Archive for May, 2017

No security anywhere …

Posted: May 19, 2017 by IntentionalPrivacy in Conferences, Privacy, Theft, Vulnerabilities
Tags: , ,

I was at a conference yesterday. When I went to register, the computer system being used had a label with the username and password right next to the touchpad. There was a problem with my registration, so the conference sent me an email. It contained the names of three other people–unknown to me–at the conference.

Next, we went to the exhibits. The first trailer we went to was open and no one was there. On a table inside was an open, logged-in laptop and a cell phone. Who would have known if I had taken the laptop or phone, or worse, taken information from the laptop?

Pay attention to what you do. Always lock your laptop (press the Windows and L keys simultaneously) when you have to leave it with someone you trust and do not leave your belongings unattended in a vehicle, or at a conference, a restaurant, or a coffee shop.

WannaCry has effectively died down according to Wikipedia <;. However, if you do not WannaCry about some other malware, take some preventive actions now to make your systems less vulnerable to future attacks. If it is not easy to attack you or your computer systems, in most cases a thief will look for an easier target.


  • Keep system and application versions up to date and patched, especially critical patches
    • If the organization still has to run computers running XP (or older operating systems), get them off the network
  • Keep antivirus software current and scan daily
  • Make regular, consistent backups (and test them to ensure files are recoverable)
  • Create network zones
  • Place public-facing web servers in DMZs
  • Restrict administrator rights
  • Change default passwords and enforce password rules on users
  • Train users in security awareness, especially how to avoid clicking harmful links
  • Take infected machines off the network and clean them up as soon as possible, so that the infection does not spread to other machines on the network

These actions alone will stop a considerable amount of malware and other attacks. They do not require expensive equipment or software, just the time to set them up. And these practices will help any organization better comply with regulatory requirements.

For instance, Microsoft came out with a critically rated security patch for Microsoft Windows SMB Server on March 14, 2017. This patch would have made Windows systems resistant to WannaCry. The WannaCry attack started on Friday, May 12, 2017, almost two months later. While I understand the need to test patches to ensure they will work in an environment, testing for a couple of weeks should be adequate, especially for critical updates.

Individual systems

Many of the same actions will keep your systems safe:

  • Keep system and application versions up to date and patched; in fact, set updates to run automatically and schedule them for  a convenient time frame
    • If you are running an older operating system such as XP, take it off the Internet
    • Uninstall applications that you no longer use from both your phones and computers
  • Keep antivirus software current and scan daily
  • Make regular, consistent backups (and test them to make sure files are recoverable)
  • Do not run with administrator rights
  • Change default passwords on routers and modems, and choose long, strong passwords for all your accounts
  • Do not click harmful links in email, on Facebook, or other websites

Prevention is the key for physical theft also.

Our neighborhood has been experiencing a recent rash of car break-ins and theft of items on porches. Many of these thefts happened when someone forgot to lock their car.

Be a little paranoid! Assume that someone is always watching you. For instance, you might not realize the dog walker walking by your house was watching you put a computer case in the trunk or that the 16 year old who lives next to you tries car doors at one am because he is bored or has a drug problem. Leaving a laptop in the car is not ever a good idea, but if you have to leave valuables in your car, put them in your trunk before you get to your destination. Lock your house and car as soon as you shut the door. Do not leave extra keys on your property or stashed on the car. Do not leave the garage door opener in the car. When you are working on that report in a coffeehouse, take your laptop, phone, keys, and wallet with you when you go to the restroom. Do not leave your purse or phone in a grocery cart when you turn around to pick out items for dinner.

Medical record theft is on the rise, and according to  Reuters ( ), a stolen medical record is worth ten times what a stolen credit card number on the black market. The reason medical records are worth so much more, is because they are used to steal benefits and commit identity theft and tax fraud.

How easy is it to steal medical records?

This morning, I read Brian Kreb’s report on True Health Diagnostics health portal, which allowed other patients’ medical test results to be read by changing one digit on the PDF link. The company—based in Frisco, Texas—immediately took the portal down and spent the weekend fixing it.

While I think it is great they fixed the problem so rapidly, I am disgusted that our medical information is so often flapping in the breeze. Health professionals are notoriously lax about protecting their patients’ medical information. A security professional that I know defended medical people by saying they do not understand HIPAA/HITECH. Yes, I know they do not necessarily understand the technical details. But is ignorance an excuse? I do not think so. They have IT people to support those computers and medical professionals are supposed to attend HIPAA training on a regular basis.

