IT

Outlook has Blank Emails in the PersonMetadata Folder

If you use the Outlook client and have a mailbox located in Exchange Online, you might discover mystery blank emails located in a folder called ‘PersonMetadata’. They’re unread, with a blank from/to/subject field and no contents visible, with a size of 2KB. Trying to open them results in opening a blank new email.

They don’t turn up in a normal Outlook search, but will show if you create a Search Folder, and you’ll see a lot of them. The folder itself is hidden by default, and you could use MFCMapi to see the folder in someone’s mailbox.

According to this Microsoft Support article, they’re objects used for Outlook Customer Manager, which actually sounds like a pretty useful set of features around tracking customer relationships and sharing contacts.

I logged a case with Microsoft to try and find out more, and see if this could be disabled. I was told that Outlook Customer Manager is actually enabled in all tenants and mailboxes, regardless if the feature is being used or even ‘on’. There are some forums talking about turning this feature off, but the licensing option is only in some tenants (from what I can tell, Business customers) and not an option at all for Enterprise customers. Too bad if you don’t want this feature!

It’s also recommended by support to not delete these items – and more will just turn up anyway don’t waste your time doing that.

There is also possibly a future patch to Outlook to hide these results, but at the time of writing it was only stated as a possibility with no confirmation or ETA.

I did work out a workaround though – adding an extra filter to the Search Folder:

  • Find the Search Folder in Outlook and right click > ‘Customize this search folder’
  • Click the Criteria button.
  • Click the ‘Advanced’ tab and from the ‘Field’ dropdown menu, choose ‘Frequently-used fields’ and then ‘To’.
  • Type ‘@’ into the Value field and press the ‘Add to List’ button.

Your screen should look like this, and press OK. Because the empty looking mail objects have no To or From field, but any normal email will have to have an ‘@’ in the email address, the results you now see for the Search Folder won’t include the blank objects.

For those who use Search Folders, this is a reasonable workaround but let’s hope it gets fixed properly.

Cyber Security Essential Eight and Microsoft

I wrote a 2 part piece on Australia’s Cyber Security Essential Eight and Microsoft over at 24x7ITConnection. Here’s Part 1 and Part 2, where I covered what the Essential Eight are, why they’re a risk, and where Microsoft can help in both a on-premises sense as well as cloud.

I don’t normally cross post from here what I write on other areas, but I put a fair bit of effort into writing this up, and thought it was worth resharing. Regardless if you’re Australian or not, our government actually has practical recommendations on what you should be looking at to harden your IT environment.

If you haven’t looked at these before, see how many of the eight you can tick off. If you can’t tick all eight, then I encourage you to work towards those gaps. Here’s what the eight areas are:

Application whitelisting

Patching applications

Office macros

Harden user applications

Restricting administrative privilege

Patching operating systems

Multi-factor authentication

Backup daily

All pretty obvious, but getting these perfect is still a very big undertaking. We’re seeing more and more security breaches in all different ways, so please don’t think of these items as ‘something to worry about later’!

A Guide to Cryptocurrency Terms

A Guide to Cryptocurrency Terms

The financial industry uses a lot of jargon that is quite difficult for people new to the topic to comprehend. The cryptocurrency industry is no different, as it mixes tech talk with investing terms, which can make studying its markets even more challenging.

I have addressed topics like this before in my ‘Cryptocurrency Trading’ article, and touched on a few key terms you should know. In order to expand your understanding of terminology a little further, here are some more common cryptocurrency terms that I’ve come across and thought needed defining:

 

Address

A cryptocurrency address is the same as a person’s home address; it’s the “location” where a person can receive or send cryptocurrency from. The only difference with a digital address is that its string of letters and numbers are unique to each cryptocurrency holder, functioning like an ID.

 

Altcoin

Altcoin refers to cryptocurrencies other than Bitcoin. Alternative cryptocurrencies like Ethereum or Dash are altcoins that people can mine and invest in.

 

Arbitrage

This refers to investors taking advantage of a price difference of the same cryptocurrency on two different exchanges. This is possible because there are a lot of online cryptocurrency exchanges in the world that offer digital funds at different prices.

