Spectre and Meltdown Attacks Against OpenSSL

The OpenSSL Technical Committee (OTC) was recently made aware of several potential attacks against the OpenSSL libraries which might permit information leakage via the Spectre attack.1 Although there are currently no known exploits for the Spectre attacks identified, it is plausible that some of them might be exploitable.

Local side channel attacks, such as these, are outside the scope of our security policy, however the project generally does introduce mitigations when they are discovered. In this case, the OTC has decided that these attacks will not be mitigated by changes to the OpenSSL code base. The full reasoning behind this is given below.

The Spectre attack vector, while applicable everywhere, is most important for code running in enclaves because it bypasses the protections offered. Example enclaves include, but are not limited to:

The reasoning behind the OTC’s decision to not introduce mitigations for these attacks is multifold:

  • Such issues do not fall under the scope of our defined security policy. Even though we often apply mitigations for such issues we do not mandate that they are addressed.
  • Maintaining code with mitigations in place would be significantly more difficult. Most potentially vulnerable code is extremely non-obvious, even to experienced security programmers. It would thus be quite easy to introduce new attack vectors or fix existing ones unknowingly. The mitigations themselves obscure the code which increases the maintenance burden.
  • Automated verification and testing of the attacks is necessary but not sufficient. We do not have automated detection for this family of vulnerabilities and if we did, it is likely that variations would escape detection. This does not mean we won’t add automated checking for issues like this at some stage.
  • These problems are fundamentally a bug in the hardware. The software running on the hardware cannot be expected to mitigate all such attacks. Some of the in-CPU caches are completely opaque to software and cannot be easily flushed, making software mitigation quixotic. However, the OTC recognises that fixing hardware is difficult and in some cases impossible.
  • Some kernels and compilers can provide partial mitigation. Specifically, several common compilers have introduced code generation options addressing some of these classes of vulnerability:
    • GCC has the -mindirect-branch-mfunction-return and -mindirect-branch-register options
    • LLVM has the -mretpoline option
    • MSVC has the /Qspectre option

  1. Nicholas Mosier, Hanna Lachnitt, Hamed Nemati, and Caroline Trippel, “Axiomatic Hardware-Software Contracts for Security,” in Proceedings of the 49th ACM/IEEE International Symposium on Computer Architecture (ISCA), 2022.

Posted by OpenSSL Technical Committee May 13th, 2022 12:00 am

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Creating the Perfect Homelab for VMware Admins

Working in infrastructure has been a blast since I went down that route many years ago. One of the most enjoyable things in this line of work is learning about cool tech and playing around with it in a VMware homelab project for instance. Running a homelab involves sacrificing some of your free time and dedicating it to learning and experimenting.

Now, it is obvious that learning without a purpose is a tricky business as motivation tends to fade quite quickly. For that reason, it is best to work towards a goal and use your own hardware to conduct a VMware homelab project that will get you a certification, material to write interesting blogs, automate things in your home or follow a learning path to aim for a specific job or a different career track. When interviewing for engineering roles, companies are receptive to candidates that push the envelope to sharpen their skills and don’t fear investing time and money to get better.

This article is a bit different than usual as we, at Altaro, decided to have a bit of fun! We asked our section editors, authors, as well as third-party authors to talk about their homelabs. We set a rough structure regarding headlines to keep things consistent but we also wanted to leave freedom to the authors as VMware homelab projects are all different and serve a range of specific purposes.

Brandon Lee

In my honest opinion, it is one of the best investments in the learning and career goals I have made – a home lab. However, as the investment isn’t insignificant, why would I recommend owning and running a home lab environment? What do you use it for? What considerations should you make when purchasing equipment and servers?

Around ten years ago, I decided that having my own personal learning environment and sandbox would benefit all the projects and learning goals I had in mind. So, the home lab was born! Like many IT admins out there, my hobby and my full-time job are geeking out on technology. So, I wanted to have access at home to the same technologies, applications, and server software I use in my day job.

Why do you have a lab?

Like many, I started with a “part-time” VMware homelab project running inside VMware Workstation. So, the first hardware I purchased was a Dell Precision workstation with 32 gigs of memory. Instead of running vSphere on top of the hardware, I ran VMware Workstation. I believe this may have been before the VMUG Advantage subscription was available, or at least before I knew about it.

I would advise anyone thinking of owning and operating a home lab to start small. Running a lab environment inside VMware Workstation, Hyper-V, Virtualbox, or another solution is a great way to get a feel for the benefits of using a home lab environment. It may also be that a few VMs running inside VMware Workstation or another workstation-class hypervisor is all you need.

For my purposes, the number of workloads and technologies I wanted to play around with outgrew what I was able to do inside VMware Workstation. So, after a few years of running VMware Workstation on several other workstation-class machines, I decided to invest in actual servers. The great thing about a home lab is you are only constrained in its design by your imagination (and perhaps funds). Furthermore, unlike production infrastructure, you can redesign and repurpose along the way as you see fit. As a result, the home lab can be very fluid for your needs.

What’s your setup?

I have written quite a bit about my home lab environment, detailing hardware and software. However, I am a fan of Supermicro servers for the hardware side of things. I have found the Supermicro kits to be very stable, affordable, and many are supported on VMware’s HCL for installing vSphere, etc.


  • Sysracks 27U server enclosure


I have the following models of Supermicro servers:

  • (4) Supermicro SYS-5028D-TN4T
    • Mini tower form factor
    • (3) are in a vSAN cluster
    • (1) is used as a standalone host in other testing
  • (1) SYS-E301-9D-8CN8TP
    • Mini 1-U (actually 1.5 U) form factor
    • This host is used as another standalone host for various testing and nested labs


  • Cisco SG350-28 – Top of rack switch for 1 gig connectivity with (4) 10 gig SFP ports
  • Ubiquiti – Edgeswitch 10 Gig, TOR for Supermicro servers
  • Cisco SG300-20 – Top of rack IDF


  • VMFS datastores running on consumer-grade NVMe drives
  • vSAN datastore running on consumer-grade NVMe drives, (1) disk group per server
  • Synology Diskstation 1621xs+ – 30 TB of useable space

In terms of license requirements; I cannot stress enough how incredible the VMUG Advantage subscription is for obtaining real software licensing to run VMware solutions. It is arguably the most “bang for your buck” in terms of software you will purchase in your VMware homelab project. For around $200 (you can find coupons most of the year), you can access the full suite of VMware solutions, including vSphereNSX-TVMware HorizonvRealize AutomationvRealize Operations, etc.

The VMUG Advantage subscription is how I started with legitimate licensing in the VMware home lab environment and have maintained a VMUG Advantage subscription ever since. You can learn more about the VMUG advantage subscription here: » VMUG Advantage Membership.

I used Microsoft Evaluation center licensing for Windows, suitable for 180 days, generally long enough for most of my lab scenarios.

What software am I running?

The below list is only an excerpt, as there are too many items, applications, and solutions to list. As I mentioned, my lab is built on top of VMware solutions. In it, I have the following running currently:

  • vSphere 7.0 Update 3d with latest updates
  • vCenter Server 7.0 U3d with the latest updates
  • vSAN 7.0 Update 3
  • vRealize Operations Manager
  • vRealize Automation
  • vRealize Network Insight
  • VMware NSX-T
  • Currently using Windows Server 2022 templates
  • Linux templates are Ubuntu Server 21.10 and 20.04

Nested vSphere labs:

  • Running vSAN nested labs with various configurations
    • Running vSphere with Tanzu with various containers on top of Tanzu
    • Running Rancher Kubernetes clusters

Do I leverage the cloud?

Even though I have a VMware homelab project, I do leverage the cloud. For example, I have access to AWS and Azure and often use these to build out PoC environments and services between my home lab and the cloud to test real-world scenarios for hybrid cloud connectivity for clients and learning purposes.

What does your roadmap look like?

I am constantly looking at new hardware and better equipment across the board on the hardware roadmap. It would be nice to get 25 gig networking in the lab environment at some point in the future. Also, I am looking at new Supermicro models with the refreshed Ice Lake Xeon-D processors.

