Security Corner


November 30, 2012  8:14 PM

Video: How to solve the Skyfall #sophospuzzle

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Here is a video showing you how to solve the Skyfall #sophospuzzle, which I introduced on this blog last week.

November 30, 2012  3:02 PM

Microsoft Security Essentials loses AV-TEST certification

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

A colleague sent me a link to this article in The Register: Microsoft Security Essentials loses AV-TEST certification. Here is my emailed response:

Well, yeah, but I still recommend it to friends, family and students as one of the best free AV tools. It maintains the VB100 rating. Besides, absolutely NOTHING prevents against malware installing on the PCs of those ID-10-T users who click on links and agree to be infected.

Me, I don’t even run AV on any of my personal computers at home and haven’t for at least 5 years. I have had zero infections of any kind. On the other hand, I have cleaned PCs that were positively toxic with malware and were members of every known botnet despite their running fully updated versions of commercial AV software.

Naturally, I question the efficacy of AV software for the savvy amongst us.

What do YOU think? Hit the comments and let me know.


November 30, 2012  10:52 AM

Beware “changlog” spam: It’s malware

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

If you receive any email with a subject line similar to “Re: Changlog 10.2011,” or something similar, delete it immediately: it’s malware. This isn’t a new one, it just seems to be going through a resurgence at the moment. Sophos identified it and wrote about it in February 2012:

Internet users are receiving emails claiming to contain a changelog – but the files attached are really designed to infect computers.

Here’s what a typical email looks like, although the precise wording can vary.

Malware attack

Subject: Re: Your Changelog

Message body:
Good day,
as promised chnglog attached (Open with Internet Explorer)

The subject lines and attachment names can also be different from email to email – here’s a small selection.

Malware attack

Make sure your anti-malware software is up to date and you should be OK. Just don’t click the link (but you already knew that, eh?)


November 30, 2012  2:47 AM

Another way to create easy-to-remember complex passwords

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Like it or not, we are still saddled with using passwords for almost everything we do online. The biggest problem with passwords is–and always will be–that good, complex passwords tend to be hard to remember. There are scads of articles on the interwebs about how to create easy-to-remember complex passwords and I’m guilty of contributing my own volume of them. Not that there is anything wrong with this, but the hackers read, too. That’s how and why they have refined their cracking programs to take into account commonly used password creation habits. For example, most people when mixing case will capitalize the first letter, so the cracking program tries that first. You want to avoid using common patterns and the best way to do this is with a personal password algorithm (PPA).

A PPA is a set of rules or steps that you use to create passwords such as this one by Luigi Montanez (though he calls it a “recipe”).  There are endless variations you could apply to that one alone (and you should definitely vary it from the published version for obvious reasons). Here’s a simple algorithm that I just invented for the purpose of writing this article:

  • Write down any two words that are memorable to you. In my case, I could use kenpeggy
  • Starting at the end, write down all of the consonants, skipping all the vowels: ggpnk
  • Now, capitalize the last two letters: ggpNK
  • Determine the two-digit numerical value of the first two letters based on the alphabet: gg would be 06 and 06
  • Append that to the letters: ggpNK0606
  • Choose two special characters that you like and append one to the front and one to the back: !ggpNK0606%

You can apply this to any two (or more) memorable words or names and as long as you consistently follow the algorithm, you’ll always know what the password is.


November 27, 2012  8:13 PM

The Skyfall #sophospuzzle

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

As you probably know by now, I love the Sophos puzzles. Here’s the latest one that is already over with, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with it anyway:

This time, the theme is Skyfall and Bond, James Bond. You’ll handle a field message from another agent, decode a data file stolen from M’s computer, and unravel a secret location – all in a day’s work for the world’s best-dressed secret agent.

To get started with the puzzle, put your tuxedo on, pick up martini, and join Bond at the craps table (that’s by way of a hint, albeit a slightly oblique one).

Apply a touch of lateral thinking and a bit of search engine tinkering to work out how to convert the text below into a URL:

44516 54221 43313 slash SHAKE DON’T STIR

Then head over to the URL to take on the next stage of the puzzle.

Enjoy and hit the comments if you figure it out.


