Tag Archives: passwords

Holiday Season Security

The state of Washington Office of Cybersecurity has recently posted a good article related to information security and online shopping at http://cybersecurity.wa.gov/resources/security-tips/.  This is a good time of year for this kind of reminder as we all are taking advantage of the convenience and ease of shopping online.

It cannot be emphasized enough that we each must constantly take care with our private information, particularly financial information like bank accounts and credit cards, and particularly when using or accessing such information using mobile devices.

Don’t trust public computers or wireless networks (even the college’s public Wi-Fi network) to be secure enough for these kinds of transactions.  It is not difficult for a malicious actor to be able to intercept wireless signals as they pass between your phone and the most secure wireless access point, thus having access to obtain whatever information you type into your device.  This could include account numbers, user names, passwords and personal identification numbers (PIN).

Do your online shopping with a trusted wired connection as often as you can (not with public computers like in a library or college computer labs–you never know if the person using it before you compromised the machine).  If you must use a mobile device, like a phone or tablet, be certain to follow the OCS guidelines to make your shopping “trip” as uneventful as possible.

Safe Computing!

 

Lock Down Your Login

As October’s Cybersecurity Awareness Month continues, I thought I would refer once again to the federal Stop.Think.Connect information campaign and focus briefly on one particular topic currently being emphasized there.

Be careful and turn your speakers down before clicking on this link, as the page automatically plays a cutesy animated YouTube video, but the Lock Down Your Login page is a good introduction to what is known as Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA).   This site calls it “strong authentication.”

Once you as a user have been authorized to use a particular technology system, such as a banking website or your work computing network, authentication is the process of verifying your identity to that system so it can provide you the access needed.

Commonly, this is done by prompting a user to provide a login name and password, which in computing terms is considered “single-factor” authentication.

Multi-Factor Authentication is a mechanism through which a user is granted access only after more than one form of authentication is presented.  MFA may sometimes be referred to in the media or on websites as two-step authentication or two-factor authentication (2FA) , but technically 2FA is a subset of MFA.

One very common example of two-factor authentication is the use of a debit card (factor one-something you HAVE) and a PIN (factor two-something you KNOW) to withdraw money from an ATM.

Another example of MFA you may already experienced is the use of your thumb or finger print to unlock your cell phone.  In this case, the first factor (something you HAVE) is the phone, the second factor (something you KNOW) is the password you have previously saved on the phone, and a third factor (something you ARE) is the ability of the phone to read your thumbprint (also called biometrics).  If any of these factors are not available, you cannot access the information on the phone.

Most information security experts now recommend the use of MFA in all cases of authentication, particularly as more and more of our login information is being stored on servers all over the world and more and more of those servers are compromised.

For instance, commerce websites such as Amazon.com asks that you create a username and password (single-factor) to be able to use their service.  A compromise of that information on their servers by hackers or even company insiders could allow malicious users to pretend to be you and make purchases on your account without your knowledge.

The problem multiplies if you happen to employ the same password for different accounts on different systems.  Once one is compromised, all your accounts secured with a single-factor using the same password are potentially compromised.

If, however, if you have set up MFA with your Amazon account,  which allows you to receive a one-time random code via text message, automated phone call or third-party app (such as Google Authenticator or Microsoft Authenticator),  the malicious user cannot get into your account without using that code which only you have on your phone.  Even if they have somehow obtained both your username and password, they cannot login to the MFA protected account.

Other websites or networks now also use phone-based MFA, but there are also methods that are not phone-based, such as the use of security token generators or smart cards.

A few people think the extra step of obtaining and using a random code is too onerous to do every time you log into a particular account.  But this simple extra step increases the security of that account so significantly that most major online companies are preparing or already offering some sort of MFA for use with their accounts.  If that extra step prevents the use of your personal credentials even after a security breach, it is obviously worth it.

As someone who pays close attention to information security and the scary trending online threats and growing malicious practices, I choose to use MFA for my personal accounts whenever it is available, and use both phone text-based codes and app-based code generators.

The use of MFA is also growing quickly in the work place as institutions and business work to protect their internal technology resources, and is currently being tested here at Bellevue College for possible use with Office 365.

If you are worried about this, remember that a couple of decades ago our typewriters didn’t require a login at all, but after computers became ubiquitous, we learned how to function with usernames and passwords. Now it seems natural.

MFA will be the same kind of cultural revolution.   I think it is safe to predict that one day we will be using MFA for all of our accounts as another line of defense against malicious users, and won’t think twice about it.

Safe Computing!

