Security Corner

December 16, 2014  7:58 PM

Symantec: 91% increase in targeted attack campaigns in 2014

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun
best practices, SANS, Security, Symantec

Symantec has released its Internet Security Threat Report for 2014. The report is based on an analysis of data from its Global Intelligence Network. You can obtain a copy of the report here: In addition to the headline statistic, here are a few more highlights:

  • 62% increase in the number of breaches in 2013
  • Over 552M identities were exposed via breaches in 2013
  • 23 zero-day vulnerabilities discovered
  • 38% of mobile users have experienced mobile cybercrime in past 12 months
    Spam volume dropped to 66% of all email traffic
  • 1 in 392 emails contain a phishing attacks
  • Web-based attacks are up 23%
  • 1 in 8 legitimate websites have a critical vulnerability

The data are interesting in themselves, but reports like these always beg the question, “How do I apply this to my everyday life?” Symantec anticipated this question and provides information on best practices for business and consumer alike. They also provide a copy of the SANS Critical Security Controls.

Highly recommended!

December 15, 2014  5:15 PM

Microsoft pushes out badware

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun
BADI, Microsoft Patch Tuesday, Security, Windows Updates

I'm fed up with Adobe!

It acts like malware, and if you’ve been affected by it, you’ll certainly think you have caught an infection. It’s not malware. It’s actually just “badware” (unintentionally bad software) that our friends at Microsoft were kind enough to push on us last Tuesday. One of the latest Patch Tuesday updates, KB 3004394, specifically, prevents certain graphics drivers from updating, wrecks USB 3.0 drivers and User Account Control (UAC) prompts have gone all gunklepucky (gnarly, sticky mess). According to Microsoft the update even prevents the installation of future Windows Updates.

But what’s really bad is that this update disables Windows Defender services — services designed to prevent malware infections.

You can read the whole, sad story here: Microsoft withdraws bad Windows 7 update that broke future Windows 7 updates.

You may be one of the lucky ones, like me, who didn’t get the bad stuff (because I don’t allow automatic updates), but if you did, the first thing you should do is remove KB 3004394. My further recommendation is that you disable automatic updates unless you are in an environment where your IT staff vets the updates prior to pushing them out. I have my update settings configured to “Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them.” Then, I wait at least a week before I give them the go-ahead. This allows time for people to discover the problems before I commit myself.

After you remove the bad update, you should get the patch for the patch, KB3024777, which is available directly from Windows Update.

December 15, 2014  5:05 PM

NFL Security Measures

Jeff Cutler Jeff Cutler Profile: Jeff Cutler
Access, Data, Security, Storage

It’s nearly the end of the football season and I finally made it to an actual game instead of watching it on TV. The stadium was cold and rowdy fans were everywhere. Though I managed not to get beer spilled on me, I was surprised by how tight security has gotten at these facilities.

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 12.01.15 PM

Not unlike the gates at a government facility or high-tech company, the passage into the stadium was super secure. In addition to folks checking bags – we’ll talk about that in a second – there were friskers and wand wavers paired at every path into the stands.

Metal corrals directed us toward yellow-jacketed personnel who asked us questions, had us put our arms up and then they irradiated us with beeping plastic wands designed to find metal hidden on your body. Though it might be less efficient than having a simple door-frame metal detector, the personal touch made it a little more bearable.

As mentioned a second ago, the bag-check process and policy is insanity. What strikes me as a money grab and overreaction is the requirement that any bag that goes into the stadium with you be made of clear plastic and of a certain size. Interestingly, these bags are for sale at the concession stands and at NFL-operated stores. Presumably the bag requirement is to speed up entry into the ball park and to ensure security by allowing personnel to see exactly what you’re bringing with you to the ball-game.

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 12.02.47 PM

Needless to say, if you really wanted to carry a bunch of stuff in – food, a bat, drugs or other contraband – you could just wear cargo-style pants or have your child carry your stuff for you. I heard repeatedly while in line – yes, I picked the line where the person was being trained so it was extra-slow – “no need to scan or frisk kids.” That makes it clear that if you wanted to bring your own booze, nunchaku or other crazy items, just bring a kid with you.

OK, there are lessons to be learned about how the NFL does things. And it’s not all bad. First, think about your audience and who will be accessing your facility. Then make regulations that ensure proper access under the right circumstances.

If you run a pharmaceutical company that uses freelancers/contractors on a regular basis, set up IDs that identify these people as such and create a policy that they can’t be unaccompanied within the facility. Also ensure that for these people, bags, briefcases and purses are checked when these folks arrive and depart. For many organizations, the biggest cost of having visitors onsite is that they might leave with a thumb-drive of info or something proprietary on their person.

