Security Corner


May 4, 2010  12:37 AM

Secure Computing: Harden Your Browser

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

ActiveX – probably the worst idea Microsoft ever came up with – isn’t the only problem with browsers even though its vulnerabilities are probably the most frequently exploited. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know where I stand on that issue. That’s not to say that any of the alternatives are inherently more secure; they’re not. Every modern browser supports JavaScript and there are plenty of exploits that rely on it. That’s why it’s essential that no matter what browser you use, you make every effort you can to harden it against attack.

Why is this necessary? Unfortunately, most of the time the browser that comes pre-installed on new computers, the one that the computer owners will use, is not set up in a secure default configuration. This is one of the worst ideas ever when it comes to security. If I had my way, I’d set the default configuration such that warnings would be issued for any website that wasn’t built with simple, benign HTML. I realize this isn’t practical on today’s interactive Internet and it would break nearly everything out there today (except a site like this one, composed only of an image and some text with a hypertext link).

Fortunately, there are plenty of free resources (including this blog and my free eBook, “14 Golden Rules of Computer Security“) that have good information on what to do. The best one, bar none, is CERT’s “Securing Your Web Browser.” All of the details anyone needs to secure the major browsers – Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and Apple Safari to name the top three – are all there with general tips on what to do with virtually any of the others you may encounter.

Tell everyone you know about it. Make it part of the setup routine when you deploy PCs or set them up for your family. The Internet will be a safer place if you do.

April 30, 2010  2:53 PM

Physical Security: Master Lock 1500iD Speed Dial

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun
Master Lock 1500iD Speed Dial

Master Lock 1500iD Speed Dial

If you recall, Golden Rule #8: Does Encryption Have You Complacent About Physical Security? stresses that physical security is almost as important as data security, so when I hear of an interesting or innovative physical security product, I do the research.

Last week, I heard about the new Master Lock 1500iD Speed Dial™ combination lock. According to the company, this is the “world’s first combination lock that opens on up/down/left/right directional movements.” It’s fascinating for several reasons, most notably, the mechanical hash technology used to store any combination of any length. More on that in a moment. For now, check out the video demo.

How about that one-handed blind opening move? Very cool. The lock is also resettable as shown in this video. You might also want to check out Review: Master 1500iD “Speed Dial” lock. That article has links to some very interesting security items and concepts I plan to cover in future posts. What struck me most was this paragraph:

One of the first things I wanted to know was how it worked inside. I also wanted to know how difficult a task it was to get it open without completely destroying it. To the first end, I stumbled on Michael Huebler’s 1500iD visualization flash simulator, and subsequently the PDF breaking down most of the facts on this lock.

Something for us security Geeks to play with over the weekend. Enjoy!


April 30, 2010  1:03 AM

Symantec Buys PGP and GuardianEdge

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Symantec Corporation announced today that it has signed agreements to acquire PGP Corporation and GuardianEdge Technologies, Inc. PGP Corporation needs little introduction as a global leader in email and data encryption software. GuardianEdge is the leader in endpoint data protection for the enterprise; their solutions have been deployed by leading organizations including Lockheed Martin Corporation as well as numerous government agencies including the U.S. departments of Vetera to Affairs, Defense, Energy, State and Education to name a few.

It appears as though Symantec is moving toward becoming  a one-stop security shop. As they said in their press release, “Encryption technology is an important element of an information-centric security solution, as critical information is increasingly on mobile devices and in the cloud. . . . By bringing together PGP and GuardianEdge’s standards-based encryption capabilities for full-disk, removable media, email, file, folder and smartphone, with Symantec’s endpoint security and data loss prevention offerings, Symantec will have the broadest set of integrated data protection solutions.”

That could be a good thing. . .or not. There’s nothing wrong with an integrated, comprehensive solution; often, that’s the best approach. But there have been some huge performance issues with Symantec’s Endpoint Protection.

Time will tell, of course.


April 29, 2010  1:18 AM

Hacking Skills Challenge – Level 10

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

It’s again time to delve into our Hacking Skills Challenge. Our last challenge was level 9 at HackThisSite.org and that was three months ago. They say these are supposed to get increasingly difficult as we climb the ladder, but this one is almost too easy. Here’s the challenge:

Network Security Sam has decided to hard code the password into the script. He also started to use cookies to detect if the user is authorized to advance to the next level. When you enter the correct password, it sets you to authorized, and if you enter an incorrect password, it sets you to unauthorized.

Ever edit a cookie? That’s all you have to do. Read the above challenge again and you’ll see that it tells you exactly how to crack it. I used a Firefox add-on called “Edit Cookies” to accomplish it.

Enter some random password into the field. It won’t be the right one, of course. Now, you have a cookie set on your machine named “level11_authorized” that is set to “no.” Edit the cookie and change the content from “no” to “yes”. After this, you can move to the next level.

Mission accomplished!

