Security Tools

Jul 16

Trump, DNC, RNC Flunk Email Security Test

Donald J. Trump has repeatedly bashed Sen. Hillary Clinton for handling classified documents on her private email server, suggesting that anyone who is so lax with email security isn’t fit to become president. But a closer look at the Web sites for each candidate shows that in contrast to, has failed to take full advantage of a free and open email security technology designed to stymie email spoofing and phishing attacks.

atballAt issue is a fairly technical proposed standard called DMARC. Short for “domain-based messaging authentication reporting and conformance,” DMARC tries to solve a problem that has plagued email since its inception: It’s surprisingly difficult for email providers and end users alike to tell whether a given email is real – i.e. that it really was sent by the person or organization identified in the “from:” portion of the missive.

DMARC may not yet be widely deployed beyond the major email providers, but that’s about to change. Google announced late last year that it will soon move to a policy of rejecting any messages that don’t pass the authentication checks spelled out in the DMARC specification. And others are already moving in the same direction.

Probably the easiest way to understand DMARC is to walk through a single site’s records. According to the DMARC compliance lookup tool at — a DMARC awareness, training and support site — has fully implemented DMARC. This means that the campaign has posted a public policy that enables email providers like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo to quickly determine whether a message claiming to have been sent from was actually sent from that domain.

Specifically, (and this is where things can quickly descend into a Geek Factor 5 realm of nerdiness) DMARC sits on top of two existing technologies that try to make email easy to identify: Sender Policy Framework (SPF), and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM).

SPF is basically a list of Internet addresses and domains which are authorized to send email on behalf of (in case anyone’s interested, here’s a copy of the SPF record for DKIM allows email receivers to verify that a piece of email originated from an Internet domain through the use of public key cryptography. Deploying both technologies gives email receivers two ways to figure out if a piece of email is legitimate.

The DMARC record for Clinton’s site includes the text string “p=quarantine.” The “p” bit stands for policy, and “quarantine” means the Web site’s administrators have instructed email providers to quarantine all messages sent from addresses or domains not on that list and not signed with DKIM – effectively consigning them to the intended recipient’s “spam” or “junk” folder. Another blocking option available is “p=reject,” which tells email providers to outright drop or reject any mail sent from domains or addresses not specified in the organization’s SPF records and lacking any appropriate DKIM signatures.

Turning’s tool against, we can see that although the site is thinking about turning on DMARC, it hasn’t actually done so yet. The site’s DMARC records are set to the third option — “p=none” — which means the site administrators haven’t yet asked email providers to block or quarantine any messages that fail to match the site’s SPF records. Rather, the site merely asks email providers to report to “” about the source of any email messages claiming to have been sent by that domain. Continue reading →

Mar 16

eero: A Mesh WiFi Router Built for Security

User-friendly and secure. Hardly anyone would pick either word to describe the vast majority of wireless routers in use today. So naturally I was intrigued a year ago when I had the chance to pre-order a eero, a new WiFi system billed as easy-to-use, designed with security in mind, and able to dramatically extend the range of a wireless network without compromising speed. Here’s a brief review of the eero system I received and installed a week ago.

Three eero devices designed to create a "mesh" wireless network with extended range without compromising speed.

Three eero devices designed to create an extended range “mesh” wireless network without compromising speed.

The standard eero WiFi system comes with three eero devices, each about the width of a square coaster and roughly an inch thick. Every individual eero unit has two built-in WiFi radios that are designed to hand off traffic with the other two units.

This two-radio aspect is important, as most consumer devices that are made and marketed as WiFi range extenders or “repeaters” contain only one radio, and thus end up halving the speed of the repeated WiFi signal.

The makers of eero recommend one device for every 1,000 square feet, and advise placing one device no further than 40 feet from another. Each eero has two ethernet ports in the back, but only one of the eeros needs to be connected directly into your modem with an ethernet cable. That means that a 3-piece eero set has a total of five available ethernet ports, or at least one open ethernet port at each eero location.

