Our security model is based on four pillars which interact at various points with each other:

  1. Attackers are automated programs (Botnets)

  2. Defense in depth

  3. Early detection

  4. Good chance of fast recovery

Here is how we are applying this model to a large Joomla website on a Linx/ Apache/ MySQL/ PHP (LAMP) server

 

Attackers are automated programs (Botnets)

We are protecting ourselves against automated attacks by botnets, which are part of organized crime. A good summary has been made in a 2014 blog article “How to send 5 million spam emails without even noticing” by Sophos Security.

We are not defending the website or any of our systems against a sophisticated, directed attack, since this is highly unlikely to occur for any small to medium business website.

Based on this, we have established the following practices which fall under this assumption:

  • Server infrastructure security issues are handled by a major Hosting Provider, which is responsible for patching the infrastructure. This is done by using a Virtual Server environment, such as Amazon EC2 or Xen or VMWare with a trusted local hosting provider.

  • Our servers run on Ubuntu 14.04 Long Term Support, which backports current security issues until Q3 2019.
    It may make sense to upgrade to Ubuntu 16.04 sometime during te supported time frame, as sometimes the PHP version may require updating.
    This process is also fairly simple and requires only minimal outage times.
    The server is configured to apply security updates daily. If the kernel – the operating system core – has been updated, a reboot is required. We action such a reboot at the latest within 6 weeks, which is an acceptable time frame.

  • We process our server logs twice a month in a tool called “logwatch” and review them for major patterns:

    • Traffic per day – we don’t expect this to fluctuate more than 50% on average over 15 days.

    • Average attacks per day from how many hosts

    • Major 404, 403 and 401 errors and attack patterns – we regularly see attack patterns against Wordpress, Zend Framework and other common systems on our site, even though we run none of these.

    • Other notable requests

    • Mail send over the time period. Many security attacks are sending spam email as a result of exploiting a system.

  • We review security updates to the Joomla platform regularly and apply them within a time period of about 6 weeks as part of the planning process with the marketing team.
    Some updates are critical, such as CSRF or injection attacks that allow access elevation, these are applied same day if possible. 

Defense in depth

Defense in depth means that a successful attack does not always allow the attacker full access to everything. Examples of this include

  • Even if our server root account is compromised, we can terminate the server and restore it from backup from up to 90 days ago. This means such an attack could in theory go undetected for a long time and we still can access a backup.

  • Our website code is held separately on GitHub and cannot be tampered with from the web server. It is extracted from GitHub with a read only user.

  • Even if running multiple websites on the web server – we run them under different user names. This means the breach of one website would not have resulted in the breach of all of them. This process is scripted and therefore the risk of errors or omissions is minimized. Also, code updates via Git do not use the web server user, so they cannot be tampered with

  • Even if an attacker can upload files to Joomla through an unknown or unpatched security hole (a “Zero day attack”), they can only upload to the image or media area, as all other folders are write protected for the web server user.

  • Even if such a file upload is successful, it cannot be used for boasting, as the web server is configured to not run any script files in the images and media folders. Naturally these folders need to be writeable, so that staff can upload images, pdfs and the like.

Early detection

We have a range of monitoring solutions set up to pick any any irregularities:

  • Every 5 minutes websitepule.com checks that our website responds within an acceptable timeframe. This is not a full page load, but a simple receipt of an HTTP header. Based on this we can detect outages fairly quickly.

  • Every 30 minutes we run diagnostic checks to see that any recent changes have not resulted in functionality regression on the website. This is useful if unexpected content changes have been made, or something has been overlooked in development

  • Where applicable, we are running a website page speed test every 30 minutes from all International markets required.

  • Every about 2 weeks, we process our website logs with logwatch, as described previously.

Good chance of fast recovery

We have established a range of backups, which allow us to recover fairly quickly:

  • Backups are run on all website and configuration files every 6 hours and kept for 90 days.

  • The backups are test restored at least every 6 months at least, or where an infrastructure change has been made.

  • Code is kept in a client owned GitHub repository.

  • The developer works from a full, current copy of the GitHub repository, so it could be used for a restore as well.