(Note: when I went to check this again, I got a message that the site is currently under maintenance: “HackThisSite.org is temporarily offline. We’re currently busy fixing some erroneous code, and will have HackThisSite.org back online as soon as possible. Thanks for your patience! – HackThisSite Staff”)


April 28, 2010  1:38 AM

Security Fun: Homophonic Cipher Security Challenge

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Time to lighten up a bit. Well, some people may consider this anything but light; however, real Geeks enjoy this kind of thing. Consider this homophonic ciphertext:

32 25 00 75 67 94 63 57 96 43 73 90 91 97 90 45 92 52 00 34 24 42 78 17 92 19 04 97 65 16 06 57 64 04 92 81 05 63 69 65 99 27 05 38 65 07 91 83 62 41 83 95 23 55 29 96 96 54 83 43 39 07 63 06 65 17 83 89 90 63 26 79 51 46 30 52 07 63 88 59 07 66 17 65 57 27

Here’s the challenge: Decipher the message above and post the resulting plaintext in the comments. Everyone who gets it right wins free lifetime access to my Geek Toolkit ($37 value). Hint: There are tools on the web that will decipher this if you know where to look.

If you don’t know what a homophonic cipher is, better do some homework. First, it’s a simple substitution cipher in which plaintext letters map to more than one ciphertext symbol. Typically, the highest-frequency plaintext symbols–such as the letter e in the English language–are given more equivalents than letters that appear less frequently. This makes it much more difficult to use frequency analysis to break the cipher. But this isn’t always the case. Take Poe‘s “The Gold-Bug” for a literary example where a whole set of symbols was invented to describe the location of buried treasure. See this Wikipedia entry for more information.

This won’t help you much, but here is the message “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dogz.” I put the extra z there because it’s the least-used letter in the English language and has only one substitution in a homophonic cipher, so that’s a clue. But e has 12 substitutions, so you won’t find that one. Here’s the ciphertext: 17 68 82 94 63 70 13 04 48 29 54 60 59 31 72 28 15 63 27 95 96 90 34 14 77 30 50 24 26 33 02 52 03 54 06 02.

Have fun!


April 26, 2010  8:03 PM

Security Risk of Digital Copiers

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

As if we don’t already have enough to deal with, now we must add digital copiers to our list of security risks. Seems that most modern copiers (those manufactured 2002 or later) including Ricoh, Canon, Sharp and others, are loaded with secrets about the organization where they reside, the people who have used them, customers and competitors, even the fanny of that cute temp who got drunk at the office party. The reason? Nearly every digital copier built since 2002 contains a hard drive and that hard drive stores an image of every document copied, scanned, or emailed by the machine.

Ten days ago, CBS ran a segment on the Evening News entitled “Copy Machines, A Security Risk?” Watch the video here.

This past February, CBS News went with [John] Juntunen [of Digital Copier Security] to a warehouse in New Jersey, one of 25 across the country, to see how hard it would be to buy a used copier loaded with documents. It turns out … it’s pretty easy.

After buying four copiers, they started to examine them. One of the copiers had documents still on the copier glass, from the Buffalo, N.Y., Police Sex Crimes Division. Another machine from the Buffalo Police Narcotics Unit revealed the targets of a narcotics raid. The third machine contained copies of pay stubs that revealed names, addresses and social security numbers. On the fourth machine from a New York insurance company, they found 300 pages of medical records that included prescriptions, blood test results and the like.

It’s not that the manufacturers of these products are negligent; all of them offer options to either encrypt or erase the documents. The problem is that the people who lease the copiers either don’t understand or don’t want to pay for the protection the options provide.

Ignorance is no excuse; failing to implement suitable security is negligence and a serious breach of federal privacy laws. Besides that, once a used copier leaves the warehouse, there’s no telling where it might end up. The CBS reporter gave this summary:

The day we visited the New Jersey warehouse, two shipping containers packed with used copiers were headed overseas – loaded with secrets on their way to unknown buyers in Argentina and Singapore.

How we lookin’? Not good.


April 26, 2010  12:16 AM

Jabberwocky – Password

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Remember these? Anyone who was old enough to receive mail in the last 20 years or so probably got several of them. Every sleeve had an unique registration number and password. The combination of the unique number and long password provided adequate security and prevented people from hacking a free AOL account.

This model is probably still valid today with one exception: The dictionary words AOL used would be hacked quickly with modern brute force tools.

But what if the password wasn’t made up of dictionary words? What if it was made up with nonsense words? Follow along please because this is another one of those brilliant solutions to the I-can’t-remember-a-complex-password problem.

Lewis Carroll, in his book “Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There ,” 1872, composed a brilliant piece of nonsense poetry entitled “Jabberwocky.” Here are the first three stanzas:

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought –
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

What absolutely glorious nonsense! And chock full of words that aren’t likely to appear in a dictionary attack. Oh, the possibilities. You could post this poem right there in your cubicle and with a few discreetly placed color coded dots come up with user names and passwords that no one could guess in a bazillion years. You don’t have to use your own name for a user name, you know. “Bandersnatch446″ works as a perfectly valid user name. Combine that with a couple of other nonsense words using AOL’s example, and you have an airtight winner. How about “Frumious-VorPal” for a password?

