Posts Tagged ‘password safety’

Graham Cluley released an article today called “200 MILLION YAHOO PASSWORDS BEING SOLD ON THE DARK WEB?” about various web sites that have had stolen passwords recently posted on criminal web sites (the “dark web”).

While not really news—new password breeches are revealed quite often—but it brings some questions to mind. How do you know if your passwords have been stolen? And, what do you do about them?

If you haven’t changed your important passwords recently, you could just assume they have been stolen and change them.

Or, you can look up your email address or user name at a site like When you put in a user name or email and click Search, it will show you possible accounts and the types of information contained in their databases for free, but not the actual information contained. You have to pay to see that.

Do you actually need to see those old passwords? Probably not; what you really need is the accounts that were compromised. If you look at those accounts and you have not changed your password in a while, here’s what to do:

  1. Install some kind of password manager on each of your devices, something well known, such as KeePass 2 or LastPass. Come up with a password for the manager that you will not forget. If you forget it, the password probably cannot be recovered (99.99% chance of no recovery). Keep a copy of the master password somewhere safe—your safe deposit box or even in your wallet if you need to. (Note: this may not protect you against family members or friends who want to know your secrets.) If your wallet gets stolen, you only have 1 password to change.

You can download those applications from the following sources. Note: Only download applications from the original site:

Personally, I prefer KeePass, but LastPass is much easier to synchronize between devices because it is web-based. LastPass has had recent vulnerabilities however.

The nice thing about a password manager is that it will autotype your password (unless the username and password are on separate pages, such as some bank accounts and credit card sites use). Even in those case you can drag your username and/or password to the proper place.

  1. Change your important passwords—email, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn (for example)—to something at least 15 characters long. Do not reuse it anywhere! A password safe will generate a password for you and you can customize length and character types.
  1. If the site offers some kind of multi-factor authentication (MFA), take advantage of it. Yes, it is painful! But you can often set it so that your devices will remember for at least 30 days (unless you clear your cache).
  1. Do not share your passwords with anyone! Not your spouse, kids, friends, boss, coworkers, or someone claiming to be from Microsoft support.
  1. Last, change your passwords at least yearly. A good day to change them? World Password Day at celebrates password security on May 5 every year. They have some funny videos starring Betty White! Check them out!

Save your information and your privacy. Practice safe MFA like Betty White!

A friend of mine called me for help after she started getting pop-ups every time she opened her web browser. She asked me how her computer got into this mess. While I could not pinpoint an exact cause (no log files), I suspect she downloaded crapware with a software installation she trusted.

She also wanted to know why anyone would want to inflict this malware on her computer. The answer is simple: Money.

So what can you do to avoid this problem? The consensus advice is to only download programs from a trusted source. Ok! That’s great advice! But what is a “trusted source”? explains in “Yes, Every Freeware Download Site Is Serving Crapware” that all the major free download sites–Tucows, CNET Downloads /, FileHippo, SnapFiles, MajorGeeks, and yes, even SourceForge–include adware and even malware with their installers. While some sites are better than others about telling you what they’re including and about allowing you to uncheck those additions, they all do it.

What to do instead? Go to the developer’s website and download from there. And support those software authors that do not include crapware by donating to support their development work.

Other steps to take:

  • Back up regularly (at least once a week or oftener), then disconnect the media. Test your backups by periodically restoring a file. I also recommend alternating backup media to offsite storage, such as a safe-deposit box. Backup media–just like any other technology–can break, become corrupted, get lost or stolen.
  • If you back up to a  cloud provider, your back ups can become unavailable if their storage media becomes unavailable for any reason, so use physical backup media as well.
  • On Windows systems, set System Restore Points.
  • Change your IMPORTANT passwords as soon as you can from a computer that is not infected. Use a unique, strong password for each site.
  • Can’t remember all those passwords? Use a password manager. Note: Do NOT lose this password! I use the Professional versions of KeePass and Portable KeePass, and KeePass2Android (available from Google Play), but cloud-based LastPass is also very popular. (LastPass is more convenient, but I am leery of cloud-based services for availability reasons.)

If you have recent back-ups and your files get locked by a version of CryptoLocker / CryptoWall, you may not have to pay to get your files back (depending on how recent your backups are).

For an interesting read, check out Kaspersky’s 2014 Trends in the Internet Security Industry.

Let’s look back at 2014 to review events that could impact our information privacy. Some substantial vulnerabilities occurred this year including the Heartbleed bug, Shellshock, and POODLE, along with the usual Microsoft, Java, browser, and Adobe Flash and Reader problems. There have been some notable payment system breeches: Sony, Kmart, Jimmy Johns, Home Depot, Apple, Dairy Queen, Community Health Systems to name a few … even some Goodwill payment systems got hacked.

What can you do to protect yourself? Here are a couple things to do:

  • Protect your information!