On the software/solutions side, I am on a continuous path to learning new coding and DevOps skills, including new Infrastructure-as-Code solutions. Also, Kubernetes is always on my radar, and I continue to use the home lab to learn new Kubernetes skills. I want to continue building new Kubernetes solutions with containerized workloads in the home lab environment, which is on the agenda this year in the lab environment.

Any horror stories to share?

One of the more memorable homelab escapades involved accidentally wiping out an entire vSAN datastore as I had mislabeled two of my Supermicro servers. So, when I reloaded two of the servers, I realized I had rebuilt the wrong servers. Thankfully, I am the CEO, CIO, and IT Manager of the home lab environment, and I had backups of my VMs 😊.

I like to light up my home lab server rack

One of the recent additions to the VMware homelab project this year has been the addition of LED lights. I ran LED light strips along the outer edge of my server rack and can change the color via remote or have the lights cycle through different colors on a timer. You can check out a walkthrough of my home lab environment (2022 edition with lights) here: (574) VMware Home Lab Tour 2022 Edition Server Room with LED lights at night! A geek’s delight! – YouTube

Rack servers for VMware homelab project

Rack servers for myVMware homelab project

Xavier Avrillier

VMware | DOJO Author & Section Editor


Why do you have a lab?

When I started my career in IT, I didn’t have any sort of lab and relied exclusively on the environment I had at work to learn new things and play around with tech. This got me started with running virtual machines in VMware workstations at home but computers back then (10 years ago) didn’t come with 16GB of RAM as a common requirement so I had to get crafty with resources.

When studying to take the VCP exam, things started to get a bit frustrating as running a vCenter with just 2 vSphere nodes on 16 GB of ram is cumbersome (and slow). At this point, I got lucky enough that I could use a fairly good test environment at work to delay the inevitable and manage to get the certification without investing a penny in hardware or licenses.

I then changed my employer and started technical writing so I needed the capacity to play around with and resources pile up fast when you add vSAN, NSX, SRM and other VMware products into the mix. For that reason, I decided to get myself a homelab that would be dedicated to messing around. I started with Intel NUC mini-PCs like many of us and then moved to a more solid Dell rack server that I am currently running.

I decided to go the second-hand route as it was so much cheaper and I don’t really care about official support, newer software usually works unless on dinosaur hardware. I got a great deal on a Dell R430, my requirements were pretty easy as I basically needed lots of cores, memory, a fair amount of storage and an out-of-band card for when I’m not at home and need to perform power actions on it.

What’s your setup?

I am currently running my cluster labs nested on the R430 and run natively in VMs when possible. For instance, I have the DC, NSX manager, VCD, and vCenter run in VMs on the physical host, but I have a nested VSAN cluster with NSX-T networking managed by this same vCenter server. This is the most consolidated way I could think of while offering flexibility.

  • Dell R430
  • VMware vSphere ESXi 7 Update 3
  • 2 x Intel Xeon E5-2630 v3 (2 x 8 pCores @2.40GHz)
  • 128GB of RAM
  • 6 x 300GB 15K rpm in RAID 5 (1.5TB raw)
  • PERC H730 mini
  • Dual 550W power supply (only one connected)
  • iDRAC 8 enterprise license
  • I keep the firmware up to date with Dell OME running in a VM in a workstation on my laptop that I fire up every now and again (when I have nothing better to do).

On the side, I also have a Gigabyte mini-pc running. That one is installed with an Ubuntu server with K3s running on it (Kubernetes). I use it to run a bunch of home automation stuff that are managed by ArgoCD in a private Github repository (GitOps), that way I can track my change through commits and pull requests. I also use it for CAPV to quickly provision Kubernetes (and Tanzu TCE) clusters in my lab.

  • Gigabyte BSi3-6100
  • Ubuntu 20.04 LTS
  • Core i3 6th gen
  • 8GB of ram

I also have an old Synology DS115j NAS (Network Access Storage) that participates in the home automation stuff. It is also a target for vCenter backups and a few VMs I don’t want to have to rebuild using Altaro VM backup. It’s only 1TB but I am currently considering my options to replace it with a more powerful model with more storage.

Network wise all the custom stuff happens nested with OpnSense and NSX-T, I try to keep my home network as simple as possible if I don’t need to complicate it any further.

I currently don’t leverage any cloud services on a daily basis but I spin up the odd instance or cloud service now and again to check out new features or learn about new tech in general.

I try to keep my software and firmware as up-to-date as possible. However, it tends to depend on what I’m currently working on or interested in. I haven’t touched my Horizon install in a while but I am currently working with my NSX-T + ALB + VCD + vSAN setup to deploy a Kubernetes cluster with Cluster API.

VMware homelab project architecture

VMware homelab project architecture”

What do you like and don’t like about your setup?

I like that I have a great deal of flexibility by having a pool of resources that I can consume with nested installs or natives VMs. I can scratch projects and start over easily.

However, I slightly underestimated storage requirements and 1.5TB is proving a bit tricky as I have to really keep an eye on it to avoid filling it up. My provisioning ratio is currently around 350% so I don’t want to hit the 100% used space mark. And finding spare 15K SAS disks isn’t as easy as I’d hope.

What does your roadmap look like?

As mentioned, I’m reaching a point where storage can become a bottleneck as interoperable VMware products require more and more resources (NSX-T + ALB + Tanzu + VCD …). I could add a couple of disks but that would only add 600GB of storage and I’ll have to find 15K rpm 300GB disks with caddies so not an easy find. For that reason, I’m considering getting a NAS that I can then use as NFS or iSCSI storage backend with SSDs.

Things I am currently checking out include VMware Cloud Director with NSX-T and ALB integration and Kubernetes on top of all that. I’d also like to get in touch with CI/CD pipelines and other cloud-native stuff.

Any horror stories to share?

The latest to date was my physical ESXi host running on a consumer-grade USB key plugged in the internal USB port, which got fried (the USB key) after a few months of usage. My whole environment was running on this host and I had no backup then. But luckily, I was able to reinstall it on a new USB key (plugged in the external port) and re-register all my resources one by one manually.

Also, note that I am incredibly ruthless with my home lab. I only turn it on when needed. So, when I am done with it, none of that proper shutdown sequence, thanks very much. I trigger the shut down of the physical host from vCenter which takes care of stopping the VMs, sometimes I even push the actual physical button (yes there’s one). While I haven’t nuked anything that way somehow, I would pay to see my boss’s face should I stop production hypervisors with the button!

Ivo Beerens


Why do you have a lab?

The home lab is mainly used for learning, testing new software versions, and automating new image releases. Back when I started down this journey, my first home lab was in the Novell Netware 3.11 era which I acquired using my own money, no employer’s subvention 😊

My main considerations and decision points for what I decided to purchase were low noise, low power consumption for running 24×7, room for PCI-Express cards and NVMe support.

What’s your setup?

From a hardware standpoint, computing power is handled by two Shuttle barebone machines with the following specifications:

    • 500 W Plus Silver PSU
    • Intel Core i7 8700 with 6 cores and 12 threads
    • 64 GB memory
    • Samsung 970 EVO 1 TB m.2
    • 2 x 1 GbE Network cards
    • Both barebones are running the latest VMware vSphere version.

In terms of storage, I opted for a separate QNAP TS-251+ NAS with two Western Digital (WD) Red 8 TB disks in a RAID-1 configuration. The barebones machines have NVM drives with no RAID protection.

The bulk of my workloads are hosted on VMware vSphere and for the VDI solution, I run VMware Horizon with Windows 10/11 VDIs. Cloud-wise, I use an Azure Visual Studio subscription for testing IAAS and Azure Virtual Desktop services.

I manage the environments by automating as much as possible using Infrastructure as Code (IaC). I automated the installation process of almost every part so I can start over from scratch whenever I want.

What do you like and don’t like about your setup?

I obviously really enjoy the flexibility that automation brings to the table. However, the lack of resources sometimes (max 128 GB) can sometimes be a limiting factor. I also miss having remote management boards such as HPE iLO, Dell iDRAC or a KVM switch to facilitate hardware operations.

What does your roadmap look like?

I currently have in the works to upgrade to a 10 GbE Switch and bump the memory to 128GB per barebone.

Paolo Valsecchi


Why do you have a lab?

