Archive for the ‘Tips’ Category

Today is the kickoff for the 14th annual National Cyber Security Awareness Month. Do your part to protect your own and other people’s information. For tips, visit https://stopthinkconnect.org/resources/preview/tip-sheet-basic-tips-and-advice

Are your passwords strong enough to resist a brute force attack?

Passwords are just about dead. Many systems now offer “two factor identification.” You give them your cell phone number and you have to use both a password and a code number sent to  the phone for your log in.  But passwords continue. They are easy for administrators. They are part of the common culture.

Steve Gibson has the engineer’s “knack.” (See the Dilbert video here.) His company, Gibson Research Corporation (here), sells a wide range of computer security products and services. He also offers many for free. Among the freebies is Haystack: How Big is Your Haystack – and how well is your needle hidden? (here)  This utility provides a metric for measuring password security.

It is pretty easy to do yourself, if you like arithmetic. 26 upper case letters, 26 lower case, 10 digits, 33 characters (with the space) for 95 printable ASCII characters in the common set.  So, if you have an 8-character password that is 95 to the 8th power possible combinations: 6.634 times 10 to the 15th power or over 6-and-a-half quadrillion. If you could try a million guesses a second, it would take 6.5 billion seconds or just over 200 years. (60 seconds/minute * 60 minutes/hour * 24 hours/day * 365.25 days / year* 200 years =6.3 billion .)

Gibson Research makes all of that automatic. Just key in your password, and it tells you how long it would take to crack.

Cracking passwords is a “routine activity” for a hacker. They have tools.  At one meet-up for hackers, the speaker told us, “If you have to use brute force, you are not thinking.”  They do not type in a million guesses per second, of course. They have programs to do that. Also, most websites just do not allow that kind of traffic: you cannot do a million guesses per second. What the hackers do is break in to a site, such as Target, Home Depot, LinkedIn, or eHarmony, download all of the log files, and then, on their own time, let their software attack the data offline.

Also, hackers do not use the same computers that you and I do. They start with gaming machines because the processors in those are built for high-speed calculation. They then gang those multiple processors to create massively parallel computers.  The calculators from GRC show the likely outcome for brute force by both a “regular” computer and a “massive cracking array.”

If someone got hired today at a typical midrange American corporation, their password might just be January2016. If, like most of us, they think that are really clever, it ends with an exclamation point: January2016! Hackers have databases of these. They start with standard dictionaries, and add to them all of the known passwords that they discover.

One common recommendation is to take the first letters of a phrase known only to you and personal only to you. My mother had naturally red hair for most of her life. She was born in 1929 and passed in 2012. So, “My mother’s red hair came from a bottle” becomes mmrhcfab19292012. According to Gibson Research, brute force guessing with a massive cracking array would take over 26 centuries.

Gioachino Rossini premiered his opera, William Tell, in 1829. “William & Tell = 1829” would take a massive parallel cracking machine about 1 million trillion centuries to guess. On the other hand, a “false phrase” such as Five + One = 27 could not be done in under 1.5 million centuries.

TMAR Four 3c3c

Texas State Guard Maritime Regiment non-commissioned officers at leadership training.  Only the one on your far right is a real Marine.

Remember, however, that a dictionary attack will crack any common phrase.  With over 1.7 million veterans of the United States Marine Corp, someone—probably several hundred someones—has “Semper Fi” for a password. Don’t let that be you. A brute force attack would need only 39 minutes, but that is not necessary: a cracker’s dictionary should have “Semper Fi” in it already.

(Above, I said that cracking passwords is a “routine activity” for a hacker. “Routine activities” is the name of theory of crime.  Attributed to sociologists Marcus Felson and Lawrence E. Cohen, routine activities theory says that crime is what criminals do, independent of such “social causes” as poverty. (See Routine Activity Theory on Wikipedia here.) That certainly applies to password crackers. Like other white collar criminals, they are socially-advantaged sociopaths.  They are planfully competent, calculating their efforts against a selfish return.)

