Security Corner

January 30, 2013  12:39 AM

All your secret are belong to us

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

The eight-character password is dead. All possible combinations of 8 character Windows passwords can now be broken in six hours using some sophisticated, but readily available hardware. A paper from the Oslo password hacking conference gives details of how researcher Jeremi Gosney lashed together 25 AMD Radeon Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) into a specialized computing cluster and used it against NTLM password hashes. You’ll need twenty rack units of space in a server room and an industrial-style power supply delivering 7kW. It’ll cost you about $20,000 to build.

As you probably already know, “NTLM relies on one of the easiest-to-crack hashing systems still in widespread use: a straight, unsalted, uniterated MD4 hash of your password,” according to this Sophos Naked Security post.

Not that any savvy administrator permits NTLM hashes anymore, but 8 characters is simply not enough password length for these times. My shortest password used for critical systems is 10 characters and I’m going to be increasing that to at least 14 in short order.

I recommend you do the same.

January 20, 2013  5:08 PM

Simple password tip to create unguessable passwords

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Remember the Worst Passwords of 2012? Besides the advice I gave in my post about what you can do about that, here’s another tip: Use accented special language characters. This article: gives you plenty of choices. Let’s do my name in several variations (I don’t use these as passwords anywhere, in case you are wondering):


Because of the key sequence necessary to enter these characters, no one is going to discover them. There is a caveat, however: The program or site may not allow these characters. I suggest you test it in depth.

This is also a password cloaking method if you are one of those people who write passwords in a book and keep it on your desk. Let’s say your password is I@mgreat. You could write that down with the sequence I064mgr101065t.

It’s not likely anyone is going to figure that out.

January 19, 2013  4:17 PM

Who really needs anti-virus software?

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Every list of best security practices contains an admonition to run anti-virus and/or anti-malware software. I have certainly been one to push such things over the years and have tested and recommended most of the popular contenders. But I got tired of the performance problems, the updates, the scans, the false positives and the generally intrusive nature of the stuff and opted to “run naked,” relying upon safe computing practices instead of a software overlord. I have no regrets and in four years have not had a single malware infection of any kind. I think that proves my point.

Can the average person get away with this? Probably not. But if one really understands the landscape of the internet and adheres to a few basic, common-sense security practices, chances are they’ll be safe. Here’s the configuration of my home system:

  • Windows XP, Service Pack 3 with Windows firewall enabled.
  • Linksys broadband wireless router with firewall features enabled and remote administration disabled.
  • WPA2 Personal with strong pass phrase for wireless access
  • Third-party spam filter on main email account (

Best practices I adhere to:

  • I do not click on any links in email, social media posts, etc. unless I examine exactly where it it taking me.
  • I do not download illegal copies of movies, music, books or anything else from torrents or P2P sites of any kind.
  • I test freeware apps in a sandbox before I allow them on my system.
  • I use super-strong passwords and manage them with LastPass.
  • I do not visit sites known to be harbors for malware.
  • When surfing in unknown territory, I disable all scripting.
  • My browser security settings are set to ask me before running any plugins.
  • I don’t use Adobe Reader, Flash must ask and Java is disabled.

What about you? Do you use AV software? What are your best practices. Hit the comments.

January 15, 2013  1:14 AM

Renegade executives can wreck security

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

There is probably nothing more frustrating to an IT professional than having the security of his network compromised by a renegade executive who refuses to consult IT before ordering the installation of untested applications. Case in point: A recent help desk ticket read, “[Executive] told me to install Dropbox on my system, but I need administrative rights on my machine to do it.” WHAT? Where did that come from? No one mentioned this to IT, particularly the exec in question. Dropbox is blocked on our networks.

The weirdest part about this whole thing is that we have SharePoint 2010 and we are running Live@Edu (soon to migrate to Office 365) that has 25GB of storage. Why would anyone want to use an insecure service that provides only 2GB of storage in the free version? I asked that question. Answer: Preference. Huh?

Needless to say, I responded rather strongly:

The real issue here is that IT was not consulted before someone decided to start using an application that had not been vetted for both security and performance. There could be a workable process (pre-egress encryption using a proven encryption algorithm) formulated, but this should be driven by IT, i.e., those of us who know and understand the potential risks and benefits.
The Net Admins are responsible for the reliability, performance and security of our networks and the data flowing on them. I take this responsibility seriously and I’m sure my fellow Net Admins and assistants do as well. To ask me to put my network and data – and thereby my job – at risk because of some preference is just not acceptable to me.

What is your opinion? Hit the comments and let me know.

December 31, 2012  11:50 PM

Be careful out there tonight

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

This is a repeat of another post I made, but it bears repetition. New Years Eve is one of the most dangerous nights of the year. Be careful out there tonight.

I know I don’t have to tell you, but if you drink, don’t drive, especially tonight. There are going to be plenty of revelers out there who don’t heed such advice. If you don’t have to go out, don’t. If you want to party hearty, do like my wife and I do every year and stay home, maybe with a few friends or family members who can spend the night.

