Security Corner

November 17, 2010  8:39 PM

Devices to Protect Your Personal Security

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Being the security wonk that I am, I’m fascinated by TV crime shows like CSI, NCIS, Hawaii Five-O and the like. Anything that deals with high tech means of solving crimes is fair game. I don’t always have time to watch all of them, but It try to get my viewing in when I can. I’m also a big fan of the spy-thriller genre, having grown up with James Bond movies, Mission Impossible, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and I-Spy.

But how applicable (and real) is some of that fancy technology you see on TV and in the movies? I wasn’t too surprised to find out that much of it is available, but I was surprised to find that almost all of it is available to the general public with few restrictions. Brick House Security is one place I stumbled upon. They have three general groupings on their website: Home & Family, Business & Government, and Police & Investigations. They claim to have more than 1000 products and a very interesting blog. With the holiday gift giving season upon us, I thought I would pick out a few products from the Brickhouse web site that might make great gifts and post a couple of them here each week.

Here’s a product you may have heard about on the news (Click on image):

Spark Nano Real-Time GPS Tracking Device

Spark Nano Real-Time GPS Tracking Device

Here’s a nifty way to protect yourself if you are ever out alone in unsafe places (Click on image):

Cell Phone Stun Gun

Cell Phone Stun Gun

Have fun on the site!

November 13, 2010  2:54 PM

Hotmail now Comes with HTTPS, Kind of

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Start-to-finish SSL encryption is a very good thing when it works. And it usually does. Google has offered always-on encryption for more than two years on the GMail platform. Now Microsoft’s Hotmail features the same thing, almost. Here’s what I got when I tried to set it up (emphasis added):

Connect with HTTPS

  • Account Connect with HTTPS

Using HTTPS will help keep your account secure from hackers-especially if you commonly use public computers or unsecure wireless connections.

Important note: Turning on HTTPS will work for Hotmail over the web, but it will cause errors if you try to access Hotmail through programs like:

  • Outlook Hotmail Connector
  • Windows Live Mail
  • The Windows Live application for Windows Mobile and Nokia

If you only need a temporary HTTPS connection, enter “https” in front of the web address instead of “http”.

The page then gives you the option to use HTTPS automatically or manually, citing the important note above. I don’t use Outlook or Windows Live Mail, so I opted for automatic.

I’m sure they’ll get this resolved as they are aware of the issues according to this blog post. Here’s an excerpt:

To enable HTTPS for your Hotmail inbox, calendar, and contacts, go to Once you enable this feature, all of your future connections to Hotmail will be delivered over SSL.

Some connections to Hotmail won’t be available if you turn on HTTPS, including:

  • Outlook Hotmail Connector
  • Windows Live Mail
  • The Windows Live application for Windows Mobile (version 6.5 and earlier) and Symbian

We’re constantly working to continue providing great security for our customers, so stay tuned.

Still, watered down or not, it’s much more secure than it was.

November 13, 2010  2:26 PM

Microsoft Pushing Microsoft Security Essentials via Update Provokes Anger

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

According to The Register, Panda Security and Trend Micro are attacking Microsoft for offering Security Essentials (MSE) via MS Update because Redmond is “restricting choice.”

I take issue with that. Microsoft is only offering MSE download via update to Windows users who aren’t already running antivirus software. The commercial AV firms clearly are miffed because their products aren’t being offered for download. That’s just ridiculous.

I’ve long criticized Microsoft for poor security practices, but with MSE, they got it right. I’m certainly no apologist for Redmond, but all of this drivel about being anti-competitive has to come to a stop at some point. Why in the world should Microsoft be forced to market other firms’ products for free? And that’s exactly what the others are saying.

Juan Santana, CEO of Panda Security argues, “We agree with Microsoft; it’s better to have some protection than not having any at all. However, the way the guys in Redmond are executing the idea is risky from a security perspective and could very well make the malware situation much worse for internet users. That’s why we encourage Microsoft to continue using Windows/Microsoft Update but instead to push all free antivirus products available on the market, not just MSE.” (You can read his blog post.)

Horseapples! How in the world is putting protection in place where there is none going to make the malware situation worse for Internet users? The argument has no substance. It’s illogical in the extreme.

Shame on both Panda and Trend Micro (who have both lost credibility with me as a result of this). Wouldn’t time spent on promoting the advantages and/or superiority of their products be more productive than trying to force Redmond to do their marketing for them?

November 8, 2010  2:56 PM

A Simple Trick to Make Public WiFi Encryption Easy to Implement

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

With the Firesheep firestorm (there are over 1,000,000 search results as of this writing) blazing across the web, there is a lot of pressure on cafes, coffee shops and other establishments that offer free open WiFi to implement WPA2 encryption. While it’s trivial to set it up, fielding the questions from users can disrupt the normal flow of business. The most frequent question will probably be, “What’s the password?” Most places will post signs and/or print up instruction cards with the password on them, but here’s a simple trick that most will probably overlook: rename the SSID of the wireless router so it also gives the password.