  • A bare bones web server could be set up within about 1-2 hours after payment to the hosting provider, getting the website up and running if necessary

Case Studies

  • Automated Quote and Import System - Streat Control

    Streat Control - an importer of electrical engineering goods - has a distributed operation in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, serving the local waterworks, refineries, breweries and others with instruments for liquid and gas monitoring and control. With these clients, everything is about accuracy. Their goods are five figures plus per unit and are custom manufactured to order and shipped to New Zealand. As this process is lengthy and costly, mistakes are very expensive.

    streatcontrol-case-study-smallWe provided a custom build and web based importing and tracking system, which also covers some areas of the Customer Relationship Management and the complete process of quoting, ordering and delivery. Through our development process we have replaced 7 MS Word templates, several disparate Outlook address books and thousands of uncoordinated emails between staff.

    The new sales management system leads the sales and support staff through a well defined process, which ensures the necessary information is gathered and stored consistently. The main focus in this project was on minimising the need for double data entry. This is achieved by storing all customer details in a flexible information model that even allows to track the same person with several roles with different companies.

    Quotes and sales documents are produced automatically by the system as PDF documents – this format has been chosen due to its compatibility with a large number of computer systems. The system also keeps track of all past quote information, which is accessible for reports. Reports, which have previously been done by copying information into shared Excel sheets is now available to staff in real time.

    The equipment that Streat Control imports is extremely complex and requires hours to days for the construction of quotes. They further deal with heavy weights such as NZ Steel, Auckland City Council or DB Breweries, who will tender out every job, but sometimes it is known in advance that Streat Control will not get a job. This situation allowed for the system to provide return of investment by reducing the amount and scale of repetitive unnecessary work.

    Once ordered, the equipment is then manufactured overseas and usually ready for shipping within 6 weeks. A mistake in this period will lead to a delay of a further 6 weeks, as manufacturers will “re queue” the order. Once shipped, a mistake can mean that you have a 500kg/ $30000 instrument in New Zealand that is hard to get rid of and unsellable.

    Copy and Paste mistakes were wide spread and frustrated sales staff, causing unnecessary follow up communication and searching of email archives.

  • Mental Health Service Database - Mind and Body Consultants

    Mind and Body provide Mental Health Peer Support - a support service that they have pioneered themselves and that is currently delivered in Central and West Auckland as well as Christchurch. They were looking for an integrated management system for their peer support workers. Initially this was triggered through the government requirements to deliver billing data electronically under the PRIMHD standard. At the same time, Mind and Body wanted to "own and control" the solution, so they are not dependent on a specific vendor.

    mindandbody-casestudy-smallWe provided a custom built database management system that tracks patients/peers through their year long engagement and collects all relevant time sheet and costing information along the way. This was built as a web based secure system, so that it could be easier extended with mobile phone travel expense tracking at a later date.

    We were also involved in training and delivery of the software, which was based on a "train the trainer" model. The choice for this was made to create maximum engagement of staff with the introduction of the software, so as to minimise any resistance that might otherwise to be expected.

    Finally with our help Mind and Body became PRIMHD compliant within 1 month after launch - the accepted minimum time frame typical for this was 6 month, with implementations ranging up to 2 years in terms of turnaround time.

    "Eileen informed me today that we are now officially PRIMHD compliant. That is a huge feat in the time that we have been sending off reports to the ministry. Quite frankly I am astounded (in a very good way) that we have done this in such short order. The expectation out there with other organisations is that it takes at least 6 months. Jochen and Eileen have managed it in about 1 month. Well done to the both of you and thanks."

    Rodger Jack - Mind and Body Consultants

     

     

  • Multi-National Multi-Lingual Website - Philips Selecon

    Philips Selecon - formerly Selecon New Zealand - designs, manufactures and exports theatre and architectural lighting systems to the world. Having been their Content Management System (CMS) provider for the past 9 years, we were charged in 2008 with building a 2nd generation corporate website, which included dealing with over 5000 products, over 1000 detail pages such as news, case studies and support material as well as E-Commerce facilities.

    Philips Selecon's products are market leaders or well presented in many major world wide markets, because of this the website Content Management System (CMS) had to manage multiple translations of the content as well as content that is only available in some markets or is hidden from some markets. We achieved this by

    • providing a language translation platform that can be selectively applied to content with an automatic fall back to British English as the default language. This includes facilities to detect changes to the original, so that translations can be refreshed. Languages in use are British English, US English, German, French, Russian and Spanish.
    • providing a facility to hide a complete US supplier portfolio from markets outside New Zealand, as this would otherwise lead to conflicts in the supplier relationship
    • providing a facility to easily hide key products from markets with 110V power current, as some products are technically not compatible with it. This has proven much more successful that marking these products with additional information. Our approach also allows to mark such products once, even though there may be references at 8+ areas in the website.
    • providing a facility to show country specific welcome messages in some areas of the website.