I am an IT professional and I often find myself in the situation of implementing new products and configurations without having the right knowledge or tested procedures at hand. Since it is a bad idea to experiment with things directly on production environments, having a lab is the ideal solution to learn, study, and practice new products or test new configurations without the hassle of messing up critical workloads.

Because I’m also a blogger, I study and test procedures to publish them on my blog. This required a better test environment than what I had. Since my computer didn’t have enough resources to allow complex deployments, in 2015 I decided to invest some money and build my own home lab.

It was clear that the ideal lab was not affordable due to high costs. For that reason, I decided to start with a minimum set of equipment to extend later. It took a while before finding the configuration that met the requirements. After extensive research on the Internet, I was finally able to complete the design by comparing other lab setups.

My requirements for the lab were simple: Low power, cost-effective hardware, acceptable performance, at least two nodes, one external storage, compatibility with the platforms I use, and components size.

What’s your setup?

Despite my lab still meeting my requirements, it is starting to be a little bit obsolete now. My current lab setup is the following:

  • PROD Servers: 3 x Supermicro X11SSH-L4NF
    • Intel Xeon E3-1275v5
    • 64GB RAM
    • 2TB WD Red
  • DR Server: Intel NUC NUC8i3BEH
    • Intel Core i3-8109U
    • 32GB RAM
    • Kingston SA1000M8 240G SSD A1000
  • Storage PROD: Synology DS918
    • 12TB WD Red RAID5
    • 250GB read/write cache
    • 16GB RAM
  • Storage Backup: Synology DS918
    • 12TB WD Red RAID5
    • 8GB RAM
  • Storage DR: Synology DS119j + 3TB WD Red
  • Switch: Cisco SG350-28
  • Router: Ubiquiti USG
  • UPS: APC 1400

The lab is currently composed of three nodes cluster running VMware vSphere 7.0.2 with vSAN as main storage. Physical shared storage devices are configured with RAID 5 and connected to vSphere or backup services via NFS or dedicated LUNs.

Installed Windows Servers are running version 2016 or 2019 while Linux VMs belong to different distributions and versions may vary.

My lab runs different services, such as:

  • VMware vSphere and vSAN
  • Active Directory, ADFS, Office 365 sync
  • VMware Horizon
  • Different backup solutions (at least 6 different products including Altaro)

In terms of Cloud service, I use cloud object storage (S3 and S3-compatible) solutions for backup purposes. I also use Azure to manage services such as Office 365, Active Directory and MFA. Due to high costs, workloads running on AWS or Azure are just created on-demand and for specific tests.

I try to keep the software always up-to-date with in-place upgrades, except for Windows Server which I always reinstall. Only once did I have to wipe the lab due to hardware failure

What do you like and don’t like about your setup?

With my current setup, I’m able to run the workloads I need and do my tests. Let’s say I’m satisfied with my lab, but…

vSAN disks are not SSD (only the cache), RAM installed on each host is limited to 64GB and the network speed is 1GB. These constraints are affecting the performance and the number of running machines that are demanding always more and more resources.

What does your roadmap look like?

To enhance my lab, the replacement of HDDs with SSDs is the first step in my roadmap. Smaller physical servers to better fit in my room as well as a 10 Gbps network would be the icing on the cake. Unfortunately, this means replacing most of the installed hardware in my lab.

Any horror stories to share?

After moving my lab from my former company to my house, the original air conditioning system in use during the very first days was not so good and a hot summer was fatal to my hardware… the storage with all my backups failed, losing a lot of important VMs. Pity that some days before I deleted such VMs from the lab. I spent weeks re-creating all the VMs! I have now a better cooling system and a stronger backup (3-2-1!)

Mayur Parmar

Why do you have a lab?

I use my Home LAB primarily for testing various products to explore new features and functionality that I’d never played with before. This greatly helps me in learning about the product as well as testing it.

I decided to go for a Home Lab 4 years ago because of the complete flexibility and control you have over your own environment. You can easily (or not) deploy, configure and manage things yourself. I bought my Dell Workstation directly from Dell by customizing its configuration according to my needs and requirements.

The first thing I considered was whether it should be bare metal with Rack servers, Network Switches and Storage devices or simply nested virtualization inside VMware Workstation. I went for the nested virtualization route for flexibility and convenience and sized the hardware resources according to what I needed at the time.

What’s your setup?

My home lab is pretty simple, it is made up of a Dell Workstation, a TP link switch and a Portable hard drive.

Dell Workstation:

  • Dell Precision Tower 5810
  • Intel Xeon E5-2640v4 10 Core processor
  • 96 GB of DDR4 Memory
  • 2x1TB of SSDs
  • 2 TB of Portable hard drive
  • Windows 10 with VMware Workstation

At the moment I currently run a variety of VMs such as ESXi hosts, AD-DNS, Backup software, a mail server and a number of Windows and Linux boxes. Because all VMs running on VMware Workstation there is no additional network configuration required as all VMs can interact with each other on virtual networks.

Since my Home LAB is on VMware Workstation it gives the flexibility to keep up-to-date versions as well as lower versions to test and compare features for instance. Because it runs in VMware Workstation, I often got to wipe out and recreate the complete setup. Whenever newer versions are released, I always upgrade to try out new features.

What do you like and don’t like about your setup?

I like the flexibility VMware Workstation gives me to set things up easily and scratch them just as easily.

On the other hand, there is a number of things I can’t explore such as setting up solutions directly on the physical server, working on Firmware, Configuring Storage & RAID levels, Configure Networking, routing and so on.

What does your roadmap look like?

Since I bought my Dell Workstation, I constantly keep an eye on the resources to avoid running out of capacity. In the near future, I plan to continue with that trend but I am considering buying a new one to extend the capacity.

However, I am currently looking at buying a NAS device to provide shared storage capacity to the compute node(s). While I don’t use any just now, my future home lab may include cloud services at some point.

Any horror stories to share?

A couple of mistakes I made in the home lab included failure to create DNS Records before deploying a solution, messed up vCenter Upgrade which required to deploying new vCenter servers or a failed Standard Switch to Distributed Switch migration which caused network outage and needed to reset the whole networking stack.

Simon Cranney


Why do you have a lab?

A couple of years ago I stood up my first proper VMware home lab project. I had messed about with running VMware Workstation on a gaming PC in the past, but this time I wanted something I could properly get my teeth into and have a VMware vSphere home lab without resource contention.

Prior to this, I had no home lab. Many people that are fortunate to work in large enterprise infrastructure environments may be able to fly under the radar and play about with technologies on works hardware. I cannot confirm nor deny if this was something I used to do! But hey learning and testing new technologies benefits the company in the long run.

What’s your setup?

Back to the current VMware home lab then, I had a budget in mind so ended up going with a pair of Intel NUC boxes. Each with 32 GB RAM and a 1 TB PCIe NVMe SSD.

The compute and storage are used to run a fairly basic VMware vSphere home lab setup. I have a vCenter Server as you’d expect, a 2-node vSAN cluster, and vRealize Operations Manager, with a couple of Windows VMs running Active Directory and some different applications depending on what I’m working on at any given point in time.

My VMware home lab licenses are all obtained free of charge through the VMware vExpert program but there are other ways of accessing VMware home lab licenses such as through the VMUG Advantage membership or even the vSphere Essentials Plus Kit. If you are building a VMware home lab though, why not blog about it and shoot for the VMware vExpert application?

In terms of networking, I’ve put in a little more effort! Slightly out of scope here but in a nutshell;

  • mini rack with the Ubiquiti UniFi Dream Machine Pro
  • UniFi POE switch
  • And a number of UniFi Access Points providing full house and garden coverage

I separate out homelab and trusted devices onto an internal network, partner and guest devices onto an external network, and smart devices or those that like to listen onto a separate IoT network. Each network is backed by a different VLAN and associated firewall rules.

What do you like and don’t like about your setup?

Being 8th Generation, the Intel NUC boxes caused me some pain when upgrading to vSphere 7. I used the Community Network Driver for ESXi Fling and played about adding some USB network adapters to build out distributed switches.