Stop. Think. Connect

October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and in celebration, below are some links to the federal STOP.THINK.CONNECT organization’s tips & advice website and their general advice regarding online safety habits.

STOP.THINK.CONNECT is a good, lay-level website with lots of information and resources addressing some of the basic things that any of us can do, either at home or in the workplace, to help ourselves more securely use computers online.

These basic tips are available in multiple languages :

English, Spanish, Portuguese (Brazilian), Russian, French (Canadian),  and Japanese.

There are also safety tips for mobile devices.

Please take the time to review these basic tips and apply them both with your personal accounts to help prevent cyber-trouble for your cyber-self, and with your professional practices at work.

Other good sites related to your personal online accounts and internet use include:

https://www.lockdownyourlogin.com/

https://www.stopthinkconnect.org/campaigns/own-your-online-presence

https://www.stopthinkconnect.org/campaigns/keep-a-clean-machine-campaign

Safe Computing!

Credential Stealing

One of the consistently best voices addressing cyber security issues worldwide is Bruce Schneier.  He is a cryptography expert and privacy advocate out of Harvard who has published many books, some of which are very technical in nature and intended for professional information security audiences .  But one of his great skills is that he also writes about important and timely privacy, trust and security topics in a manner that is accessible to most lay people.

Today I am bringing your attention to a recent article he wrote for the Xconomy web site which addresses the evolving nature of  computer attacks and the assumptions most people make that such attacks are merely technical or malware issues.

Turns out, the challenges in modern IT security are not so much about technology, but about people using the technology.  In fact, Schneier states that “…software vulnerabilities aren’t the most common attack vector: credential stealing is.”

The article quotes the head of the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO) group as saying “…stealing a valid credential and using it to access a network is easier, less risky, and ultimately more productive than using an existing vulnerability, even a zero-day…” ( essentially a software-based cyber attack using previously unknown tools or methods).

Schneier urges computing professionals to adapt to this changing environment, but the key piece of information within the article for most regular technology users is that they are more and more likely to be the initial target for malicious actors, who are using everything they can–including social engineering, phishing, physical and psychological manipulation, and outright threats–to gain legitimate credentials to target systems or networks, including home networks.

Using the kinds of techniques perfected by stereotypical con men and the hacker culture,  modern criminals are now hacking people more than they are hacking machines.  And once they have YOUR work or personal login credentials, they have the same access to everything you have access to within those environments.

So this article is a good reminder for each of us to think twice any time a person or a machine asks for personal or college information, or for home or work technology credentials.

Safe Computing!


The full Bruce Schneier essay can be accessed at: http://www.xconomy.com/boston/2016/04/20/credential-stealing-as-attack-vector/

If you are interested and wish to see more of Bruce’s writings, his personal blog web site is: https://www.schneier.com/.

(Sometimes his writings are too technical for me, but he has a very practical, realistic and common sense approach to many security and privacy issues, so it is worth checking his site out for the more generalized stuff that can help you can understand all of the issues about which he writes.)

Password Security

I haven’t had much time recently to write here a lot, but there is an interesting story related to a data breach in the public sector that I thought would merit a few moments today (here is a link to a Wall Street Journal article about it ).

The basis for the story is that a number of DropBox (a popular cloud file storage site) account passwords have been published by some hackers.  However, the security for the DropBox site itself has NOT been compromised in any way…

So what happened?

It seems that the hackers were able to get into another unidentified website’s user database, which stored account names and password credentials for that site, then went down that list of credentials at the DropBox site.  They were subsequently able to access a number of DropBox accounts.   This ability to use a password stolen from one site to access another site occurred because the users used the same login name and password for their DropBox account that they used on the website that was compromised!

Knowing it would be difficult to get through the high levels of security that DropBox has in place, the hackers simply went to the less secure site and reused against DropBox the information they acquired there.  It wouldn’t surprise me if they actually did this a number of places.  They could have tried accessing Google or Microsoft or Yahoo or any other site they wanted.  The security issue is actually the REUSE by users of the same user names and passwords on different websites.

This illustrates one of the primary purposes behind most malicious attacks: the acquiring of credentials.  If a person with bad intent has actual login access to any given website, it doesn’t matter how much security that site has against direct attacks or hacking.  The bad guys are already in.

Bottom line:  never give away your login name and password, and don’t reuse passwords across multiple websites.  That is the ideal.

However, because it is difficult for all of us to keep track of lots and lots of passwords and to always use a different one for every purpose, at least be aware of what you are trying to protect and think about how to use more secure passwords at sites you wish to better protect.

For instance, you absolutely shouldn’t use the same password for very public places like Facebook or Twitter that you use for very private places like your bank or credit union site.