Bleeding Data – South by Southwest workshop

Posted: August 30, 2015 by IntentionalPrivacy in First Steps, Personal safety, Privacy
Tags: ,

We put together a workshop proposal called “Bleeding Data: How to Stop Leaking Your Information” for SXSW Interactive. The workshop will help consumers understand data privacy issues. We will demonstrate some tools that are easy to use and free. Please create a login at SXSW and vote for our workshop! http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/50060. Voting is open until September 10, 2015.

As I do almost every day, I was looking through security news this morning. An article by Graham Cluley about a security issue—CERT CVE-2015-2865 —with the SwiftKey keyboard on Samsung Galaxy phones caught my eye. The security issue with the keyboard is because it updates itself automatically over an unencrypted HTTP connection instead of over HTTPS and does not verify the downloaded update. It cannot be uninstalled or disabled or replaced with a safer version from the Google Play store. Even if it is not the default keyboard on your phone, successful exploitation of this issue could allow a remote attacker to access your camera, microphone, GPS, install malware, or spy on you.

Samsung provided a firmware patch early this year to affected cell phone service providers.

What to do: Check with your cell phone service provider to see if the patch has been applied to your phone. I talked to Verizon this morning, and my phone does have the patch. Do not attach your phone an insecure Wi-Fi connection until you are sure you have the patch—which is not a good idea anyway.

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An interesting article in Atlantic Monthly discusses purging data in online government and corporate (think insurance or Google) databases when it is two years old, since they cannot keep these online databases secure. I can see their point, but some of that information may actually be useful or even needed after two years. For instance, I would prefer that background checks were kept for longer than two years, although I would certainly like the information they contain to be secured.

Maybe archiving is a better idea instead of purging. It is interesting option, and it certainly deserves more thought.

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Lastly, LastPass: I highly recommend password managers. I tried LastPass and it was not for me. I do not like the idea of storing my sensitive information in the cloud (for “cloud” think “someone else’s computer”), but it is very convenient. Most of the time, you achieve convenience by giving up some part of security.

LastPass announced a breach on Monday –not their first. They said that “LastPass account email addresses, password reminders, server per user salts, and authentication hashes were compromised.”

For mitigation: They have told their user community that they will require verification when a user logs in from a new device or IP address. In addition,

  1. You should change your master password, particularly if you have a weak password. If you used your master password on other sites, you should change those passwords as well.
  2. To make a strong password, make it long and strong. It should be at least 15 characters—longer is better—contain upper- and lowercase letters, digits, and symbols. It should not contain family, pet, or friend names, hobby or sports references,  birthdates, wedding anniversaries, or topics you blog about. Passphrases are a good idea, and you can make them even more secure by taking the first letter of each word of a long phrase that you will remember. For example:

    I love the Wizard of Oz! It was my favorite movie when I was a child.

    becomes

    IltWoO! IwmfmwIwac$

    Everywhere a letter is used a second time, substitute a numeral or symbol, and it will be difficult to crack:

    IltWo0! 1>mf3wi<@c$

  3. When you create a LastPass master password, it will ask you to create a reminder. Let’s say you took your childhood dog’s name, added the number “42,” and the color “blue” because he had a blue collar to make your new master password: osC@R-forty2-Blew! If your reminder is “dog 42 blue,” your password could be much easier to crack. Maybe you even talked about Oscar in a Facebook post. So again, do not use a pet’s name in your password. Then put something in for the reminder that has no relation to your password: “Blank” or “Poughkeepsie” for instance.
  4. Keep your master password someplace safe. Do not leave a copy in clear text on your phone or your computer or taped to your monitor. Put it in a locked drawer or better—your safe deposit box.
  5. Back up your password database periodically to a device you store offline, and printing the list and storing both the printout and the backup in a sealed envelope in your safe deposit box is a good idea as well.
  6. Use two-factor authentication. If you don’t know anything about it, this Google account article will explain it.

Let me tell you about children who are leading changes in a wide variety of areas including education, research on cancer and asthma, and even information security and privacy. It was eye-opening to me because many people—including me!—discount discoveries made by children because they are “too young” to add significant information to a dialog. What they could add—if we give them a chance—is a fresh perspective.