I’m also fortunate enough to be running a VMware SD-WAN (VeloCloud) Edge device, which plugs directly into my works docking station and optimizes my corporate network traffic for things like Zoom and Teams calls.

What does your roadmap look like?

In the future, I’d like to connect my VMware home lab project to some additional cloud services, predominantly in AWS. This will allow me to deep dive into technologies like VMware Tanzu, by getting hands-on with the deployment and configuration.

Whilst VMware Hands-on Labs are an excellent resource, like many techies I do find that the material sticks and resonates more when I have had to figure out integrations and fixes in a real-life environment. I hope you found my setup interesting. I’d love to hear in the comments section if you’re running VMware Tanzu in your home lab and from any other UniFi fans!

Get More Out of Your Homelab

It is always fun to discuss home labs and discover how your peers do it. It’s a great way to share “tips and tricks” and to learn from the success and failures of others. Hardware is expensive and so is electricity, real estate to store it and so on.

Learn how to design on a budget for the VMware homelab building process

For these reasons and many others, you should ask yourself a few questions before even looking at home lab options to better steer your research towards something that will fit your needs:

  • Do I need hardware, Cloud services or both? On-premise hardware involves investing a chunk of money at the beginning but it means you are in total control of the budget as electricity will be the only variable from now on. On the other hand, cloud services will let you pay for only what you use. It can be very expensive but it could also be economical under the right circumstances. Also, some of you will only require Azure services because it’s your job, while I couldn’t run VMware Cloud Director, NSX-T and ALB in the cloud.
  • Do you have limited space or noise constraints? Rack and tower servers are cool, but they are bulky and loud. A large number of IT professionals went for small, passive and silent mini-pcs such as Intel NUC. It grew in popularity after William Lam from VMware endorsed it and network drivers for the USB adapters were released as Flings. These small form factor machines are great and offer pretty good performances with i3, i5 or i7 processors. You can get a bunch of these to build a cluster that won’t use up much energy and won’t make a peep.
  • Nested or Bare-Metal? Another question that is often asked is if you should run everything bare-metal. I personally like the flexibility of nested setups but it’s also because I don’t have the room for a rack at home (and let’s face it, I would get bad looks!). However, as you saw in this blog, people go for one or the other for various reasons and you will have to find yours.
  • What do you want to get out of it? If you are in the VMware dojo, you most likely are interested in testing VMware products. Meaning vSphere will probably be your go-to platform. In which case you will have to think about licenses. Sure, you can use evaluation licenses but you’ll have to start over every 60 days, not ideal at all. The vExpert program and the VMUG advantage program are your best bets in this arena. On the other hand, if you are only playing with Open-source software you can install Kubernetes, OpenStack or KVM on bare metal for instance and you won’t have to pay for anything.
  • How much resources do you need? This question goes hand in hand with the next one. While playing around with vSphere, vCenter or vSAN won’t set you back that much. If you want to get into Cloud Director, Tanzu, NSX-T and the likes, you will find that they literally eat up CPU, memory and storage for breakfast. So, try to look at the resource requirements for the products you want to test in order to get a rough idea of what you will need.
  • What is your budget? Now the tough question, how much do you want to spend? In hardware and energy (which links back to small form factor machines)? It is important to set yourself a budget and not just start buying stuff for the sake of it (unless you have the funds). Home lab setups are expensive and, while you might get a 42U rack full of servers for cheap on the second-hand market, your energy bill will skyrocket. On the other hand, getting a very cheap setup will cost you a certain amount of money but you may not get anything from it due to hardware limitations. So set yourself a budget and try to find the sweet spot.
  • Check compatibility: Again, don’t jump in guns blazing at the first offer. Double-check that the hardware is compatible with whatever you want to evaluate. Sure, it is likely to work even if it isn’t in the VMware HCL, but it is always worth it to do your research to look for red flags before buying.

Those are only a few key points I could think of but I’d be happy to hear about yours in the comments!

Is a VMware Homelab Worth it?

We think that getting a home lab is definitely worth it. While the money aspect might seem daunting at first, investing in a home lab is investing in yourself. The wealth of knowledge you can get from 16 cores/128GB servers is lightyears away from running VMware Workstation on your 8 cores/16GB laptop. Even though running products in a lab isn’t real-life experience, this might be the differentiating factor that gets you that dream job you’ve been after. And once you get it, the $600 you spent for that home lab will feel like money well spent with a great ROI!

VMware Homelab Alternatives

However, if your objective is to learn about VMware products in a guided way and you are not ready to buy a home lab just yet for whatever reason, fear not, online options are there for you! You can always start with the VMware Hands-on-labs (HOL) which offers a large number of learning paths where you can get to grips with most of the products sold by the company. Many of them you couldn’t even test in your home lab actually (especially the cloud ones like carbon black or workspace one). Head over to https://pathfinder.vmware.com/v3/page/hands-on-labs and register to Hands-on-labs to start learning instantly.

The other option to run a home lab for cheap is to install a VMware workstation on your local workstation if you have enough resources. This is, in almost 100% of the cases, the first step before moving to a more serious and expensive setup.

To protect your VMware environment, Altaro offers the ultimate VMware backup service to secure backup quickly and replicate your virtual machines. We work hard perpetually to give our customers confidence in their backup strategy.

Plus, you can visit our VMware blog to keep up with the latest articles and news on VMware.

What Homelab Set Up is Right for You?

I think we will all agree that our work doesn’t fit within the traditional 9-to-5 as keeping our skills up is also part of the job and it can’t always be done on company time. Sometimes we’ll be too busy or it might just be that we want to learn about something that has nothing to do with the company’s business. Home labs aren’t limited to VMware or Azure infrastructure and what your employer needs. You can put them to good use by running overkill wifi infrastructures or by managing your movie collection with an enterprise-grade and highly resilient setup that many SMBs would benefit from. The great thing about it is that it is useful on a practical and personal level while also being good fun (if you’re a nerd like me).

Gathering testimonies about VMware homelab projects and discussing each other’s setup has been a fun and very interesting exercise. It is also beneficial to see what is being done out there and identify ways to improve and optimize our own setup, I now know that I need an oversized shared storage device in my home (This will be argued)!

Now we would love to hear about your VMware homelab project that you run at home, let’s have a discussion in the comments section!

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Android apps with millions of downloads exposed to high-severity vulnerabilities

Microsoft uncovered high-severity vulnerabilities in a mobile framework owned by mce Systems and used by multiple large mobile service providers in pre-installed Android System apps that potentially exposed users to remote (albeit complex) or local attacks. The vulnerabilities, which affected apps with millions of downloads, have been fixed by all involved parties. Coupled with the extensive system privileges that pre-installed apps have, these vulnerabilities could have been attack vectors for attackers to access system configuration and sensitive information.

As it is with many of pre-installed or default applications that most Android devices come with these days, some of the affected apps cannot be fully uninstalled or disabled without gaining root access to the device. We worked with mce Systems, the developer of the framework, and the affected mobile service providers to solve these issues. We commend the quick and professional resolution from the mce Systems engineering teams, as well as the relevant providers in fixing each of these issues, ensuring that users can continue using such a crucial framework.

Collaboration among security researchers, software vendors, and the security community is important to continuously improve defenses for the larger ecosystem. As the threat and computing landscape continues to evolve, vulnerability discoveries, coordinated response, and other forms of threat intelligence sharing are paramount to protecting customers against present and future threats, regardless of the platform or device they are using.

Uncovering the vulnerabilities

Our research on the framework vulnerabilities began while trying to better understand how a pre-installed System application could affect the overall security of mobile devices. We discovered that the framework, which is used by numerous apps, had a “BROWSABLE” service activity that an attacker could remotely invoke to exploit several vulnerabilities that could allow adversaries to implant a persistent backdoor or take substantial control over the device.

The framework seemed to be designed to offer self-diagnostic mechanisms to identify and resolve issues impacting the Android device, indicating its permissions were inherently broad with access to valuable resources. For example, the framework was authorized to access system resources and perform system-related tasks, like adjusting the device’s audio, camera, power, and storage controls. Moreover, we found that the framework was being used by default system applications to leverage its self-diagnostic capabilities, demonstrating that the affiliated apps also included extensive device privileges that could be exploited via the vulnerable framework.