 

Bearish / Bullish

A bearish cryptocurrency market refers to one with a sluggish demand for digital assets, which tends to drive prices down. A bullish market, on the other hand, is the opposite of a slump. When investors are bullish on a cryptocurrency, its prices usually go up.

 

Bots

A bot is a program that lets people use pre-programmed commands for trading cryptocurrencies. This is similar to the trading software used by Forex traders. Bots can be programmed to protect investors from accumulating high losses by stopping trading when the capital drops by a significant amount.

 

Block

A block is similar to a notebook page, and it is used for the purpose of writing and storing data.

 

Blockchain

Blockchain is the technology that powers cryptocurrencies. It is the framework used for creating digital ledgers involving transactions. A blockchain is basically a network of people and computers all working together in order to produce cryptocurrencies.

 

Block reward

This refers to the reward given to people for solving difficult mathematical equations related to mining cryptocurrency. The block reward is different for every cryptocurrency. For instance, the block reward is currently at 12.5 coins per block mined on the Bitcoin network, and the next halving event takes place in May 2020. This will bring down the block reward to 6.25 coins.

 

Correction

A price correction happens whenever a cryptocurrency experiences an all-time high. Assets get “corrected” whenever a price spike happens because investors sell their holdings when the value of the coins gets high enough for trading.

 

Hard Fork

A hard fork is a change of the rules to a digital currency’s blockchain. FXCM explains that it is a “permanent change in the rules of a digital currencies blockchain”, particularly in mining, which requires the support of the majority of people using the network. A hard fork usually happens when developers find a solution to recurring bugs or weaknesses from the old blockchain.

 

Hash Rate

A hash rate refers to the length that it takes for a computer to discover a block, as well as the time required for solving mathematical equations for mining.

 

ICO

An initial coin offering (ICO) is a new cryptocurrency being offered by fledgling entrepreneurs who are hoping to get funding from venture capitalists. The entrepreneurs will pre-sell their new cryptocurrency to venture capitalists before they go public.

 

Mining

Mining is the process of solving mathematical equations on a certain block. Once the equation gets solved, cryptocurrencies come out as the reward.

 

Mining Rig

This is a computer, or a set of computers, designed for processing blockchains. They are made up of several expensive graphic cards that speed up the mining process of cryptocurrencies.

 

P2P

P2P means “Person to Person,” which is a method of sending and receiving cryptocurrencies without the need of an intermediary. P2P transfers are what make cryptocurrency transactions cheaper and more direct than sending money abroad through a bank.

 

Smart Contract

A smart contract is an agreement between two parties stored on the blockchain, and is much more secure than paper contracts. Smart contracts can also be used to define benchmarks that must be met before payment can be made.

 

Soft Forks

Soft forks are updates to an existing network. The updates are implemented on the same network, unlike hard forks that affect a completely different block.

 

Tokenization

People usually send unencrypted files over the internet. Attaching a word document on an e-mail or sending pictures via Messenger are usually unencrypted methods of sending files. Tokenization is the act of encrypting data by turning them into a string of random letters and numbers. All data sent between wallets are tokenized on the blockchain, making cryptocurrencies virtually tamper-proof.

 

Wallet

Bitcoins need to be stored in a wallet for easier access and to keep them secure. There are two types of wallets: software-based and physical wallets. Software-based wallets are online wallets that collect data on a person’s cryptocurrency holdings. An offline wallet, on the other hand, can store data on cryptocurrencies in the same way that a DVD can store computer files.

Hopefully these terms help make more sense of the cryptocurrency world!

Office 365 Group as a Distribution List Gotchas

Office 365 Groups aren’t that new, but they still sound more alluring than a plain Distribution List or Shared Mailbox (yes this is why I chose the article photo). They aren’t the solution that applies to all situations however, and you’ll need to weigh up each scenario as to what fits best.

