Security Corner

May 30, 2012  8:41 PM

Video: Don’t Be a Billy

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

A hilarious retro video about what NOT to do on the Internet. Funny, but true. Enjoy!

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

May 29, 2012  6:31 PM

Minimum password length redux

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

About this time last year, I posted this article about minimum password lengths and ended up recommending 15 characters. I didn’t give it much more thought after that; however, in the light of Steve Gibson’s Password Haystacks and my recent post about, I decided to to take those two tools and compare some passwords of various lengths, both randomly generated and using Steve’s Personal Password Padding. For this test, I chose “unto” as a common word which I used to build variable length passwords from 8 to 16 characters in length that contain upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and special characters. I also used LastPass to generate random passwords of various lengths. I assumed a massive attack scenario with no password file protection for both tools.

Password Time-to-Crack Analysis
Password Length GRC’s Brute Force Password “Search Space” Calculator PassFault’s Dictionary and Pattern Based Analyzer
KF&x8SPw 8 1.12 minutes less than 1 day
wIhE7SdAl! 10 1 week 3 days
8nK1Uaxh&xC3 12 1.74 centuries 50 centuries
iD0L&DKv39FBK% 14 15.67 thousand centuries 1,652,459 centuries
eS5E2p^SK#Uwg4WK 16 1.41 hundred million centuries 242,335 centuries
<>Unto90 8 1.12 minutes less than 1 day
<>Un90to<> 10 1 week less than 1 day
<>Un<>90to<> 12 1.74 centuries 4 decades, 3 years
<>Un<>90to<>90 14 15.67 thousand centuries less than 1 day
<>Un<>90to<>90<> 16 1.41 hundred million centuries 3 months

Obviously, PassFault’s algorithm is flawed, as can be seen in the results above. This is evident from the last three lines of the table.

I’m going to stick with 12 characters as an average minimum password length and 15 characters for critical data.

May 28, 2012  5:24 PM

Password patterns to avoid

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

There are all kinds of password strength meters on the Internet and for what most of them do, they’re pretty good. However, nearly all of them assume a brute force attack where the algorithm has to try all possible combinations of characters. In the real world, hackers have learned to use rainbow tables and pattern-matching as their first attempts; the first thing they usually try, of course, is a systematic dictionary attack. This is usually sufficient to guess anywhere from 20 – 50 percent of passwords on a given site. We all know to avoid dictionary words, our names, etc., but what about other password practices that may be risky, assuming all of us use some sort of mnemonic or pattern to remember passwords?

I came across a nifty site called PassFault, a project sponsored by The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP). It has a nifty application you can use to test passwords: “Passfault evaluates the strength of passwords accurately enough to predict the time to crack. It makes creating passwords and password policies significantly more intuitive and simple.” What I found most interesting is the types of patterns Passfault looks for and how it is done:

Passfault identifies patterns in a password, then calculates the number of passwords that could exist in those patterns. This is the measurement of password complexity. It is more academic and much more accurate than existing password analysis tools.

According to the site, you want to avoid these patterns:

  • Dictionary Word Insertion – putting random characters in between letters in a dictionary word
  • Dictionary Word Substitution – substituting letters with random characters
  • Dictionary Word Misspelling – “werd” instead of “word,” for example
  • Dictionary Leet Substitution – 137m31n (letmein)
  • Dictionary Word Backwards – “drow” instead of “word”
  • Repeated Pattern – 123123123
  • Random Latin & Cyrillic Characters – PasЛуни, or PasΦΘo®d
  • Horizontal, Diagonal & Repeated Key Sequences – asdf, cgybfe, rrrrr, etc.

I decided to test some of this by intentionally violating the guidelines and generally playing around. Note that the tool gives you some options of what kind of cracking hardware and password protection you can specify. I just used the defaults of “a $900 password cracker” and “Unix SHA1-based Crypt.” Here are the results in time to crack:

  • antidisestablishmentarianism – less than 1 day
  • 137M31n – less than 1 day
  • Password…….. – less than 1 day
  • …password… – less than 1 day, but a weird result in that it said “Repeated – Russian”
  • %^password^% – 1 day
  • %^wordpass^% – 2 months, 4 days
  • passwordwordpass – 1 year, 8 months
  • %^word^%pass!! – 2 centuries, three decades
  • Wo&rd – less than 1 day
  • Wo&rdw*rd – 2 months
  • Wo&rdw*rdwerd – 13 centuries
  • Wo&rdw*rdwerd1337 – 450,556 centuries
  • Wo&rdw*rdwerd1337drow – 7,788,860,117 centuries
  • [21 random keyboard characters] – 3.74068l0448019244e+21 centuries

Conclusion: it’s a fun tool to play with, but no Earth-shattering revelations here. Longer is better and mix it up. Steve Gibson’s Password Haystacks, which presents the concept of password padding, is still the most recent innovation in password theory.