According to mce Systems, some of these vulnerabilities also affected other apps on both Android and iOS devices. Moreover, the vulnerable framework and affiliated apps were found on devices from large international mobile service providers. mce Systems, which offers “Mobile Device Lifecycle and Automation Technologies,” also permitted providers to customize and brand their respective mobile apps and frameworks. Pre-installed frameworks and mobile apps such as mce Systems’ are beneficial to users and providers in areas like simplifying the device activation process, troubleshooting device issues, and optimizing performance. However, their extensive control over the device to deliver these kinds of services could also make them an attractive target for attackers. 

Our analysis further found that the apps were embedded in the devices’ system image, suggesting that they were default applications installed by phone providers. All of the apps are available on the Google Play Store where they go through Google Play Protect’s automatic safety checks, but these checks previously did not scan for these types of issues. As part of our effort to help ensure broad protection against these issues, we shared our research with Google, and Google Play Protect now identifies these types of vulnerabilities.

We initially discovered the vulnerabilities in September 2021 and shared our findings with mce Systems and affected mobile service providers through Coordinated Vulnerability Disclosure (CVD) via Microsoft Security Vulnerability Research (MSVR). We worked closely with mce Systems’ security and engineering teams to mitigate these vulnerabilities, which included mce Systems sending an urgent framework update to the impacted providers and releasing fixes for the issues. At the time of publication, there have been no reported signs of these vulnerabilities being exploited in the wild.

The high-severity vulnerabilities, which have a Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) score of 7.0-8.9, are now identified as CVE-2021-42598CVE-2021-42599CVE-2021-42600, and CVE-2021-42601. We want to thank mce Systems’ engineering teams for collaborating quickly and efficiently in resolving these issues as well as to AT&T for proactively working with Microsoft to ensure customers can safely continue to use the framework.

Several other mobile service providers were found using the vulnerable framework with their respective apps, suggesting that there could be additional providers still undiscovered that may be impacted. The affected providers linked below have made updated app versions available to users before this disclosure, ensuring devices can be protected before these vulnerabilities could be exploited. We encourage these providers’ customers to update to the latest versions of these apps from the Google Play store, which include but are not limited to: com.telus.checkupcom.att.dhcom.fivemobile.myaccountcom.freedom.mlp,uat, and com.ca.bell.contenttransfer.

Additionally, the package com.mce.mceiotraceagent might be installed by several mobile phone repair shops. Mobile users are advised to look for that app name and remove it from their phone, if found.

Analyzing apps that use the mce framework

App manifest and permissions

When analyzing an Android application, the first thing that comes to mind is checking its manifest, maintained under the AndroidManifest.xml file. The manifest describes the application itself and its components, such as the following:

  • Permissions (for example, camera access, internet access, and others)
  • Activities and how they respond to Intents sent to them
  • Content providers
  • Receivers and the kind of content they expect to receive
  • Services

Checking the manifest of an app affiliated with mce Systems’ framework shed light on some of its features and capabilities but did not immediately indicate that any vulnerabilities or security issues were present. Therefore, further research into the app’s functionality was needed by understanding its permissions.

Analysis of the app’s permissions on the mobile device revealed authorizations that could lead to powerful access and capabilities for an attacker. Those permissions included control over the following:

  • Networking: access the internet, modify Wi-Fi state, network state, NFC, and Bluetooth
  • File access: read and write to the external storage
  • Peripherals: access the camera, record audio, get fingerprint information, and get the device’s physical location
  • Private information: read phone numbers, account information, and contacts
  • Management: install apps and modify device settings

With access to these valuable resources, the app could be abused by an attacker to implant a persistent backdoor on the device.

BROWSABLE activities

The “Activities” section of the app’s manifest detailed that the Intent-filter element included activities with a “BROWSABLE” category. While most Intents do not require a category, category strings detail the components that should handle the Intent. In particular, the BROWSABLE category allows the target Activity to be triggered from a web browser to display data referenced by a link, like an image. BROWSABLE activities appeal to attackers as the latter can exploit them via malicious web pages and other Intent-based attacks.

Figure 1:  BROWSABLE Activity with the “mcedigital://” scheme

The Intent-filter element in the manifest dictates how the Activity can be triggered. In the app’s case, the Activity could be triggered by simply clicking a link with the “mcedigital://” scheme. This would start the com.mce.sdk.AppActivity Activity with an Intent with arbitrary data (besides the scheme).

Digging deeper: Reviewing the mce framework’s main functionality

We reviewed the effects of triggering the com.mce.sdk.AppActivity. Also known as appActivity, this Activity refers to the different functionalities provided by the app. AppActivity extends Activity and therefore has an onCreate method, which traditionally handles the creating Intent.


Here’s a brief description of AppActivity:

  1. AppActivity has a member called “webView” and type “JarvisWebView,” a specialized class that extends WebView.
  2. Upon creation, AppActivity has some optional display choices from the Intent (if they exist) and then loads a predefined web page to the WebView. That predefined page can get arbitrary query parameters from the Intent’s data; that is, everything after a “\?” will be added to the web page.

Thus, if a user clicks this:


The App’s WebView loads the following web page:


The app’s index.html web page (which is an asset built into the Android app) loads two JavaScript files:

  • config.js: a nonexistent file
  • bundle.js: contains much of the app’s logic

Since we wanted to understand the interplay between bundle.js (JarvisJSInterface) and the WebView (JarvisWebView), we analyzed both.

JarvisWebView and JarvisJSInterface

The main features of the WebView, JarvisWebView class, are the following:

A JavaScript Interface is a conspicuous target to look for security issues, as it uses a JavaScript Bridge to allow invoking specific methods inside an Android app. In the case of JarvisJSInterface, three methods are exported:

  • init(String): takes a string that will be used as a JavaScript callback method; in our case, it will always be window.AndroidCallback
  • windowClose(): runs a callback registered by the Android app
  • request(String): sends a service request from the JavaScript client to the server (Android app)

The request method is by far the most interesting, as it performs the following:

  1. Interprets the given string as a JSON object
  2. Extracts the following pieces from the JSON object:
    • Context: a random GUID generated by the client, used to link requests and responses
    • Service: the service we are about to call to
    • Command: an integer
    • Data: optional parameters sent to the service call
  3. Invokes the method serviceCall, which finds the registered service, gets the method based on the command number, and eventually invokes that method using Java reflection
Figure 2: Service::callServiceMethod

The serviceCall is a powerful method, as it allows the WebView to invoke “services” freely. But what are these services, exactly?

Services offered by the mce framework

After we examined the services offered by this framework per the app manifest, we then obtained a list of services that practically give the WebView complete control over the device. The most notable services include:

  • Audio: access and manipulate volume levels, as well as play a tone with a given duration and frequency
  • Camera: take a silent snapshot
  • Connectivity: control and obtain valuable information from NFC, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth
  • Device: includes various device controlling mechanisms like battery drainage, performing a factory reset, and obtaining information on apps, addresses, sensor data, and much more
  • Discovery: set the device to discoverable
  • Location: obtain the location in various modes and set the location state
  • PackageManager: acquire package info and silently install a new app
  • Power: obtain charging state
  • Sensor: acquire sensor data such as barometer data, light data, proximity data, and whether fingerprinting is working
  • Storage: obtain content such as documents, media, images, and videos

These services inherit from a base class named “Service” and implement two methods:

  • setServiceName: for service identification purposes
  • setServiceMethodMap: for setting up the mapping between the command integer and the method name, argument names, and argument types

For example, here is the Camera service setting its methods:

  • Method 0 is “getCameraList” and expects no arguments.
  • Method 1 is “captureStillImageNoPreview” and expects one String argument.
Figure 3: The Camera service setting its methods

Vulnerability findings

Based on our analysis of the mce framework, we discovered several vulnerabilities. It should be noted that while mobile service providers can customize their apps respective to mce framework so as not to be identical, the vulnerabilities we discovered can all be exploited in the same manner—by injecting code into the web view. Nonetheless, as their apps and framework customization use different configurations and versions, not all providers are necessarily vulnerable to all the discovered vulnerabilities.