That said, if you do plan to go out and party, leave your wallet or purse at home. Carry only your ID (driver’s license) and sufficient cash to get you through the night. Keep everything in your front pockets and rather than a large wad of bills, break it up into a couple of smaller batches. Drinking sensibly will keep you from doing something completely stupid. Better option is to carry cash for a cab ride home (or at least a tip–many cab companies will offer free cab rides tonight) and pay your bar tab with a credit card. You could lose all your cash; a credit card is replaceable.

Have fun. Celebrate. But be safe, okay?

December 31, 2012  11:45 PM

Happy New Year!

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

New Year Resolutions Graphic

What are your New Year resolutions for 2013. Here are a couple of mine related to security:

  • Clean up my passwords and get a higher score on LastPass security assessment.
  • Continue to educate users on strong password creation and management.

Have a safe, prosperous and Happy New Year!

December 31, 2012  11:40 PM

Ten New Year security resolutions

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

We all do it at this time of the year: We make resolutions to do things better in the New Year. And why not? It’s a great thing to do, starting with fresh goals and a resolve to do better. Here are some ideas for you choose from with a security twist:

  • I will change my critical passwords.
  • I will finally start using a password manager (such as LastPass or KeePass).
  • I will adopt an algorithm for generating strong passwords (at least 12 characters).
  • I will use two-factor authentication where it is available (YubiKey and Google Authenticator come to mind).
  • I will use encryption for all sensitive personal files on my digital devices, including thumb drives, laptops, smart phones, etc. (Rohos Mini-drive, AxCrypt, TrueCrypt, Wickr).
  • I will establish a regular backup routine for all my devices that uses two different media and at least on copy off-site.
  • I will encrypt my backup.
  • I will become aware of physical security and make sure that my digital devices are always either in my possession or safely stowed.
  • I will not blindly click on links in email, nor will I respond in any way to pop-ups or messages I am not sure about without checking them out first.
  • I will not open any attachment in any email from anyone unless I am expecting it or absolutely sure of what it contains.

There is new or Earth-shattering here, at least nothing that I haven’t mentioned and advocated for years. Hit the comments and add your own.

Happy 2013!

December 30, 2012  10:38 PM

The risks of using social media

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Chances are, you use social media and if you are like many others, you have a presence on more than one site or service. Have you considered the security risks?

Trend Micro posted an interesting infographic called The Risks of Posting in Social Networks that lays out the whole picture. If you’re not careful what you post, you could be subject to:

  • Social engineering attacks
  • Cyber bullying
  • Identity theft
  • Damaged reputation
  • Targeted advertising
  • Real world threats (such as burglary & stalking)

Besides being careful what information you post, be sure that your privacy settings are up to date and only allow those people you trust to see your posts. Anything that is visible to the public should consist only of information that does not reveal things that could be used in any of the above.

December 30, 2012  2:37 PM

What you can do about the 25 worst passwords of 2012

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Every year, I take a look at the published list of worst passwords. I gave you this list back in October, but it occurred to me that there is something you can do about it if, heaven forbid, you are using any password on this list. Surprisingly, the list changes little from year to year, usually with just a few new ones being added. I guess people don’t change their passwords very often, if at all.Here is an excerpt from a TIME report posted at CNN Tech:

SplashData, which makes password management applications, has released its annual “Worst Passwords” list compiled from common passwords that are posted by hackers. The top three — “password,” “123456,” and “12345678″ — have not changed since last year. New ones include “jesus,” “ninja,” “mustang,” “password1,” and “welcome.” Other passwords have moved up and down on the list.

And here is the list showing what has changed:

1. password (Unchanged)
2, 123456 (Unchanged)
3. 12345678 (Unchanged)
4. abc123 (Up 1)
5. qwerty (Down 1)
6. monkey (Unchanged)
7. letmein (Up 1)
8. dragon (Up 2)
9. 111111 (Up 3)
10. baseball (Up 1)
11. iloveyou (Up 2)
12. trustno1 (Down 3)
13. 1234567 (Down 6)
14. sunshine (Up 1)
15. master (Down 1)
16. 123123 (Up 4)
17. welcome (New)
18. shadow (Up 1)
19. ashley (Down 3)
20. football (Up 5)
21. jesus (New)
22. michael (Up 2)
23. ninja (New)
24. mustang (New)
25. password1 (New)

So, what can you do about it if you are using any of these passwords? There is a simple fix: Append or prepend a pattern of characters that you will remember. I call this a Personal Password Pad and discussed it in “A simple password recycling method” back on January 16, 2012. You don’t have to come up with a bunch of different ones as that article suggests, though. You could use the method I suggest in “Another way to create easy-to-remember complex passwords.”

You will want to use a minimum of four characters for your pad. For example, let’s say you choose a year: 1988. Your pad could be !(** or 1(8* or !9*8. You get the idea. Now, just stick that on the front or back or both of the worst password, e.g., !9*8password1, and you have a strong, easily remembered password that will probably never show up on any such list.


December 25, 2012  2:29 PM

Merry Christmas!

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Have a very Merry Christmas and enjoy a safe and secure gathering with those you cherish.

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