Security Corner

September 29, 2012  2:15 PM

Honest Geek prevents potentional personal data disaster

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Source: Internet

Had it not been for an honest Geek, a fellow Geek’s personal data could have been compromised. Here’s the story.

The honest Geek, calling in sick with the flu, was informed that one his sites had lost internet access. After some preliminary troubleshooting by phone, he attempted a remote access session and could not connect. Another phone call to the site to have someone reboot the server and the person reports the server says “Missing operating system.” Oh, oh. Same message after reboot. Oh, no! Makes trip to site (hasn’t been able to take a sick day for real in 15 months because of stuff like this). Walks into server room. Sees orange light glowing at USB port on front of server. Dawns on him that server rebooted over weekend due to updates. Removes thumb drive. Reboots server. All is well.

The thumb drive in question is not encrypted and contains some very sensitive personal information and was left in the slot by a consultant who was working on a telephone system upgrade. The good news is his data is safe.

The honest Geek will return the thumb drive upon receipt of further instructions from the owner who has been notified that his data is safe.

The honest Geek wonders what a fair ransom might have been, but figures that the lesson learned is sufficient. For those who wonder, the lesson is this: Personal information has no business being kept on a thumb drive that carries your Geek Toolkit. It’s simply too easy to forget to remove it when you are working in the field. If you simply must carry personal information with you, make sure the drive is encrypted.

Be careful out there.

September 29, 2012  12:38 AM

Send private data securely

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

In my job as a Network Administrator, I’m constantly called upon to reset passwords to email, network shares and sensitive corporate resources. Up to now, it has been my standard procedure to transmit passwords and other login information only by phone, but this is tedious and time-consuming and often becomes downright onerous as a rousing game of phone tag ensues. I found a better way, though, one that anyone can use to send any kind of sensitive information to anyone without fear of disclosure to the darker denizens of the interwebs.

What if you could compose a message, “Mission Impossible” style that would self-destruct after being accessed? Here are three different, free, web-based applications that allow you to create self-destructing messages.

Privnote – – “Just write your note, and you’ll get a link. Then you copy and paste that link into an email (or instant message) that you send to the person who you want to read the note. When that person clicks the link for the first time, they will see the note in their browser and the note will automatically self-destruct; which means no one (even that very same person) can read the note again. The link won’t work anymore.” Privnote allows you to add a reference ID and choose to be notified when your note is read – a nice feature.

Burn Note – – “Each Burn Note can be viewed only once and then it is deleted. Deleted Burn Notes are completely erased from the Burn Note servers so it impossible for anyone to retrieve them.” – – This is the simplest one of the three. You type your message, specify how long it lives before self destructing if it goes un-viewed and create the link. Similar to the other apps, the link can only be accessed one time before it dies. This is the one I have been testing in my job and I haven’t had anyone complain about it so far.

If I had a lot messages to send, I think I would prefer Privnote so I could keep track of them. Burn Note has some extra features that do a bit more than I need, but if I wanted to be really secretive about something, that would be the one I would use. is just right and the one that I plan to continue to use day to day.

September 23, 2012  8:44 PM

Carry your passwords in your wallet

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

You probably own at least one USB thumb drive, stick, jump drive — whatever you want to call it. I have seven of them ranging in size from 64 MB (yes, you read that right) to 16 GB. They’re very handy and I use them all the time, but they all have one major flaw: They’re too big to carry in your wallet. Why would you want to carry one in your wallet? For the same reason that I consider your wallet your most secure password manager (see Your Wallet is the Best Password Manager), I consider your wallet the best place to keep a portable storage device.

I’m sure the picture gave it away already, but Micro SD cards are perfect for carrying in your wallet. A MicroSD card is about the size of a man’s thumbnail (giving new meaning to the term “thumb drive”). This makes it perfect for carrying in a photo slot in your wallet if you use an adapter or a USB reader like the ones shown. So, here’s what you do (assuming you don’t have some other password manager application):

  1. Create an encrypted partition on the Micro SD card (see A portable app to password protect your USB sticks);
  2. Create a text file or spreadsheet containing all of your critical logon information;
  3. Store the file on the encrypted partition.
  4. DO NOT FORGET your master partition encryption password.

