Security Corner

July 27, 2012  5:05 PM

New security feature in Firefox and Chrome speeds surfing

Posted by: Ken Harthun
Firefox add-on, Google Chrome, Secure Computing, Security

Oh, and did I mention that it also keeps you safer?

Both Firefox and Chrome have added a new security feature called “Click-to-play.” After you enable it–which you will have to do since the feature is not enabled by default in either browser–you will have to click on a specified blank placeholder on the web page if you want the content to play.

Gizmo’s Freeware provides these instructions:

How to enable Click-to-play in Chrome

  1. Enter “chrome://chrome/settings/content” in the Chrome address bar (without quotes)
  2. Scroll down the configuration page that opens to the Plug-ins section (shown in the figure)
  3. Click the button “Click to play”

Chrome plug-in configuration

How to enable Click-to-play in Firefox 14

  1. Enter “about:config” in the Firefox address bar (without quotes)
  2. Agree to be careful
  3. Scroll to the plug-ins section (shown in the figure below)
  4. Double-click the entry “ plugins.click_to_play” so that the Boolean value reads “true”

Firefox plu-in configuration

July 20, 2012  6:52 PM

Why security managers need hands-on skills

Posted by: Ken Harthun
Security, Security best practice, Security management

This says it all (as things from SANS usually do), so I won’t belabor the point. This is the preamble to SANS NewsBites, July 17, 2012, Vol. 14, Num. 057:

Just heard the best answer ever to the question of whether security
managers need to have hands-on technical skills.  An Air Force Major was
complaining to an Air Force course director that the major didn’t need
to know networking and security taught in the intensive in house Air
Force course, “My people will do that; I never will; I am a manager.”
The course director asked the major, “Do you know what a router access
control list is?”
Major: “Yes.”
Course director: “Have you ever sat down at a terminal and written an ACL?”
Major: “No”
Course director: “Then how do you know your netadmin is doing it right,
when just one error in one line can stop all the traffic on your
Major: eyes wide
Course director: “And how do you know whether your netadmin isn’t
blowing smoke?”
Major: “Get me registered for the course.”


Alan Paller is director of research at the SANS Institute.

July 16, 2012  10:59 PM

Yahoo Voices hack exposes worst passwords you could ever use

Posted by: Ken Harthun
Password, Security, Security best practice, Security management

I hope that none of you, my readers, are using any passwords like these:

I have spent endless hours writing about best password practice and how to generate strong, unguessable passwords. I know many other writers in the security field are doing the same. Do people listen? Maybe some do, but as Graham Cluley, Senior Technology Consultant at Sophos says: “And yet, people continue to use passwords that are – quite frankly – dumb, and then compound the problem by using the same simple password in multiple places.”

The recent hack of Yahoo Voices presented another opportunity for someone to analyze the passwords that people tend to use. This from the Naked Security blog:

Scandinavian security blogger Anders Nilsson spent a little time with the Pipal password analysing tool, running it against the 450,000 plaintext passwords snatched by hackers from Yahoo Voices.

And what he found doesn’t inspire much confidence that users are getting the message about password security.


July 16, 2012  12:55 PM

Humor: The first backup

Posted by: Ken Harthun
backup, Humor, Security

I don’t know the exact source of this (unless its creator is the colleague who sent it to me, Kenneth Nelson), but my hat is off to the author.

Tablets, of course, are a vital component of Christian iconography, as the Old Testament tells us. On Mount Sinai, God gave Moses two tablets (of the analog kind) upon which the deity had inscribed the rules for his creations, a process which saw Moses on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights without food or water.

But when Moses came down the mountain and discovered the Israelites cavorting around a golden calf, he smashed the tablets, burnt the idol, ground it up, mixed it with water, made everyone drink it, then ordered the killing of 3,000 of of those Israelites who didn’t immediately side with him (Exodus 32:19-28). 

Moses was then told to carve a new set of tablets, and upon them God restored the sacred text files from what was presumably a celestial backup, thus retiring history’s first recorded tablet tech-support ticket.

July 8, 2012  11:40 PM

Paper is still king for passing on your estate’s online assets

Posted by: Ken Harthun
Password, Security, Security best practice, Security management

These two articles became the subject of a lot of thought and discussion on how to best pass on your electronic assets when you pass away:

How will you pass on your passwords when you pass away? Part 1
How will you pass on your passwords when you pass away? Part 2

In the process of figuring out my own system, I became aware of the existence of  “electronic will” sites that will supposedly allow your loved ones to get your passwords and other online account information in the event of your demise. I advise against using such sites for two reasons:

  1. If the site disappears (despite what promises are made as to their plan for succession) and you die before you can find a replacement site, your loved ones are out of luck; and,
  2. If you fail to keep the site updated with changes, it’s useless.

This is why I say “paper is king.” You need to come up with a system that is relatively fail safe and that system needs to be committed to paper and placed in a safe deposit box or held by your attorney or other trusted person.

By “fail safe,” I mean a system that will allow your survivors to gain access to all of your important online assets even if you do not faithfully apply it. Yes, it has to be set up in such a way that someone could easily discover where your lapse occurred and recover your credentials. This isn’t the least bit difficult to do; in fact, it’s rather simple and I’ll present a full system in a future post.

July 6, 2012  1:12 PM

The Great Internet Blackout is coming July 9

Posted by: Ken Harthun
Cybercrime, Malware, Secure Computing, Security

If you are still infected with the DNS Changer malware, you will be unable to access the internet as of July 9, 2012. According to the FBI, who took over a series of rogue DNS servers last November,  there are still hundreds of thousands of computers infected with the malware. While the FBI substituted valid DNS servers to keep resolving internet names, these servers will be taken offline on July 9, making it impossible for infected PCs to resolve domain names.