    To showcase Philips Selecon's work, a large number of case studies were reworked and produced. We extended the CMS to provide a simple keyword manager, so that these case studies can be easily categorised by country, type of use and various other keywords. Furthermore, the products use are linked to the case study.
    Based on this powerful information model, we are able to randomly retrieve select case studies in nearly all areas of the website - by relating the products used and keywords to the content of the core functionality of the page.

    To allow easy shopping for repeat users of the website, it also features a store area, where all key products and accessories are listed in 5 sections. While the core products have various support documentation and feature lists associated with them, we also had the challenge to present 5500 imported colour filters - basically coloured plastic sheets and gobos - metal frames to create different patterns on stage.

    We firstly proceeded to create a screen scraping program as to retrieve the information from the suppliers website, because they were not able and motivated to provide this information in a structured format.

    As a second step we created structured product pages for these products. As a third and final step, we created categorised shopping pages for groups of these products. This was done to present the products in a more concise fashion and also because a user would typically buy a number of colour sheets or related patterns in different sizes for a stage production. For this reason our presentation saves time for the user as well.

    Selecon New Zealand was acquired by Philips corporation on 1 Apr 2009. Since then www.seleconlight.com has continued to be the by far most sophisticated, detailed and extensive website in the stable of Philips lighting technology subsidiaries.

    As a result of this, we have also proceeded to integrate the products, case studies and support material of a US based sister operation of Philips into the website system. The fully integrated manner in how these 2 websites operate allows Philips to position themselves as a full service operator. At the same time, we are able to retain all existing links and domain names, as these remain unchanged.

  • Large Joomla Website - The Parenting Place

    The Parenting Place is a non-profit organisation specialising in parenting education. Having educated 15000+ parents in courses and sold over 20000 books and education resources, all largely through their website they were faced with a number of challenges.

    • The website needed a facelift to keep up with branding changes and an expansion of the services and approach of the organisation to parenting education. At the same time they wanted to use their excellent in-house graphic design resources to maximise brand cohesion and cost effectiveness.

    • It became difficult to extend the existing website and provide security updates. This was because it contained a lot of custom developed modules and complex extensions to existing modules.

    • Email marketing is a major activity for The Parenting Place, but it was hard to assess how many emails reached recipients due to emails being sent directly from the web server and being likely a target of spam filters.

    Facelift

    theparentingplace-case-study-2-smallFor the changes to look and feel, we worked closely with the Parenting Place in-house team to develop a new brand expression for the website. Once this was complete, we took over and developed website code and the associated Joomla templates.

    One of the key drivers was to implement a solution that would work well on many mobile browsers and as a result responsive web design solution techniques were chosen to allow for a cost effective coverage of desktop, IPad, IPhone and other mobile browsers.

    Website Upgrade

    To upgrade this website to a current Joomla version we used a combination of techniques:

    • Complex extensions, such as product and country specific promotional codes in Joomla's Virtuemart E-Commerce module were upgraded to the newest version using best practice software development techniques. This allowed us to re-use previously invested effort and kept specification changes to a minimum

    • Simpler extensions, such as webinar management were simply upgraded and audited for security and concerns for code complexity.

    • Fairly simple modules, based on complex off-the-shelf Joomla components, such as the event calendar were replaced with newly written components based on the popular Symfony framework.

    Email Marketing

    To increase effectiveness of the email marketing, the delivery platform had to be moved away from the web server and onto a dedicated platform.

    We chose Mailchimp for this, due to its ease of use, ability to target emails to different audiences and options to automate integration of email list management.

    As a result, email subscription preferences are still tightly integrated between The Parenting Place website and the email marketing platform and at the same time, we enjoy excellent delivery rates and the features and statistics of a major email marketing platform.

Welcome

jochen-daum-automatem

Welcome to Automatem Ltd.

I'm the owner/ operator, Jochen Daum with over 15 years of experience in Website and Web Application Development. Please contact me if there is anything I can help with.