Security Corner

January 24, 2011  8:59 PM

Investigative Report on the State of the Black Market

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

PandaLabs recently issued the results of an investigative report on the current state of the global cybercrime black market:

The report provides a “state of the union” of the cybercrime black market in light of its ongoing rapid evolution. The black market has traditionally centered on selling stolen bank and credit card details but diversified its business model in 2010, now selling a much broader range of hacked confidential information including bank credentials, log-ins, passwords, fake credit cards and other valuable data.

Here’s a taste of some of the topics the report covers:

  • Average prices for the array of personal data and goods now sold on the black market. For example, PandaLabs found that card cloning machines run typically anywhere from $200-1,000 and fake ATM machines from $3,500 depending on the model;
  • What drives up the price of personal information. PandaLabs found that prices are higher for online accounts that have a history of online shopping or use payment platforms such as PayPal. For a simple account without a guaranteed balance, PandaLabs found prices starting at $10 and increasing to $1,500 depending on the platform and the guarantee of available funds;
  • How cybercriminals employ modern marketing tactics to run their “businesses”: For example, operators will often offer free ‘trial’ access to stolen bank or credit card details, as well as money back guarantees and free exchanges.

January 21, 2011  8:22 AM

Stuxnet: Joint U.S.-Israeli Cyberweapon?

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Welcome to the world of cyberwarfare. It’s official: Stuxnet was a US-Israeli effort to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program, according to the New York Times.

[The Israelis] tested the effectiveness of the Stuxnet computer worm, a destructive program that appears to have wiped out roughly a fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges and helped delay, though not destroy, Tehran’s ability to make its first nuclear arms.

“To check out the worm, you have to know the machines,” said an American expert on nuclear intelligence. “The reason the worm has been effective is that the Israelis tried it out.”

Though American and Israeli officials refuse to talk publicly about what goes on at Dimona [Israel’s secret complex–Ed.], the operations there, as well as related efforts in the United States, are among the newest and strongest clues suggesting that the virus was designed as an American-Israeli project to sabotage the Iranian program.

More info from Infosecurity (USA):

The Stuxnet worm was an Israeli-US project developed at the highly secretive Israeli Dimona complex in the Negev desert to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program…

Stuxnet development began in 2008 when Siemens cooperated with the Idaho National Laboratory to identify vulnerabilities in the company’s controllers that operate nuclear centrifuges and other industrial processes. A briefing about the findings was conducted by the Department of Homeland Security for US officials. The implication from the story is that this briefing was used by the Israelis, with US help, to develop the Stuxnet worm at Dimona.

And this is only the beginning…

January 21, 2011  12:22 AM

The Security Threat Report (Sophos)

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

I just registered for this and I wanted to pass it along to all of my readers. If you want to know what’s going on, these guys typically do a pretty good job of giving you the information you need and want.

The Security Threat Report: A look at the latest malware and attack vectors

Malware like Zeus, Stuxnet, Fake AV and Koobface made headlines in 2010, and cybercriminals continue to focus on using the web to deliver malware.  Although their tactics are constantly changing and evolving, their motivation to steal your data and money is not.

Join Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, for a live Webcast to learn about the latest security threats and trends in malware.  Armed with the latest threat data, Graham will discuss the tactics the bad guys are using to infect your systems and steal your data.

  • Latest hacker tricks
  • Exploitation of social-networking websites
  • Malware, malware, malware
  • Future trends for cyber attack

Everyone who registers gets a cool T-shirt, too.

I’ll see you there!

January 18, 2011  1:25 AM

Password Voodoo

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

I get the same question every day: “How can I make a password that is strong and easy to remember?” Frankly, when I’m in the cranky mood I was earlier today, I’m tempted to answer with a simple question in return: “Do you ever bother to read my posts?” Of course, the answer is that no, they don’t bother–they’re too lazy to look up my posts. Granted, it’s far easier to ask me and make a mental note than it is to actually find a post, read it, take notes, and take action. At least you would think so. The problem is, five minutes after I answer their question, they’ll forget what I told them, and the next time they see me, they’ll ask again. It’s a vicious cycle.

Four hundred years from now, when passwords have long since been replaced with real security measures, these same people, if they were still alive, would be asking the same question.

People want it easy; they want magic. People want to twitch their noses like Samantha on the TV sitcom Bewitched and make everything work they way they want without further effort.

It doesn’t work that way.

