Security Tools


23
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.

yahoogetstarted

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 →


14
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 →


2
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 opm.myidcare.com, 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 →


24
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 →


23
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 →


18
Nov 15

Report: Everyone Should Get a Security Freeze

This author has frequently urged readers to place a security freeze on their credit files as a means of proactively preventing identity theft. Now, a major consumer advocacy group is recommending the same: The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (US-PIRG) recently issued a call for all consumers to request credit file freezes before becoming victims of ID theft.

everyonegetsafreeze

Each time news of a major data breach breaks, the hacked organization arranges free credit monitoring for all customers potentially at risk from the intrusion. But as I’ve echoed time and again, credit monitoring services do little if anything to stop thieves from stealing your identity. The best you can hope for from these services is that they will alert you when a thief opens or tries to open a new line of credit in your name.

But with a “security freeze” on your credit file at the four major credit bureaus, creditors won’t even be able to look at your file in order to grant that phony new line of credit to ID thieves.

Thankfully, US-PIRG — the federation of state public interest research groups — also is now recommending that consumers file proactive security freezes on their credit files.

“These constant breaches reveal what’s wrong with data security and data breach response. Agencies and companies hold too much information for too long and don’t protect it adequately,” the organization wrote in a report (PDF) issued late last month. “Then, they might wait months or even years before informing victims. Then, they make things worse by offering weak, short-term help such as credit monitoring services.”

The report continues: “Whether your personal information has been stolen or not, your best protection against someone opening new credit accounts in your name is the security freeze (also known as the credit freeze), not the often-offered, under-achieving credit monitoring. Paid credit monitoring services in particular are not necessary because federal law requires each of the three major credit bureaus to provide a free credit report every year to all customers who request one. You can use those free reports as a form of do-it-yourself credit monitoring.”

Check out the USPIRG’s full report, Why You Should Get Security Freezes Before Your Information is Stolen (PDF) for more good advice. In case anything in that report is unclear, in June I posted a Q&A on security freezes, explaining how they work, how to place them and the benefits and potential drawbacks of placing a freeze.

Have you frozen your credit file? If so, sound off about the experience in the comments. If not, why not?


17
Jul 15

CVS Probes Card Breach at Online Photo Unit

Nationwide pharmacy chain CVS has taken down its online photo center CVSphoto.com, replacing it with a message warning that customer credit card data may have been compromised. The incident comes just days after Walmart Canada said it was investigating a potential breach of customer card data at its online photo processing store.

cvsphoto

“We have been made aware that customer credit card information collected by the independent vendor who manages and hosts CVSPhoto.com may have been compromised,” CVS said in a statement that replaced the photo Web site’s normal homepage content. “As a precaution, as our investigation is underway we are temporarily shutting down access to online and related mobile photo services. We apologize for the inconvenience. Customer registrations related to online photo processing and CVSPhoto.com are completely separate from CVS.com and our pharmacies. Financial transactions on CVS.com and in-store are not affected.” Continue reading →


14
Jul 15

Adobe, MS, Oracle Push Critical Security Fixes

This being the second Tuesday of the month, it’s officially Patch Tuesday. But it’s not just Microsoft Windows users who need to update today: Adobe has released fixes for several products, including a Flash Player bundle that patches two vulnerabilities for which exploit code is available online. Separately, Oracle issued a critical patch update that plugs more than two dozen security holes in Java. Continue reading →


8
Jun 15

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace the Security Freeze

If you’ve been paying attention in recent years, you might have noticed that just about everyone is losing your personal data. Even if you haven’t noticed (or maybe you just haven’t actually received a breach notice), I’m here to tell you that if you’re an American, your basic personal data is already for sale. What follows is a primer on what you can do to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft as a result of all this data (s)pillage.

Click here for a primer on identity theft protection services.

Click here for a primer on identity theft protection services.

A seemingly never-ending stream of breaches at banks, healthcare providers, insurance companies and data brokers has created a robust market for thieves who sell identity data. Even without the help of mega breaches like the 80 million identities leaked in the Anthem compromise or last week’s news about 4 million records from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management gone missing, crooks already have access to the information needed to open new lines of credit or file phony tax refund requests in your name.

If your response to this breachapalooza is to do what each of the breached organizations suggest — to take them up on one or two years’ worth of free credit monitoring services — you might sleep better at night but you will probably not be any more protected against crooks stealing your identity. 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.

In short, if you have already been victimized by identity theft (fraud involving existing credit or debit cards is not identity theft), it might be worth paying for these credit monitoring and repair services (although more than likely, you are already eligible for free coverage thanks to a recent breach at any one of dozens of companies that have lost your information over the past year). Otherwise, I’d strongly advise you to consider freezing your credit file at the major credit bureaus. 