For instance, upon reading the FAQs at , I noticed that after a patient completes their tests (recommended by my doctor), this practitioner sent results in email. It is not a simple test like cholesterol; it contains information about someone’s DNA.

After I emailed them and told them I would not consider using their service because email is not secure unless encrypted and in my opinion this practice—sending medical results in unencrypted email—is contrary to HIPAA/HITECH, they changed their policy. While they now send the results for US patients on a computer disk through the mail, they still send international clients their results through email.

I have frequently caught my own medical professionals leaving their patient portals open when I am alone in the exam room or even away having tests. During one notable session, without touching the computer, I could see a list of all the patients being seen that day on the left, and the doctor’s schedule across the top (including 3 cancellations). Another medical professional texted me part of my treatment plan. (I thought we were limiting our text conversation to time, date, and location. Otherwise I never would have agreed to text. I had never even met this person!) Another provider grouped three receptionists with computers (no privacy screens) in a circle with windows on two sides. I could read two of the screens when signing in and the third when leaving and I saw them leave their screens open when they walked away from their computers so that the other receptionists can use those computers.

Granted, these incidents may not be breaches, but I think they are violations of HIPAA/HITECH and they could lead to breaches. What are the chances they are using appropriate access control, backing up their systems, encrypting their backups, thinking about third-party access? Are they vulnerable to phishing, crypto ransomware, hackers, employee malfeasance, someone’s child playing with the phone?

Yes, I get that people make mistakes. The problem is they have the ability to make mistakes! Set up fail safes. Require each employee’s phone to be physically encrypted and give them a way to send encrypted emails or texts or do not allow them to text or email patients. Make screens lock after five minutes or sooner. Give them training. Spot check what they’re doing.

I always discuss these issues when I notice them with the practice HIPAA Privacy Officer (and sometimes change medical providers if egregious). Does it help? Maybe. But it always makes me wonder what I have not seen.

Pay attention! Protecting your data helps protect everybody’s data.

I Am Not a Security Rockstar

Posted: May 8, 2017 by IntentionalPrivacy in Conferences

I recently attended BSides Austin 2017, an information security conference. It is a wonderful conference! I greeted friends and met some great people. It was difficult to choose which presentations to attend there were so many interesting ones. I wanted to go to all of them! I also went to the Fire Marshall Talks, named for a memorable talk one year where the number of occupants were more than the fire marshall thought safe for the room size. Anyone who wants to speak can talk for ten minutes on any information security topic.

One of the talks this year dismayed me; the speaker spent his 10 minutes talking about all the “Security Rockstars” in the audience and how they refused to help him.

Since he did not give specific instances, I am not really sure what that meant to him. I looked around the room and saw many people I knew, security people who were passionate  about sharing with the security community through presentations or classes, online blogs and videos, and even mentoring. While I saw people who were notable contributors to InfoSec, I did not identify a single person I would call a “Security Rockstar.”

In spite of being a woman in security and information technology (over 20 years), I have rarely experienced a situation where someone would not help me. In fact, people have gone out of their way to give me assistance when I asked for it. Austin is that kind of place! Before I ask, I try everything I can think of and I have a focused question so I do not waste the person’s time. I attend conferences, such as BSides and LASCON, and meetings put on by OWASP, ISSA, and InfraGard to keep my skills current, learn about things I do not know, and to network. I often go to the weekly OWASP study sessions, which has given me some excellent ways to hone my skills. There are many opportunities for assistance if someone looks for them and is willing to put in some work.

I also contribute as much as I can. If I cannot help you, I will tell you that. If I know someone who knows more about your question, I will point you in their direction. I write this blog. I provide mentoring to anyone who wants to become a security professional. I think it is important because I believe that helping people work towards their goals helps the entire security community. But I cannot do the work for you. I will answer your question or point you toward resources I know about. What you do with them is up to you.

For instance, I met the speaker—a student on the brink of starting on his career—the evening before. I gave him my card, asked if he was looking for mentoring, told him about my blog, and said I would value his opinion about it. I have yet to hear from him.