For #4, I suggest a password concocted from a sentence of your own creation.  For example, “My Yorkie loves to play bone and is 4 years old!” This becomes mYltpbai4yo!

If you really want to be secure, I have some other ways for you to do this, but it’s Sunday and I’m going to watch some football and baseball. (Best time of the year – football starts, baseball season is winding down.)

September 21, 2012  1:48 AM

A portable app to password protect your USB sticks

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Handy as they are, USB thumb drives, sticks, jump drives — whatever you choose to call them — are small and easily lost despite your best precautions. This is why it’s a bad idea to keep any sensitive information on them unless you encrypt the drive or password protect your files. Many popular USB sticks come with their own security software, but what if you have a generic one sans software? You’ll have to find a way on your own to protect it.

Most of the bundled security software allows you to either encrypt the whole drive or create an encrypted area on the drive. I have always been an advocate of TrueCrypt as one of the best Open Source encryption programs in existence. There is a catch to using TrueCrypt, however, as this MakeUseOf article points out: If you want to transfer files to a computer on which you don’t have administrator rights, you’re out of luck.

Enter Rohos Mini Drive, a portable application that allows you to work with a password protected partition on any PC. You just click the “Rohos Mini” icon on the USB flash drive root folder and enter your disk password. Rohos will start a volume and will stay in the system tray. It doesn’t require administrative privileges to open the password protected USB drive partition on a guest PC. It stays in the system tray so you can close the disk when you finish working.

Rohos Mini Drive comes in both free and paid versions. The free version has limitations, of course, the main one being a 2 GB encrypted partition size. I don’t consider this a hindrance, however; my needs are limited to transporting the occasional sensitive file and 2 GB would be more than enough to store secure notes containing passwords and other key numbers.

Give it a test drive and let me know what you think.


September 12, 2012  3:49 PM

Track your stolen laptop or phone

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Your laptop bag is sitting next to you as you wait for your plane. Someone off to your left engages you in conversation for a minute and when you turn back, your laptop bag is gone. You turn to ask the person you were speaking with if they saw anything and they are also gone. Doh!

Is this a common scenario? Maybe. What matters is that your laptop has been stolen along with everything you had stored on it. If there was unencrypted confidential information such as corporate secrets, personal or corporate banking information — even if it was only personal photos and documents — this is a disaster. You’re better off if it was all encrypted, and if you have backups you’ll be OK, but you’ve still lost a valuable piece of property. Is there any hope for recovery?

The good news is that if you had installed a tracking utility, chances are good that the laptop can be located and the thief caught red-handed.

As you might expect, there are quite a few applications available, both paid, commercial solutions and free, Open Source solutions covering the major OS platforms. Here are two of the top trackers:

Hidden (Mac only) – – Basic plan is $15.00/year for one computer. “Hidden is a small application which sits idle on your computer until you need it. When your computer gets stolen simply log in to your online Tracking Control Panel and mark your computer as stolen. Hidden will kick into action and locate your stolen computer anywhere on the planet, collect photos of the thief and screen shots of the computer in use.” Hidden has been in the news a bit.

Prey (Windows, Linux, MacOS, Android, iOS) – – Open Source, free for up to three devices with Pro Plans available. “You install a tiny agent in your PC or phone, which silently waits for a remote signal to wake up and work its magic. This signal is sent either from the Internet or through an SMS message, and allows you to gather information regarding the device’s location, hardware and network status, and optionally trigger specific actions on it.”

September 10, 2012  3:48 PM

Humor: The History of Spam

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Hilarious! And just what the doctor ordered for a stressful Monday…

September 7, 2012  1:59 AM

How to protect your password manager?

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

If the bad guys already know how to get your “clever” passwords, what kind of password do you put on your password manager? You can’t risk their getting your master password and gaining access to all of your good, high-strength passwords now, can you? You must treat your master password as the key to the kingdom and it must be backed up with a second factor of authentication.