May 15, 2012  5:32 PM

Before you upload to the cloud, PEE

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun


“The Cloud” is becoming the place to be for backup and data storage. Microsoft offers its SkyDrive; Apple has iCloud; there’s Mozy, Acronis, JustCloud, Carbonite, Dropbox, etc. There are so many, it’s impossible to list them all. This Geek uses SkyDrive, iCloud, DropBox and, for clients, Carbonite. They all have their advantages, similarities and differences. You can do your own study and make your own choices as to who you choose for your cloud storage provider; however, be aware of this very important concept: TNO – Trust No One. You want to make sure that only you, or those you designate, have access to your data. This means that:

  1. Your secret phrase, private key, PIN or password is known and visible only to you; and,
  2. Nowhere in the cloud or during transit is your data ever visible as clear text.

This is why you must PEE before you upload anything to the cloud.

PEE stands for “Pre-Egress Encryption.” In other words, encrypt your data before it ever leaves your machine. If you do this, no one will ever be able to see anything but random noise unless you allow them to decrypt it by providing the key.

Over the next couple of posts, I’ll give you a rundown of what I consider the best applications and techniques to make it easy for you to PEE. Stay tuned.

May 14, 2012  4:04 PM

Apple’s security 10 years behind Microsoft’s?

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

In light of the recent Flashback Trojan that infected an estimated 600,000 Mac users last month, industry experts are discussing Apple’s security. The perception has always been that Apple’s OS is more secure than Microsoft’s. This was led by the misconception that Apple computers could not be infected with viruses. Of course, this isn’t and never was true. But the idea that Apple is 10 years behind Microsoft in security is stretching things a bit. This item from The Verge lays the ground work:

A Flashback trojan, that affected more than 600,000 OS X users earlier this month, has industry experts discussing Apple’s response to Mac malware and its future prospects on security related issues. Eugene Kaspersky, CEO and co-founder of security company Kaspersky Lab, believes that Apple is “10 years behind Microsoft in terms of security.” Citing the relative success of the Flashback infections in an interview with CBR, Kaspersky predicts that cyber criminals will progress to create “more and more” malware in the future.

Kaspersky goes on to say that Apple will face the same problems that Microsoft did 10 or 12 years ago. I disagree. Here’s why (from the same article):

Mountain Lion, the company’s upcoming OS X operating system due in summer, includes a new Gatekeeper feature that, by default, restricts applications from running unless they are from the Mac App Store or identified developers. There is an optional switch to enable all apps again, but it’s clear this timely feature is designed to prevent malware from executing.

I’ll be watching this from the front row now that Casa Harthun is 3/5 Apple, and I’ll certainly keep you posted.

May 13, 2012  4:03 PM

Scam email poses as account alert

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun


I sent this out to my entire staff at the school the other day after a staff member alerted me:

There is an email floating around that warns you to “Validate” an email account. The email is a phishing scam that attempts to get you to visit a form and input your email details including your password. If you receive an email similar to the one below, delete it immediately!

IT Service,

You have exceeded the limit of 23432 storage on your mailbox set by your WEBCTSERVICE/Administrator, and you will be having problems in sending and recieving mails Until You Re-Validate. To prevent this, please click on the link below to reset your account.

[URL deleted]

Failure to do this, will result in limited access to your mailbox Warning !!! Do not send your username and password via email.


IT Service
System Administrator

May 6, 2012  1:49 PM

Canadian drugstore spam poses as Amazon order cancellation

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun


Last week, I started to get emails in my Yahoo! mail, purportedly from, about a cancellation of my order. I figured these were bogus and confirmed this when my wife got identical emails. I decided to dig a bit deeper to see what they really were all about. Here’s a recent one:

Dear Customer,

Your order has been successfully canceled. For your reference, here's a summary of your order:

You just canceled order 111-219-44774 placed on May 5, 2012.