(for Office 365 Group fundamental considerations, please read Michael Mardahl’s blogpost “Getting off to a good start with Microsoft Office 365 Groups”)

Here’s some things around Office 365 Groups and using them as an email distribution list (DL) that caught me out, or are differences worth pointing out. If you’re thinking of migrating a DL or a shared mailbox to an O365 Group, these are worth considering:

  • An Office 365 Group mailbox can’t have folders created in it. If staff have access to a shared mailbox and use that to manage their emails under different folders, that’s a no-go for an Office 365 Group. There’s a bunch of other ways you can manage this, but if they specifically want that option, then an Office 365 Group won’t help them.
  • If a member of an Office 365 Group sends an email to the group, they won’t get that email. It makes sense that you probably don’t want an email that you sent, but it is a change of behavior from traditional DLs. This may change in the future, at least as a toggle-able option.
  • By default, users will see a ‘Groups’ option in Outlook (either client or web) which they can drop down, see the groups they’re in, and see the inbox. That’s the only folder that’s visible though, and it can be easy to assume that’s the only folder. There are however, several folders available. You can’t open an Office 365 Group as another mailbox, as you’ll be told via Outlook Web that you don’t have access to the mailbox, and Outlook client won’t recognise the name of the mailbox.
    You can however, use the ‘Open Shared Mailbox’ option in Outlook Web by right clicking on your mailbox in the folder view, or right clicking on ‘Folders’ (depending on if you’re using the ‘old’ or ‘new’ Outlook) and add the Office 365 Group that way. This will give you visibility of all folders and their contents:
  • Automating Office 365 Group membership is harder. You either automate membership with a dynamic group, or let the owner(s) do it themselves. Neither are bad options, but dynamic group membership exceptions to rules are harder to do. How do you have a group that’s all Finance, plus these 4 people that aren’t finance? You could have an expression like this, but that is something that could get rather messy to maintain:

(user.department -eq “Finance”) -or (user.mail -eq “user1@domain.com”) -or (user.mail -eq “user2@domain.com”) -or (user.mail -eq “user3@domain.com”) -or (user.mail -eq “user4@domain.com”)

  • Meeting responses work differently to a DL. Say you send a meeting appointment, and have the respones go to a DL – all members of the DL see the response. This can be useful in certain scenarios, but probably not that common. An Office 365 Group works differently, where the ‘Meeting Message Processing Agent’ in Exchange Online will see the meeting response, and send it directly to the Deleted Items folder. This action skips members receiving a copy of the response which might be good generally, but again it’s another different way that Office 365 Groups work when you’re expecting the same as a DL.

That’s what I’ve found so far – if you have any yourself please share and I’ll test/add to the list, and will update with any other tricky scenarios that I come across.

Force Multi-Factor Authentication Registration in Azure Active Directory

If you’ve gone down the path of Azure Active Directory (Azure AD), then I dare say you’re not at the end. It’s a long but rewarding path, with new features constantly being added to enhance a critical service in the Microsoft offerings.

It’s also likely you didn’t start with Mutli-Factor Authentication (MFA) in place and ready to go. Maybe you did and well done! For the rest of us though, we slowly move into these systems while turning more options on.

Just enabling MFA with Conditional Access is great, but getting all users to actually register for MFA https://aka.ms/mfasetup can be a challenge. If you’re fortunate enough to have Azure AD Premium P2 licensing, you can use a MFA registration policy to do a nicely managed rollout and force people on. Those without P2 however, have an option that’s a bit hidden, not as well known and slightly scary:

Require users to register when signing in?


Under the question mark: Designates whether unregistered users are prompted to register their own authentication information when they sign in for the first time. If set to “No,” administrators must manually specify the necessary password reset authentication information in the properties for each user in this directory, or instruct users to go to the registration portal URL directly.

The description for this option is a bit misleading, it actually means that they’ll be prompted the NEXT time they log in, rather than the first time.

This option is found under Azure Active Directory > Password reset > Registration, and is off by default.

Turning this option on is a company wide setting and from my testing, worked pretty much immediately. As soon as someone who hadn’t signed up for MFA logged onto office.com, they were prompted to go through the MFA registration process. There’s no way to point this at certain users or test it, you just have that one little switch to turn it on for every single account in your tenant.

For someone who had signed up for MFA, they were asked to confirm the details entered previously.

I’d recommend letting your staff know before this option is toggled, but at least it can easily be turned off again if you run into any issues.

Update 2nd May:

After publishing this, Sean Flahie on Twitter mentioned his experience if Azure Self-Service Password Reset (SSPR) wasn’t enabled for users, and enabling the combined experience – both of which I have in place already. If you’re having any issues then please look into both of these.