Category: Conferences

AWS re:Inforce review

woman with glasses smiling and holding cup

Security is everyone’s job. There, I said it. Now that I got that under my belt, I’ll tell you how the first (Amazon Web Services) AWS re:Inforce conference went.

The Senior Information Security Architect at my job wasn’t able to attend the conference and asked me to go in his place. With the focus being on security, this wasn’t something I would have picked for myself. Alas, my manager said I could go if I came back and shared what I’d learned. I’m so glad I did.

Day 1

Dejavu all over again. I was just here at the Boston Convention Center a few weeks ago for Red Hat Summit which means I’d have a greater chance finding my sessions. They had shuttles to and from hotels which was great, but upon entering the convention center, there were metal detectors and bag checks. I’ve never been to a conference where they had metal detectors and went through your stuff. It felt like I was at the airport, except I didn’t have to take my shoes off. You had to empty your pockets and if you had keys or any metal, you had to walk through with it in your hands and your hands over your head (like don’t shoot). Of course, the metal detector goes off as I walk through. The guard wands me and stops on my pocket. He’s starts getting louder and louder asking me what’s in my pocket over and over again. I said, “nothing” and he asks again, so I just lifted shirt up and patted my pocket and said, “nothing!!!”. He lets out this little laugh and says, “oh, it’s your jeans.” How many people do you think walked through there with grommets on their jeans? DO BETTER re:Inforce organizers.

2 metal detectors
How did I end up in a TSA line?

Off to breakfast. There is nothing good to report here. On to my review of the keynote.

oatmeal and dried fruit looking very unappealing
No words


Tuesday started with the keynote, lead by AWS VP and CISO, Steve Schmidt. His talk started off separating AWS from the other cloud vendors by way of the revenue generated and the number of ‘regions’ competitors have verses the number of regions AWS has. With 21 regions and 66 availability zones, the way AWS constructs regions, seems to far surpass that of the next closest competitor.

There was a lot of emphasis on security of the cloud and security in the cloud, which is called, the shared responsibility model. Looking at the culture of security, (this is a security conference, right) it must be “built into what we do everyday”. Touting AWS products that will provide the type of granular security, monitoring and compliance businesses need now and in the future, he hoped we all walked away with 3-5 things to make you more secure.

graph showing the split between customer and aws responsibillities
Shared Responsibility Model

Separated in to chapters, the talk covered the following topics:

  • Chapter 1: The Current State of Security
  • Chapter 2: Culture of Security
  • Chapter 3: Governance, Risk and Compliance
  • Chapter 4: Security Deep Dive
  • Chapter 5: The Future of Cloud Security

As he reviewed the current state of security, he hailed that fact that currently, 94% of all websites are using SSL, but on the other end of the spectrum, 94% of all IOT devices are sending information in plain text. AWS has service called IOT Defender, a fully managed service which gives you a way to patch and update devices and even more importantly, encrypting device data.

There is a service called AWS Ground Station, which is a fully managed service that lets you control satellite systems as well as ingest and process of of that data.

The most talked about suite of security services in this keynote was Security Hub (which just went GA), GuardDuty, Inspector and Macie. Together, they provide automated compliance checks of application and resources, uses machine learning to analyze and monitor account activity and networks, and classify and protect sensitive data. Although separate products, they seem to always be mentioned together.

He mentioned that “encryption is no silver bullet”, but it surely beats a blank, There is a new feature that customers have been waiting for is Elastic Block Storage (EBS) encryption by default. You can opt-in to have all newly created volumes encrypted at creation, with the ability to use customer managed keys or AWS default keys. Since keys are regional, you have to opt-in region by region. This, on top of layering defenses, AWS is putting security at every level.

There were many more services mentioned and reintroduced; Control Tower, Config Rules, IAM Access Advisor + Organizations, AppMesh, Nitro w/ Firecracker, Radar Framework, Root CA Hierarcy for ACM and so many more, I thought they were just making stuff up at this point.

