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Apr 23

The latest version of Ubuntu (Jaunty Jackelope) has hit the streets – I’ve been using it for a few weeks now and it is simply more of the same great stuff.   The only difference I’ve really noticed is boot speed and I didn’t have to download and install OpenOffice 3.  So far it has been a breeze to install and run on both a VM and physical hardware.  Still fast, secure and incredibly easy to use.  Very nice.  That being said, for full production servers, I still prefer RHEL for Enterprise Server applications.  With the addition of some VM technology, Ubuntu may become a contender in that arena soon.  Maybe 10?

However, the most exciting part of the release wasn’t the Desktop or Server Editions, but rather the Netbook Remix.   After getting to use it a bit on a friend’s netbook, there really is no real competition for it.  Vista is slow and bloated on a Netbook, CE & XP just seem clunky and very, very dated – And out of all the Linux distros, Ubuntu Netbook Remix is by far the most polished and complete out of the box.  It is really the current gold standard for Netbook OS’s.

Jan 17

LanguageHave you ever run into this situation: You are happily scripting out or designing a new capability, performing maintenance, or providing support. Perhaps you are eating lunch, or are home in bed, soundly sleeping at 3:00AM.

And then it happens.

Something broke somewhere, and it is database-related. No, it is not something you’ve built, maintained, or even seen - It is something from another business area, and their help is not available.

When you arrive, you are greeted by the ever-present group of concerned stake-holders, and a terminal. Will you staunch the flow of money they may be hemorrhaging? Will you bring back the data they may have lost? Will you be able to restore their system to service?

What you don’t want to do is flounder because they don’t have your favorite management software, your preferred shell, or your favorite OS.

Learn to speak the native languages!

There are 3 skill sets every good data storage professional should keep current at all times, outside of their core RDBMS interface languages:

  • Bourne Shell (bash)
  • vi (Unix/inux text editor)
  • CMD Shell

I guarantee that any Linux system you log into will have bash and vi. I personally prefer the korn shell for navigation, and the c shell for scripting - but the bourne shell is on every system. Same with vi - Except, I really prefer vi to anything else.

This means no matter what Linux or Unix server you are presented with, you can become effective immediately.

I’ve included Microsoft Windows command shell is included because it fits in with a parallel reason for learning the native language - you can proactively increase survivability in your data storage and management systems by using the tools and utilities you KNOW will be available - Even if libraries are unavailable, even if interpreters and frameworks are lost/broken.

If the operating system can boot, you can be sure the bourn shell or CMD shell is available for use.

Knowing that, you should consider scripting the most vital system functions using the available shell script, and initiating them with the operating system’s integral scheduling tool (crontab/Scheduled Tasks). This way you can ensure that if the OS is up, your vital scripts will be executed!

And who doesn’t want that?

Jul 15

Safe and Secure

It is time once again to eliminate bugs and increase the security posture of our Oracle databases. The Advisories and Risk Matrices can be found on Oracle Technology Network. The full availability information is found at Oracle Metalink under DocID# 579278.1

Points of Interest:

  • This CPU contains 11 security fixes for the Oracle Enterprise Database Server
  • None of the security holes for the Enterprise DBMS are remotely exploitable without authentication
  • Oracle Application Express requires no security fixes (This product continues to impress me)
  • ALL Windows platforms running Oracle Enterprise DB Server v10.2.0.3 will have to wait until 22-July-2008 for their CPU
  • Support for Solaris 32-bit and Oracle Enterprise DB Server v10.2.0.2 seems to have been pulled! There’s no CPU for these, and none planned for the October 2008 Critical Product Update as per Oracle Metalink DocID# 579278.1.

Don’t forget to read the patch notes, test thoroughly, and check to make sure you’re using the proper version of OPatch!

Next CPU: 14-October2008

Brian Fedorko

Jun 08

LockVarious organizations provide various security guidelines to aid us in hardening our databases. They are an EXCELLENT tool to this end and I cannot recommend enough reading and research in this regard. However, blindly implementing the guidelines is not a security panacea!!! It takes a knowledgeable DBA teaming with insightful IA personnel to determine if the guidelines make sense in your situation. I’ll illustrate this with an example:

How to Follow DoD/DISA Database Security Guidelines to Make Your Oracle Database Vulnerable to a Denial of Service (DoS) Attack

Necessary items:

Step 1. Apply the latest STIG Guidence to your database – Especially Item DG0073 in Section 3.3.10 – “The DBA will configure the DBMS to lock database accounts after 3 consecutive unsuccessful connection attempts within a specified period of time.”