You know, security is serious business; both the white hats and black hats are very serious about their side of the game. Sometimes the best way to win is through sheer insouciance. Instead of insisting that your IT department use logon names like BillC, or JohnB, come up with something a bit more creative and less easy to guess. You can make it a standard pattern, just make it something unusual.

I’m going for brillig859/Toves-OutGrabe for my next user account.


April 24, 2010  1:16 AM

Brute Force Data Destruction

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

What do you do when a long-time client, a non-profit organization subject to HIPAA regulations, has been stockpiling old hard drives until they can afford the cost of shredding them? Professional data destruction services charge anywhere from $10 to $25 or more per hard drive in addition to the pick-up fee. Here’s a video that shows a hard drive shredder (scroll down to the middle of the page). My client was looking at almost $1200 and just couldn’t seem to find room in the budget. They needed a viable–and cheap–solution.

The least expensive option would have been to train a staff member on how to use an old PC to hook up the drives and run the HDDerase utility. (See How to Quickly & Securely Erase a Hard Drive.) For various reasons, the client wasn’t in favor of this; they wanted someone “in the know” to do it.

After determining that there was little likelihood of any truly sensitive data sitting on those hard drives, I suggested a brute force approach: Physically damage the drives, then take them to a community recycling center and dispose of them. The total cost of this approach would be around $100. The client agreed.

The photo above shows the result of 3-4 sharp blows with the root-cutter end of a cutter mattock applied to the platter end of the hard drive case. The photo below shows the resulting damage to the platters.

You could argue that this isn’t enough destruction to meet regulatory security standards and you would be right. My rebuttal would be this: 1. There probably isn’t anything of value on those drives; 2. The cost of trying to recover anything on those drives would be prohibitive; and, 3. Where they’re going tomorrow, no one will know who owned those drives and wouldn’t care anyway if they did. Bottom line: The drives will be shredded and recycled as originally planned at a fraction of the cost.

Sometimes, it just takes a little common sense to deal with these issues.


April 22, 2010  1:25 AM

Passwords Are Too Complicated

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

What?

You heard me. How many posts and articles are out there about passwords? Put “password” into Google and you’ll get 772,000,00 (isn’t it nice how Google always reports round numbers?) How many “password systems” are out there? Google says 329,000,000. Let’s try “unguessable password”; in that case, we get 2,520 results (in which I have two articles on page one). Now we’re getting somewhere.

But passwords are too complicated a concept for most. After all, Q2@*rr55iN9}, while being an unguessable and virtually uncrackable password, is not very practical unless you use a password manager like LastPass or RoboForm (which I do). How are you going to remember something like that?

Enter the passphrase: Something that is easily remembered, but hard to guess (yes, this has been covered ad nauseam, too). Believe it or not, you can use almost any personal information you want and yet create a virtually unguessable, uncrackable password.

Let’s create an identity for illustrative purposes:

Joe Blow
SS: 323-457-9999
Idaho Driver’s License: B89-345-5555
Dog’s name: Rex
Wife’s name: Wilma

Assuming I’m a social engineer who knows all of this information, am I going to be able to guess this passphrase?

Blow-457RexB89Wilma5555

Nope. And neither will any modern Computer using any brute force algorithm in the lifetime of any entity in this universe. And you can write down a mnemonic for that password easily. Here’s a mnemonic for one of my passwords: Ken and Peggy got married in 1980! You’ll never guess the associated passphrase in a quintillion years, but I know exactly what it is.

As I said, passwords are too complicated. If you want to hide something, hide it in plain view. It’s all about trickery and misdirection.

Want to steal all of my money? Here’s my mnemonic for my main account password: Google Ken’s phone with a nickname.

Passwords are too complicated.

What do you think?


April 21, 2010  12:36 AM

Cybercrooks Target Chrome with Bogus Extension

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun
Flickr.com/photos/randyzhang/

Source: Flickr.com/photos/randyzhang/

We can now consider Google’s Chrome browser a rousing success. Cybercrooks have begun targeting Chrome users; a compliment, kind of.

The attack begins with a spam message that tries to dupe the unwary into trying an add-on that “helps you better organize your documents received in your email”. A write-up by BitDefender provides a full analysis including screen shots. One interesting note in the analysis:

Although the sham application has the same description as that of an original Google Chrome Extension, the first sign the more inquisitive users will get about it not being what they were looking for should be the fact that instead of the expected “.crx” extension, it features a flamboyant “.exe” tail.

The trojan modifies the Windows HOSTS to redirect any requests for Google or Yahoo pages to counterfeit, malware-laden versions of thoses sites owned by the crooks.

Repeat after me, I will not click links in spam, I will not click links in spam, I will not click links in spam.


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