I recently had the opportunity to attend an information security keynote presentation given by Reuben Paul. I attend many security events every year, so that might not seem so unusual, except that this amazing young man is only nine years old. He gave his first information security presentation Infosec from the Mouth of Babes at the 2014 DerbyCon conference in Kentucky at the age of eight, and he has given many presentations since then. Here is his story. His father, Mano Paul, is an information security trainer and consultant.

Reuben’s talk at DerbyCon discussed three topics:

  1. Why should you teach kids about Information Security?
  2. How can you teach kids about Information Security?
  3. What can kids teach you about Information Security?

Reuben’s advice at DerbyCon? “[Parents and educators should] teach … kids to use [technology] safely and securely.”

Many grownups do not have the level of understanding of privacy and security that Reuben does. How did Reuben gain that understanding? Reuben credits his parents and his school for being supportive, but some credit belongs to Reuben. He imagined how children could participate in information security and privacy, and insisted on being heard. That takes, well, imagination as well as persistence.

Then I started looking at other amazing children. I found a section on TED Talks called “TED under 20.”

One of the first videos I saw was called Science is for everyone, kids included. The video tells the story of neuroscientist Beau Lotto working with a class of 25 eight- to ten-year-old children from Blackawton Primary School, Blackawton, Devon, UK. The children developed an experiment on training bees to choose flowers according to rules. Then the children wrote and submitted a paper, which was published by the Royal Society Biology Letters.

The paper is free to download and fun to read!

The conclusion the Blackawton Primary School children came to was that “Play enables humans (and other mammals) to discover (and create) relationships and patterns. When one adds rules to play, a game is created. This is science: the process of playing with rules that enables one to reveal previously unseen patterns of relationships that extend our collective understanding of nature and human nature.”

Jo Lunt, science teacher at Blackawton Primary School, said, “I think one of the biggest changes I’ve seen is the children’s approach to learning science. They don’t get so hung up or worried about getting the answer right. They think more about the journey they’re on and the learning they’re doing along the way.”

How I harnessed the wind, is the story of William Kamkwamba. Malawi, the country where he lived, experienced a drought in 2001. He and his family not only couldn’t pay for his schooling, they were all starving because their crops failed. He was determined to help his family find a solution for the drought. He found a book in the library with plans for a windmill. At the age of 14, he built his first windmill from scrap yard materials to pump water for crop irrigation and to create electricity.

Award-winning teenage science in action explains the projects of the three teenage girls who won the 2011 Google Science Fair. Lauren Hodge, age 13-14 category, conducted her research on how carcinogens formed while grilling chicken. Shree Bose’s project, the age 17-18 age category and grand prize winner, concentrated on reasons why cancer survivors developed resistance to chemotherapy. Naomi Shah, age 15-16 category, used a complex mathematical model to look at ways to improve air quality for asthmatics.

Children learn very rapidly, and since they have used technology all their lives, they will often master new skills with an ease that will take your breath away. Be the change, mentor change, and be willing to change. Be open to learning from anyone who can teach you!

Part 1 explains why you might decide to use secure messaging.

If you decide you want to use a secure messaging app, here are some factors you might consider:

  • How secure is the program? Does it send your messages in plaintext or does it encrypt your communications?
  • How user friendly is it?
  • How many people overall use it? A good rule for security and privacy: do not be an early adapter! Let somebody else work the bugs out. The number of users should be at least several thousand.
  • What do users say about using it? Make sure you read both positive and negative comments. Test drive it before you trust it.
  • How many people do you know who use it? Could you persuade your family and friends to use it?
  • How much does it cost?
  • What happens to the message if the receiver is not using the same program as the sender?
    • Does it notify you first and offer other message delivery options or does the message encryption fail?
    • For those cases where the encryption fails, does the message not get sent or is it sent and stored unencrypted on the other end?
  • Will it work on other platforms besides yours? Android, iOS, Blackberry, Windows, etc.
  • Does the app include an anonymizer, such as Tor?
  • While the app itself may not cost, consider whether the messages will be sent using data or SMS? Will it cost you money from that standpoint?

The Electronic Freedom Foundation recently published an article called “The Secure Messaging Scorecard” that might help you find an app that meets your needs. Here are a few of the protocols used by the applications listed in the article:

I picked out a few apps that met all of their parameters, and put together some notes on cost, protocols, and platforms. While I have not used any of them, I am looking forward to testing them, and will let you know how it goes.

 

App Name Cost Platforms Protocol Notes
ChatSecure + Orbot Free; open source; GitHub iOS, Android OTR, XMPP, Tor, SQLCipher
CryptoCat Free; open source; GitHub Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera, OS X, iPhone; Facebook Messsenger OTR – single conversations; XMPP – group conversations Group chat, file sharing; not anonymous
Off-The-Record Messaging for Windows (Pidgin) Free Windows, GNOME2, KDE 3, KDE 4 OTR, XMPP, file transfer protocols
Off-The-Record Messaging for Mac (Adium) Free Adium 1.5 or later runs on Mac OS X 10.6.8 or newer OTR, XMPP, file transfer protocols No recent code audit
Signal (iPhone) / RedPhone (Android) Free iPhone, Android, and the browser ZTRP
Silent Phone / Silent Text https://silentcircle.com/pricing Desktop: Windows ZRTP, SCIMP Used for calling, texting, video chatting, or sending files
Telegram (secret chats) Free Android, iPhone / iPad, Windows Phone, Web- version, OS X (10.7 up), Windows/Mac/Linux Mproto Cloud-based; runs a cracking contest periodically
TextSecure Free Android Curve25519, AES-256, HMAC-SHA256.

Sources
http://en.flossmanuals.net/basic-internet-security/ch048_tools-secure-textmessaging/
http://security.stackexchange.com/questions/11493/how-hard-is-it-to-intercept-sms-two-factor-authentication
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-16812064
http://www.practiceunite.com/notifications-the-3-factor-in-choosing-a-secure-texting-solution/
http://www.tomsguide.com/us/iphone-jailbreak-risks,news-18850.html

When you send a message, who controls your messages? You write them and you get them, but what happens in the middle? Where are they stored? Who can read them? Email, texts, instant messaging and Internet relay chat (IRC), videos, photos, and (of course) phone calls all require software. Those programs are loaded on your phone or your tablet by the device manufacturer and the service provider. However, you can choose to use other – more secure – programs.

In the old days of the 20th century, a landline telephone call (or a fax) was an example of point-to-point service. Except for wiretaps or party lines, or situations where you might be overheard or the fax intercepted, that type of messaging was reasonably secure. Today, messaging does not usually go from your device—whether it is a cell phone, laptop, computer, or tablet—directly to the receiver’s device. Landlines are becoming scarcer, as digital phones using Voice over IP (VoIP) are becoming more prevalent. Messages are just like any other Internet activities: something (or someone) is in the middle.

It’s a lot like the days when an operator was necessary to connect your call. You are never really sure if someone is listening to your message.

What that means is that a digital message is not be secure without taking extra precautions. It may go directly from your device to your provider’s network or it may be forwarded from another network; it often depends on where you are located in relation to a cell phone tower and how busy it is. Once the message has reached your provider’s network, it may bounce to a couple of locations on their network, and then—depending on whether your friend is a subscriber of the same provider—the message may stay on the same network or it may hop to another provider’s network, where it will be stored on their servers, and then finally be delivered to the recipient.

Understand that data has different states and how the data is treated may be different depending on the state. Data can be encrypted when it is transmitted and it can be encrypted when it is stored, or it can remain unencrypted in either state.

Everywhere it stops on the path from your device to the destination, the message is stored. The length of time it is kept in storage depends on the provider’s procedures, and it could be kept for weeks or even years. It gets backed up and it may be sent to offsite storage. At any time along its travels, it can be lost, stolen, intercepted or subpoenaed. If the message itself is encrypted, it cannot be read without access to the key. If the application is your provider’s, they may have access to the message even if it is encrypted if they have access to the key.

Is the message sent over an encrypted channel or is it sent in plain text? If you are sending pictures of LOLZ cats, who cares? But if you are discussing, say, a work-related topic, or a medical or any other confidential issue, you might not want your messages available on the open air. In fact, it’s better for you and your employer if you keep your work and personal information separated on your devices. This can happen by carrying a device strictly for work or maybe through a Mobile Device Management application your employer installed that is a container for your employer’s information. If you do not keep your information separate and your job suddenly comes to an end, they may have the right to wipe your personal device or you may not be able to retrieve any personal information stored on a work phone. Those policies you barely glanced at before you signed them when you started working at XYZ Corporation? It is a good idea to review them at least once a year and have a contingency plan! I have heard horror stories about baby pictures and novels that were lost forever after a job change.

Are you paranoid yet? If not, I have not explained this very well!

A messaging app that uses encryption can protect your communications with the following disclaimers. These apps cannot protect you against a key logger or malware designed to intercept your communications. They cannot protect you if someone has physical or root access to your phone. That is one of the reasons that jail-breaking your phone is such a bad idea—you are breaking your phone’s built-in security protections.

An app also cannot protect you against leaks by someone you trusted with your information. Remember: If you do not want the files or the texts you send to be leaked by someone else, do not send the information.

If you decide that you want to try one or more messaging applications, it is really important to read the documentation thoroughly so you understand what the app does and what it does not do and how to use it correctly. And, finally: Do not forget your passphrase!! Using a password manager such as KeePass or LastPass is a necessity today. Also back up your passwords regularly and put a copy—digital and/or paper—of any passwords you cannot afford to lose in a safe deposit box or cloud storage. If you decide to use cloud storage, make sure you encrypt the file before you upload it. Cloud storage is a term that means you are storing your stuff on someone else’s computer.

Part 2

I have recently started using the WhiteHat Aviator browser, which uses the anonymous search engine Disconnect. It is available for Windows and Mac here. It works pretty well (although it is sometimes slow). When I use it for sites like Gmail where I use two-factor authentication, I do have to enter both the second factor and the password every time I load the website. It will not save the code like Firefox can for thirty days.

I am planning on installing Disconnect on my phone next. If that works out, I will try the premium version, which includes encrypted Internet, safe browsing, and location control.

Another anonymous search engine is DuckDuckGo.

I also use Firefox with extensions NoScript, Ghostery, Adblock Plus, and Lightbeam. Lightbeam is particularly fascinating to look at; it shows all the sites that track me, even after all those add-ons. NoScript can be painful to use because you have to enable every single site.

After the last set of Adobe Flash 0days (two in a week!), I uninstalled Adobe Flash and Air. After all, if I really need Flash, I can always use Google Chrome, where Flash is built in.

I rarely use Internet Explorer any more.

And while you are updating your browser, make sure your Java version is current.

Data-Privacy-Day-2015roundInternational Data Privacy Day—called Data Protection Day in Europe—is celebrated in the US, Canada, and 27 European countries every year on January 28. It started on January 28, 1981, when the members of the Council of Europe signed the Convention for Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data. In the US, Data Privacy Day is sponsored by StaySafeOnline.

Ever thought, why should I protect my information? Listen to Glenn Greenwald’s Ted Talk on Why Privacy Matters. Not only will it help you understand, but it might galvanize you to action!