Outdated command-injection vulnerability (CVE-2021-42599)

We found a command-injection vulnerability, tracked as CVE-2021-42599, in the Device service mentioned in the previous section. This service offers rich functionality, including the capability to stop activities of a given package. The client fully controls the argument “value,” and simply runs the following command:

am force-stop "value"

Since the argument is not sanitized, an attacker could add backticks or quotation marks to run arbitrary code, like the following:

am force-stop "a"; command-to-run; echo "a"
Figure 4: Command injection proof-of-concept (POC) exploit code implemented in the Device service

According to mce Systems, they have since removed the functionality behind this vulnerability and it is no longer present in more advanced framework versions.

Exploitation by JavaScript injection with PiTM in certain apps

The services offered by the mce framework further indicated that the following vulnerability resided in the logic of the JavaScript client for apps that are configured to enable plaintext communications such as the app that we initially analyzed. Interestingly, the code for the client is a heavily-obfuscated dynamic JavaScript code that is implemented over several files, mainly bundle.js. Due to the blind trust between the JavaScript client and the JarvisJSInterface server, an attacker who could inject JavaScript contents into the WebView would inherit the permissions that the app already has.

We conceived two injection strategies most likely to be leveraged by attackers:

  1. Affect the JavaScript client behavior by supplying specific GET parameters from the BROWSABLE Intent.
  2. Trigger an app with the BROWSABLE Intent to become a person-in-the-middle (PiTM) and view the device’s entire traffic. Inject JavaScript code if the client ever tries to fetch external content and interpret it as a script or HTML.

Once we reverse-engineered the client’s obfuscated code, we discovered that it could not inject JavaScript from the GET parameters. The only capability permitted was to affect some of the client’s self-tests upon initialization, such as a battery-draining test or a Wi-Fi connectivity test. However, the WebView-fetched plaintext pages that we discovered could be injected into with a PiTM attack.

Our proof-of-concept (POC) exploit code was therefore:

  1. Perform a PiTM for the target device and lure the user into clicking a link with the “mcesystems://” schema.
  2. Inject JavaScript into one of the plaintext page responses that does the following:
    • Hijack the JavaScript interface by calling init with our callback method
    • Use the JavaScript interface request method to get servicing
    • Send the data to our server for information gathering using XHR (XMLHttpRequest)
Figure 5: Injecting a similar JavaScript code to the WebView could allow an attacker to call arbitrary services and methods

Local elevation of privilege with deserialization followed by injection (CVE-2021-42601)  

Some of the apps we analyzed did not pull plaintext pages. Thus, we looked for a local elevation of privilege vulnerability, allowing a malicious app to gain the system apps’ privileges, tracked as CVE-2021-42601.

In the apps mentioned above, we discovered that the main Activity attempted to handle a deep link (a link that launches an app instead of a browser on click) with Google Firebase. Interestingly, this deep-link handling tried to deserialize a structure called PendingDynamicLinkData (representing a link) from an Intent Extra byte array with the key com.google.firebase.dynamiclinks.DYNAMIC_LINK_DATA. This structure was used later by the mce framework to generate various JSON Objects that might contain data from a categoryId query parameter in the original link, and eventually ended up in the member mFlowSDKInput to be injected into the JarvisWebView instance in an unsafe way:

Figure 6: Unsanitized JavaScript loading allowed arbitrary code injection to the WebView

Since the categoryId query parameter might contain apostrophes, one could inject arbitrary JavaScript code into the WebView. We decided to inject a code that would reach out to a server and load a second-stage code, which was the exact one we used for our PiTM scenario.

Figure 7: Local injection POC exploit

Software design against JavaScript injection vulnerabilities

We worked closely with the mce Systems engineering team and discovered that the reason for unsafe loadUrl invocations with JavaScript injections was that the framework used an asynchronous model of operation. When the JavaScript client performs a request, it expects to be notified later when there are results. Since Android JavaScript Bridge only allows primitive types to be sent (for example, Strings), the mce framework notified the JavaScript client by injecting JavaScript with potentially unsafe arguments (the results themselves).

We offered mce Systems a slightly different software design that prevents unsafe JavaScript injection. The description of the flow of information in our proposal is as follows:

  1. The JavaScript client invokes the request method on the Android JavaScript Bridge, supplying the request itself along with a request ID.
  2. The Java server performs the request and stores the result in a cache. The said cache then maps request IDs to results.
  3. The Java server notifies the client by carefully injecting the JavaScript loadUrl(“javascript:window.onMceResult(<requestID>);”) into the WebView. Note that the only non-constant string is the request ID, which can easily be sanitized. This method “wakes the client up”
  4. The JavaScript client implementation of onMceResult invokes the Android JavaScript Bridge with the method String fetchResult(String requestId). Note that this method returns a string (which contains the result).

This way, the JavaScript client does not need to poll for asynchronous results while data is safely transferred between the client and the server.

Interestingly, Google AndroidX offers a very similar API: webMessageListener. While the said API works quite similarly to our suggestion, it only supports Android versions greater than Lollipop. Thus, the new mce framework now checks the Android version and uses this new Google API if supported or our offered solution for older devices.

The above is just one example of our collaboration to help secure our cross-platform ecosystem. According to mce Systems, all of our reported vulnerabilities were addressed.

Improving security for all through threat intelligence sharing and research-driven protections

Microsoft strives to continuously improve security by collaborating with customers, partners, and industry experts. Responding to the evolving threat landscape requires us to expand our capabilities into other devices and non-Windows platforms in addition to further coordinating research and threat intelligence sharing among the larger security community. This case highlighted the need for expert, cross-industry collaboration to effectively mitigate issues.

Moreover, collaborative research such as this informs our seamless protection capabilities across platforms. For example, intelligence from this analysis helped us ensure that Microsoft Defender Vulnerability Management can identify and remediate devices that have these vulnerabilities, providing security operations teams with comprehensive visibility into their organizational exposure and enabling them to reduce the attack surface. In addition, while we’re not aware of any active exploitation of these mobile vulnerabilities in the wild, Microsoft Defender for Endpoint’s mobile threat defense capabilities significantly improve security on mobile devices by detecting potential exploits, malware, and post-exploitation activity.

We will continue to work with the security community to share intelligence about threats and build better protection for all. Microsoft security researchers continually work to discover new vulnerabilities and threats, turning a variety of wide-reaching issues into tangible results and improved solutions that protect users and organizations across platforms every single day. Similarly inquisitive individuals are encouraged to check opportunities to join the Microsoft research team here: https://careers.microsoft.com/.  

Jonathan Bar Or, Sang Shin Jung, Michael Peck, Joe Mansour, and Apurva Kumar
Microsoft 365 Defender Research Team

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Why you should act like your CEO’s password is “qwerty”

A poor password at the highest levels of an organisation can cost a company millions in losses.

Recent findings show that half of IT leaders store passwords in shared documents. On top of that, it seems that folks at executive level are not picking good passwords either. Researchers from NordPass combed through a large list of CEO and business owner breaches. Their findings should renew considerations for additional security measures at executive level.

The findings

The five most common passwords among C-level executives, managers, and business owners were “123456”, “password”, “12345”, “123456789”, and our old friend “qwerty”. Terrifyingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, this looks exactly like every other list of the most frequently used passwords, suggesting no extra precautions are in place (or enforced) at the top.

Executives really love to use the names “Tiffany”, “Charlie”, Michael”, and “Jordan” for their passwords. I was curious to know if these are the names of executives’ name their kids. My entirely unscientific trawl for the names of CEO’s children turned up list of CEOs themselves. Henry, William, Jack, James, and David are all very popular names. This doesn’t match up with our list of password names. However, there is one list which claims that the Michaels of this world are most likely to become CEOs. Are CEOs naming their passwords after themselves? I’d like to think not, but then I probably wouldn’t have expected to be writing about “123456” either.

Animals and mythical creatures are popular choices. When not naming passwords after themselves, dragons and monkeys are both incredibly popular and also incredibly easy to guess.

Breaking and entering

Common ways corporate breaches and basic passwords spill all over the floor are issues we’ve covered at length. We recently highlighted recommendations from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency which deal with most of the causes of CEO password loss.

