Security Corner

July 30, 2014  6:58 PM

Highly effective security: Think before you click

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun
cybercriminals, Hyperlinks, Malicious code, Security

question-mark1This is something that bears repeating by all of us. It’s very important that everyone identify web addresses before clicking the link. Malicious web sites that look legitimate are commonly used by cyber-crooks to trick unwary users.

It’s very easy to identify the true address of a link: just place the cursor over the displayed address and the true destination will reveal itself. If anything looks suspicious (for example, a link like, don’t click it.

Even greater caution is needed with shortened addresses like and and many other such services. Use their preview feature to display the true source. For QR codes, make sure your app allows you to preview the destination before opening the link.

And when it comes to apps and software, only download from trusted sources.


July 29, 2014  8:54 PM

Therapeutic passwords (and maybe educational, too!)

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Can a password change your life for the better? , thinks so. He did it. Deeply depressed due to a recent divorce, he made a decision: “I’m gonna use a password to change my life.”

I’m a firm believer that you get what you put your energy into, so I can see how something like that might work. I would start by making a list of things I want to accomplish and come up with suitable passwords to match the tasks. But let’s take a different look here and come up with some passwords that serve to reinforce good security practices. How about these:


Yes, this is slightly tongue-in-cheek, but not to make fun of the article above. It’s a valid approach. Just make sure you don’t re-use any of those on more than one site!

July 29, 2014  12:38 AM

Security worst practice: Password reuse

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun
password security, Security

This article, “eBay’s StubHub ransacked for over $1 million, international crime ring arrested,” from Naked Security said:

It’s a shame that users all too often make it easy for crooks to just plug in credentials leaked from other breaches.

It’s yet another example of why passwords shouldn’t be reused.

Password reuse is, apparently, a given. No matter how much we lecture, a (hopefully shrinking!) percentage of people are going to commit this security sin.

Should we start expecting businesses like eBay to plan for that? Or should we just let password reusers suffer the consequences of their redundancy?

I’m certainly guilty of having re-used passwords myself, but it has been a long time since I’ve done it. In fact, since I started using LastPass, I no longer use duplicate passwords, and I am cleaning out those that still exist. What duplicate passwords I have are not on anything critical; all of my important logins such as email, banking, credit cards and other sensitive sites, have unique, strong passwords.

Now, I don’t know how we can expect businesses to plan for such a thing. How would they know a password is reused elsewhere? Monitor hackers’ sites and password dumps? They could do what Facebook did and run researchers’ recovered plaintext passwords, I suppose, but that’s a lot to ask of any company. No, I think it’s just going to take continuing education on the part of those in the know and trial by fire for those guilty of reusing passwords for critical sites.

I’ll leave you with this good advice from Naked Security:

Make sure your family, your friends, your colleagues and anybody else you can think of are choosing strong passwords, at least 12 characters long, that mix letters, numbers and special characters.

If those passwords are impossible to remember, that’s good – all the better. That’s what they make password managers like LastPass or KeePass for.

Don’t reuse passwords!

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July 22, 2014  2:34 PM

Highly effective security: Protect data on mobile and removable media

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

We all carry mobile devices be they phones, iPads or other tablet devices, USB drives or laptops. By their very nature, these devices are easily lost or stolen making the data on them at risk of compromise. It’s important to protect the actual devices from loss, but perhaps it’s even more important to protect the information that resides on them. Here’s how to accomplish that:

  1. Make regular backups of all critical data
  2. Securely wipe all data from a device before you discard it, donate it or give it away.
  3. Encrypt all sensitive data
  4. Use anti-malware software and keep it up to date
  5. Keep up with security updates for all software on your device
  6. If your device has a means to wipe it out if it is lost, be sure to configure this option.

July 17, 2014  5:28 PM

Humor: Password tattoos

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Tired of resetting certain students’ passwords numerous times (will they EVER remember them?), this administrator replied to an instructor’s request for a password reset with this email:

It’s on the way to you.

Please send him to see me ASAP for his tattoo. My new policy is that after the third password reset, the student must change the password in my presence and have it tattooed permanently on the inside of his or her left arm. The password tattoo, which will be in black 36 pt.  Droid Sans with slashed zero and European 7 and Z glyphs, is free. There is a $100 extra charge for aesthetic enhancement unless the student prefers to do it herself. I would encourage you to instruct them on how to design graphics around their password so that it also serves as a mnemonic. I have attached an example for your reference.

Optional: Students who don’t know how to type or otherwise operate a computer may purchase the RFID package ($150) in lieu of the tattoo. I will implant the chip in their forehead, allowing them to log in by simply banging their head against the PC (something I have been doing much more frequently these days).

Oh, I forgot to mention this: my tattoo gun is currently in the shop. Until I get it back, all tattoos will be done using the old sewing needle/thread/India ink method. This is much more painful, but just as effective.

If you or your students have any questions about this policy, feel free to drop me a line.

July 17, 2014  4:15 PM

Stop electronic surveillance with typewriters?

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun
Security, Surveillance

In the wake of recent news about Germany’s considering using typewriters instead of computers to thwart electronic surveillance, one has to ask the obvious question: Huh?