To that end, enlist IT and HR to set up systems so that drives and access to outside storage sites is limited to only fully provisioned personnel. There is no reason a visitor who is working for you onsite needs to have access to a dropbox account. If they require materials and input from outside sources, they can get these via a fulltime, provisioned employee. Further, if they are doing work for you offsite and onsite, there should be a clearing process for any documents, data and programs that cross the barrier between the two.

Lastly, just like the NFL does, you should have a plan in place in case events go south. At the stadium if there is a fight or spilled beer or anything untoward in the stands, guards immediately quell the situation. There are hundreds of people watching for incidents all game long and responding to anything unusual. You can do the same at your company by empowering all employees to act as gatekeepers to your valuable data and facilities. If they see something, they are authorized and encouraged to call for security, IT or the appropriate person to deal with a situation.

Business is sometimes less fun than watching your favorite football team win. But when things go right, the upside and the peace of mind you get from contributing to a secure and successful business can be quite rewarding.

What policies do you have at your office that make you feel secure? What policies do you think are a load of crap and a waste of time?

Chat next week!

December 9, 2014  6:42 PM

Internet privacy? Fuggedaboudit

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun
online privacy, Security, Surveillance

The Internet has become a surveillance state–probably the whole world, too, but more on that later. Like it or not, we’re being tracked all the time. Google, Facebook, iPhones, iPads, and surveillance cameras are everywhere and every one of them tracks you in some way.

There was a time, in the early, formative years of the Internet, when you could expect a modicum of privacy; at least, you could do certain things to cloak yourself. These days, there are still things you can do–TOR, Private Browsing, sandboxing, virtual machines, using an alias, etc.–but there are so many ways you are being tracked that you can’t avoid them all.

Just thinking about it is a bit scary, but it’s even worse than you think. Read The Internet Is a Surveillance State by Bruce Schneier. As he puts it: “All of us being watched, all the time, and that data being stored forever.”

If you want to see how you are being tracked on the Internet, you can download Google Chrome and install Collusion. This app will show you all of the trackers watching you as you surf. It’s highly enlightening. I’ve used it and I can recommend it.

Bottom line: Get used to it. The dystopia of George Orwell’s 1984 has been realized–at least on the Internet–and it’s much worse than even he envisioned.

December 5, 2014  9:24 PM

Hospital ID and Your Medical Security

Jeff Cutler Jeff Cutler Profile: Jeff Cutler
Access, Compliance, Data, Data Center, Healthcare, id, provisioning, Security

As a security blog writer, my role is to explore the world and then share information, tips, tricks and advice that will help you keep yourself, your data, your company’s data and the organization you work for safe. While I try to stay B2B in nature, today is going into the full realm of B2C, but the lessons shared are applicable across the board.

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 4.21.52 PM

Sit down and get ready. Here’s a personal glimpse into the joy that has been my medical life the past eight days. It’s a story of daring and intrigue. It features security gaffes and puking; a two-liter IV, fevers of 103, and a few lessons that everyone should know before sharing information.

It’s not really a gory tale, but I have been ill for more than a week with pneumonia AND the flu. A nice combination to be sure and that’s why you’ve been sitting here clicking refresh and seeing no new weekly article from me. That changes here.

Though I’m still knocked down, I’m writing from a recliner and I’m only doing about ten words a minute instead of my usual 68. And my wit has returned nicely as I’ve started to feel better – a benefit you shouldn’t overlook as I was bitter and sad and really unfunny for the past six days. Let’s get this party started…

What’s your name? That’s right. Easy question, right? Well, it would be if information was handled consistently across all channels. As we all know, that’s not usually the case. Sadly that was also not the case at points this week when I was visiting emergency rooms, talking to insurance companies and getting liters of fluid pumped into my body.

In a wicked twist to an already fun pneumonia and flu episode, it seems that hospitals are one of the few businesses that have changed NOTHING in the way of record keeping since the Twin Towers attack in 2001. While banks now require a passport and your legal name to do any business with them, if the hospital had your name as Jerf Cutler in 2000, that’s how it remains and that’s how you have to remember to share it.

It’s not a big deal, but now everyone – airlines of course, car rental, bowling alley shoe rental – requires your full legal name to do service with them. The hospital stays in the dark ages and keeps their records as is. Unfortunately, I had to go from one facility (as Jeff) to another (as Cutler J) and to the emergency room (where I had to guess which records they were trying to use to treat me). I guess the two lessons here are not to get pneumonia, and to streamline your identity with ALL your medical providers so they have your data under one record.

