Tag Archive for Authentication

Don’t Know Much Security

Don’t Know Much SecurityWith apologies to Otis Redding, Americans don’t know much about security. They don’t know much privacy, or the SPAM they took. A new Pew Research Center survey, “What the Public Knows About Cybersecurity” quizzed 1,055 adults about their understanding of concepts important to online safety and privacy. The results of the Pew survey are unsettling.

questions about cybersecurityThe Pew Research survey asked 13 questions about cybersecurity. The median score was five correct answers. Just 20% answered eight questions correctly. A relatively large percentage of respondents answered “not sure” to questions rather than providing the wrong answer.

Most Americans don’t know how to protect themselves. Only 10% were able to identify one example of multi-factor authentication when presented with four images of online log-in screens.

Most Americans still unknowingly allow themselves to be tracked across the web. 61% of those surveyed were not aware that Internet Service Providers can still see the websites their customer visit even when they’re using “private browsing” on their search engines.

Internet securityA slight majority (52%) of people recognized that just turning off the GPS function on smartphones does not prevent all tracking of the phone’s location. Mobile phones can be tracked via cell towers or Wi-Fi networks.

Only 54% of respondents correctly identified a phishing attack. For cybercriminals, phishing remains a favorite trick for infecting computers with malware. Phishing schemes usually involve an email that directs users to click on a link to an infected website.

phishing attackComputer security software does a good job of blocking most phishing schemes, Stephen Cobb, security researcher for anti-virus software firm ESET told told Phys.org, including many advanced spear phishing attacks targeting people with personalized information.

Retired Rear Adm. Ken Slaght, head of the San Diego Cyber Center of Excellence, a trade group for the region’s cybersecurity industry told KnowB4.

It is probably our No. 1 concern and No. 1 vulnerability … These attackers keep upping their game. It has gone well beyond the jumbled, everything misspelled email.

cybersecurity2/3’s of Americans tested, could not identify what the what the ‘s’ in ‘https‘ meant. The article explains that the ‘s’ stands for secure, with website authentication and encryption of digital traffic. It is used mostly for online payments. Security researchers often suggest computer users check the website addresses – known as the URL – as a first step before they click on a link. ESET’s Cobb said, “You wonder if people know what a URL is … Do they know how to read a URL? So there is plenty of work to be done.”

In the most puzzling finding to me, 75% of participants identified the most secure password from a list of four options. And yet followers of Bach Seat know that year after year passwords suck. Could it be that Americans just don’t care about the online security?

Insecure passwordsFortunately some Americans also recognize that public Wi-Fi hotspots aren’t necessarily safe for online banking or e-commerce. The mixed security results highlights that staying secure online is not a priority for Americans at work or at home.

The Wall Street Journal also covered the Pew findings and quoted Forrester: “The percentage of security and risk professionals citing “security awareness” as a top priority rose to 61% last year, from 56% in 2010.”

In the enterprise,Heidi Shey, a senior analyst at Forrester, told CIO Journal that security awareness training isn’t always effective, since it’s often conducted once a year as a compliance issue and involves lists of dos and don’ts.

The human element is important in safeguarding a firm against cyberattack, since it’s both a first line of defense as well as a weak link. Successful awareness efforts are focused on enabling behavioral change, and typically customized and specific to an organization, its workforce, and relevant risks.


The data from Pew says that enterprise and home users need to be more security aware. Technology can’t solve stupid so users have to be the last line of defense.

Related articles

Ralph Bach has blogged from his Bach Seat about IT, careers and anything else that catches his attention since 2005. You can follow me at Facebook and Twitter. Email the Bach Seat here.

Scary SS7 Flaw Strikes Banks

Scary SS7 Flaw Strikes BanksLost in last month’s hub-bub over WannaCry ransomware was the revelation that hackers had successfully exploited the SS7 “flaw” in January 2017. In May reports surfaced that hackers were able to remotely pilfer German bank accounts by taking advantage of vulnerabilities in Signaling System 7 (SS7). SS7 is a standard that defines how to public phone system talks to itself to complete a phone call.

Telephone system Signaling System 7 The high-tech heist was initially reported by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung (auf Deutsch). The attack was  a sophisticated operation that combined targeted phishing emails and SS7 exploits to bypass two-factor authentication (2FA) protection. This is the first publicly known exploit of SS7 to intercept two-factor authentication codes sent by a bank to confirm actions taken by online banking customers.

According to ars technica the attack began with traditional bank-fraud trojans. These trojans infect account holders’ computers and steal the passwords used to log in to bank accounts. From there, attackers could view account balances, but were prevented from making transfers without the one-time password the bank sent as a text message. After stealing the necessary login details via phishing emails, the perpetrators leveraged the SS7 flaw to intercept the associated mTAN (mobile transaction authentication numbers) authentication codes sent to the victims — messages notifying them of account activity — to validate the transactions and remain hidden, investigators say.

Central office equipmentGerman Telecommunications giant O2-Telefonica confirmed details of the SS7-based cyber attacks to the newspaper. Ars says, in the past, attackers have obtained mTANs by obtaining a duplicate SIM card that allows them to take control of the bank customer’s phone number. SS7-facilitated compromises, by contrast, can be done remotely on a much larger quantity of phone numbers.

O2 Telefonica confirmed to Help Net Security that the attackers were able to gain access to the network of a foreign mobile network operator in January 2017. The attackers likely purchased access to the foreign telecommunications provider – this can apparently be done for less than 1,000 euros – and have set up call and SMS forwarding.