Some tips on how to better protect your data include:

  • Use “Do Not Track” on your browser. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) explains how to turn on “Do Not Track” in some common browsers here. The EFF is a great resource about how to better protect your personal information.
  • Think before you share personal information, whether through email, on social media sites, or over the phone. Once you share information, you have no control over what happens to it. Help your children learn what is okay for them to share.
  • Check the privacy settings on social media sites you use on a regular basis. Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, … privacy policies change, which may impact your privacy settings.
  • Protect your computer by keeping your operating system and applications updated. On Windows, Secunia’s Personal Software Inspector helps me keep my applications current.
  • Create strong, unique passwords for every important site. Have a problem remembering all those passwords? Me too! Use a password manager like KeePass or LastPass. If you want to protect your information more, use two-factor authentication for email and social media site log-ins.
    • Help setting up Google’s Two-Factor Authentication
    • Help setting up Microsoft’s Two-Factor Authentication
  • Back up your important data regularly—pictures, documents, music, videos, or whatever is important to you—at least once a week. If you use a physical device, disconnect it between backups. To ensure that your information is safe, use two physical backup devices, alternate them, and keep one someplace safe like a safe deposit box. If you use a cloud backup, use a physical back up as well. Online services can go offline temporarily or even go out of business, while devices break, become corrupted, lost, stolen, or infected by malware. Periodically try to recover documents to ensure that your backups are functional.

Other tips

  • Mozilla’s Get Smart on Privacy
  • FTC’s Consumer Information
  • Check out DuckDuckGo, a search engine that doesn’t track you. Want to see how much tracking happens in your browser? Check out the Firefox Lightbeam addin.
  • Try WhiteHat Security Lab’s Aviator browser. Note: if you use two-factor authentication, you will need to enter a code every time you open up a site that uses it.

Your cell phone can be taken over by hackers who will view through your camera and watch you enter your passwords and other information.  Here in Austin at the IEEE “Globecom” conference on global communication last December, I attended a presentation from Temple University researchers who compromised an Android cell phone. 

Doctoral candidate Longfei Wu and five colleagues from Temple University, the University of Massachusetts, and Beijing University exploited vulnerabilities in the Android cell phone to seize control of the camera.

Having done that – and having reduced their footprint to one pixel – they then watched finger touches to the keyboard in order to guess passwords.  Some sequences were more secure than others.  1459 and 1479 were easy to identify.  1359 and 1471 were harder to guess.  The fundamental fact remains: They took control of the camera without the cell phone owner being aware of it.

Moreover, the Android operating system does not provide you with a log file of usage.  There is no way for you to review what your phone has been doing. However, the researchers fixed that. 

“We make changes to the CheckPermission() function ofActicityManagerService, and write a lightweight defense app such that whenever the camera is being called by apps with CAMERA permission, the defense app will be informed along with the caller’s Application Package Name.

[…]

There are three parts of warnings in our defense scheme. First, an alert dialog including the name of the suspicious app is displayed. In case the warning message cannot be seen immediately by the user (e.g., the user is not using the phone), the defense app will also make sound and vibration to warn the user of spy camera attacks. Besides, the detailed activity pattern of suspected apps are logged so that the user can check back.” — from “Security Threats to Mobile Multimedia Applications: Camera-based Attacks on Mobile Phones”,IEEE Communications Magazine, March 2014.”

If you want to protect your phone, you have to figure out how for yourself.  Very few ready-made defense apps exist for Android, or iPhone.  You could join a local hacker club such as DefCon.  (For Ann Arbor, it is DefCon 734; for Minneapolis it is DC612.)  That brings up the problem of trust.  When I go to computer security conferences, I never take a computer; and I do not answer my phone.  I do trust the organizers of our local groups, LASCON, ISSA, OWASP,  and B-Sides; but I do not trust everyone who comes to every meeting.  If you want someone to “jailbreak” your phone, and program something on it for you, then you really need strong trust.  It is best to do it for yourself.

“Unfortunately, it’s not uploaded online. To support the defense scheme, I modified the Android system and generate new image files. This means if someone want to use the defense function, he/she must flash the phone. As a result, all the installed stuff may get lost. I think people wouldn’t like that to happen. Besides, the Android version I used for testing is 4.1-4.3, while the most recent release is 5.0.” – Longfei Wu, reply to email.

As “the Internet of Things” connects your washing machine and your car to your home thermostat and puts them all online along with your coffee-maker and alarm clock, all of them connected to the television box that never shuts off and always listens, you will be increasingly exposed to harm.