Here’s an example: Let’s assume that I own a place called “Ken’s Cafe.” The SSID of my wireless router is KCWiFi. I’ve implemented WPA2 and made the password Ken’sCafe. All I have to do is change the SSID to something like this: KCWiFi (Password: Ken’sCafe). Probably many patrons will see that and just connect when prompted for the password.

This simple trick will work well because there is nothing confidential about a WPA2 password; it doesn’t matter what it is or who has it. Unlike WEP, each connection to WPA2 is unique and there is client-to-client isolation between the connections.

November 5, 2010  3:31 AM

Baa Baa, Firesheep, Have You Any Wool?

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Yes sir, yes sir,
Networks full.
One for the socials,
One for the tweets,
And one for the hacker boy
Who pwns all the peeps.

Sorry. I just had to do that. Firesheep is taking the ‘net by storm, it seems. Surely, you’ve heard about it by now; it has been around for nearly a week and has been downloaded more than 600,000 times. In case you haven’t hear about it, here’s the scoop from Bruce Schneier:

Firesheep is a new Firefox plugin that makes it easy for you to hijack other people’s social network connections. Basically, Facebook authenticates clients with cookies. If someone is using a public WiFi connection, the cookies are sniffable. Firesheep uses wincap to capture and display the authentication information for accounts it sees, allowing you to hijack the connection.

In other words, if I sniff your cookies, I can hijack your session and be you. I can do anything that you could do, see anything that you could see. So, if you’re using public (unencrypted, open) WiFi you’re in trouble.  Personally, I think this is a good thing: It may force the public hotspots to tighten security. After all, it’s not rocket science; you just implement WPA2 on your wireless router and give everyone the password. Steve Gibson explains:

Now that this concept is out, we’re going to see it go like crazy. And so…the remediation for the wireless access providers [is] simply bring up encryption… Again, it doesn’t have to be a secret password, just Starbucks can make it “Starbucks.” And that solves the problem. However, the providers of these services, the Facebook, the Twitter, the MySpace and so forth, they can’t rely on that. They have to simply enforce SSL, just like Google did.

Yes, there’s no reason not to just enforce SSL. On every website. Everywhere, all the time. It’s simple to do. End-to-end encryption and who the heck cares who’s sniffing? It’s all random noise to anyone looking at the data stream.

Complexity is the enemy of security; simplicity is the ultimate weapon. The solution to this problem is a simple one. We can only hope that the release of Firesheep is the wake up call we need.

October 31, 2010  1:07 AM

Passwords as Single Authentication Factor Are Dead, Aren’t They?

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Free Clipart Picture of a Headstone. Click Here to Get Free Images at Clipart Guide.comThe time required to break an eight-character password has dropped to two minutes. A seven-character password–-the minimum currently required by PCI-DSS for retailers to protect stored payment-card information–-is compromised in seconds. (Read more: That’s why I have gone to 10-characters as a minimum password length. But there’s a caveat: 10 characters is fine if you can use special characters, but I would go to 12 if you can only use upper/lower case and numerals.

That might work for awhile, but processors just keep getting faster and faster. Before too long, even passwords like H4*$.ndl_@@I1~nRfCsI&#9()&^%$# won’t be secure enough. It’s time for a second factor. Yes, I know there are sites that use them. PayPal is one of them (I use their security key-essentially a time-synchronized one-time password). It’s also integrated with eBay. Banks and other financial institutions seem to be slow on the uptake, however.

When I log into PayPal or eBay, I’m not the least bit worried that someone could hack me. Even if there is a keylogger on my system, the fact that my strong, 10-character password is augmented with a random, non-repeating six-digit token makes it highly unlikely that anyone in any known universe is going to hack me within any human’s lifetime. After all, even if the hacker knows my password (factor 1-something you know), he still won’t be able to enter the security key token (factor 2-something you have) because only I have that.

I’m not saying for a minute that passwords are completely dead, only that they are no longer sufficient as a single factor authentication method. I’ll explore alternatives such as sequential one-time passwords and other methods in a future post.

October 30, 2010  11:28 PM

Halloween is International “Kill a Zombie Day!”

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Well, according to Sophos Security, that is. But why not? It’s Halloween, a day dedicated to all thing creepy. What’s more creepy than a Zombie, especially one that spews out nasty spam that infects PCs with all manner of creepy, crawly, slimy stuff. So, tomorrow, make it a point to “Kill a Zombie!”

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

October 29, 2010  8:59 PM

How to Avoid Losing Locational Privacy – Conclusion

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

In Part 2, I showed how the EFF recommends building location systems which don’t collect the data in the first place. How is that accomplished? Cryptographic protocols. One of these is electronic cash . Electronic cash refers to means by which an individual can pay for something using a special digital signature which is anonymous but which guarantees the recipient that the can redeem it for money; it acts just like cash! Transfer of money at places like toll booths and fuel pumps would not be tied to any specific individual.