Most wireless routers require owners to configure the device by using a hard-wired computer or laptop, opening a browser and navigating to a numeric Internet address to enter some default credentials. From there, you’re on your own. In contrast, the eero system relies on a simple mobile app for setup. The app asks for your name, email address and mobile number, and then sends a text with a one-time passcode.

After you verify the code on your mobile device, the app prompts you to pick a network name (SSID) and password. The device defaults to WPA-2 PSK (AES) for encryption — the strongest security currently available.

Once you’ve assigned each eero a unique location — and as long as the three devices can talk to each other — the network should be set up. The entire process — from placing and plugging in the eeros to setting up the network —  took me about five minutes, but most of that was just me walking from one room or floor to the next to adjust the location of the devices. Continue reading →

Feb 16

Good Riddance to Oracle’s Java Plugin

Good news: Oracle says the next major version of its Java software will no longer plug directly into the user’s Web browser. This long overdue step should cut down dramatically on the number of computers infected with malicious software via opportunistic, so-called “drive-by” download attacks that exploit outdated Java plugins across countless browsers and multiple operating systems.

javamessAccording to Oracle, some 97 percent of enterprise computers and a whopping 89 percent of desktop systems in the U.S. run some form of Java. This has made Java JRE (the form of Java that runs most commonly on end-user systems) a prime target of malware authors.

“Exploit kits,” crimeware made to be stitched into the fabric of hacked and malicious sites, lie in wait for visitors who browse the booby-trapped sites. The kits can silently install malicious software on computers of anyone visiting or forcibly redirected to booby-trapped sites without the latest version of the Java plugin installed. In addition, crooks are constantly trying to inject scripts that invoke exploit kits via tainted advertisements submitted to the major ad networks.

These exploit kits — using names like “Angler,” “Blackhole,” “Nuclear” and “Rig” — are equipped to try a kitchen sink full of exploits for various browser plugins, but historically most of those exploits have been attacks on outdated Java and Adobe Flash plugins. As a result, KrebsOnSecurity has long warned users to remove Java altogether, or at least unplug it from the browser unless and until it is needed.

On Jan. 27, 2016, Oracle took a major step toward reducing the effectiveness of exploit kits and other crimeware when the company announced it was pulling the browser plugin from the next desktop version of Java – Java JRE 9. Continue reading →

Jan 16

FTC: Tax Fraud Behind 47% Spike in ID Theft

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) today said it tracked a nearly 50 percent increase in identity theft complaints in 2015, and that by far the biggest contributor to that spike was tax refund fraud. The announcement coincided with the debut of a beefed up FTC Web site aimed at making it easier for consumers to report and recover from all forms of ID theft.

In kicking off “Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week,” FTC released new stats showing that the agency received more than 490,000 identity theft complaints last year, a 47 percent increase over 2014. In a conference call with the news media, FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez called tax refund fraud “the largest and fastest growing ID theft category” that the commission tracks.

Tax refund fraud contributed mightily to a big spike in ID theft complaints to the FTC in 2015. Image: FTC

Tax refund fraud contributed mightily to a big spike in ID theft complaints to the FTC in 2015. Image: FTC

Those numbers roughly coincide with data released by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which also shows a major increase in tax-related identity theft in 2015.

Incidence of tax-related ID theft as of Sept. 2015. Source: IRS.

Incidence of tax-related ID theft as of Sept. 2015. Source: IRS.

Ramirez was speaking to reporters to get the word out about the agency’s new and improved online resource,, which aims to streamline the process of reporting various forms of identity theft to the FTC, the IRS, the credit bureaus and to state and local officials.

“The upgraded site, which is mobile and tablet accessible, offers an array of easy-to-use tools, that enables identity theft victims to create the documents they need to alert police, the main credit bureaus and the IRS among others,” Ramirez said. “Identity theft victims can now go online and get a free, personalized identity theft recovery plan.”

Ramirez added that the agency’s site does not collect sensitive data — such as drivers license or Social Security numbers. The areas where that information is required are left blank in the forms that get produced when consumers finish stepping through the process of filing an ID theft complaint (consumers are instructed to “fill these items in by hand, after you print it out”).