Oh, they have to be manual typewriters. Electric ones just won’t do (you can plug in a keylogger to an electric one, apparently). Makes sense, especially in light of how IBM Selectric typewriters were hacked in the 1980s. Here’s how an installed spy sensor (bug) worked, according to CBS News:

“The devices picked up the contents of documents typed by embassy secretaries and transmitted them by antennas hidden in the embassy walls. The typewriters used a round ball with numbers and letters around the surface, which revolved before hitting the ribbon against the paper. The bugs could work out each letter typed by detecting how the ball moved.”

I don’t think that manual typewriters would solve this problem. Someone will develop a way to tell which key was pressed by the audio spectrum analysis of the “clack” sound the letter hammer makes as it hits the ribbon and paper. It doesn’t even have to be so complicated. You can just go back to the old low-tech spy methods like posing as a janitor and stealing the ribbons or relying on security lapses and stealing documents that should have been shredded.

Spying isn’t going to go away no matter the technology being used. Only on the day when we can fully trust each other will spying become unnecessary.

July 11, 2014  6:14 PM

Highly effective security: Secure your mobile devices from loss

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun
Laptop Security, Mobile device security, Security, Tablet PCs

Mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops are certainly convenient; however, due to their portability they are security risks. It’s just too easy to lose or misplace these devices and when this happens, all of your personal data stored on them is at risk of being compromised. You don’t want that to happen, so be sure to:

  • Keep smartphones and tablets with you at all times when in public. NEVER leave a device sitting and walk away from it, even for a second.
  • Never leave a laptop in open view in your car. Lock it securely in your trunk and lock all the doors. Out of sight, out of mind.
  • When in the office, use a cable lock on your laptop or store it in a locked drawer.
  • Never put any of these devices in your checked baggage when traveling.
  • Make a list of phone numbers and/or email addresses to report stolen or lost devices.

A future post will cover protecting the data itself.

June 30, 2014  6:47 PM

Humor: Lighten up – it’s Monday (Warning: Language)

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

mega-icon-smiley-thumbs-upA bit of security humor to brighten up your Monday. Hopefully, you’ll be able to enjoy a short week and long holiday weekend.

Password Reset Dialog

WINDOWS:  Please enter your new password.

USER:  cabbage

WINDOWS: Sorry, the password must be more than 8 characters.

USER:  boiled cabbage

WINDOWS:  Sorry, the password must contain 1 numerical character.

USER:  1 boiled cabbage

WINDOWS: Sorry, the password cannot have blank spaces.

USER:  50bloodyboiledcabbages

WINDOWS:  Sorry, the password must contain at least one upper case

USER:  50BLOODYboiledcabbages

WINDOWS:  Sorry, the password cannot use more than one upper case
character consecutively.

USER: 50BloodyBoiledCabbagesShovedUpYourAssIfYouDon’tGiveMeAccessNow!

WINDOWS:  Sorry, the password cannot contain punctuation.


WINDOWS:  Sorry, that password is already in use.


WINDOWS:  Thank You, your password has been changed

Have fun and be safe!

June 30, 2014  3:22 PM

The best free security list in the world?

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

I’m a fan of Gizmo’s Freeware and have been for many years. They have maintained a list of free security-related programs or web applications for some time. It’s called “Probably the Best Free Security List in the World.” They say,

This article contains a comprehensive list of free security-related programs or web applications for Windows XP and later Windows PC-based operating systems. The few non-free programs on this list are included because they are of high merit (in our opinion) and lack a comparable free alternative. This list also includes links to webpages that contain security-related information.

The list runs the gamut from malware protection of all kinds to firewalls, HIPS, virtualization, encryption, data rescue, and so much more, 24 categories in all. I was pleased to find several of my favorite go-to programs under the “System Cleaning” category, including Darik’s Boot & Nuke and Active@ KillDisk. Also, under “Data Rescue” are two programs I use frequently, Testdisk and Photorec. There’s also a comprehensive list of malware removal guides and help sites.

One very nice feature of this page is the keys that inform you of the presence of adware, nagware and OpenCandy.

This list makes my old Geek Toolkit obsolete!

June 30, 2014  2:37 AM

Highly effective security: Lock your screen

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun
Screen savers

Do you know who’s playing around on your computer when you’re not there? Think it won’t (or doesn’t) happen? Think again: It can and does happen all the time.

I’m sure you trust the people you work with, and rightfully so, but what about the maintenance crew and the janitorial service personnel? Several times this year, I have had to clean up computers in the reception area because someone got adware and toolbars all over them. The only possible explanation is that the cleaning crew people were surfing the web on them.

Had the night receptionist remembered to either shut down or lock the computers before she left, nothing would have happened.

The same goes for your workstation. If you leave it on, like many at my company do, you are at risk for someone using it when you aren’t around or, worse yet, getting confidential private information off of it.

If you lock the screen so it requires your password to get back in, you have just made it nearly impossible for an unauthorized person to get your information or wreck your system.

It’s a simple, but highly effective security practice.

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