How to Secure Your Active Directory Deployment on AWS

This is the session that I looked forward to the most. Since we are working towards deploying Active Directory (AD) to AWS, this was pretty timely. The presenter, an AWS employee, discussed the use cases for deploying AD to AWS, then gave an overview that covered 2 deployment types, self-manged AD and managed AD. Starting with an overview of the basics of AD, he used the shared responsibility model as the starting point to draw the distinction between the two solutions.

The managed AD solution is of course easier and less work to deploy. Creating a separate forest or domain and either a 1-way or 2-way trust in the beginning was biggest part of implementing that solution. The only thing the customer has to worry about after that are the users, group and group policy. We looked at that solution in the beginning, but for what the level of access we require in our domain, we opted for the self-manged AD, where we deploy a server and promote it to a domain controller (DC). This allows us to extend our on-prem out to AWS and work with our single sign on.

chart with TCP UDP ports
Very Timely

He discussed the of separation of responsibility by creating an account structure that separated the management of AD into separate accounts using AWS Landing Zone. Also, creating a separate organizational account that logged all accounts using CloudTrail and AWS Config logs as well as a security account that had the GuardDuty master in it.

This talk covered quite a bit of very relevant information for me. I’ll definitely be reviewing the slides and rewatching the session.

Securing Serverless and Container Services

This talk was on 2 technologies I’m not very familiar with; serverless and containers. He talked about common sense approaches to securing both technologies, using slides that covered multiple security domains and services as well as ‘cloud adoption framework’ from a security perspective. Slides & recording.

A table with various security products and the perspective they address
AWS Slide

Security Best Practices and the Well-Architected Way

As a student of the Well-Architected Framework, this session gave me a great primer into how AWS provides services that upholds this pillar. With the Well-Architected tool, which is free to use, you can review your workloads and discover areas where you can improve technical decisions on how to secure your workload in AWS. I also found out about the labs on security as well as other pillars of the framwork. This look like a very good resource to play around with tools (outside of your production account, of course) and discover what’s available. Slides & recording.

Learn to Love The AWS Command Line Interface

This was a talk held in the expo center at the Developer’s Lounge by one of my favorites who teaches online AWS certification classes on Udemy and A Cloud Guru, Ryan Kroonenberg. I was so excited to see his tweet that he was doing a talk on the AWS CLI. Although the title was different, it was the same exact talk he did at AWS Public Sector Summit, but with a different name.

I wasn’t the slightest bit upset by it. At his talk at Summit, he mentioned he used Amazon Polly to help him study for exams. I took his advice and learned about Polly and did the exact same thing for my exam,which was a little over a week away. I typed my notes up and used the SSML markup and was able to download them all to MP3s. It was so rad to be able to study on the go.

Before the talk started, I’d asked could I get a selfie with him because he was swamped at the end of his talk at summit. Of course he obliged and his right hand, Faye Ellis volunteered to take the photo. There was NO WAY I was going to have her take the photo, I wanted her in it.

3 people smiling at camera
I only wish I had my A Cloud Guru shirt on too!

He went over 20 CLI commands and stipulated that this talk wasn’t aimed at gurus, just regular folks who want to learn about what’s possible in the CLI. He covered installing it on Mac and Windows as well as setting it up with your access keys (the very insecure way, but hey, that’s how we all learned). There were quite a few that I didn’t know about or forgotten about. I didn’t use Polly via the CLI, but this time I took a photo of the URL in the slides and I will definitely check it out.

Of course, I had a better grasp on some command the second time around. It was a great 30 minutes well spent and I got to thank them for the great content. There was no need to take notes, he put all the commands up in S3 for our CLI enjoyment.

Threat Detection on AWS: An Introduction to Amazon GuardDuty

Finally, a primer on GuardDuty. By this time, I’d heard so much about this product, it was high time a found out what it actually was. My colleague said we were already using it so now I was even more interested in seeing it for myself.

GuardDuty is a regional managed service that can aggregate logs across AWS accounts and analyze them for unexpected and/or malicious behavior happening into a record called a Finding. With no agent needed, it takes information from VPC Flow Logs, CloudTrail events and DNS logs and produces the findings. Rated high, medium and low, findings contain information about the resource in question and the behavior detected. You click on it for even more details about the issue. Details may include account id, the type of resource, the port, the number of times it’s been logged, as well as a link to learn more about the behavior.

