Security Tools


27
Nov 12

All Banks Should Display A Warning Like This

One of my Twitter account followers whose tweets I also follow  — @spacerog – shared with me the following image, which he recently snapped with his phone while waiting in line at the Philadelphia Federal Credit Union. It’s an excellent public awareness campaign, and one that I’d like to see replicated at bank branches throughout the country.

An anti-fraud awareness campaign by the PFCU.


13
Nov 12

Microsoft Patches 19 Security Holes

Microsoft today issued six software updates to fix at least 19 security holes in Windows and other Microsoft products. Thirteen of those vulnerabilities earned a “critical” rating, which means miscreants or malicious code could leverage them to break into vulnerable systems without any help from users.

Of note in these patches is a critical update for Internet Explorer 9 that fixes three flaws in IE (these bugs do not exist in older versions of IE, according to Microsoft). Other critical updates address extremely dangerous flaws in core Windows components, such as the Windows shell and Windows Kernel; these vulnerabilities are present in nearly all supported versions of Windows.

All of the critical updates earned the most dire marks on Microsoft’s “exploitability index,” which tries assess the likelihood that attackers will devise remote code execution attacks and denial of service exploits within 30 days of a security bulletin release.

Also included among the critical patches is an update for Microsoft’s .NET Framework. I mention this one separately because in the few times I’ve had troubles after applying Windows security updates, a .NET Framework patch has always been part of the mix. My update this time around went fine (albeit a tad slowly) on a Windows 7 system, but if you experience any issues applying these patches, please leave a note in the comments section below.

Other vulnerabilities addressed in today’s update batch include flaws in Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS). A summary of the bulletins released today is available at this link. Wolfgang Kandek, chief technology officer at Qualys, has put together a readable blog post with some additional thoughts on the severity and relative urgency of today’s patches.

Update, 8:34 p.m.. ET: Several readers have pointed my attention to problems with a non-security update released with today’s batch: KB2750841. According to this thread, KB2750841 seems to be causing issues for users of OpenDNS. This workaround from OpenDNS forum user “gotroot” appears to have worked for most users experiencing problems.


6
Nov 12

Adobe Ships Election Day Security Update for Flash

Adobe has released a critical security update for its Flash Player and Adobe AIR software that fixes at least seven dangerous vulnerabilities in these products. Updates are available for Windows, Mac, Linux and Android systems.

Today’s update, part of Adobe’s regularly scheduled patch cycle for Flash, brings Flash Player to version 11.5.502.110 on Windows and Mac systems (other OS users see graphic below). Adobe urges users to grab the latest updates from its Flash Player Download Center, but that option pushes junk add-ons like McAfee VirusScan. Instead, download the appropriate version for your system from Adobe’s Flash Player Distribution page. Most users can find out what version of Flash they have installed by visiting this link.

The Flash Player installed with Google Chrome should soon be automatically updated to the latest Google Chrome version, which will include Flash Player 11.5.31.2 for Windows, Macintosh and Linux. Note that Windows users who browse the Web with Internet Explorer and another browser will need to apply the Flash update twice, once using IE and again with the other browser. Internet Explorer 10 users on Windows 8 can grab the update via Windows Update or from Microsoft’s site, or wait for the browser to auto-update the plugin.

Adobe’s advisory about this update is available here, including links to update AIR if you have that installed. An Adobe spokesperson said the company is not aware of any active attacks or exploits in the wild for any of the issues patched in this release. Nevertheless, it’s a bad idea to delay Flash updates; the software’s ubiquity makes it a primary target of malware and miscreants alike.


15
Oct 12

The Scrap Value of a Hacked PC, Revisited

A few years back, when I was a reporter at The Washington Post, I put together a chart listing the various ways that miscreants can monetize hacked PCs. The project was designed to explain simply and visually to the sort of computer user who can’t begin to fathom why miscreants would want to hack into his PC. “I don’t bank online, I don’t store sensitive information on my machine! I only use it to check email. What could hackers possibly want with this hunk of junk?,” are all common refrains from this type of user.

I recently updated the graphic (below) to include some of the increasingly prevalent malicious uses for hacked PCs, including hostage attacks — such as ransomware — and reputation hijacking on social networking forums.

Next time someone asks why miscreants might want to hack his PC, show him this diagram.

One of the ideas I tried to get across with this image is that nearly every aspect of a hacked computer and a user’s online life can be and has been commoditized. If it has value and can be resold, you can be sure there is a service or product offered in the cybercriminal underground to monetize it. I haven’t yet found an exception to this rule.

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21
Sep 12

Microsoft Fixes Zero-Day, Four Other Flaws in IE

Microsoft has released an emergency update for Internet Explorer that fixes at least five vulnerabilities in the default Web browser on Windows, including a zero-day flaw that miscreants have been using to break into vulnerable systems.

The patch, MS12-063, is available through Windows Update or via Automatic Update. If you installed the stopgap “fix it” tool that Microsoft released earlier this week to blunt the threat from the zero-day bug, you need not reverse or remove that fix it before applying this update. The vulnerability resides in IE 7, 8, and 9, on nearly all supported versions of Windows, apart from certain installations of Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2012.

Separately, Microsoft issued an update for vulnerabilities in Adobe Flash Player in Internet Explorer 10 on all supported versions of Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012. The update addresses the vulnerabilities in Adobe Flash Player by updating the affected Adobe Flash libraries contained within Internet Explorer 10. Adobe addressed these in two separate Flash updates last month, including a fix for Flash zero-day that has been under active attack.


19
Sep 12

Microsoft Issues Stopgap Fix for IE 0-Day Flaw

Microsoft today released a stopgap fix for a critical security flaw in most versions of Internet Explorer that hackers have been exploiting to break into Windows systems. The company said it expects to issue an official patch (MS12-063) for the vulnerability on Friday, Sept. 21.