But, there is a bit of password voodoo that’s almost as quick as a nose twitch and it won’t take more than about 15 seconds to implement:

  1. Turn your keyboard over
  2. Find the FCC ID number
  3. Change the case of every other character
  4. Voila! A strong password that no one will guess.

It’s written down for you right there on your keyboard, but who is going to think to look there? The label on the bottom of my keyboard has enough information to create a completely uncrackable password.

Need to change the password after you’ve done this? Follow this sequence:

  1. Reverse the case you used previously
  2. Reverse the order of the characters
  3. Reverse the case again
  4. Shift the characters to the left, placing the leftmost character at the end
  5. Reverse the case again
  6. Repeat #4 and #5 through several iterations

Are your getting this?

January 9, 2011  11:45 PM

New Year Resolutions: Let’s Review Password Best Practice

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

It’s always a good thing to repeat good advice and what better time to do so than when people are making resolutions to improve their lives in the coming year?

Nearly three years ago, when I was just starting this blog, I posted Can a Criminal Hacker Guess Your Password?. That post had some good advice on what not to do. Here it is again:

According to Wikepedia there are several things many people use as passwords that results in their being predictable:

Repeated research has demonstrated that around 40% of user-chosen passwords are readily guessable because of the use of these patterns:

  • blank (none)
  • the word “password”, “passcode”, “admin” and their derivates
  • the user’s name or login name
  • the name of their significant other or another relative
  • their birthplace or date of birth
  • a pet’s name
  • automobile license plate number
  • a simple modification of one of the preceding, such as suffixing a digit or reversing the order of the letters.
  • a row of letters from a standard keyboard layout (eg, the qwerty keyboardqwerty itself, asdf, or qwertyuiop)

So, if you want to protect your router and the other devices on your network, never use anything from the above list and apply Security Maxim #4: Use an unguessable, or difficult-to-guess password always.

Have a safe, happy and secure 2011!

January 9, 2011  4:25 PM

Sometimes Clients Do Listen to My Advice

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

It’s always a good thing when people take my security advice; I do, after all, give them good stuff (like that password card over there, for instance). Over the years, I’ve amassed a large store of advice and tips that I continually promote to my clients. Yesterday, I was given a task that showed me at least some of them listen.

During an on-site call on Friday, the office manager approached me and said she had discovered that some of the staff were using extremely insecure passwords, things like their initials and birthdate, and at least two cases of “password.” She asked me what to do. I told her order everyone to immediately create secure passwords with a minimum length of 8 characters and have at least three of the following: upper case letters, lower case letters, numerals and special characters. (Note: this is a law office, so users are not allowed to change passwords on their own. The owners of the firm keep a secure list of everyone’s passwords so they always have access to employees’ hard drives.)

When I checked my email yesterday morning, I found a message with a spreadsheet attached. Yes, it was the list of passwords for me to change on the server; every password conformed to the standard. So, it looks like there will be no more insecure passwords at that firm. I consider that real progress

Now, maybe I can get them to understand and use email encryption so they won’t be sending me passwords in clear text.

January 7, 2011  4:38 PM

PandaLabs Releases 2010 Annual Security Report

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

PandaLabs, the antimalware laboratory of Panda Security – The Cloud Security Company – has released its 2010 Annual Security Report, which details an extremely interesting year of cyber-crime, cyber-war and cyber-activism. The full report is available at: along with a wealth of other reports, bulletins and monographs from 2009 and 2010.

One striking discovery is that in 2010 alone, cyber-criminals created and distributed one-third of all existing viruses, creating 34 percent of all malware that has ever existed and been classified by the company. The report also highlights malware standbys that aren’t going anywhere, new and emerging malware trends, the impact cyber-criminal activity had on social media networks last year, and more.

Despite all of the drastic numbers outlined in the report, the report highlights some good news. PandaLabs discovered that the speed at which the number of new threats is growing has actually decreased when compared to 2009. Every year since 2003, new threats grew by at least 100 percent every year, but in 2010, the increase was approximately 50 percent. We can only hope that trend continues.

As you might suspect, banker Trojans still dominate among new malware that appeared in 2010, accounting for 56 percent of all samples. Viruses accounted for 22 percent, rogueware (fake antivirus software), 12 percent; worms, 10 percent.

The countries leading the list of most infections are Thailand, China and Taiwan, with 60 to 70 percent of infected computers. To see a graph of how other countries ranked, please visit: The United States did not rank in the top 20.