Step 2. Mine Pete Finnigan’s list of common and default Oracle userids, and put them in a text file. Feel free to add any common database connection userids for popular applications.

Step 3. Use a command to iteratively feed the user ids from your file to sqlplus with a bogus password (MSWindows):

C:\>for /f "tokens=*" %I in (test.txt) do @sqlplus -L %I/NotThePassword@SID

Step 4. Repeat. After the 3rd incorrect password, the database account will be locked, and the application cannot connect until the account is unlocked by a privileged user.

Granted, if all the other items listed in the STIG are implemented, this will be extremely difficult (if not impossible) to accomplish from the outside, but it is easily accomplished by anyone who has access to the Oracle client (or JDBC, ODBC etc.) on any of the application servers – providing opportunity to an insider who doesn’t necessarily have database access.

This isn’t a specific Oracle issue, or an OS issue - the guidance is general enough to cover any DB/OS combination. The DISA/DoD STIG isn’t solely to blame either. The same guidance can be gained here, here, etc.

The larger issue, effectively securing your database, requires a bit of paradigm shift, a willingness to focus on the goal, (rather than the method) and a lot of teamwork and trust between DBAs and IA professionals.

The 3rd Alternative

When creating your roles, consider the automated, application users in your database and do not set a limit for unsuccessful login attempts on those accounts. To keep brute force and dictionary attacks at bay, you’ll need to ensure the application’s database account passwords are long and strong. Putting your database behind a stout firewall is also key - Isolating your database server from the internet altogether is really the best idea. Using the guidelines that are appropriate for your environment in of the Database STIGs will further harden your installation.

After that, your best defense is malicious activity detection via auditing:

select  USERNAME, count(USERNAME)
where RETURNCODE=1017
and TIMESTAMP > CURRENT_DATE - interval '3' day
group by USERNAME;

If you set up auditing, and use something like the SQL above to provide the raw instrumentation data for your database, you’ll be able to trend and perform velocity checks to sound the alarm when trouble may be in progress.

And that strengthens our security posture.

Brian Fedorko

Jun 05

He just makes it look easy5 years ago, if you asked the CIO of any Fortune 500 company what they were doing to reduce their carbon footprint, or make their data centers more ‘green‘ or eco-friendly, the answers you recieve may range from strange looks, to a ‘of course we care about things and stuff‘-styled answer. But today, I challenge anyone to ask the same question to the same people and find one CIO who isn’t developing or executing a plan to make their IT more green.

So what happened? Was it a highly-contagious attack of conscience? A wide swing to the left in corporate culture?

Perhaps they may be contributing factors, but large companies are embracing green as the new way to do business because green is the color of money. And embracing eco-friendly practices translates directly into cost savings (which translates directly into profit!). Not only that but, it also impacts scalability, growth potential, and disaster recovery! Many companies with a large IT footprint are seeing savings on the level of 6-7 digits per year!

So how do we get greener? By using what we have more efficiently.

One of the biggest keys is virtualization. If we have a system that leverages software pieces running on SUSE Linux, MSWindows, and RedHat, we would have to have 3 different sets of hardware in the server room. To make it more efficient, we’d have to rewrite these pieces to reside on the same box (costly, sometimes impossible when using COTS), or use an emulator (SLOW).

With virtualization software, such as the popular & powerful VMWare ESX Server, we can Virtualize all of those servers and put them on the same piece of hardware! If those applications are not very resource intensive, we can leverage that underutilized overhead and virtualize several other servers, and utilize that very same hardware!

By embracing this process, we will save the cost of:

  • additional hardware
  • additional power to supply that hardware
  • cabling to the hardware
  • network infrastructure
  • additional cooling
  • additional DR support equipment
  • additional expansion area
  • maintenance contracts

Being able to reduce your hardware footprint by 25%-80% has an incredible impact on overall savings. It also doesn’t take into consideration the savings garnered by using the VMs to clone production Virtual Machines for development, testing, benchmarking, and debugging. Or the ease of maintenence provided by hot-swappable blade servers. Or the ease of test promotion via cloning of Virtual Machines. Or… Well, you get the idea.

It Isn’t Easy Being Green, but the payoff is worth it.

More to come…

Brian Fedorko