The FTC chief also said the agency is working with the credit bureaus to further streamline the process of reporting fraud. She declined to be specific about what that might entail, but the new and improved site is still far from automated. For example, the “recovery plan” produced when consumers file a report merely lists the phone numbers and includes Web site links for the major credit bureaus that consumers can use to place fraud alerts or file a security freeze.

The "My Recovery Plan" produced when I filed a test report claiming the worst possible scenario of ID theft that I could think up. The FTC requests that consumers not file false reports (I had their PR person remove this entry after filing it).

The “My Recovery Plan” produced when I filed a test report claiming the worst possible scenario of ID theft that I could think up. The FTC kindly requests that consumers not file false reports (I had their PR person remove this entry after filing it).

Nevertheless, I was encouraged to see the FTC urging consumers to request a security freeze on their credit file, even if this was the last option listed on the recovery plan that I was issued and the agency’s site appears to do little to help consumers actually file security freezes.

I’m also glad to see the Commission’s site employ multi-factor authentication for consumers who wish to receive a recovery plan in addition to filing an ID theft report with the FTC. Those who request a plan are asked to provide an email address, pick a complex password, and input a one-time code that is sent via text message or automated phone call. Continue reading →

Jan 16

The Lowdown on Freezing Your Kid’s Credit

A story in a national news source earlier this month about freezing your child’s credit file to preempt ID thieves prompted many readers to erroneously conclude that all states allow this as of 2016. The truth is that some states let parents create a file for their child and then freeze it, while many states have no laws on the matter. Here’s a short primer on the current situation, with the availability of credit freezes (a.k.a “security freeze”) for minors by state and by credit bureau.

The lighter-colored states have some type of law permitting parents and/or guardians to place a freeze or flag on a dependent's credit file.

The lighter-colored states have laws permitting parents and/or guardians to place a freeze or flag on a dependent’s credit file.

A child’s Social Security number can be used by identity thieves to apply for government benefits, open bank and credit card accounts, apply for a loan or utility service, or rent a place to live. Why would ID thieves wish to assume a child’s identity? Because that child is (likely) a clean slate, which translates to plenty of available credit down the road. In addition, minors generally aren’t in the habit of checking their credit reports or even the existence of one, and most parents don’t find out about the crime until the child approaches the age of 18 (or well after).

A 2012 report on child identity theft from the Carnegie Mellon University CyLab delves into the problem of identity thieves targeting children for unused Social Security numbers. The study looked at identity theft protection scans done on some 40,000 children, and found that roughly 10 percent of them were victims of ID theft.

The Protect Children from Identity Theft Act, introduced in the House of Representatives in March 2015, would give parents and guardians the ability to create a protected, frozen credit file for their children. However, GovTrack currently gives the bill a two percent chance of passage in this Congress.

So for now, there is no federal law for minors regarding credit freezes. This has left it up to the states to establish their own policies.

Credit bureau Equifax offers a free service that will allow parents to create a credit report for a minor and freeze it regardless of the state requirement. The minor also does not have to be a victim of identity theft. Equifax has more information on this offering here.

Experian told me that company policy is not to create a file for a minor upon request unless mandated by state law. “However, if a file exists for the minor we will provide a copy free to the parent or legal guardian and will freeze it,” said Experian spokesperson Susan Henson.

Henson added that depending on state law, there may be a fee ranging from $3 to $10 associated with the minor’s freeze. However, if the minor is a victim of identity theft and the applicant submits a copy of a valid police or incident report or complaint with a law enforcement agency or the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the fee will be waived.

Trans Union has a form on its site that lets parents and guardians check for the presence of a credit file on their dependents. But it also only allows freezes in states that reserve that right for minors and their parents or guardians, and applicable fees may apply.

Innovis, often referred to as the fourth major consumer credit bureau, allows parents or guardians to place a freeze on their dependent’s file regardless of state laws. Continue reading →

Dec 15

Expect Phishers to Up Their Game in 2016

Expect phishers and other password thieves to up their game in 2016: Both Google and Yahoo! are taking steps to kill off the password as we know it.

passcrackNew authentication methods now offered by Yahoo! and to a beta group of Google users let customers log in just by supplying their email address, and then responding to a notification sent to their mobile device.