A combination of weak and reused passwords, and risky password-sharing habits make up the majority of hits on the “these passwords can lead to nothing good” indicator.

What happens when you combine bad password practices with human error and poor security infrastructure? These weak and obvious passwords just help to bring the whole thing crashing down that little bit faster.

There are some very smart attacks and compromises out there. Clever attackers can exfiltrate data from a network for weeks or months before making a more overt move. You’d expect people hijacking CEO data to be made to really work for it at every level. Sadly this research seems to suggest the opposite is happening in a lot of cases.

If nothing else, I’d love to see the actual response on the part of the criminals. What do they think when pulling down a C-Level executive’s data and discovering their email password is “sandwich”? Are they surprised? Is it business as usual? Do they think it can’t possibly be real, and they’re staring down the wrong end of a prank or law enforcement bust?

Is the CEO password sky falling? A word of caution…

There are some caveats here. The research doesn’t go into detail with regard to additional security measures in place. Yes, a CEO may have the worst password you’ve ever seen. That doesn’t mean the business has been popped right open.

Maybe they had two-factor authentication (2FA) set up. The password may be gone, but unless the attacker also has access to the CEO’s authentication app on their phone, it may not be much use. The CEO may use a hardware authentication token plugged into their desktop. Admins may have set up that one machine specifically for use by the CEO, for all CEO-related activity. It may not be usable remotely, and could be tied to a VPN an added precaution.

Having said all of that

Manager? Use a password manager

If we’re talking purely about fixing the short, terrible, obvious passwords, then some additional work is required. 2FA, lockouts, and hardware tokens are great. Ultimately they’re fixing a myriad of additional problems regardless of whether the password is good or bad.

To fix bad password practices, we need to look to tools which can improve them and help keep them a bit more secure at the same time. I am talking about password managers, of course.

A password manager is a software application that gets around the twin evils of poor passwords and password reuse by creating strong, random passwords and then remembering them.

They can function online, so they are accessible via the web and can sync passwords between devices, or they can work entirely offline. Offline password managers are arguably more secure. Online components can add additional risk factors and a way for someone to break in via exploits. The important part is to keep the master password to access your vault secure, and to use 2FA if available for an additional layer of protection. Make your master password long and complex—don’t use “qwerty”.

Password managers with browser extensions can help deter phishing. Your password manager will object to entering a password into the wrong website, no matter how convincing it looks. No more risk of accidental logins!

Some password manager tools allow you to share logins with other users in a secure fashion. They don’t show or display the password to the other users, rather they just grant a form of access managed by the tool or app itself. If your CEO has no option but to share a password with somebody else, this is the only safe way to do it.

There’s never been a better time to wean ourselves away from shared password documents and the name “Michael” as the digital keys to an organisation’s kingdom. It’s perhaps time for CEOs and other executives to lead from the front where security is concerned.

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This World Password Day consider ditching passwords altogether

Did you know that May 5, 2022, is World Password Day?1 Created by cybersecurity professionals in 2013 and designated as the first Thursday every May, World Password Day is meant to foster good password habits that help keep our online lives secure. It might seem strange to have a day set aside to honor something almost no one wants to deal with—like having a holiday for filing your income taxes (actually, that might be a good idea). But in today’s world of online work, school, shopping, healthcare, and almost everything else, keeping our accounts secure is more important than ever. Passwords are not only hard to remember and keep track of, but they’re also one of the most common entry points for attackers. In fact, there are 921 password attacks every secondnearly doubling in frequency over the past 12 months.2

But what if you didn’t have to deal with passwords at all? Last fall, we announced that anyone can completely remove the password from their Microsoft account. If you’re like me and happy to ditch passwords completely, read on to learn how Microsoft is making it possible to start enjoying a passwordless life today. Still, we know not everyone is ready to say goodbye to passwords, and it’s not possible for all your online accounts. We’ll also go over some easy ways to improve your password hygiene, as well as share some exciting news from our collaboration with the FIDO Alliance about a new way to sign in without a password.  

Free yourself with passwordless sign-in

Yes, you can now enjoy secure access to your Microsoft account without a password. By using the Microsoft Authenticator app, Windows Hello, a security key, or a verification code sent to your phone or email, you can go passwordless with any of your Microsoft apps and services. Just follow these five steps:

  1. Download and install Microsoft Authenticator (linked to your personal Microsoft account).
  2. Sign in to your Microsoft account.
  3. Choose Security. Under Advanced security options, you’ll see Passwordless account in the section titled Additional security.
  4. Select Turn on.
  5. Approve the notification from Authenticator.
User interface of Microsoft Authenticator app providing instructions on how to turn on passwordless account option.
Notification from Microsoft Authenticator app confirming user's password has been removed.

Once you approve the notification, you’ll no longer need a password to access your Microsoft accounts. If you decide you prefer using a password, you can always go back and turn off the passwordless feature. Here at Microsoft, nearly 100 percent of our employees use passwordless options to log into their corporate accounts.

Strengthen security with multifactor authentication

One simple step we can all take to protect our accounts today is adding multifactor authentication, which blocks 99.9 percent of account compromise attacks. The Microsoft Authenticator app is free and provides multiple options for authentication, including time-based one-time passcodes (TOTP), push notifications, and passwordless sign-in—all of which work for any site that supports multifactor authentication. Authenticator is available for Android and iOS and gives you the option to turn two-step verification on or off. For your Microsoft Account, multifactor authentication is usually only needed the first time you sign in or after changing your password. Once your device is recognized, you’ll just need your primary sign-in.

Microsoft Authenticator screen showing different accounts, including: Microsoft, Contoso Corporation, and Facebook.

Make sure your password isn’t the weak link

Rather than keeping attackers out, weak passwords often provide a way in. Using and reusing simple passwords across different accounts might make our online life easier, but it also leaves the door open. Attackers regularly scroll social media accounts looking for birthdates, vacation spots, pet names and other personal information they know people use to create easy-to-remember passwords. A recent study found that 68 percent of people use the same password for different accounts.3 For example, once a password and email combination has been compromised, it’s often sold on the dark web for use in additional attacks. As my friend Bret Arsenault, our Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) here at Microsoft, likes to say, “Hackers don’t break in, they log in.”

Some basics to remember—make sure your password is:

  • At least 12 characters long.
  • A combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.
  • Not a word that can be found in a dictionary, or the name of a person, product, or organization.
  • Completely different from your previous passwords.
  • Changed immediately if you suspect it may have been compromised.

Tip: Consider using a password manager. Microsoft Edge and Microsoft Authenticator can create (and remember) strong passwords using Password Generator, and then automatically fill them in when accessing your accounts. Also, keep these other tips in mind:

  • Only share personal information in real-time—in person or by phone. (Be careful on social media.)
  • Be skeptical of messages with links, especially those asking for personal information.
  • Be on guard against messages with attached files, even from people or organizations you trust.
  • Enable the lock feature on all your mobile devices (fingerprint, PIN, or facial recognition).
  • Ensure all the apps on your device are legitimate (only from your device’s official app store).
  • Keep your browser updated, browse in incognito mode, and enable Pop-Up Blocker.
  • Use Windows 11 and turn on Tamper Protection to protect your security settings.

Tip: When answering security questions, provide an unrelated answer. For example, Q: “Where were you born?” A: “Green.” This helps throw off attackers who might use information skimmed from your social media accounts to hack your passwords. (Just be sure the unrelated answers are something you’ll remember.)

Passwordless authentication is becoming commonplace

As part of a historic collaboration, the FIDO Alliance, Microsoft, Apple, and Google have announced plans to expand support for a common passwordless sign-in standard. Commonly referred to as passkeys, these multi-device FIDO credentials offer users a platform-native way to safely and quickly sign in to any of their devices without a password. Virtually unable to be phished and available across all your devices, a passkey lets you sign in simply by authenticating with your face, fingerprint, or device PIN.

In addition to a consistent user experience and enhanced security, these new credentials offer two other compelling benefits:

  1. Users can automatically access their passkeys on many of their devices without having to re-enroll for each account. Simply authenticate with your platform on your new device and your passkeys will be there ready to use—protecting you against device loss and simplifying device upgrade scenarios.
  2. With passkeys on your mobile device, you’re able to sign in to an app or service on nearly any device, regardless of the platform or browser the device is running. For example, users can sign in on a Google Chrome browser that’s running on Microsoft Windows, using a passkey on an Apple device.

These new capabilities are expected to become available across Microsoft, Apple, and Google platforms starting in the next year. This type of Web Authentication (WebAuthn) credential represents a new era of authentication, and we’re thrilled to join the FIDO Alliance and others in the industry in supporting a common standard for a safe, consistent authentication experience. Learn more about this open-standards collaboration and exciting passwordless capabilities coming for Microsoft Azure Active Directory in a blog post from Alex Simons, Vice President, Identity Program Management.

Helping you stay secure year-round

Read more about Microsoft’s journey to provide passwordless authentication in a blog post by Joy Chik, Corporate Vice President of Identity. You can also read the complete guide to setting up your passwordless account with Microsoft, including FAQs and download links. And be sure to visit Security Insider for interviews with cybersecurity thought leaders, news on the latest cyberthreats, and lots more.

To learn more about Microsoft Security solutions, visit our website. Bookmark the Security blog to keep up with our expert coverage on security matters. Also, follow us at @MSFTSecurity for the latest news and updates on cybersecurity.

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Are bigger SSD’s faster?

It’s possible you’ve read somewhere or someone gave you the following advice: a bigger SSD is faster. That is correct. If you take a specific SSD drive model and compare its 250 GB size variant to the 1 TB variant, the bigger one will be faster.

Again, I can’t stress this enough: we’re talking about the same model from the same manufacturer – only the size differs.

In this whole idea, we’re talking about comparing something like the Kingston A400 240 GB model to the Kingston A400 960 GB model. In this example, even the manufacturer stats about 100 MB/s faster write performance.

Ok, but why is a bigger SSD faster?

To put it simply, a bigger SSD has more NAND chips ranks and more channels that they can use in parallel. This leads to faster data transfer. This is a lame simplified explanation.

This of course, varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and that is because there are different controllers out there, different things a manufacturer can do in the SSD’s firmware and so on. But usually, you’ll see a measurable difference between the low capacity drives and the higher capacity ones.

Consider the DRAM Cache

The way an SSD uses its cache is by placing data in this lower-latency area, called the cache, so future requests for that data can occur much faster. These caches are usually of two types: DRAM Cache or SLC Cache.

Fast SSDs, usually have a DRAM cache. The controller of the SSD actually has this dynamic random-access memory (DRAM). Do not confuse this with the SLC cache.

Why would you care? Well, bigger SSDs have a bigger DRAM cache. Just check Samsung’s datasheet for the 870 EVO – on page 3 you’ll see the 1TB, 2TB, and 4TB have bigger and bigger DRAM caches than the 250/500GB drives.

that is the DRAM cache. Its an additional chip!

DRAM Cache and SLC Cache are completely different animals. Yes they both do the ‘cache’ action. They both have the purpose of accelerating the drive’s speed, but the cost and logic are different.

A DRAM cache is basically a separate chip in the PCB of your SSD. This DRAM chip is responsible for the work in your SSD, just as your system RAM is responsible for the operation of your PC. It temporarily stores data for the purpose of accelerating processing.

And because of the temporary storage function of the DRAM cache, many read and write processes can directly use the data in this cache – and it is a lot faster than starting from the beginning.

When we’re talking about the SLC cache, it is not a separate chip. Because it is called a cache and it is not really a true SLC NAND Flash chip, but a part of the space in the TLC or QLC’s NAND Flash IC, it simulates the SLC writing method. It simulates it as in it writes only 1 bit of data in each cell. This does improve the read/write performance of the SSD. But not as long or as much as a DRAM cache.

But! For an SSD without a DRAM cache, just a SLC Cache, the speeds will drop dramatically after that cache is exhausted from sequential writes – thye drop to the original value of the TLC NAND Flash. For these types of SSDs, without a DRAM cache, usually the indicated read/write speed in the tech specs are measured using the SLC Cache. (the test does not get to saturate the SLC cache and the average speed is higher. But if it were to be really tested, we’d see lower numbers once the SLC Cache can’t keep up)

The bottom line is: a drive without a DRAM Cache will not be able to sustain those advertised speeds for long.

Plus, a bigger DRAM Cache means you can abuse that drive more. By abusing, I mean giving it heavy workloads like a lot of writes/reads at once.

My 2cents? Never buy a DRAM-less SSD. SSDs that have a DRAM cache are so cheap nowadays it does not make sense to trade off the performance. Heck, I’ve seen DRAM-less SSDs a couple of bucks more expensive than the ones with a DRAM cache. I don’t know why.

How to tell if that SSD has a DRAM cache?

Just look up the datasheet on the manufacturer’s website. PCpartpicker also sometimes lists this specification in the Cache column.

If I’m in a hurry, if the manufacturer does not say anything about the DRAM cache, I will assume it has none. If I really want to know, just Google some review of that model.

TBW – total bytes written

A specification where bigger drives win again, as they allow for more writes before failure.

To be fair, a normal gamer/user will probably never saturate this even if we’re talking about a small drive. It takes a lot of work to actually write so much data and usually… you’ll probably want to upgrade to a bigger or faster drive before your old SSD will fial.

Nonetheless, it is worth mentioning that the TBW figure is also bigger in a bigger SSD.

Always try to buy bigger and with DRAM Cache

Enough said. Spending a little more for a bigger drive with a DRAM cache is always worth it. Always!

Examples of popular SSDs that do have a DRAM cache:

  • Samsung 870 EVO, 860 EVO, 850 EVO, 860 PRO, 980 PRO, 960 PRO, 970 EVO drives
  • Crucial MX500 drives
  • Gigabyte Aorus Gen4 7000s
  • Patriot Ignite 960 GB
  • Kingston A2000 M.2

Do note that the list above is not complete. I’m sure I’ve missed some. Those are just some popular drives that I can actually recommend if you are looking for suggestions on what to buy – and always strive to get the biggest capacity you can afford!

Final thoughts

If there is something to remember from this whole article is this: buy as big as your budget allows you and always buy an SSD that has a DRAM Cache. These two ideas will guarantee that you’ll not be disappointed with your new SSD.

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Samsung Confirms Data Breach After Hackers Leak Galaxy Source Code

Samsung on Monday confirmed a security breach that resulted in the exposure of internal company data, including the source code related to its Galaxy smartphones.

“According to our initial analysis, the breach involves some source code relating to the operation of Galaxy devices, but does not include the personal information of our consumers or employees,” the electronics giant told Bloomberg.

The South Korean chaebol also confirmed that it doesn’t anticipate any impact to its business or its customers as a result of the incident and that it has implemented new security measures to prevent such breaches in the future.

The confirmation comes after the LAPSUS$ hacking group dumped 190GB of Samsung data on its Telegram channel towards the end of last week, allegedly exposing the source code for trusted applets installed within TrustZone, algorithms for biometric authentication, bootloaders for recent devices, and even confidential data from its chip supplier Qualcomm.

The news of the leak was first reported by Bleeping Computer on March 4, 2022.

If the name LAPSUS$ rings familiar, it’s the same extortionist gang that made away with a 1TB trove of proprietary data from NVIDIA last month, namely employee credentials, schematics, driver source code, and information pertaining to the latest graphics chips.

Samsung Galaxy Source Code

The group, which first emerged in late December 2021, also placed an unusual demand urging the company to open-source its GPU drivers forever and remove its Ethereum cryptocurrency mining cap from all NVIDIA 30-series GPUs to prevent more leaks.

It’s not immediately clear if LAPSUS$ has made any similar demands to Samsung before publishing the information.

The fallout from the NVIDIA leaks has also led to the release of “over 70,000 employee email addresses and NTLM password hashes, many of which were subsequently cracked and circulated within the hacking community.”

That’s not all. Two code-signing certificates included in cache dump from NVIDIA have been used to sign malicious Windows drivers and other tools often used by hacking crews, namely Cobalt Strike beacons, Mimikatz, and other remote access trojans.

“Threat actors started on 1st March, a day after torrent [was] posted,” security researcher Kevin Beaumont said in a tweet last week.

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