Are you allowed in? Well, it’s pretty important if you’re sick that you get into a hospital or a doctor’s office. But to be seen you must repeatedly answer your birthdate and your name and sometimes even both. And then there are labs and x-ray rooms where they need to actually see a wristband and scan you in before they poke you or spray you with radiation.

I’m all for that type of security, but the manner with which this inquisition occurs seems to be in place to defray insurance fraud and not actually focus on making me better. Multiple times I drifted off (could have been the fever) and wondered what harm it would do to have someone else get jabbed with a needle or take two liters of hospital salt water (saline) from the system.

Would the cost be monumental? Would the insurance system collapse? Would there be heads rolling? Would the compliance police swarm swarm swarm? Or would JCAHO launch an investigation?

My guess is none of the above. But if I wanted to defraud a medical facility and breach their walls, I’d just have to memorize someone’s name and birthday. The fine nurses who weigh and take my temperature would probably believe me when I lied about who I was once I got behind the mahogany reception area.

Ultimately, I wanted to share my journeys the past week or so to see if the real world operates in the same security-centric bubble that we’re looking at on a daily basis. For an industry that is over-the-top compliant about $$, billing, patient rights and so forth, they seem a little open about security and access. Perhaps the doors must open a little easier to admit treatment than the doors at a credit card data center. But I think all businesses can afford to step back a moment and implement a little tighter protocol when letting people onsite.

What’s your take? Or do you just think the fever has made me delirious and hope I come back to normal next week?

November 30, 2014  2:46 AM

The 15th Golden Rule of computer security

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun
Computers, cybersecurity, Security, tips and tricks

14goldenIn 2009, I published 14 Golden Rules of Computer Security as a downloadable eBook. It was quite popular and I have decided to bring it up to date and re-release it sometime next month (December 2014). If you aren’t familiar with those rules, here’s an excerpt from my August 31, 2009 posting (note that these are broad statements and the book goes into much greater detail):

#1: The best security measures are completely useless if you invite attackers into your PCs or networks. 
#2: A first, important step in securing your PC is to install  and configure a NAT router. 
#3: Always change the default username and password of any configurable device you put on your home network. 
#4: Use an un-guessable, or difficult-to-guess password always. 
#5: A vital part of PC security is keeping up with software patches for ALL of the software on your system, not just the operating system. Where it is available, use the software’s automatic updates feature. 
#6: Always disable any message preview or auto-open features in your e-mail client. View messages as text-only until you know they are safe. 
#7: If you store sensitive information on a PC or laptop, even if it’s only personal information, encrypt the 
folders or drives where the information is stored and use an un-guessable passphrase as  the encryption key. 
#8: Physical security is  almost as important as data security. Make it as difficult as possible through any 
physical means for a thief to steal your hardware. Rules of thumb: Lock it up and lock it down; out of sight, out of mind. 
#9: When surfing the web, testing unknown programs, or engaging in other activities with the potential to harm your computer, use a sandbox or virtual machine to protect your base system from harm. 
#10: When using external removable media for backups, either encrypt the backup files or make sure the media is taken offline after the backup has been completed. 
#11 Never enter sensitive information into any web page unless you have verified that the information is being sent over a secure connection signified by https:// in the address bar and a lock icon in the browser’s status bar. 
#12: Once a PC is infected with malware, you can’t trust it. The only way to restore trust is to wipe the hard drive clean and reload the operating system.
#13: When it comes to securing a WiFi network, the only way is WPA. 
#14: If your email address will be visible to the public, obfuscate it.

Now, for the 15th Golden Rule. I have noticed when cleaning off adware and potentially unwanted programs (PUPS) from computers that many of these programs open browser windows (phone home) and try to talk you out of uninstalling their junk or try to scare you into buying it (this usually happens with the junk “cleaner” and “backup” programs). So, here’s the new rule:

Golden Rule #15 – Before cleaning adware and potentially unwanted programs (PUPS) from any computer, disconnect from the internet to prevent the program from phoning home.

The new rule will appear in the new edition of the eBook: 15 Golden Rules of Computer Security which will also be revised to include some additional advice and more detailed information on each of the rules.

November 30, 2014  2:24 AM

‘Tis the season – for identity theft and other fraud

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun
cyberscams, Identity theft, Scam emails, Security

holidayscamThe holiday season has begun in earnest and along with that comes a greater-than-normal threat of identity theft and cyber-fraud. While there are always myriad scams going on at any given time, certain types tend to show up more during the holidays. As tax season approaches identity theft and the filing of fraudulent tax returns spikes up. First, here are some common holiday scams to watch out for.