According to TechCrunch, Google is giving select Gmail users a password-free means of signing in. It uses a “push” notification sent to your phone that then opens an app where you approve the log-in.

The article says the service Google is experimenting with will let users sign in without entering a password, but that people can continue to use their typed password if they choose. It also says Google may still ask for your password as an additional security measure if it notices anything unusual about a login attempt.

The new authentication feature being tested by some Gmail users comes on the heels of a similar service Yahoo! debuted in October 2015. That offering, called “on-demand passwords,” will text users a random four-character code (the ones I saw were all uppercase letters) that needs to be entered into a browser or mobile device.


This is not Yahoo!’s first stab at two-factor authentication. Another security feature it has offered for years — called “two-step verification” — sends a security code to your phone when you log in from new devices, but only after you supply your password. Yahoo! users who wish to take advantage of the passwords-free, on-demand password feature will need to disable two-step verification for on-demand passwords to work.

Continue reading →

Dec 15

13 Million MacKeeper Users Exposed

The makers of MacKeeper — a much-maligned software utility many consider to be little more than scareware that targets Mac users — have acknowledged a breach that exposed the usernames, passwords and other information on more than 13 million customers and, er…users. Perhaps more interestingly, the guy who found and reported the breach doesn’t even own a Mac, and discovered the data trove merely by browsing Shodan — a specialized search engine that looks for and indexes virtually anything that gets connected to the Internet.

mackeeperIT helpdesk guy by day and security researcher by night, 31-year-old Chris Vickery said he unearthed the 21 gb trove of MacKeeper user data after spending a few bored moments searching for database servers that require no authentication and are open to external connections.

Vickery told Shodan to find all known instances of database servers listening for incoming connections on port 27017. “Ports” are like doorways that govern access into and out of specific areas of a server, and each port number generally maps to one or a handful of known Web applications and services. Port 27017 happens to be associated with MongoDB, a popular database management system.

In short order, Vickery’s request turned up four different Internet addresses, all of which he later learned belonged to Kromtech, the company that makes MacKeeper.

“There are a lot of interesting, educating and intriguing things that you can find on Shodan,” Vickery said. “But there’s a lot of stuff that should definitely not be out there, and when I come across those I try to notify the owner of the affected database.”

Vickery said he reached out the company, which responded quickly by shuttering public access to its user database, and publicly thanking him for reporting it.

“Some 13 million customer records leaked from is aware of a potential vulnerability in access to our data storage system and we are grateful to the security researcher Chris Vickery who identified this issue without disclosing any technical details for public use,” the company said in a statement published to its site totday. “We fixed this error within hours of the discovery. Analysis of our data storage system shows only one individual gained access performed by the security researcher himself. We have been in communication with Chris and he has not shared or used the data inappropriately.”

Kromtech said all customer credit card and payment information is processed by a 3rd party merchant and was never at risk. Continue reading →

Dec 15

OPM Breach: Credit Monitoring vs. Freeze

Many readers wrote in this past week to say they’d finally been officially notified that their fingerprints, background checks, Social Security numbers, and other sensitive information was jeopardized in the massive data breach discovered this year at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Almost as many complained that the OPM’s response — the offering of free credit monitoring services for up to three years — won’t work if readers have taken my advice and enacted a “security freeze” on one’s credit file with the major credit bureaus. This post is an attempt to explain what’s going on here.

OPM offices in Washington, DC. Image: Flickr.

OPM offices in Washington, DC. Image: Flickr.

Earlier this week I got the following message from a reader:

“I just received official notification that I am affected by the OPM data breach. I attempted to sign up for credit monitoring services with the OPM’s contractor ID Experts at, but was denied these services because I have a credit security freeze. I was told by ID Experts that the OPM’s credit monitoring services will not work for accounts with a security freeze.”

The reader continued:

“This supports my decision to issue a security freeze for all my credit accounts, and in my assessment completely undermines the utility and value of the OPM’s credit monitoring services when individuals can simply issue a security freeze. This inability to monitor a person’s credit file when a freeze is in place speaks volumes about the effectiveness of a freeze in blocking anyone — ID protection firms or ID thieves included — from viewing your file.”