To anyone who has run into an unhelpful person, I suggest you consider why the person asked may not be able to help:

  • It might be a temporary problem—they might be available at another time. For instance, if they have just given a presentation, they might need decompression time.
  • They might be worried about a personal problem: a lost client or position, money troubles, a work situation, or a family or pet illness or death.
  • They meant to help at a later time, but could not because they had no method of contact. Carry business cards or exchange email addresses.
  • Information security encompasses a wide range of skills and knowledge bases. The question asked could be outside their expertise, and they are too embarrassed to say so.
  • The question might be too general. If they tell you LMGTFY (“Let me Google that for you”), it means they believe you can figure it out yourself. Maybe you can clarify the question to better explain where you are stumped.

Of course, they really could be a Rockstar.

Also consider what you have to offer in exchange. One of the few times I have experienced a situation where someone would not help me was at a position where I was doing security assessments. One of my coworkers had a difficult time with reports. He copied and pasted sections from other reports to speed up the reporting process. I often read his reports to fix discrepancies, incomplete sentences and missing words, as well as spelling and grammar issues. One time he forgot to change the IP addresses to match the client’s. When I had a problem with the scanning software, I expected his help. But since he did not value my help with his reports; he said that I should figure it out myself. I was not asking for him to fix it (I was at a client site in another state) although I would have appreciated any suggestions he could give me. I thought I should at least have a contact with the software company so that I could put in a trouble ticket, but he—the administrator of the software—would not even give me that. Our boss finally made him give me the ability to turn in a trouble ticket.

While I did figure out a temporary solution (it was a software issue), it made for a very tense evening. I eventually left the company with great relief. I loved the work, but the company culture did not suit me.

I once read an article about how a bad situation can be a gift, because it can make you see that you need to change something—attitude, positions, relationships. Furthermore, Rockstars who will not help someone are their own worst enemies because everyone needs help sometimes. Their karma will catch up to them! Shake your head, send them a blessing, and find someone who will help you.

Remember to be grateful when someone does help you. They do not owe it to you.

But I am not a rock star! I do not want to be a rock star. I am merely someone doing a job to the best of my ability to help make the world a safer, more secure place.

A recent article in Wired called “Radio Attack Lets Hackers Steal 24 Different Car Models” at talks about how thieves can steal some car models by attacking keyless entry fobs.

It is a very informative article, but they do not talk much about possible solutions. Want to wait around while your automobile manufacturer comes up with a solution?

Our own cars—a 2015 Honda Accord and a manual-everything 2005 Honda Civic—are not on the list of vulnerable vehicles. While the 2005 Honda, which does not have keyless entry, is not susceptible to this type of radio attack, the 2015 Honda Accord might be. Although it was not one of the vehicles listed in the article, it might not have been one of the models tested. I looked at my key fob to see if there was some easy way to shut off keyless entry. Aside from taking out the battery, none was apparent. A switch on the key fob in a location that is not easily turned on or off (maybe inside the battery case) would be a great solution to this problem. Another possible plus? It might make the battery last longer!

When I Googled “2015 Honda Accord turn off keyless entry,” there were not many new solutions. Possible solutions include:

  • Removing the key fob battery. According to a YouTube video by Honda Pro,, the car will not start when the key is not in the car. However, it will still start when the key fob is present even if the battery is inoperative or removed. The key fob also contains a manual key, so entry is still available.
  • Making or buying a faraday cage. There are several types of faraday cages. According to Wikipedia, a faraday cage “is an enclosure used to block electromagnetic fields.” I tried wrapping my key in aluminum foil. Standing next to the 2015 Honda with the key wrapped in aluminum foil, I could still unlock the car. However, while I did not test it, it might limit the accessible distance for the key signal.

I do not like the option of putting my keys in the freezer, which is often touted as an easy faraday cage. For one thing, the moisture and the cold could be hard on the key electronics. Replacing the key is expensive and you would still have the problem with the new key. Another problem with this solution is that it only works when you have access to a refrigerator. Probably would not work at Starbucks! offers Faraday pouches for sale for as little as $9 (plus shipping). There is a DIY faraday cage Instructable at if you would like to make one yourself.

If anyone has other ideas about possible solutions to a keyless entry attack, leave a comment and I will update the article.

Remember, always lock your car, do not leave extra keys in hidden places on the vehicle, and remove or hide your valuables before you leave your car. It is also a good idea to remove your garage door opener from the car, especially if you leave the door between the house and the garage open.