Tag Archives: current trends

Seasonal Phishing

Did you know that Phishing has a season, just like real fishing?

Statistics show that during the year-end holiday period, malicious users are more successful with phishing attacks about holiday giving or shopping because they tailor their message to fit the hustle and bustle and activities of the season.

Here is a short videowhich reminds all of us not to let our guard down just because we are too busy or distracted to carefully scrutinize an e-mail advertises a sale or touches our heart.

Have a good holiday season, and 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!

State Office of CyberSecurity

The Washington State Office of Cyber Security (WA-OCS) was created in 2015 to help coordinate state-wide efforts to protect the electronic data and information held by state institutions and agencies (such as BC).

In addition to up-to-date advisory information for security professionals in state agencies, the website for WA-OCS also includes news articles, videos, security tips, lists of recent scams, and information about other resources that the general public may be interested in as they work to be safe online at home and protect their own and their family’s personal data.

As society continues to conduct more and more commerce and social interaction online and “in the cloud”–both professionally and personally–it can never hurt to be informed of the latest cybersecurity information.  So you may consider adding the WA-OCS website to your personal list of important information resources.

Safe Computing!

Good article on ransomware

Ransomware is a type of malicious software that encrypts files on a computer until the user pays money to a bad actor to get them unencrypted.  This is the fastest growing sector of malicious software and is enormously inconvenient if you become a victim.

I have posted a good article about ransomware on the OUCH page of this site, but wanted to bring everyone’s attention to it here on the blog. Take a few minutes and get up to speed on this pernicious threat.

The OUCH archives page on this site is found under “AWARENESS” > “SANS OUCH! ARCHIVE” through the menu at the top right of this page.  It can also be reached directly at:  https://commons.bellevuecollege.edu/itsecurity/sans-ouch/ .

The original article can also be found at the Securing the Human website at http://securingthehuman.sans.org/newsletters/ouch/issues/OUCH-201608_en.pdf.

Safe Computing!

Think Purposefully, Act Knowledgably

A recent tweet by Microsoft (MS) referenced a long-standing free file-hosting website the company supports called DOCS.COM.  File-hosting websites are provided by online vendors (such as MS and Google) as a place where individuals may post personal electronic files and documents, often for the purpose of making them available to the general public.

The post on Twitter linked to a page on Microsoft’s website which included this information:


What is Docs.com?
Docs.com is an online showroom where you can collect and publish Word documents, Excel workbooks, PowerPoint and Office Mix presentations, OneNote notebooks, PDF files, and Sways. With Docs.com, it’s easy for you to share with others what interests you, and your content looks great on any device. 

Can I use my Office 365 account with Docs.com?
Yes. You can use your work or school account to use Docs.com, or you can choose to use a personal Microsoft account — an email address and password that you use to sign in to services like Sway, Outlook.com, Skype, OneDrive, and Xbox Live. If you prefer, you can also sign in to Docs.com with a Facebook account.


As indicated in the article, it appears as though MS has recently extended the permissions to log into and use this website intended for the storage of personal  files to the credentials used by those schools using Office 365 (O365).  Because we are an O365 customer, this means it is possible to use your Bellevue College (BC) login to post documents to DOCS.COM.

This is not necessarily an issue for students who wish to use DOCS.COM for personal documents to supplement the online storage and electronic document sharing capabilities provided by the college through Microsoft’s OneDrive.

However, DOCS.COM is NOT, and I want to repeat this, NOT an authorized location for the storage of any electronic college documents by BC employees, despite the fact that you can access it with college credentials.  The use of the website has not been deemed compliant with FERPA and other campus information security requirements.

It is becoming an increasingly challenging issue in higher education that college employees with access to data and information protected by law (such as FERPA and HIPAA) are copying some of that information to personal file-hosting websites (such as DropBox, Box, DOCS.COM, etc.) without regard as to whether that cloud storage resource meets the information security requirements for the data.  Sadly, many people don’t even take the security of the data into consideration at all; they simply copy it anywhere that makes it more convenient to work with.

It is of utmost importance that each of us think purposefully and act knowledgably  when it comes to the information or data we work with on a daily basis.  Always protecting electronic information is of the highest priority.

The only authorized cloud repository of protected electronic Bellevue College data at the time of this writing is a college-provided OneDrive space or SharePoint Online file storage space (being rolled out soon!), unless a specific exception has been authorized through a Data Sharing Agreement (I’ll discuss these more at a later time).

Despite these services being sanctioned repositories, it is still critical that individual users of these authorized resources are cognizant of how they are sharing or providing access for others to the electronic files and data stored in them.

If you are not certain whether you can share electronic college information with someone, or whether you can store it somewhere, check with your supervisor.  If they are not certain, you or they can contact the Technology Service Desk for assistance, or let me know.

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.)