test of our whitelisting functionality, which allows IT Solution Providers to whitelist sender mail servers that have broken DNS (missing PTR, mismatched A/PTR records) and poor sender reputation (hosts listed on multiple RBL blacklists).

If you have a sender you would like to whitelist against these essential network tests, please open a ticket at support.ownwebnow.com with subject “Whitelist PTR/RBL: IP Address” and provide as much information in the ticket so we can accommodate this specific request. Only hard non-negotiable rejections to whitelist will be for unknown address space and dialup/consumer cable IP addresses (because due to their nature those are typically dynamically assigned address spaces that shouldn’t be relaying mail at all, they should be using their ISP mail server provided smarthost)

Requests will be reviewed and either approved (and enrolled) or rejected within 24 hours by our CSO.

Background: Inability to previously whitelist broken DNS and dynamic IP address space is rooted in our mission statement. We are here, beyond everything else, to help secure the email. We know our partners, IT Solution Providers, VARs, MSPs, etc do not have the skill set, the time to properly research underlying issues, enough data and statistical models to evaluate sender IP reputation, or even the incentive to discern how big of a security threat and compromise a specific IP address with broken DNS or poor reputation may pose to your client.

In fact, you pay us to worry about those things and keep your clients secure. But, sometimes clients like to think they know better than their technology experts, generally accepted security standards on the Internet, and ExchangeDefender. And the client is always right. But, when they get infected attachments, broadcast storm, password dumps, or other security compromises because they insisted on lowering their security – then ExchangeDefender is on the hook for securing them. And we don’t get to say “told you so” nor do we have any rapid means to fix the issue.

Since my retirement, all of those hard-line policies designed to keep clients safe beyond whatever “specific business case requirement” they may have, are slowly going away. Good news for the client, good news for the partners. Good news for us, because going forward we will start providing Email Security Engineering services – so when you get a security compromise or an usual issue and you’ve asked us to compromise your security – we will be able to address the issue on your behalf.

I choose to look at this as a positive – we will help our clients meet their business needs and get the mail they desperately need – and if something breaks we will be there to help assist with the cleanup (for a fee, of course). This, among many other service related things, is just the part of the ExchangeDefender being more responsive and service oriented when it comes to our clients demands as opposed to our expert opinion as a security policy.

Sign up for the Webinar, click here!

As promised in the last webinar, we’re moving as aggressively as possible to make sure our partners have as flexible of a tool as we can imagine to communicate with clients in the event of an IT catastrophe. Or, in our case, to further increase transparency and collaboration with all our ExchangeDefender service providers so you can get better insight into our network and when we’re dealing with a lot. That said, I believe that the product/service is now production ready and we’ve already tied it up in our ExchangeDefender Enterprise product so you’ll know as we know. 🙂

Remember, ExchangeDefender’s AnythingDown.com , or https://yourserviceproviderid.xdnoc.com – is your own brandable, real-time alert system that covers ExchangeDefender managed resources as well as your own custom defined events. 

Let’s go on a little tour, shall we?

First, here is the nearly-final look of the site. It will of course feature your logo, your contact information, and your own services but you can see that there is now a sign in section as well as nested posts – so when something is updated it’s done so in-line and can be read normally (as opposed to just seeing the latest update and not knowing what it’s about at all).

Sign in screen is for you, just provide your service provider ID and password and you’re in your own portal.

As for your users that want real-time updates via email or RSS/blog, we have a signup page (I know, I know, it’s idiotic but GDPR and EU have put this obstacle in place where we need contracts and disclosures about signing up for an email list).

Once you’ve signed in as the service provider, you will have access to manage and create new service advisories. Just click on the Add New button in the upper right corner. If you’re managing a larger NOC and have a ton of fires going on (you’re among friends, #respect) you can also search current open advisories and make sure you update the correct one.

New advisory posting is pretty flexible and gives you actually quite a bit of power to include images, links, and other multimedia. As network geeks we’re used to plain text, ASCII, 80 columns across black on white kind of alerts but in the 21st century with lots of things going on sometimes you can throw out a quick alert with a screenshot of what’s going on rather than trying to document every single detail (for example, a cloud of daily network/ISP outages as an explanation why things are moving slow or getting delayed or buffered)

And of course, you can update every service advisory.

As mentioned last month, ExchangeDefender XDNOC </a> service is all about helping us work better with the people that pay us to help protect their networks and users. I have some rather personal thoughts on that subject, which will be a matter of another post. However, when you design software and when you serve as the gatekeeper, your primary responsibility to the people you’re protecting and waking up to keep safe every day is not just to keep things going but also to keep everyone aware of what is going on to improve things – because hackers don’t take days off.

When things malfunction at other companies, they blame vendors and equipment. When things malfunction at ExchangeDefender, we build products and services so we never have to deal with the problem in the first place. As a result of a DDoS attack last month, I am happy to introduce you to our new service that will improve one area in which we undoubtedly suck the most: communication.

Say hello to AnythingDown.com:



It’s an offsite NOC alert site that’s branded for you.

At ExchangeDefender we do a pretty amazing job communicating and working with our partners, it’s actually our #1 selling point, that you can come to our offices and data centers, you can work with our team and get things done. But when something breaks, that same business friendliness and accessibility is an achilles heel – clients swamp the phones demanding to be briefed on every detail, “Friends of Vlad” call every staff cell phone they can find, the staff that is there to help/coordinate/assist in technical work cannot efficiently correspond and inform every user particularly when things go down and everything isn’t working as it should.

This is where ExchangeDefender XDNOC (aka “AnythingDown.com”) helps.

It’s off site. Doesn’t rely on our networks at all.
It’s on it’s own name space. Not dependent on our DNS/registrars.
It’s branded. Your name, your image, your message.

That last bit is pretty important – we realize that our larger clients have many employees that have never heard of ExchangeDefender, ditto for our partners that don’t want to reveal ExchangeDefender is behind their branded email offering.

Not to worry, your site is already branded and you have your own Service Provider XDNOC: https://<yourExchangeDefenderSPId>.xdnoc.com

It’s yours, it’s yours for free, and we’re just getting started. For the next week or two, the site will host ExchangeDefender content only as we add in the mechanism for RSS subscriptions, linking, SMS/txt alerts, and email notifications.

But this is just the beginning. As an ExchangeDefender subscriber you will have access to this site to tweak it as necessary and to add your own NOC alerts. That’s right, we’re not just building this for ourselves, we see it as a role of central accountability for everyone that relies on our services and all the services you use to deliver a solution. We all want to keep the client happy and informed and this will help out a lot towards that goal.

Our expectation is also to have our proprietary monitoring and alert feeds published on AnythingDown.com going forward so you can see or anticipate the issues that our infrastructure is seeing even before there are tickets or human confirmation of the problems. For many that will be way, way, way too much data but we feel it’s better to present it and get more eyes on it than hide it and hope it’s handled through automation or our staff activity.

In closing, I hope this helps. I know outages and service interruptions or performance issues or networking issues all suck, nobody wants them. They come with the territory and everyone knows it – so it’s not about technology malfunctions, it’s about your communication about the IT work that is done to make it as flawless as possible. We thank you for your business and for your continued support of ExchangeDefender that makes stuff like this possible.

Many IT professionals have gone through a lifecycle infrastructure upgrade – the all important cycle of improving the infrastructure as the vendors push down new features with ever increasing resource demands. We’ve been doing that since 1997. One thing that has changed in the past 20 years is the scope and magnitude of both attacks and the network demands to manage them all. We’ve done an excellent job keeping up with them all, with our last major outage (that lasted nearly 4 hours) back in 2011. We learned a lot that day – and rolled it up into our products and services that many of our partners have experienced. These days, with the cloud services, the game is completely different.

I hope you have a moment to join our WEBINAR next Thursday, April 11th, at noon

Register here: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/5700720797827651073 

It won’t be the usual rah-rah new features new stuff show. I will speak candidly about how we’ve managed to overcome and triumph in the “Cyber” security game and how we’re still always one step behind whatever 0-day attack vector comes down. I’ll be discussing (somewhat intimate) details about the performance issues, DNS issues, DC issues, subscription issues, 3rd party IP issues, and how all of these have become both an IT management issue and customer service nightmare. I truly hope you join us. I know your time is valuable and schedules get tight so if you can’t make it, the recording will be posted in our portal as usual.

What we learned last week – for the millionth time – is that communication in cases of issues is paramount. When things appear to go down, people panic. They require not just information but reassurance, confidence, and a plan required to address issues. For smaller companies, that’s a matter of just falling back to a cell phone – for larger ones (if it’s not already you, it definitely is something to consider for your clients) that is simply not an option and the volume of activity will easily and quickly overwhelm you. I used to see it every day – when issues come up for our partners, their clients call us.

We’ve made an overwhelming investment – not just in technology and features but manpower – that has fueled our growth for the last few years. I want to share, personally, exactly how we operate and how we’ve been able to both prioritize and execute some of the more impressive infrastructure enhancements and how they are going to be here to serve you for years when something happens.

And then I hope to offer you the same – as a token of our appreciation for your business and your loyalty through the years. Pretty excited, I hope you can join us.

Sincerely,
Vlad Mazek
CEO
ExchangeDefender

 

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