November 24, 2012  1:48 PM

Serious Skype security flaw uncovered, then fixed

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

A serious security flaw in Microsoft-owned Skype allowed hackers to hijack accounts just by knowing the user’s email addresses. Details from this article at TechCrunch:

Skype faced a fairly serious security threat today [Nov. 14, 2012], thanks to a flaw in the system replicated by The Next Web that allowed people to sign up with email addresses already in use by other users and then force password resets for any accounts associated with those emails. Reset tokens could be delivered to the Skype client itself, meaning people didn’t need access to email accounts to reset passwords associated with them.

Very shortly after The Next Web notified Microsoft, the issue was fixed.

The flaw was actually more of a design issue than a security hole, according to Steve Gibson of Security Now! He discussed this flaw in Security Now! Episode #378:

Microsoft shut down the vulnerability, the aspect of vulnerability, which was password recovery. They took that part offline immediately, then looked at the problem, understood it, fixed it, and then brought password recovery back. So that’s what I mean by this being a design problem. As soon as someone told them, they’re like, oh, my god. And so it was easy to fix.


November 19, 2012  9:52 PM

Physical security fail II

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

After an incident the other day where a student attempted to break into our bookstore with a credit card, I decided I had better test my office (even though I have a sturdy combination lock on it). It took me about 5 seconds to open my locked door. So, we installed additional measures to prevent anyone from using credit cards, tools, or whatever to open my door. Here’s the solution we used:

This prevents any card, tool, etc. from being slipped into the door. Any door latch guard will work. This one just happened to be available at the locksmith shop down the street.


November 11, 2012  10:53 PM

Secret splitting

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

In my post “Distributed passwords: A simple security precaution that works,” I gave a method to split up passwords that one writes down into a “secret” part and and a “public” part. It is a practical and secure way to keep a record of passwords. In doing further research, I came across a fascinating site maintained by Dutch cryptology enthusiast and historian Dirk Rijmenants. He has a page on secret splitting that goes into great detail and also provides a secure code splitter template (PDF). Here’s a good explanation of secret splitting and why it is super secure:

Secret Splitting, also called Secret Sharing in cryptography, is a method to split numbers, text or computer data into two or more parts, also called keys or shares. All shares are required to retrieve the original information. It is mathematically impossible to obtain the original information if one of the shares is not available . The information, obtained from separate shares does not reveal any information or partial information about the original, and does not assist in any way in retrieving the original information. Therefore, Secret Splitting offers mathematically absolute security as long as the shares are separated. 

If you need to ensure access to assets but want to keep said access secure, this is the way to do it.


November 11, 2012  2:51 PM

Final update on physical security failure

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

As you may recall, last month I had a physical security issue at one of my campuses. This post gave an update and on Wednesday of last week, I put in place what I consider the final portion of the solution: RJ-45 cable locks. The locks I chose are Panduit(TM) brand locks that I purchased from CableOrganizer.com (photo below). I chose the recessed ones.

As part of the installation, I had a good discussion with the building management’s rep about physical security for the data closets.

Realize that this solution will not prevent anyone with malicious intent from doing damage, but it will certainly prevent an absent-minded technician from messing with the cables and forgetting to put them back. The locks require a special key to remove them.

If you have had any similar issues, I highly suggest you install these cable locks.


October 31, 2012  5:51 PM

Cryptography contest solution

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

So, if you haven’t figured it out already, the code I posted last night is from Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Gold Bug.” From Wikipedia:

The Gold-Bug” is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe. Set on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, the plot follows William Legrand, who was recently bitten by a gold-colored bug. His servant Jupiter fears Legrand is going insane and goes to Legrand’s friend, an unnamed narrator who agrees to visit his old friend. Legrand pulls the other two into an adventure after deciphering a secret message that will lead to a buried treasure.

The decoded ciphertext reads as follows:

A good glass in the bishop’s hostel in the devil’s seat
forty-one degrees and thirteen minutes northeast and by north
main branch seventh limb east side shoot from the left eye of the death’s-head
a bee line from the tree through the shot fifty feet out.

Have a Happy Halloween, everyone!


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