The password must be the most secure of all your passwords. I recommend no fewer than 12 characters, preferably 16 or more. You’re going to have to write it down to remember it, as it is going to be random gibberish. I suggest you use a generator such as GRC’s Ultra High Security Password Generator. Here’s but one example from that site: su4{H&*1wI#z?$]> Of course, if you use something like LastPass, KeePass or any of the others that allow you to generate secure, random passwords, you can make your own. Once you have your ultra secure password, write it on a piece of paper and keep it in your wallet.

LastPass supports Yubikey, a low-cost USB token with AES encryption for two-factor authentication and this is my preferred system. KeePass implements two-factor authentication by allowing the use of both a master password and a key file that you can store on a USB thumb drive.


August 31, 2012  7:14 PM

And you thought I was joking!

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

My last post, “Humor: Only an idiot…,” was a poke at the lighter side of password security, particularly ridiculously easy-to-guess passwords. Unfortunately, it is an all-to-common habit even for the savvy among us. Check out this email I got in response to the creation of a login for me on an external system:

I suppose they assumed I would immediately login and change the password, but what if I didn’t get this for a few days?

I hope their system is fully patched! Once in, someone could wreak havoc if one knew what one was doing…

August 30, 2012  3:35 PM

Humor: Only an idiot…

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Some people just never learn…

August 28, 2012  7:10 PM

Forget all those clever password creation tips: The bad guys know them all

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Steve Gibson, in Episode 366 of Security Now!, “Password Cracking Update: The Death of Clever,” presents the case for longer, random passwords saying that hackers know all the tricks humans use to create them. We all probably have suspected this, but it’s likely few of us have really given it much thought. Steve made reference to “Why passwords have never been weaker—and crackers have never been stronger,” an Ars Technica blog post by Dan Goodin. After reading it, I’m convinced that most password creation tips just contribute to the overall hacker knowledge, especially if people are actually following them. Consider what Goodin says:

…a series of leaks over the past few years containing more than 100 million real-world passwords have provided crackers with important new insights about how people in different walks of life choose passwords on different sites or in different settings. The ever-growing list of leaked passwords allows programmers to write rules that make cracking algorithms faster and more accurate; password attacks have become cut-and-paste exercises that even script kiddies can perform with ease.

To wit, “…nearly all capital letters come at the beginning of a password; almost all numbers and punctuation show up at the end. [The online games service breach] also revealed a strong tendency to use first names followed by years, such as Julia1984 or Christopher1965,” Goodin says. Surely, you know someone (maybe even yourself, heaven forbid) who does this. That really narrows the search field.

Character substitution using numbers and symbols instead of the letters is also predictable. You might think that a 12-character passphrase like C@n’tGu3$$Me would be relatively secure, but it’s predictable: common words, first letter capitalized, common character substitutions.

Goodin’s post mentions a computer comprising eight AMD Radeon HD7970 GPU cards, running version 0.10 of a cracking utility called oclHashcat-lite that requires just 12 hours to brute force the entire keyspace for any eight-character password containing upper- or lower-case letters, digits or symbols (96 characters). With such tools available, not even a machine-generated random password 8 characters long is sufficient. The only solution is to make it longer. For each character you add, you multiply by 96 the time it takes to test for every possible combination: add 1 more character and you’re up to 12 x 96, or 1152 hours — 48 days; add 2 characters, you’re up to 4608 days, or a bit over 12.5 years.

To be completely unpredictable, you’ll need to use a password generator. Of course, this is going to produce passwords that you will find nearly impossible to remember, so you will need to find a good password manager to remember them for you. Here are the top five applications that have free or low-cost versions:

  • KeePass(Windows/Mac/Linux/Mobile, Free)
  • LastPass(Windows/Mac/Linux/Mobile, Basic: Free/Premium: $1/month)
  • 1Password(Mac OS X/iPhone, Desktop: $39.95/iPhone:$14.95)
  • RoboForm(Windows, Basic: Free/Pro: $29.95)
  • SplashID (Windows/Mac/Mobile, Desktop: $19.95/Mobile:$9.95)

Time to go in and edit all of my “clever” passwords…

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