You need to make sure your PC is not infected. You can do that by checking websites created by the DNS Changer Working Group (DCWG), a cross-industry team of experts. The list is posted here.

Sophos also provided an informative video:How not to lose your internet connection

June 30, 2012  8:11 PM

Give Spam the Finger

Posted by: Ken Harthun

No, I’m not talking about that finger; it’ll become obvious in a moment which finger I’m talking about. First, let me ask a few questions:

  1. Is your car parked, empty, in the driveway right now with its engine on?
  2. Is your shower, with no one in it, running?
  3. Is your stove, with nothing cooking on it, turned on?
  4. Is your attic light on 24/7?

I’m fairly sure that you answered “no” to all of these questions. It just doesn’t make sense to leave something on if you’re not using it. All this does is run up your electric bill for nothing, right?

Then why would you want to leave your PC on 24/7? If your PC has been compromised and is a member of one of the major spam zombie networks, chances are that you’re spewing spam in a constant stream.

Do us all a favor and use your index finger to switch it off when you’re not using it. If you do nothing else to clean it up, just shutting down the PC if it’s not being used would cut spam volume significantly.

Do you agree or disagree? Hit the comments and put in your two cents.

The Geek

June 29, 2012  1:17 PM

Security a priority for Apple

Posted by: Ken Harthun
OS X, Security

Apple is making security a priority in the next version of OS X, Mountain Lion. This is good news:  new threats continue to crop up as Macs gain a larger user base. Apple Insider reports that “…Apple’s upcoming OS X Mountain Lion will feature an automatic security check feature that will ensure users have the most up-to-date software protection amid a growing number of Mac-targeted malware.”

The new feature is called “OS X Security Update Test 1.0″ and will either run daily or whenever a Mac restarts. It will download and install updates in the background, thus lessening the necessity for manually performing checks. The feature is also reported to create a “more secure connection” to Apple’s servers.

This comes at about the same time as Apple changed its OS X web page. No longer is Apple boasting “It doesn’t get PC viruses” or “Safeguard your data. By doing nothing.” The web page has been toned down to read “It’s built to be safe” and “Safety. Built right in.”

Nice to see this attention to security.

June 29, 2012  12:44 AM

Looking Back: Will You Be Used As a Weapon Against Your Own Country?

Posted by: Ken Harthun
Cyber weapon, Security

[I first posted this piece in June of 2007. In light of the Stuxnet attacks and Flame Malware attacks, I believe I was on the right track. It’s fun to look back and see how close we often come to predicting the future.]

It’s 2010, maybe sooner. A rogue nation has just declared war on your country. No one will be killed in this war, at least not directly. But people will die from starvation, disease, and in the general chaos caused by disruption in vital communications lines. The rogue nation’s primary weapon? Botnets capable of taking down huge segments of the Internet and telephone networks.

Such a weapon is already being used in cyber attacks against Estonian web sites, as reported by SANS:

The ongoing cyber attacks against Estonian web sites, covered
in a recent NewsBites edition should serve as a sobering reminder that Cyber Warfare is not a theoretical threat but a very effective and real one….

Having made my own observation of the shifting threats to computer and network security, I have to agree with SANS editor Skoudis:

Before 2003, our dominant threats were hobbyists and insiders. In 2003 and 2004, the threat then changed to organized crime looking to make money. Depending on the geopolitical environment, the dominant threat may shift again, and very quickly, to state-sponsored cyber warfare.

What’s ironic is that the attacker will, to some degree, be using your own people–as well as your allies–against you. There’s certainly a good number of people in every country whose computers have become zombies in a botnet. The actual attackers are virtually untraceable, so unless the attacker makes himself known, you’ll not even know your enemy. Scary.

This is why every citizen, every government, must share responsibility in protecting the security of their country’s network infrastructure. There are steps everyone can and should take…

June 24, 2012  12:43 AM

Got backup? Try Duplicati

Posted by: Ken Harthun
AES, backup, Encryption, secure backup

Source: Mozy, iJustine

Nice T-shirt, eh? Yeah, it’s been around for awhile, having been part of one of Mozy’s (the online backup firm) promotions a few years back. It’s a great double entendre (not to mention the eye candy) and really punches home the need for backups. Which is what this post is about. Specifically, it’s about Duplicati, a free backup client that securely stores encrypted, incremental, compressed backups on cloud storage services and remote file servers. It works with Amazon S3, Windows Live SkyDrive, Google Drive (Google Docs), Rackspace Cloud Files or WebDAV, SSH, FTP (and many more).

Duplicati is licensed under LGPL (if you don’t know the difference between this and the GPL, well, better find out) and is available for Windows, Linux and, as of May 2012, MacOS in several languages. AES-256 encryption is built in and GNU Privacy Guard is also available. The latest version is 1.3.2.

It took me less than a minute to download and install with the defaults, but you’ll probably want to turn off the translations unless you speak several languages. After installation, the Duplicati Setup Wizard let me set up a new backup. For test purposes, I selected “Custom folder list” for my backup. After that, I was taken to the “Select password for the backup” screen. Here, you can choose the encryption method you want and set a good password. You can click the magic wand button to generate a super-strong password, or you can use one of your own. I chose to run the backup immediately and everything went smoothly.

Restoring from backup is straightforward: just click the Duplicati tray icon, open the wizard and follow the instructions.

It doesn’t get much easier than that to produce reliable, secure backups.

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