This applies to campus, as well.  The password you use when handling sensitive or protected college information shouldn’t be the same password you are using to sign up for a Groupon newsletter or to access personalized content on CNN.

 

Sharing login information

Recent increases on campus of individual Bellevue College computer and/or network users sharing their account information with others, including their login name and/or password, has motivated this reminder to the campus regarding the seriousness with which such “sharing” is viewed. 

To make certain we are absolutely clear on its definition, in this context “sharing” includes not only giving someone your user name and password, it also includes logging into a computer and allowing another person to use that computer.  It does not matter whether the person might otherwise or eventually be authorized to use that computer, it is still prohibited.  

Login names and passwords

Account names and passwords are used on campus computers for two basic reasons:

  • First, they help secure the technology resources and provide computer and network access only to those who have been legally authorized. 
  • Second, they provide individual accountability for how those resources are used.

Two Bellevue College policies, Policy 5150: “Acceptable Use of  Networks and Systems” and Policy 5000: “Acceptable Use of Bellevue College Computers”, state that college computer and network users are specifically prohibited from allowing ANYONE to use a network account name or password assigned to them. 

In some circumstances, unauthorized access to or use of college computers may constitute a breach of security which triggers policy-based or legal requirements for the college to notify students and others (including the community as a whole) of a potential breach of their FERPA privacy rights or of their confidential and or sensitive protected information.

Potential for embarrassment

Not only is sharing account information against policy, it is simply one of the most risky behaviors a computer user can do.  Anyone with your account name and password can do anything they want on the computer or network/Internet and it will appear to have been done by you.  Imagine the embarrassment created by sharing your account information if the individual you shared it with uses it inappropriately: 

  • If they want to harass someone on line?  No problem, the authorities will come looking for you. 
  • Perhaps they want to download inappropriate materials?  The investigation will point back to you. 
  • Maybe they want to send an embarrassing e-mail to the college President or a Trustee.  Or anyone. No sweat; everyone will come looking for you.

These are just a few of the possibilities.  Certainly, in the majority of cases those individuals who are sharing your account information may do nothing inappropriate.  But all it takes is one irresponsible or malicious person and you become the focus of much unwanted attention.

Personal and confidential

Your login name and password are personalized credentials, just like your driver’s license—they represent you on-line at Bellevue College and to the wider Internet.  They are also a security tool, similar to car or house keys.  While most of us would never think it appropriate to hand someone else our driver’s license and car keys to use simply because they didn’t have their own, we often don’t give a second thought to sharing account information.

The sanctions for an individual sharing their account name and password, or by using someone else’s shared account information, are very serious.  They may include loss of computer privileges, denial of future access to college technology resources, or other disciplinary actions, up to and including dismissal from the college.

Please help Information Resources continue to keep the college networks and computers working as a viable business and educational tool by protecting your login account name and password and ensuring that you are the only one using those credentials. 

Individuals who are authorized college technology users can create their own login and password through the Net-ID website using their Systems ID number (SID), Personal ID number (PIN) and date of birth (DOB).  If you need assistance getting someone authorized to use Bellevue College technology resources, please feel free to contact the Help Desk by e-mail,  through Request Center, by phone (x4357), or to contact me.

EBay intrusion exposes personal information

Personal privacy issue

As stated on the home page for this blog, sometimes I will be writing about privacy issues, as they are intricately tied to many topics related to information security.  In fact, the whole basic idea of information security is to keep electronically-stored things private when they should stay private.

I will also sometimes talk about issues that may not be directly tied to information security at the workplace.  This is because personal security and privacy practices related to our non-work lives can have tenets  or lessons that can apply directly to our work security and privacy practices.  Today is an example.

Currently, there is a lot of news about an intrusion into the network systems holding personal and private information related to eBay customers .  Because of this breach, the company is recommending that all customers change their passwords.

In fact, the eBay passwords that may have been compromised are encrypted, which will be difficult for the hackers to break (but not impossible).  However, a significant aspect of this data security breach is that the exposed user accounts may have also included unencrypted personal information, such as names, addresses, etc.

This puts many of eBay’s customers at a high risk of increased attempts to social engineer, or trick,  them into providing even more  private personal information.

The importance of password security and the principles of social engineering are basic information security concepts every technology user should understand, whether you are applying them to your personal life, or to your work responsibilities.

If you are an eBay customer, or a customer of PayPal, which is also owned by eBay, you should at least take the recommended precautionary step of changing those passwords.  Making this change does not guarantee that your personal information held by the company is totally secure, but it is a good first step in the wake of this incident.