There is shockingly little public knowledge or education about the benefits of a security freeze, also known as a “credit freeze.” I routinely do public speaking engagements in front of bankers and other experts in the financial industry, and I’m amazed at how often I hear from people in this community who are puzzled to learn that there is even such a thing as a security freeze (to be fair, most of these people are in the business of opening new lines of credit, not blocking such activity).

Also, there is a great deal of misinformation and/or bad information about security freezes available online. As such, I thought it best to approach this subject in the form of a Q&A, which is the most direct method I know how to impart knowledge about a subject in way that is easy for readers to digest.

Q: What is a security freeze?

A: A security freeze essentially blocks any potential creditors from being able to view or “pull” your credit file, unless you affirmatively unfreeze or thaw your file beforehand. With a freeze in place on your credit file, ID thieves can apply for credit in your name all they want, but they will not succeed in getting new lines of credit in your name because few if any creditors will extend that credit without first being able to gauge how risky it is to loan to you (i.e., view your credit file). And because each credit inquiry caused by a creditor has the potential to lower your credit score, the freeze also helps protect your score, which is what most lenders use to decide whether to grant you credit when you truly do want it and apply for it. 

Q: What’s involved in freezing my credit file?

A: Freezing your credit involves notifying each of the major credit bureaus that you wish to place a freeze on your credit file. This can usually be done online, but in a few cases you may need to contact one or more credit bureaus by phone or in writing. Once you complete the application process, each bureau will provide a unique personal identification number (PIN) that you can use to unfreeze or “thaw” your credit file in the event that you need to apply for new lines of credit sometime in the future. Depending on your state of residence and your circumstances, you may also have to pay a small fee to place a freeze at each bureau. There are four consumer credit bureaus, including Equifax, Experian, Innovis and Trans Union

Q: How much is the fee, and how can I know whether I have to pay it?

A: The fee ranges from $0 to $15 per bureau, meaning that it can cost upwards of $60 to place a freeze at all four credit bureaus (recommended). However, in most states, consumers can freeze their credit file for free at each of the major credit bureaus if they also supply a copy of a police report and in some cases an affidavit stating that the filer believes he/she is or is likely to be the victim of identity theft. In many states, that police report can be filed and obtained online. The fee covers a freeze as long as the consumer keeps it in place. Equifax has a decent breakdown of the state laws and freeze fees/requirements. Continue reading →


14
Apr 15

Critical Updates for Windows, Flash, Java

Get your patch chops on people, because chances are you’re running software from Microsoft, Adobe or Oracle that received critical security updates today. Adobe released a Flash Player update to fix at least 22 flaws, including one flaw that is being actively exploited. Microsoft pushed out 11 update bundles to fix more than two dozen bugs in Windows and associated software, including one that was publicly disclosed this month. And Oracle has an update for its Java software that addresses at least 15 flaws, all of which are exploitable remotely without any authentication.

brokenflash-aAdobe’s patch includes a fix for a zero-day bug (CVE-2015-3043) that the company warns is already being exploited. Users of the Adobe Flash Player for Windows and Macintosh should update to Adobe Flash Player 17.0.0.169 (the current versions other OSes is listed in the chart below).

If you’re unsure whether your browser has Flash installed or what version it may be running, browse to this link. Adobe Flash Player installed with Google Chrome, as well as Internet Explorer on Windows 8.x, should automatically update to version 17.0.0.169.

Google has an update available for Chrome that fixes a slew of flaws, and I assume it includes this Flash update, although the Flash checker pages only report that I now have version 17.0.0 installed after applying the Chrome update and restarting (the Flash update released last month put that version at 17.0.0.134, so this is not particularly helpful). To force the installation of an available update, click the triple bar icon to the right of the address bar, select “About Google” Chrome, click the apply update button and restart the browser.

The most recent versions of Flash should be available from the Flash home page, but beware potentially unwanted add-ons, like McAfee Security Scan. To avoid this, uncheck the pre-checked box before downloading, or grab your OS-specific Flash download from here. Windows users who browse the Web with anything other than Internet Explorer may need to apply this patch twice, once with IE and again using the alternative browser (Firefox, Opera, e.g.).

brokenwindowsMicrosoft has released 11 security bulletins this month, four of which are marked “critical,” meaning attackers or malware can exploit them to break into vulnerable systems with no help from users, save for perhaps visiting a booby-trapped or malicious Web site. The Microsoft patches fix flaws in Windows, Internet Explorer (IE), Office, and .NET

The critical updates apply to two Windows bugs, IE, and Office. .NET updates have a history of taking forever to apply and introducing issues when applied with other patches, so I’d suggest Windows users apply all other updates, restart and then install the .NET update (if available for your system). Continue reading →