  1. Charity scams – Legitimate charities don’t solicit donations via email, so chances are if you get a solicitation from what appears to be a legit charity, it’s probably a phishing attempt designed to steal your credit card and other personal information. Do not open it — delete immediately.
  2. Shipping notification emails–  I have seen these come from USPS, FedEx, UPS and DHL. They look totally legitimate and if you are ordering things online, you might think they are about your order. They probably are not. They will usually be sent with an attachment and you are directed to open the attachment for information. Don’t do it! According to the FBI, the majority of the links and attachments in these emails are either phishing attempts or malware. Be very alert and read carefully.
  3. Auction scams – Cyberthieves often use stolen credit card numbers to purchase gift cards and then auction them off at a discount in online auction sites. The problem is, the cards are worthless and you will have parted with cold cash or given up credit card information which might then be used by the scammers. Don’t risk it.
  4. Counterfeit merchandise –  Besides being illegal, the quality of the knock-offs is usually poor and you are wasting your money. Counterfeit toys pose a special risk to the safety of your child as they are often made in China and painted with lead-based paints. Buy the real thing and if you absolutely don’t want to pay full price, seek out legitimate discount sales of authentic merchandise.
  5. Letter from Santa scam  You receive an unsolicited (spam) email offering a personalized letter from Santa to your child.  Prices vary, but chances are it’s just a phishing scheme designed to steal your identity. If you want to make a letter to your child from Santa, there are legitimate sites that let you do it free. Here’s one of them:

I’ll post more on the identity theft/tax fraud issues as tax season approaches, but for now, here are some tips from the IRS to help you avoid identity theft:

Have a Safe, Happy and Fraud-free Holiday Season!

November 26, 2014  5:13 PM

Video anatomy of a Windows support scam

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Here is an excellent video by Carey Holzman that shows an actual support scam telephone call. Mr. Holzman toys with the scammer, but you can see how it all develops. I had a client who actually fell for one of these, but when he caught on and refused to pay, the scammer deleted all of his files. Fortunately, I was able to recover them all for him. This is a long video, but well worth watching.

November 23, 2014  7:04 PM

Does cell phone encryption hinder law enforcement?

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun
FBI, Mobile encryption, NSA, privacy, Security

encryptionAccording to The Intercept, if you listen to FBI Director James Comey, you would be led to believe that “…cell-phone encryption could lead law enforcement to a ‘very dark place’ where it ‘misses out’ on crucial evidence to nail criminals.” In his recent speech, Comey sites four cases that he says could have been solved if only they were able to decrypt the criminals’ cell phones. The truth is quite a bit different however, as this piece in The Intercept shows:

In the three cases The Intercept was able to examine, cell-phone evidence had nothing to do with the identification or capture of the culprits, and encryption would not remotely have been a factor.

In the most dramatic case that Comey invoked — the death of a 2-year-old Los Angeles girl — not only was cellphone data a non-issue, but records show the girl’s death could actually have been avoided had government agencies involved in overseeing her and her parents acted on the extensive record they already had before them.

In another case, of a Lousiana sex offender who enticed and then killed a 12-year-old boy, the big break had nothing to do with a phone: The murderer left behind his keys and a trail of muddy footprints, and was stopped nearby after his car ran out of gas.

And in the case of a Sacramento hit-and-run that killed a man and his girlfriend’s four dogs, the driver was arrested in a traffic stop because his car was smashed up, and immediately confessed to involvement in the incident.

As a general rule, I don’t trust government agencies (with the possible exception of the FCC, who seems to do a relatively good job of regulating the various modes of communication), especially the FBI, CIA, DHS and NSA. Comey’ stance disturbs me, but I shouldn’t be surprised; most non-technical types — Comey being one of them — are clueless when it comes to technology. Then again, I’m sure he’s an intelligent fellow and realizes that he’s up against a lot of evidence that encryption makes us safer. He’s trying to spin any case he can find, however feeble the connection with encryption, to show that having backdoors into encryption software is essential to the solving of crimes. But it’s just not true.

Bruce Schneier has this to say: “All the FBI talk about “going dark” and losing the ability to solve crimes is absolute bullshit. There is absolutely no evidence, either statistically or even anecdotally, that criminals are going free because of encryption.”

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November 23, 2014  12:06 AM

Solution: Hacking Skills Challenge – Realistic 1

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun
cybersecurity, Hacking, Security

In this post, you were given a challenge to hack a band review site and move your friend’s band, Raging Inferno to the top of the list. Did you figure it out? No? Well, here’s how it’s done.

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