Don’t give it out unless it’s absolutely necessary. If your doctor—like mine did—asks you to sign a release so they can use your deidentified data in a study, ask them what information they are sending and who they are sending it to: Does it include your initials, your first name, your zip code, your street, your age and gender, your diagnosis, your treatment? If they frown at you and say it’s deidentified, ask them what that means to them.

According to HIPAA, there are 2 main methods to de-identify patient data, the “expert determination” method and the “safe harbor” method. The safe harbor method is usually safer because it removes 18 specific identifiers from the research data, such as name, age, dates must be year only, telephone numbers, address, full-face pictures, and account numbers. The expert method depends on an “expert” to determine what’s safe to disclose.

For instance, why do you care if someone shares your birth date? The birthday paradox is a probability theory that explains if you’re in a room with 23 other people, the chances that at least 2 people in the room will share a birthday is 50%, and in a group of 70 people, the probability that at least 2 of them will share a birthday reaches 99.9%. However, the probability that 2 people will share the same birth date is considerably smaller.

A recent article in American Medical News explained how Latanya Sweeney, PhD, a Harvard University researcher, was able to attach 241 identities to the deidentified medical information of a database of 1,130 research patients, using birth date, gender, and zip code combined with public records, such as US Census records or voter registration. That’s 22%! Yikes!

To see how identifiable you are by using those parameters, visit the Data Privacy Lab.

  • Make your important passwords unique for each account, change them often—every six months or sooner, especially if the web site is hacked—and implement two-factor authentication on sites that allow it, especially sites like email, banking, or e-commerce.

What is two-factor authentication? Two-factor authentication means that instead of using just a password to access your account, you add an additional method of verifying your identity.

Google Authenticator is a way to add a second factor; it’s easy to use and it sends a code via a text message to your device. You can set it up so that you only have to input a code if a new device tries to use the account or your password changes. In case you don’t have an Internet connection or cell phone service, you can download a set of 10 codes for backup authentication. Make sure you keep these codes safe! I store mine right in KeePass.

  • Back up your personal information on all your devices—documents, photos, music, videos.
  • Lock your devices: Use PINs, passwords, puzzles, or biometrics.
  • Install software like Find My Phone (Windows, Android, or iPhone) or Prey; if your device is lost or stolen, send it a lock and erase it. Be safe, call the police. Do not try to recover it yourself.
  • Don’t save password information in your browser! Here’s an article on how to disable saving passwords in IE, Safari, and Firefox browsers, and Chrome.

Can’t remember all those passwords? Neither can I! You can use a password-protected Excel 2007 or later spreadsheet (do not save in compatibility mode), download a password manager like KeePass, or use a cloud-based password manager like LastPass.

Do not lose the master password! If you might forget, put it someplace safe like your safe-deposit box.

I have used all three options, and I prefer KeePass, although Excel is in some ways more convenient because you can decide on the fields you use. The data is stored on your device (unless you load it in the cloud yourself). I use KeePass’s professional and portable versions, and KeePass2Android. Try to only update the KeePass database on one device and copy it to your other devices so you don’t get confused as to which device contains the most up-to-date copy of the database. I date the database when I add a new account or change a password (BlahXX-XX-XXXX), so I know to move it to my other devices.

It is very important to back up this database and store a copy that you update regularly —as well as a printed copy—in your safe-deposit box.

LastPass is convenient, but I don’t like the idea of not knowing where my data is stored. Also, if the service is down—as happened last August for over 12 hours—can you access your accounts? According to their documentation, you should be able to. However, it is always best to keep a non-cloud-based back up for cloud-based services.

  • Keep your operating system and applications up to date. When an operating system is no longer supported, it is time to either get the device off the Internet or—if the option is available—upgrade to a new operating system or download and install an open-source operating system. If none of those options work, wipe the device and recycle it here or at one of the Goodwill locations that partners with the Dell Reconnect program.

Spring clean your installed apps: if you don’t use it, uninstall it. Fewer apps will free up resources like memory and drive space, and your device might even run faster.

One application to consider installing on a Windows machine is Secunia’s Personal Software Inspector. It makes sure that all your updates and patches are current. I test a lot of software and some apps don’t always have automatic updates; this app is wonderful!

Everyone here at wishes you a prosperous, happy, healthy, and safe 2015! We’re happy you read us.

You might know and follow the general rules for creating a good password. Apparently, no one else does.

The “25 Worst Passwords” is an annual press release from SplashData, which sells password management tools. They also tap into the resources provided by similar security reporting firms. Those reports from recent news stories illustrate that most people seem to be really bad at inventing new passwords. Writing about the Adobe website breach of 2013 PC World revealed that ‘adobe123’ and ‘photoshop’ were very common choices. An article from the BBC cited security researcher Per Thorsheim. He pointed out that the color schemes of Twitter, Facebook, and Google, all lead people to include the word “blue” in their passwords.

