Hostiles Approaching, Secure the Perimeters

Hackers are trying to extort 7.5 million dollars from HBO, and no one is sure how they gained access to the files and media they stole. Sony was the victim a few years back. That attack was purely malicious.

They are the big targets, and you would think these companies have the resources to protect themselves from these intrusions. If they can get hit, you can. As hard as you and your team work on your projects, that's how hard these criminals are trying to disrupt and profit from the entertainment industry.

For security, the key word is vigilance! Protecting yourself from cyber attacks is setting up a well thought out line of defense, implementing it, and scheduling a maintenance protocol that is fluid so that as the challenges shift, you are adjusting your strategy.

Depending on where you are in the M&E space, your security risks will vary. I am going to provide recommendations for protecting content. These are fundamental steps. To determine the safety measures you need, an assessment of your company's risks is the next step.

When we assess securing content, we think about where the content is stored and how it moves through the production cycle. Who touches it and why? Where does it reside and how many iterations of it are there? When is your content most vulnerable? How likely is it that you will become a target? What value does your work have to someone outside your staff and your clients? Determining this is a starting point for how much effort you need to put into protecting your assets.

In IT security parlance there is the term Air Gap. It's a barrier between the content and the team that works on it and everyone else. It may mean an environment isolated from the Internet or at least protected behind passwords and encryption. No one should be able to cross that Air Gap without permission, and if anyone does, you get notified. Establishing this is the first step in any security plan be it for just your computer or your company's network.

How this gets done has as many approaches as there are ways to work. If you have multiple offices, you'll need a VPN (virtual private network) as a layer between the Internet and your network. If you move assets using portable drives, you will want to enable encryption. Encryption will require a password to access the drive. On shared storage servers, an administrator can isolate segments of the storage with permissions.

There are physical measures you can put in place to prevent data theft. Frequent password changes. Use USB port and RJ45 locks on your computers. Combination locks on edit bay doors. Security cameras with explicit warnings.

I mentioned vigilance, and I come back to this because what inevitably happens is keeping these security systems in place is a pain in the rear. Your team members will try to circumvent the security you've set-up because it slows them down. You need to establish best practices and maintain them. There are ways to automate security measures. There are many layers to securing your projects, and you should discuss your needs with experts, get an idea of the costs and decide what solution best meets your needs and your budget.

- Jim Reisman

Don’t Go From Bad to Worse

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Our company rents computers and servers and often our clients are smaller facilities that have to scale up for a big job. These customers usually don't have an IT person on hand to deal with the inevitable hiccups that occur when you have a lot of equipment around.

Even though we provide support, we've learned that we have to emphasize to our renters that if there's a problem, call us first! All too often in the heat of the moment, someone on their team decides he or she will try a few things. Not good!

I thought it would be helpful to share some thoughts with you as to how to avoid turning a simple problem into a disaster. 

The first rule, don't do anything while the machine is running a process. Wait as long as you can and add 15 minutes to that. Rebooting can solve a lot of problems but not if you kill the power while the machine is computing. Never kill the power, period! Restart the device using a command, doing a force quit, or pressing the power button. Don't pull the plug.

Along the same lines let's talk about removable hard drives. Do nothing while they're reading or writing data. Typically, this is indicated by a rapidly flashing light on the front of the drives. One of the worst expressions associated with RAID arrays is 'hot-swappable.' If you think one of the drives in your RAID is faulty, follow a safe procedure or call us at VFX Technologies for support. Ejecting a drive or a flash card without following proper procedures can lead to a catastrophic disaster, possibly the loss of all data on the device.

Keep your original media assets safe and close by while you're working. Save and back up, use a RAID if you can and if you can have a near-line server or backup to drives, even better. There are very simple methods of backing up the critical folders of a job quickly and easily. Depending on the specifics, I can share this information with you, just drop me a line.

A good practice, if you can, is to keep your project on a network not connected to the Internet. If your team can be on workstations and storage servers independent of the primary network, you avoid a lot of potential problems such as intrusion, malware infection, misuse of assets, and loss of productivity. There are several approaches to this solution that depend on your circumstances. Again, if you want to know more, get in touch with me.

There is a basic list of reasons why computers and storage fails. At the top of the list is human error. Be patient with your gear and if you don't know why it's not working, don't try to guess. Support is out there for you. Here's a quick list of what else you can do to keep things running smoothly:

  • Have a Battery Backup Device (UPS) or a surge protector at least.
  • Keep your software up to date.
  • Have virus protection.
  • Keep your equipment in a cool and clean environment.
  • Don't ignore warning signs, error messages, or system crashes.

It's easier to solve a small problem than a big one. It's better to make sure your systems are in good condition before you start a project. It's smarter to ask for help when a problem arises.

-Jim Reisman

Apple Remembers Us

The recent announcement of Apple's new iMac Pro is targeted right at Creative Professionals in the Media & Entertainment industry. The first paragraph on the web page says, "So everyone from video editors to 3D animators to musicians to software developers to scientists can do what they do like they’ve never done before. "

Praise be, the coolest kid on the block hasn't forgotten about us. He's given us a "...lean, mean dream machine", the iMac Pro. Now, will Apple also make us a meaner, badder, kick-ass, modular, and component capable Mac Pro that kicks that trash can to the side of the road? We'll see, maybe next year. In the meantime, this new iMac Pro ain't half bad, based on the specs. 

I'll leave you to look at the pretty pictures and excellent graphic arts on the Apple site. I want you to know what we see in that information that relates to you, as a visual artist and media producer. 

The iMac Pro offers a XEON CPU with up to 18 cores that clock up to 4.5GHz. Apple is utilizing AMD's Radeon VEGA Pro GPUs. Once software manufacturers adapt their applications to these GPUs, you will have a graphics card capable of 22-25 Teraflops of computing speed (really fast) compared to the wonderful and recently introduced GTX 1080TI which tops out at 11 Teraflops. Radeon has an architecture that's way ahead of where Nvidia is right now. We predict a GPU war is brewing as we speak. This also supports our contention that GPU rendering is truly the future in visual effects and digital media production.

The Mac is also no longer a sealed box. Apple dropped the Metal 2 SDK to allow developers take advantage of external AMD GPUs using the latest Thunderbolt 3 interface. That is 40Gb speeds you'll be getting! Apple's change will affect the current Mac lineup as they will be able to use upgraded GPUs now, with Nvidia’s new drivers, Macs will allow users to add external GTX cards like the 1080 and when the new AMD GPU ships, there will be drivers to support them too.

Expect that the new AMD graphics cards will also benefit the PC world as soon as drivers become available for Windows.

How long have we been talking about Apple with shaking heads saying, they don't love us anymore? They do, and VFX Technologies will have the new iMacs available for rent as soon as we can get our hands on them. In the meantime, we have the very capable iMac 27 inch Quad Core i7 available for rent along with the Mac Pro 12 Core and, of course, the HP Z workstations that remain the King of the Hill, for now. - Jim Reisman