AWS has a LOT of Security Services

GuardDuty gets their threat intel from CrowdStrike, ProofPoint and threat information gathered by AWS. With this much information, you can imagine the number of events being processed. This data is never logged, just streamed and processed in memory, unless the log entry contains a finding.

Once you get a feel for the type of behaviors that are occurring in your environment, you can set up automated remediation using Lambda, and CloudWatch events to take action on a finding. If someone adds or changes a rule to something insecure like port 22 on, you can create a Lambda function that will lock the port down to whatever you like.

I’m sure it will be a great tool in our AWS security arsenal. Slides & recording.

Day 2

Woman in glasses smiling with a cup in hand.
A lot of coffee was consumed during this conference

How to act on your security and compliance alerts with Security Hub

This talk was aimed at getting customers to look at Security Hub (SH) as a way to address compliance. With two AWS employees and two SH customers, they started off with 4 problem statements that outlined issues that can be addressed by this product.

  1. Backlog of Compliance requirements
  2. Too many security alert formats
  3. Too many security alerts
  4. Lack of integrated view

SH offers a single view into your security and compliance tools. Using best practices suggested by the Center for Internet Security AWS security benchmarks, you’ll get a compliance score against their standards. It’s a bit like GuardDuty in that it will offer a single view for you to review, triage and take action on issues. It even works with GuardDuty as well as Macie and Inspector as they can send their findings into SH for review. You can also centralize accounts and it will give you insight into what types of issue it discovers across your organization.

Plenty of third-party integrations like CrowdStrike Falcon, Palo Alto: VM-Series and Splunk Enterprise to enable and gain the ability to consume their data. With provided CloudFormation templates, you can set up integration between them and SH. You can also send findings to partners like PagerDuty, Slack and Splunk for even quicker notifications.

slides and recording.

Aligning to the NIST Cybersecurity Framework in the AWS Cloud

This talk was way over my pay grade, but I was able to glean some gems to bring back to my colleagues

I learned what NIST Cybersecurity Framework was what industries, organizations and even states that use it. They mentioned a whitepaper on it as well as a workbook that outlines the responsibilities.

I had to run in the middle the talk to grab a special swag item by request, but here are the slides and recording.

An autographed book
It was the least I could do

Securing your Block Storage on AWS

This talk was an overview of block storage in general as well as availability to opt-in for default encryption on new EBS volumes. It’s just a check box and from then on, all new volumes will be encrypted using a key you create or a default key. Although you’ll need to enable this on a region by region bases, you can forever be sure that volumes will be encrypted.

There was so much talk of KMS, I decided to make sure I dropped into the hands-on labs to see if I could get some time with it.

slides and recording

Containers and mission-critical applications

I hope the slides and recording can shed light on this. This session was PACKED. The walk-ups couldn’t even get in. *** Inside Hack*** Next time, walk in on an empty line, grab some headphones and sit in an empty seat in another section.

Don’t miss another session

Hands On Labs

I passed on the last 2 sessions of the day to get some time in with hands on labs. When you entered the room, you were given a ticket with a code that gave you 1 free lab on qwiklabs. Once you were done with a lab, you could get another code and learn something else. I was able to knock out quite a few before they closed down. Here are the labs I completed.

  • Caching Static Files with Amazon Cloud Front
  • Introduction to Amazon EC2
  • Working with Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS)
  • Working with Elastic Load Balancing (ELB)
  • Introduction to AWS Key Management
  • Introduction to AWS Identity and Access Management

The EC2 and IAM lab were elementary, but I’d never created an application load balancer before, so that was a pleasant surprise how straight forward it was to set up.

2 monitors with text
Screen real estate for hands on labs

End of the conference

After an exhausting day and an AWS online study group to get to, I didn’t go to the closing reception. However, I was able to make my way to the expo floor and snag a few more t-shirts and a beer.

Overall, this was a really good conference. I learned a lot about services I’d never heard of and more about services that I use frequently. With all this information about what AWS has and how some services work together, I feel like I’m in a better position to investigate and dig around the console more and gain some nuggets for the Solution Architect exam.