1 "Araby"; 2003, Second Edition
  By: Rachel Armstrong

Sold by: LLC


Thank you for visiting!

Earth's Biggest Selection

The order number and URL for Amazon both linked to a URL pointing to a Canadian drugstore site pitching those familiar male enhancement drugs. Here’s a partial screen shot:

Fortunately, there’s nothing malicious in this URL. It’s just scam drug spam. Put it where it belongs: in the trash.

April 30, 2012  5:08 PM

One of the funniest security videos ever!

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

WARNING: Adult (almost) content. I’m going to say nothing more about this, but you have to watch this video.

Have a great week!

April 30, 2012  10:16 AM

Not using Firewire port? Disable it

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Source: Wikipedia

From Wikipedia: “The IEEE-1394 interface, developed in late 1980s and early 1990s by Apple as FireWire, is a serial bus interface standard for high-speed communications and isochronous real-time data transfer. The 1394 interface is comparable with USB and often those two technologies are considered together, though USB has more market share.”

FireWire has some inherent security issues due its ability to communicate by direct memory access (DMA). In many implementations, this is done in hardware without direct operating system intervention which “can be a security or media rights-restriction risk if untrustworthy devices are attached to the bus.” What to do about it? From Wikipedia:

…high-security installations will typically either purchase newer machines which map a virtual memory space to the FireWire “Physical Memory Space” (such as a Power Mac G5, or any Sun workstation), disable relevant drivers at operating system level,[65] disable the OHCI hardware mapping between FireWire and device memory, physically disable the entire FireWire interface, or opt not use FireWire hardware.

My simple take on it is that if you aren’t using it, disable it. Sure, a FireWire hack would require physical access to your system and isn’t a remote access threat. Nevertheless, it is a door and should be locked. You lock the doors to your house, don’t you?

April 29, 2012  11:25 PM

Schneier says post-9/11 airline security harms us

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

If you follow security expert, Bruce Schneier, then you’ll agree with the following:

Bruce Schneier is an internationally renowned security technologist and author. Described by The Economist as a “security guru,” he is best known as a refreshingly candid and lucid security critic and commentator. When people want to know how security really works, they turn to Schneier.

The man knows of which he speaks: in 1992, he developed the Blowfish encryption algorithm, a keyed, symmetric block cipher that is still in use today.

His first bestseller, Applied Cryptography, explained how the arcane science of secret codes actually works, and was described by Wired as “the book the National Security Agency wanted never to be published.”

So, if he says something isn’t right, I’m willing to listen. And he says that airline security isn’t right. He recently debated former TSA Administrator Kip Hawley on the “Economist” website. You can find the debate here.

In his latest issue of CRYPTO-GRAM, his monthly security newsletter (subscribe free here), he summarizes his position and points out what I consider illogic that pervades our entire government. Schneier is highly critical of the measures in place today and suggests that airports are effectively rights-free zones. I suggest that such things are reactions to irrational fear; perpetrated by insane men that would have us all believe that terrorists are waiting in every public venue to kill us all. That’s absolutely ridiculous. You don’t have to look into it very far to see:

Kip Hawley doesn’t argue with the specifics of my criticisms, but instead provides anecdotes and asks us to trust that airport security — and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in particular — knows what it’s doing.

He wants us to trust that a 400-ml bottle of liquid is dangerous, but transferring it to four 100-ml bottles magically makes it safe. He wants us to trust that the butter knives given to first-class passengers are nevertheless too dangerous to be taken through a security checkpoint. He wants us to trust the no-fly list: 21,000 people so dangerous they’re not allowed to fly, yet so innocent they can’t be arrested. He wants us to trust that the deployment of expensive full-body scanners has nothing to do with the fact that the former secretary of homeland security, Michael Chertoff, lobbies for one of the companies that makes them. He wants us to trust that there’s a reason to confiscate a cupcake (Las Vegas), a 3-inch plastic toy gun (London Gatwick), a purse with an embroidered gun on it (Norfolk, VA), a T-shirt with a picture of a gun on it (London Heathrow) and a plastic lightsaber that’s really a flashlight with a long cone on top (Dallas/Fort Worth).

His summary of the harms done post-9/11 by increased “security” measures is spot-on: “That we allow governments to do these things to us — to effectively do the terrorists’ job for them — is the greatest harm of all.”

“We have met the enemy and he is us.”

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