2010 was truly the year of cyber-crime, cyber-war and cyber-activism. Although cyber-crime has existed for many years, cyber-war became a much more active and aggressive part of the malware landscape. The most notorious was Stuxnet, a new worm that targeted nuclear power plants and managed to infect the Bushehr plant, as confirmed by the Iranian authorities. At the same time, a new worm appeared called “Here you have.” It was created by a terrorist organization whose intention was to remind the U.S. of the 9/11 attacks and call for respect for Islam, purportedly as a response to Pastor Terry Jones’ threat to burn the Koran.

2010 also witnessed the emergence of new phenomenon called cyber-protests or hacktivism. This phenomenon, made famous by the Anonymous group, is not actually new, but grabbed the headlines in 2010 for the coordinated DDoS attacks launched on copyright societies and their defense of WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange.

January 7, 2011  1:49 AM

Don’t Spread Hoaxes or Inaccurate Warnings

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

A whole spate of this floating around today. Hey, people, wake up! This is ancient.

> This information arrived this morning, Direct from *both* *Microsoft
> and Norton *
> Please send it to everybody you know who has Access to the Internet. You
>  may receive an apparently harmless e-mail titled *”Here you have it”* If
>  you open the file, a message will appear on your screen saying: ‘It
> is too
>  late now, your life is no longer beautiful…’
> Subsequently you will LOSE EVERYTHING IN YOUR PC, And the person who sent
>  it to you will gain access to your Name, e-mail and password. This is a
>  new virus which started to circulate on Saturday afternoon. AOL has
>  already confirmed the severity, and the anti virus software’s are not
>  capable of destroying it.
> The virus has been created by a hacker who calls himself ‘life owner’.

Here’s the real scoop:
It’s no longer applicable and isn’t even true, folks.

It was a real virus, but is no longer a threat. This is months old
(Sept. 2009). Also, the message above is not even close to accurate. 99%
of the “scare mail” floating around the Internet is the result of people
forwarding such stuff.

[9:08:25 AM] !! Ken Harthun (Asst. Host: TIIMG): Here’s the real truth
about it from US-CERT:

“Malicious Email Campaign Circulating

“added September 9, 2010 at 08:46 pm

“US-CERT is aware of public reports of malware spreading via email.
These reports indicate that the malicious email messages contain the
subject line “Here you have” or “Just For You” and contain a link to a
seemingly legitimate PDF file. If users click on this link, they will be
redirected to a malicious website that will prompt them to download and
install a screensaver (.scr) file. If they agree to install this file,
they will become infected with an email worm that will continue to
propagate through their email contacts.”

[9:08:29 AM] !! Ken Harthun (Asst. Host: TIIMG): Note the date.

And, BTW, hackers don’t wipe out hard drives anymore, they’re way too
interested in stealing your data, passwords, account information and, of
course, your money.

If you ever have a question about this, ask me first. I stay on top of
this stuff daily. Several of the Skype rooms as well as Facebook are
cluttered with this bogus message.

Part of my hat as an InfoSec specialist is education. Use me.

December 31, 2010  11:55 PM

Happy New Year! May You Flourish and Prosper in 2011

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

To all of my loyal Security Corner readers, Happy New Year! My best wishes for you in 2011.

December 31, 2010  10:00 PM

All I Really Need to Know About Security I Learned From My Cat

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Don’t want to exclude the cat lovers out there. Besides, dogs aren’t the only security experts. In fact, dogs could learn a lot from cats (OK, cats could learn a lot from dogs, too). Anyway, thanks to Dr. Andrew Jones, DVM, for the idea to write this and my previous post. He sent me an email entitled “My New Years Resolution” and said, “With 2011 nearly here, one of my resolutions is too be MORE like my pets…” I agree, though my take is a little different. Pets are the best security guards we have: They sense danger when we don’t; they warn us of suspicious things; they keep insisting we take action until we do; they comfort us when we do something stupid. Pets rule!

All I really need to know about security I learned from my cat. Here is the list of lessons:

  1. Security is hard. Do it and then take a nap.
  2. Curiosity killed the PC.
  3. Despite what you’ve heard, cats (and your security) don’t have nine lives.
  4. When in doubt, assume the worst.
  5. When it comes to security, cop an attitude.
  6. Always give your cats expensive treats (Sorry, Squeakers, my cat, made me put that in there!)
  7. Purr when your security applications are up to date.
  8. Keep your claws sharp and shred intruders, even if they look like your friends.
  9. Don’t trust anyone who offers you a free gift (catnip) when you first meet.

Happy New Year, cat lovers!

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