My Recap of Red Hat Summit 2019

I’m just settling back into the office after attending my first Red Hat Summit. What an adventure!!! When I first walked into the Boston Convention Center, I knew I was in the right place. Welcomed by red carpets everywhere and the spiffy new logo, with a nod to accessibility right as I entered, I knew I was where I was supposed to be. My flight got me in Monday afternoon and made it to the First Timers Reception. After I picked up my registration badge and backpack, took obligatory selfies,  I headed to the shindig.  

A huge breakout room with a multiple bars, food stations on my left and right and wait staff walking around with snacks, this room was buzzing. I knew for certain I didn’t know anyone here, so I grabbed a beer and looked for a place to hang out. Almost immediately, I was chatting it up with a few guys who were Red Hat Accelerators.  

Red Hat Accelerators are defined as:  

“The Red Hat Accelerators (RHA) program is a global customer network of Red Hat (RH) technology experts and enthusiasts who willingly share their IT knowledge and expertise with peers in the industry, the community, and with Red Hat.” 

From Red Hat

We did intros, laughed and talked until the end of the reception. One guy asked if I’d be interested in becoming an accelerator and gave me a card that had a QR code on it to find out more about the program. I was sure I wasn’t interested, but I took the card anyway and promised to check it out.  

I didn’t get into many of the sessions I’d hoped to.  I’d built my agenda in advance, but so many were filled up very fast. Success struck on a few, so I was able to build an agenda that kept me busy all week. Here is a peek and some of the sessions I attended. 

Day 1

Winning With Red Hat Enterprise Linux- As told by Our most fanatical customers. (slides) 

Wouldn’t you know, I few of the guys I’d met at the reception was on this panel. It was moderated by Marc Richter, a Red Hat Senior Technical Account Manager (TAM) and it was a Q&A about all things Red Hat. The panel talked about their joys and pain points of using RH and features and services they’d like to see improve. It was a lively session and it was really a great way to ease into the fire hose that was about to open on me.  

Making DevOps managed services work for you 

Another panel that talked about how they are implementing DevOps in their environment. I heard so many buzzwords, but one that kept being repeated was ‘velocity’. The context clues gave me an idea, but I was so surprised at just how many times it was being uttered. I guess DevOps = Velocity. However, all I kept thinking about was the Velocity Conference that was coming in June and that I wouldn’t be going to because I was slated to attend AWS Public Sector Summit in DC at the same time.  

Move at the speed of DevOps: 

This session really piqued my interest. I’m new to DevOps and I’ve been tasked with developing an environment for our developers and this seemed like the place to start. Greeted with a full house, I guessed so many others were in my boat and wanted to learn more. Text heavy slides with small fonts that I couldn’t make out, I tried to take a few photos to record some of the nuggets. Sadly, I couldn’t read them and they hadn’t released the slide deck as I’m writing this post.  One acronym they went over was PACE, which focused on 4 key pivots on the path to DevOps:  

  • Process 
  • Architecture 
  • Culture 
  • engineering  

As the talk when on, it started to feel more and more like a sales pitch. I even asked the guy next to me and he felt the same way.  The slide deck hasn’t been released yet for this talk, but I’ll surely keep my eye out for this one.  

Pulling the puppet strings with Ansible:  (slides) 

Although this was only a mini session, I wanted to attend to see what could be done with both Puppet and Ansible. We currently use Puppet for configuration management for Linux systems, but I’m 1) looking for more insight into Puppet and 2) Discover how the two can work together. This session talked about how Red Hat started with CFEngine first, and the migration to Puppet. Puppet language is hard to learn and dependency ordering proved challenging.  It was also slow and didn’t scale well. After 10 years with Puppet, they found it even harder to learn and updating modules to 5.x was nearly impossible.  

Then they moved to a hybrid approach with Puppet and Ansible. Ansible was great for orchestration and ordering dependencies was much easier. You just wrote the playbook and you were on your way. Ansible was also much easier to learn. Then came Ansible Tower. With the ability to centralize playbook execution and manage credentials, Ansible became an important part of configuration management. However, it was not going to replace Puppet. Hiera proved better at managing environment data and Puppet ERB templating was better than Jing2.  If you don’t use Ansible Tower, centralized auditing could prove challenging.  

Puppet Pain Points

Red Hat has a podcast that I listen to called, Command Line Heroes and its hosted by the one and only Saron Yitbarek of #CodeNewbie fame. They had a space set up at at the conference and with command line video games, interviews for the podcast and 2 people doing caricatures. I did a quick interview and had my caricature drawn as I talked. Pretty neat, huh?  

Desperately seeking DevOps: How do you change the way you work?  (notes)     

This session wasn’t what I was expecting. It was a “birds-of-a-feather” session which meant you were in a room with other Red Hat customers that were also desperately seeking DevOps. This session started kind of like an ‘unconference’, where you wrote down topics that you’d like to talk about and the attendees would vote for 3 suggestions each by putting a dot on the post-it note that had an idea they would be interested in talking about.   One of my topics got picked for discussion.  You’ve decided on the DevOps approach, now what? Sadly, it was less about what tools folks were using and the onboarding involved, but more about how to change the culture in order to even begin the process. Bigger organization seemed to have much more friction with changing mind sets than anything else. One company did find success with making sure teams were trained. They took time to level the team up with workshops on things like Python, learning the tools, etc. More time up front yielded better results from the teams involved. Also, developers had to be included in this training because they had to learn and be responsible for their role in the pipeline.  

Voting on which topics to discuss

At the end of a very long day, they held the General Sessions which lasted 2 hours. Seating was difficult so I sat on the floor in the back of the hall. After that became impossible, I found the Active Lounge. It was empty and had a TV casting the session. I put my feet up and watched. There was a conversation between the Red Hat CEO, Jim Whitehurst and IBM CEO, Ginny Rometty. Fun fact, I met Ginny at Microsoft Ignite in 2017.  There was a women’s lunch during the conference and it was very well attended. I’d registered well in advance, but it was hard to find seating. As the usher walked me around the room, Ginny invited me to sit at her table with her and her colleagues in the front of the room. It was an honor and a very nice gesture. Of course I stuck out like a sore thumb in my jeans and t-shirt while the ladies were resplendent in their dresses and suits, but I didn’t care, I had the best seat in the house!  Anyway, I digress. They spoke about the history of open source and how both companies invested in it over the years. Jim said, “Open source is the vehicle for innovations that matter” and that got a big round of applause. Ginny got her own round of applause when she said, “We’d like to keep Red Hat separate”.  

A Round of Applause for keeping Red Hat separate from IBM

Another great conversation was Jim speaking with Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft and their commitment to open source, the flexibility of hybrid and edge cloud. There was also the big announcement of general availability  (GA) of the Azure Open Shift Service. Many CEOs got on stage and talked about how they’re using Red Hat products to further their own innovations. Other big announcements were GA for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8 (RHEL 8), the Red Hat Universal Base Image (UBI) and Red Hat Insights adding support for Microsoft SQL Server for Linux.()  

As the keynote wrapped up, the welcome reception that followed was held in the expo hall. Vendors we’ve all heard of had booths and plenty of swag to give away.  

Day 2

Mental shift from system admin to system architect: 

This session was more from the move from sysadmin to leading a team, but I found some nuggets that proved helpful. Thinking in terms of growth for the team and identifying my own strengths and weaknesses aids that shift. Also keeping up on tried and true technical skills as well as developing new skills. Lastly, creating a roadmap for future growth and reviewing it often to stay on track. 

Next, I rounded off my morning with 2 session on open organizations and open leaders.   

Giving people a voice in an open organization: (slides) 

We’ve all been in an organization where there is one person that is always talking and there are some folks that never speak up. This session focused on how to “create an environment where everyone is heard equally”. Led by 2 Red Hat staffers, this session talked about processes that helped teams communicate better and “collaborate on equal terms regardless of tenure”. This session spoke to me. I’ve seen this dynamic where there is someone that is always talking and over the years, I’ve tried to be the person in the room that pays attention to faces. Sometimes faces change with they agree or disagree with something that’s being said. I try to direct questions to people who look like they have something to say and keep them included in the conversation. I know how it is to be the quiet one in the room and those small gestures are sometimes just enough to make a space more inclusive.  

Beyond engagement: What open leaders need to know about empowering others (slides) 

This session followed up the previous session quite nicely. Led by another Red Hat employee, this one talked of how we empower individuals just as much as we empower teams. She talked about how leaders should build other leaders to both further the growth of the company but also, growth of the individual. This helps “every individual reach his or her potential”. She provided a link to the open organization maturity model, a framework that Red Hat uses to help teams, individuals and the organization as a whole become more transparent and inclusive.

One thing this session reminded me of was Proverb 27:17 As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.    

Puppet and Ansible in Foreman: 

This session was in the community theater in the expo hall and the sound was so poor, I couldn’t hear the speaker. I didn’t know what Foreman was, so I had to look it up. Foreman is a server lifecycle management and orchestration tools. It is commonly used with Puppet and Chef. It would have been nice to learn more.                                                                                                                                

Since I was in the expo hall, I skipped my last session of the day and explored the expo hall. I took some hands-on demos in the Red Hat Booth and got t-shirt for completing each one. Once you did 3, you got a hoodie as a bonus!  

Day 3: 

Centos 8 and Beyond: 

This was another session held in the expo hall and it was hard to hear the speaker. It was mostly a Q&A between the speaker, a Red Hat employees who works on the Centos project and the audience. There is no ETA on the release of version 8, but it’s coming. There was an overview of the build process, how Centos is working with Fedora as well as the steps to get it to GA. 

Open Management: The next frontier in open culture: 

This was a panel discussion of Red Hat managers and they did a Q&A on how they are using the open culture to support teams and individuals as well as how managers are still necessary and what part they play in an open culture. They’d have a question on a slide and each manager got a chance to reply.  A few nuggets I took away were that empathy is a necessary quality in a manger. How can you manage humans if you have no empathy? Not having a empathetic manager is a cancer IMO. Why would you even try if your manager doesn’t exhibit empathy. If they don’t care, how can you?  

In between sessions, I check twitter and I’d discovered that Linux Academy just added RHEL 8 to the cloud playground! 

Manage Windows with Ansible: The what, the why, and the how? (slides) 

This was the session I’d looked forward to the most. I want to do more automation in deploying Windows systems here, and we’re just not there yet.  I’d already heard about how well Puppet and Ansible work together, but this session just focused on Ansible and Windows.  There were a few code examples on how the declarative language of Ansible can help build, patch, secure and configure Windows systems. Also, tips on software management and how great PowerShell DSC is with Ansible. After sitting through this packed session, It was good to know that Linux wasn’t the only party in town and the automation pain points for Windows administration still exist, but there are ways to make it easier with Ansible. However, learning PowerShell and DSC and even more python are in order. To make writing playbooks even easier, there is a an Ansible extension for Visual Studio Code.

There was a call to action at the end of the talk to “Learn how to Ansible”. I’d used Ansible for Linux in a test environment before, but never in production and NEVER for Windows. I think I’ll take his advice and wade in. 

Security-Enhanced Linux for mere mortals: 

I’ll admit it, I don’t get SELinux. It has been something always caused more problems that it solved IMO. As a mere mortal, I signed up so I could get a better understanding of how to enable it and not break everything. The speaker understood the pain point of how hard it was to even grasp SELinux, the documentation is the beginning was downright horrible, but over the years, it has gotten better and SELinux is much easier to manage.  

He showed scenarios and demos on how to configure, set rules and policies and troubleshoot SELinux issues. I had to agree, it did SEEM easier in the situations he’d presented, but more understand would definitely be needed. I’d thought I would be able to walk away from the conference without one snarky comment about Windows Admins, but I was wrong. He had to throw in the tired old trope, “It’s so easy, even an Windows Admin can do it” at the very end. Alas, no conference is ever perfect.


I’d learned quite a bit about what tools and services Red Hat and the ecosystems surrounding them provide. There were so many that I hadn’t even heard of before, but I guess that’s why you go to conferences, to gain a new insight on what’s possible and find out more about things you only know by name. I’m looking forward to attending again. It was a great experience. Who knows, maybe next year I’ll be back as an accelerator. 

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