Another approach would involve the use of anonymous credentials for certain types of passes and access cards. The EFF document provides an explanation:

These give [a person] a special set of digital signatures with which he can prove that he is entitled to enter the [restricted location] (i.e. prove you’re a paying customer) or get on the bus. But the protocols are such that these interactions can’t be linked to him specifically and moreover repeated accesses can’t be correlated with one another. That is, the [restricted location] knows that someone authorized to enter has come by, but it can’t tell who it was, and it can’t tell when this individual last came by. Combined with electronic cash, there are a wide-range of card-access solutions which preserves locational privacy.

Of course, these aren’t the only solutions (though they may become the only ones that are reliable). There is also good old data retention and erasure. If there is no real need to keep location data beyond a short period of time, then it should be deleted. The problem with that approach is that companies who acquire locational data have incentives to keep it. Picture a third-party advertising service that automatically feeds you advertising about local businesses based on your where you are logged in. The data about your movements about town and the planet are valuable demographics to use in highly targeted ad campaigns.

In the end, the real concern is with government:

…there’s no guarantee that a government won’t suddenly pass a law requiring … companies and government agencies to keep all of their records for years, just in case the records are needed for “national security” purposes. This last concern isn’t just idle paranoia: this has already happened in Europe, and the [United States Government] has toyed with the same idea…

In the long run, the decision about when we retain our location privacy (and the limited circumstances under which we will surrender it) should be set by democratic action and lawmaking.


October 29, 2010  1:12 AM

How to Avoid Losing Locational Privacy – Part 2

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

In my last post, I outlined the concept of location privacy and gave some examples of how you can be tracked when you’re out and and about. You may say, “So, what? What do I care if people know where I’m going? I’m not doing anything wrong.” Maybe so, in your eyes. But in the post-9/11 climate, there’s a hyper-sensitivity toward anything that could be construed as terrorist activity. Not only that, but anyone who may have it in for you could cause you no end of trouble. The EFF document provides this insight:

The systems discusssed [in my previous post] have the potential to strip away locational privacy from individuals, making it possible for others to ask (and answer) the following sorts of questions by consulting the location databases:

  • Did you go to an anti-war rally on Tuesday?
  • A small meeting to plan the rally the week before?
  • At the house of one “Bob Jackson”?
  • Did you walk into an abortion clinic?
  • Did you see an AIDS counselor?
  • Have you been checking into a motel at lunchtimes?
  • Why was your secretary with you?
  • Did you skip lunch to pitch a new invention to a VC? Which one?
  • Were you the person who anonymously tipped off safety regulators about the rusty machines?
  • Did you and your VP for sales meet with ACME Ltd on Monday?
  • Which church do you attend? Which mosque? Which gay bars?
  • Who is my ex-girlfriend going to dinner with?

Are you beginning to get the idea? Pretty scary, if you ask me. So what do you do?

We can’t stop the cascade of new location-based digital services. Nor would we want to — the benefits they offer are impressive. What urgently needs to change is that these systems need to be built with privacy as part of their original design…

Our contention is that the easiest and best solution to the locational privacy problem is to build systems which don’t collect the data in the first place.

How is that possible? More in Part 3.

October 27, 2010  1:29 AM

How to Avoid Losing Locational Privacy – Part 1

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

You’ve never heard the term before? Well, here’s what it is according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF): “Locational privacy (also known as “location privacy”) is the ability of an individual to move in public space with the expectation that under normal circumstances their location will not be systematically and secretly recorded for later use.”

In what ways could you be located and your location recorded? For one thing, security cameras have become ubiquitous; they’re in every parking garage, convenience store, liquor store, bank, ATM machines, you name it. In some cities your passage is recorded by taking a snapshot of your vehicle license plate as you move through traffic intersections. The EFF notes notes that “…systems which create and store digital records of people’s movements through public space [are being] woven inextricably into the fabric of everyday life. We are already starting to see such systems now, and there will be many more in the near future.

“Here are some examples you might already [be using] or have read about:

  • Monthly transit swipe-cards
  • Electronic tolling devices (FastTrak, EZpass, congestion pricing)
  • Cellphones
  • Services telling you when your friends are nearby
  • Searches on your PDA for services and businesses near your current location
  • Free Wi-Fi with ads for businesses near the network access point you’re using
  • Electronic swipe cards for doors
  • Parking meters you can call to add money to, and which send you a text message when your time is running out”

Perhaps you’ve heard about the new rage in apps that post your location to Twitter or Facebook. One of those is My Latitude, an application that lets you publish your Google Latitude position in your profile page. This is accomplished using the Google Latitude Public Badge. There’s another called Android Location Services for those phones.

If you’re using any of those, you’re losing your locational privacy. What to do about it? I’ll cover that in Part 2.

Forgot Password

No problem! Submit your e-mail address below. We'll send you an e-mail containing your password.

Your password has been sent to: