Security Corner

May 8, 2010  4:52 PM

Microsoft Security – No Longer an Oxymoron

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Source: Microsoft

I have never been an apologist for Microsoft’s security policies and practices; indeed, I’ve often criticized the firm and accused them of a laissez-faire attitude towards their development teams. I have to admit that they’ve been making some headway in the direction of basic security over the years, but I’ve wondered if they would ever get it right. Recently, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Microsoft Security Essentials (See “Microsoft Security Essentials is a Game Changer” and “Microsoft’s Security Essentials Causes Performance Problems“), their most recent attempt at complete security protection for Windows™. I’m going back to the love relationship. My reason? The combination of  Windows 7 security enhancements, IE8 and Microsoft Security Essentials is very secure; it looks like Microsoft has finally done it right.

I migrated my laptop to that combination in mid-March. I have enjoyed nearly two months of secure computing with no performance issues, no security issues, and the freedom from having to worry about which third-party security solution I should implement. I still use Thunderbird for email and Firefox as my main browser, but that’s no longer because I’m concerned about using IE–IE8’s default settings have proven to be more than sufficient.

I’m not the only one who’s noticed. Fred Langa of Windows Secrets Newsletter recently ran a 120-day test of his own under some pretty tough conditions. You’ll want to read that article, of course, especially if you’re an advanced Windows user, but Fred’s results are worth mentioning:

Four months in, and no malware has infected my Win7 systems. I’ve experienced no malware-like misbehavior on my machines, and to the best of my knowledge, my systems remain clean and unhacked.

So I’m comfortable saying that the combination of the Win7 firewall, Microsoft Security Essentials, and fully current browsers and e-mail clients is proving to be a wholly acceptable security solution for routine use.

However, I’m not ready to recommend this combination to advanced users — especially those with demanding needs or who require the ability to easily customize their setup.

What’s your opinion? Leave me a comment.

May 7, 2010  2:03 AM

Software for Secure Computing: Hivelogic’s Enkoder Form

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Spam email is the primary distribution channel for malicious content, so it behooves us to do everything possible to prevent our email addresses from being harvested by web-crawling robots. Posting your email address on any public-facing web page is almost sure to get you on spammers’ lists, yet most webmasters do just that. What’s one to do? There has to be some secure way to allow visitors to contact you, right?

Enter Hivelogic’s Enkoder Form, a tool that encrypts your email address and converts the result into a self evaluating JavaScript. The browser is able to properly display the address, but an email harvesting robots will find nothing they can use. I tried it out with “” just to see what would happen. Here’s what I got:

<script type="text/javascript">
var x="function f(x){var i,o=\"\",ol=x.length,l=ol;while(x.charCodeAt(l/13)!" +
"=48){try{x+=x;l+=l;}catch(e){}}for(i=l-1;i>=0;i--){o+=x.charAt(i);}return o" +
".substr(0,ol);}f(\")41,\\\"MEOZPO120\\\\@RLt\\\\600\\\\J500\\\\100\\\\600\\" +
"\\310\\\\ ZA>r\\\\t\\\\>38|5;y=:v1:6!q?;n&/\\\"\\\\&n\\\\j330\\\\{ (7+5`530" +
"=6sp~npj`8azv771\\\\ds`j\\\"(f};o nruter};))++y(^)i(tAedoCrahc.x(edoCrahCmo" +
"rf.gnirtS=+o;721=%y;2=*y))y+41(>i(fi{)++i;l<i;0=i(rof;htgnel.x=l,\\\"\\\"=o" +
",i rav{)y,x(f noitcnuf\")"                                                   ;

To see it in action, check out You can see that it works perfectly.

There are two forms on the site, The Basic Form and The Advanced Form. The Advanced Form can be used to encode anything you want, web pages, plain text, etc. I encoded this paragraph with it and got this result:

<script type="text/javascript">
var x="function f(x){var i,o=\"\",l=x.length;for(i=l-1;i>=0;i--) {try{o+=x.c" +
"harAt(i);}catch(e){}}return o;}f(\")\\\"function f(x,y){var i,o=\\\"\\\\\\\""+
"\\\\,l=x.length;for(i=0;i<l;i++){if(i<2)y++;y%=127;o+=String.fromCharCode(x" +
".charCodeAt(i)^(y++));}return o;}f(\\\"\\\\gjereld\\\\\\\\177\\\\\\\\\\\"\\" +
"\\z|fdt~}<7B\\\\\\\\177}k\\\\\\\\177;}o{?TVM\\\\\\\03BJTJ[\\\\\\\\tEE\\\\" +
"\\\14YFJ\\\\\\\20B[GQ\\\\\\\31\\\\\\\26cP\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\3" +
"\\\\\217+7u|\\\\\\\\t6:@ \\\\\\\06\\\\\\\25\\\\\\\05\\\\\\\13\\\\" +
"\\\05\\\\\\\02\\\\\\\14I,\\\\\\\04\\\\\\\36\\\\\\\00N\\\\\\\1" +
"4\\\\\\\21\\\\\\\37R\\\\\\\21\\\\\\\21U\\\\\\\03\\\\\\\04\\\\\\" +
"\35\\\\\\\35Z\\\\\\\17\\\\\\\23]\\\\\\\33nbmga%giq}bbbj.v\\\\\\\\" +
"\26^L\\\\\\\31[UX\\\\\\\35YP4a6+-6f5-:?'8wlfkai\\\"\\\\,2)\\\"(f};)lo" +
",0(rtsbus.o nruter};)i(tArahc.x=+o{)--i;0=>i;1-l=i(rof}}{)e(hctac};l=+l;x=+" +
"x{yrt{)67=!)31/l(tAedoCrahc.x(elihw;lo=l,htgnel.x=lo,\\\"\\\"=o,i rav{)x(f " +
"noitcnuf\")"                                                                 ;

Again, to see it in action, check out

This isn’t the perfect tool by any means. Bear in mind what the developer has to say.

This tool is only useful for protecting an email address on a web page you’ve designed in HTML. It probably cannot be used when sending email, when posting your address into a web form, or when adding comments to a forum.

Enkoder isn’t the only tool out there by an means, but it’s quick and convenient and you only need to do it one time for each email address you want to use on your websites.

Besides, anyone calling themselves “Secret Space Agency” gets my patronage any day.

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 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: “ is temporarily offline. We’re currently busy fixing some erroneous code, and will have 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.

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