As a result, more websites require you to use a Mix of Upper and Lower Case, and also to include $pecial C#aracters and Numb3rs. The password photoshop becames !Ph0t0$hop* and that should be more secure.

However, what really makes that more secure is not the mix of characters but the two additional symbols. The ! and * at the beginning and end turn a string of 9 characters into a string of 11. The basic arithmetic of computing says that the longer something is, the harder it is to guess. Your bank transfers money with cipher strings of 200 digits. We call them “computationally difficult” to crack.

“Black hat hackers” build special computers to attack passwords. One of those homebrew boxes broke every Windows-standard 8-character password in under 6 hours. A lesser machine revealed 90% of the passwords on LinkedIn. However, if you have an 11-character password those powerful crackers would need 515 years to work through all the possible combinations. And yet, long as they are “AmericanTheBeautiful” and “ToBeOrNotToBe” are known phrases.

Those networks of multiple game processors also grind through huge databases of words and proper names in English and their many variations. . Passages from the Bible, quotations from Shakespeare, and other cultural artifacts add to the databases.  Black hat hackers have mammoth dictionaries of known passwords. Those are compiled from the revelations of each successful attack.

Password Cracking Machine

Jeremi Gosney’s High Performance Computer. The rapidly-moving graphics of games are computationally intensive. So, the central processor and parallel processors of the Xbox, PlayStation, and others rely on co-processors designed for rapid arithmetic. That makes them perfect for running billions of guesses per second.

It is also true that some websites prevent you from using special characters. You might be instructed to keep your passwords to Upper and Lower Case Letters and the numerals 0 through 9. Restricted like that, all of the possible 11-character passwords can be broken in just 4 years. Turn the computer on; let it run day and night; it churns out passwords.

The reason why you sometimes are restricted from special characters is that the Dollar $ign and <Greater-than Less-than> and @some others# are common to programming systems and languages such as SQL (pronounced “sequel”) and Java. So, in place of the password, a hacker inserts a line of computer code to open up the website to their commands. Such SQL attacks are common.

BBC Cat 2

“If you have a cat, or any other type of pet, do not use its name as part of a password.” – BBC

That brings us to the corporations and organizations that allow your data to be stolen. SQL attacks are an old, known problem. But everyone is busy. And businesses cut costs by releasing employees. So, successful attacks are inevitable. The key to security is not just to put up barriers. Victims must act quickly, decisively, and effectively when those firewalls are breached. And they will be breached. It is not a matter of “if” but of “when.” For over 20 years, even the FBI has suffered periodic intrusions.   Rather than requiring you to have a ridiculously difficult password, the system administrators should just do their jobs.

But this is the Information Age. We all have computers, phones, pads, notebooks, and networks. That puts the burden back on you.

We give out our usernames and passwords all too easily. Spam Nation is new book by Brian Krebs. Formerly a technology writer for the Washington Post, Krebs more recently investigated two Russian “businessmen” who apparently controlled the world’s largest floods of spam email. They sold fake Viagra and fake vicodin, fake Gucci and fake Rolex. Millions of people bought them. From all indications, the crooks really did deliver the goods. In doing that, they acquired millions of usernames and passwords. And people are lazy.

If you have the same log-in credentials for illegal drugs that you do for your bank account, you have only yourself to blame when a drug dealer steals your money.

Brian Krebs writes a very readable blog.

Brian Krebs writes a very readable blog.

But the same breach could come through the garden club, the library charity, your school, or work. How many log-in accounts have you had since the Worldwide Web was launched in 1991? According to Brian Krebs, it is your responsibility to keep yourself safe by keeping your identities separate.

Even Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman, and Batgirl manage only two lives each, not twenty. You may need a password manager. PC Magazine, PC World, MacWorld, and InfoWorld all review and evaluate password managers. It is a start. Of course, if your home Wi-Fi network is open to the public, then you have a different problem, entirely.


According to, Jimmy Johns aren’t the only restaurants to get caught in this breach, which lasted from June 16 through mid-September (dates vary at some locations). Many small restaurants use Signature Systems PDQPOS point-of-sale systems. A total of 216 Jimmy Johns and 108 other restaurants are affected because “an authorized person gained access to a user name and password that Signature Systems used to remotely access POS systems.” This access allowed the attacker to install malware to steal payment card data, containing the cardholder’s name, card number, expiration date, and verification code from the magnetic stripe of the card.

I wonder if Signature Systems changed their passwords on a regular basis? Probably not. Did they use two-factor authentication? Long and strong passwords? Did they conduct employee training on anti-phishing techniques?

Unfortunately, as of October 28, 2013, PDQPOS was only acceptable for pre-existing deployments. So it’s possible that some of these restaurants may receive fines if the system was installed after that date.