The company released a “fix it” tool, available from this link, designed to blunt the threat of attack on this flaw for users of IE 7, 8 and 9. In a blog post, Microsoft’s Yunsun Wee said the one-click solution should not affect users’ ability to browse the Web, and it does not require the reboot of your computer. Users should not need to uninstall the fix to apply the full security patch when Microsoft releases it.

I’m glad to see Microsoft take this step. The company keeps downplaying the threat, stating that “there have been an extremely limited number of attacks,” against that this flaw and that “the vast majority of Internet Explorer users have not been impacted.” Nevertheless, as I noted in previous stories this week, a reliable exploit for this vulnerability has already been rolled into free, easy-to-use attack tools, so IE users should not delay in applying this fix-it tool.

For more information on how to harden IE against attacks, see Internet Explorer Users, Please Read This.


18
Sep 12

Internet Explorer Users: Please Read This

Microsoft is urging Windows users who browse the Web with Internet Explorer to use a free tool called EMET to block attacks against a newly-discovered and unpatched critical security hole in IE versions 7, 8 and 9. But some experts say that advice falls short, and that users can better protect themselves by surfing with an alternative browser until Microsoft issues a proper patch for the vulnerability.

The application page of EMET.

EMET, short for the Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit, is a tool that can help Windows users beef up the security of commonly used applications, whether they are made by a third-party vendor or by Microsoft. EMET allows users to force applications to use one or both of two key security defenses built into Windows Vista and Windows 7 — Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR) and Data Execution Prevention (DEP).

Put very simply, DEP is designed to make it harder to exploit security vulnerabilities on Windows, and ASLR makes it more difficult for exploits and malware to find the specific places in a system’s memory that they need to do their dirty work.

Before I get into the how-tos on EMET, a few caveats. EMET is a great layer of security that Windows users can and should use to enhance the security of applications. But EMET may not block the exploit code now publicly available through the Metasploit framework. In fact, Tod Beardlsey, an engineering manager with Rapid7, the security firm that manages Metasploit, told The Associated Press that EMET does not appear to be completely effective against this exploit.

I asked Metasploit founder HD Moore what he thought was the best way to block this exploit, and he pointed out that the exploit available through Metasploit requires the presence of Java on the host machine in order to execute properly on IE 8/9 on Windows 7 and Vista systems (the exploit works fine without Java against IE7 on XP/Vista and IE8 on XP). Obviously, while the lack of Java on a Windows machine may not prevent other exploits against this flaw, it is a great first start. I have consistently urged computer users of all stripes to uninstall Java if they have no specific use for it.

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30
Aug 12

Security Fix for Critical Java Flaw Released

Oracle has issued an urgent update to close a dangerous security hole in its Java software that attackers have been using to deploy malicious software. The patch comes amid revelations that Oracle was notified in April about this vulnerability and a number other other potentially unpatched Java flaws.

The patch fixes a critical flaw in the latest version of Java 7 that is now being widely exploited. Users with vulnerable versions of Java installed can have malware silently planted on their systems just by browsing to a hacked or malicious Web site.

The update brings Java 7 to Update 7, and appears to fix the flaw being exploited and several other security holes. Oracle also released a security update for systems running Java 6, which brings that version to Java 6 Update 35.

Today’s patches are emergency, out-of-schedule updates for Oracle, which previously was not planning to release security updates for Java until October. Although it may appear that Oracle responded swiftly to the discovery of extremely dangerous flaws in its software, Security Explorations — a research firm from Poland — says it alerted Oracle about this vulnerability and 30 others back in April. It’s not yet clear how many of those vulnerabilities were patched in this release.

“We … expected that the most serious of them would be fixed by June 2012 Java CPU,” said Security Explorations CEO and founder Adam Gowdiak told The Register’s Neil McAllister. “But it didn’t happen and Oracle left many issues unpatched with plans to address them in the next Java [updates].”

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27
Aug 12

Dropbox Now Offers Two-Step Authentication

Online file-backup and storage service Dropbox has begun offering a two-step authentication feature to help users beef up the security of their accounts. The promised change comes less than a month after the compromise of a Dropbox employee’s account exposed many Dropbox user email addresses.

Dropbox users can take advantage of the new security measure by logging in at this link, and then clicking the “Security” tab. Under account sign in, click the link next to “Two-step verification.” You’ll have the option of getting security code sent to your mobile device, or using one of several mobile apps that leverage the Time-based One-Time Password algorithm.

If you’re already familiar with the Google Authenticator app for Gmail’s two-step verification process (available for Android/iPhone/BlackBerry) this is a no-brainer: When prompted,  open the app and create a new token, then use the app to scan the bar code on your computer screen. Enter the key generated by the app into your account settings on the site, and you’re done. Other supported apps include Amazon AWS MFA (Android) and Authenticator (Windows Phone 7).

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14
Aug 12

Critical Security Fixes from Adobe, Microsoft

Adobe and Microsoft each issued security updates today to fix critical vulnerabilities in their software. Adobe’s fixes include a patch for a Flash Player flaw that is actively being exploited to break into Windows computers. Microsoft’s Patch Tuesday release includes nine patch bundles — more than half of them rated critical — addressing at least 27 security holes in Windows and related software.

The most pressing of the updates Adobe released today is the Flash Player patch, which fixes a critical flaw (CVE-2012-1535) in the ubiquitous media player software. Adobe says there are reports that the vulnerability is being exploited in the wild in limited targeted attacks, distributed through a malicious Microsoft Word document. The exploit targets the ActiveX version of Flash Player for Internet Explorer on Windows.

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