I reached out to my followers on Twitter to gauge their reactions to this. I wrote: “Finish this sentence: Lifting a freeze to enable credit monitoring is like….” Here were some of the notable responses:

@sdweberg 10:22pm …shooting your rottweilers and paying the neighbors a monthly fee to “keep an eye on” your house.

@shane_walton 10:15pm …installing flash to watch a flash video about the evils of flash.

@danblondell 10:13pm …leaving the storm doors open to keep an eye on the tornado

@flakpaket 12:48am …leaving your doors and windows unlocked so that burglars can set off your indoor motion sensors.

@ShermanTheDad 8:25am …taking your gun off safety to check and see if it’s loaded.

Removing a security freeze to enable credit monitoring is foolhardy because the freeze offers more comprehensive protection against ID theft. Credit monitoring services are useful for cleaning up your credit file *after* you’re victimized by ID thieves, but they generally do nothing to stop thieves from applying for and opening new lines of credit in your name.

As I discussed at length in this primer, credit monitoring services aren’t really built to prevent ID theft. The most you can hope for from a credit monitoring service is that they give you a heads up when ID theft does happen, and then help you through the often labyrinthine process of getting the credit bureaus and/or creditors to remove the fraudulent activity and to fix your credit score. Continue reading →

Nov 15

Security Bug in Dell PCs Shipped Since 8/15

All new Dell laptops and desktops shipped since August 2015 contain a serious security vulnerability that exposes users to online eavesdropping and malware attacks. Dell says it is prepping a fix for the issue, but experts say the threat may ultimately need to be stomped out by the major Web browser makers.

d3llAt issue is a root certificate installed on newer Dell computers that also includes the private cryptographic key for that certificate. Clever attackers can use this key from Dell to sign phony browser security certificates for any HTTPS-protected site.

Translation: A malicious hacker could exploit this flaw on open, public networks (think WiFi hotspots, coffee shops, airports) to impersonate any Web site to a Dell user, and to quietly intercept, read and modify all of a vulnerable Dell system’s Web traffic.

According to Joe Nord, the computer security researcher credited with discovering the problem, the trouble stems from a certificate Dell installed named “eDellRoot.”

Dell says the eDellRoot certificate was installed on all new desktop and laptops shipped from August 2015 to the present day. According to the company, the certificate was intended to make it easier for Dell customer support to assist customers in troubleshooting technical issues with their computers.

“We began loading the current version on our consumer and commercial devices in August to make servicing PC issues faster and easier for customers,” Dell spokesperson David Frink said. “When a PC engages with Dell online support, the certificate provides the system service tag allowing Dell online support to immediately identify the PC model, drivers, OS, hard drive, etc. making it easier and faster to service.”

“Unfortunately, the certificate introduced an unintended security vulnerability,” the company said in a written statement. “To address this, we are providing our customers with instructions to permanently remove the certificate from their systems via direct email, on our support site and Technical Support.”

In the meantime, Dell says it is removing the certificate from all Dell systems going forward. Continue reading →

Nov 15

How to Enable Multifactor Security on Amazon

Amazon has added multi-factor authentication to help customers better secure their accounts from hackers. With this new feature enabled, thieves would have to know your username, password, and have access to your mobile device or impersonate you to your mobile provider in order to hijack your Amazon account. The security feature allows users to receive a one-time code via text message, automated phone call, or third-party app — such as Google Authenticator.

Step one of enabling multi-factor identification on your Amazon account.

Step one of enabling multi-factor identification on your Amazon account.

Multi-factor authentication, also often called “two-step” or “two factor” authentication, is a great way to improve the security of your various online accounts (where available). With multi-factor logins enabled, even if thieves somehow steal your account username and password they’ll still need access to the second factor — your mobile phone — to successfully hijack your account.

Users can instruct Amazon to “remember” each device, which disables future prompts for the second factor on that device going forward. If Amazon later detects a login attempt from a device it does not recognize as associated with that account, it will prompt for the code from the second factor — text message, voice call, or app (whichever you choose). Continue reading →