Ford Road CO in Dearborn Mi is the Oregon officeTwo-factor authentication (2FA) is a security process in which the user provides two authentication factors to verify they are who they say they are.  2FA provides an extra layer of security and makes it harder for attackers to gain access to a person’s devices and online accounts, because knowing the victim’s password alone is not enough to pass the authentication check. Two-factor authentication has long been used to control access to sensitive systems and data, and online services are increasingly introducing 2FA to prevent their users’ data from being accessed by hackers who have stolen a password database or used phishing campaigns to get users’ passwords.

News of the incident prompted widespread concern online. Security advocates railed against the popular and continuous use of text messages to authenticate account information while growing evidence suggests that SS7 is an unsafe channel to deliver such data. Security experts told ars that the same SS7-centric hacking techniques used against German banks will become increasingly prevalent in the future, forcing organizations to reconsider how they authenticate user activity.

Cris Thomas, a strategist at Tenable Network Security warns in the article:

Two-factor authenticationWhile this is not the end of 2FA, it may be the end of 2FA over SS7, which comprises a majority of 2FA systems … Vulnerabilities in SS7 and other cellular protocols aren’t new. They have been presented at security conferences for years … there are other more secure protocols available now that systems can switch to…

Cyber security researchers began issuing warning about this flaw in late 2014 about dangerous flaws in SS7. I wrote about the SS7 flaw in September of 2016  and in March 2107. Maybe this will be the wake up call for the carriers. One industry insider quipped:

This latest attack serves as a warning to the mobile community about what is at stake if these loopholes aren’t closed … The industry at large needs to go beyond simple measures such as two-factor authentication, to protect mobile users and their data, and invest in more sophisticated mobile security.

man-in-the-middle attackIn 2014 security researchers first  demonstrated that SS7 could be exploited to track and eavesdrop on cell phones. This new attack is essentially a man-in-the-middle attack on cell phone communications. It exploits the lack of authentication in the communication protocols that run on top of SS7.

Developed in 1975, today, over 800 telecommunications companies around the world, including AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ), use SS7 make sure their networks interoperate. This technology has not kept up with modern times.  In May 2017, Wired published an article which explains some of the ways to secure SS7. Overcoming SS7 insecurity requires implementing a series of firewalls and filters that can stop the attacks. Researchers Wired spoke to suggest that adding encryption to SS7 would shield network traffic from prying eyes and bolster authentication. Both of these changes are unpopular with the carriers, because they cost money and can impact the network core, so don’t expect any network changes to address the SS7 flaw anytime soon.

Carriers should use SS7 firewall to secure the SS7 networkThe Register reports that the FCC’s Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council found that the proposed replacement for SS7 on 5G networks, dubbed the Diameter protocol has security holes too.

In March 2017, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and California Rep. Ted Lieu sent a letter to Homeland Security’s John Kelly requesting that DHS investigate and provide information about the impact of SS7 vulnerabilities to U.S. companies and governmental agencies. Kelly has not responded to the letter, according to the Wired article.

Of course the TLA’s would never use this “flaw” in SS7 to spy on us.

The Guardian says that given that the SS7 vulnerabilities reside on systems outside of your control, there is very little you can do to protect yourself beyond not using the services.

PoliticianThey recommend for text messages, avoiding SMS and instead using encrypted messaging services such as Apple’s (AAPL) iMessage, Facebook‘s (FB) WhatsApp or the many others available will allow you to send and receive instant messages without having to go through the SMS network to protect your messages from surveillance.

For calls, the Guardian recommends using a service that carries voice over data rather than through the voice call network. This will help prevent your calls from being snooped on. Messaging services including WhatsApp permit calls. Silent Circle’s end-to-end encrypted Phone service or the open-source Signal app also allow secure voice communications.

protect yourself Your location could be being tracked at any stage when you have your mobile phone on. The only way to avoid it is to turn off your phone or turn off its connection to the mobile phone network and rely on Wi-Fi instead.

Related articles

Ralph Bach has blogged from his Bach Seat about IT, careers and anything else that catches his attention since 2005. You can follow me at Facebook and Twitter. Email the Bach Seat here.


Since 2013 there have been nearly 5 billion data records lost or stolen according to the Breach Level Index. The UN says there are 6.8 billion mobile phone accounts which means globally 96% of humans have a cell phone. It would seem that these factoids could interact to cut the pace of lost or stolen data records. In fact there is an effort underway to use mobile devices to better secure data.

FIDO (Fast ID Online) is an open standard for a secure and easy-to-use universal authentication interface. FIDO plans to address the lack of interoperability among strong authentication devices. to TargetTech says FIDO is developed by the FIDO Alliance, a non-profit organization formed in 2012. FIDO members include AgnitioAlibaba, ARM (ARMH), Blackberry (BBRY), Google (GOOG), Infineon Technologies, Lenovo (LNVGY), Master Card, Microsoft (MSFT), Netflix, Nok Nok Labs, PayPal, RSA, Samsung, Synaptics, Validity Sensors and Visa.

The FIDO specifications define a common interface for user authentication on the client. The article explains the goal of FIDO authentication is to promote data privacy and stronger authentication for online services without hard-to-adopt measures. The FIDO standard supports multifactor authentication and strong features like biometrics. FIDO stores supporting data in a smartphone to eliminate the need for multiple passwords.

Encrypted virtual containerThe author writes that FIDO is much like an encrypted virtual container of strong authentication elements. The elements include: biometrics, USB security tokens, Near Field Communication (NFC), Trusted Platform Modules (TPM), embedded secure elements, smart cards and Bluetooth. Data from authentication sources are used for the local key, while the requesting service gets a separate login to keep user data private.

FIDO is based on public key cryptography that works through two different protocols for two different user experiences. According to TargetTech the Universal Authentication Framework (UAF) protocol allows the user to register an enabled device with a FIDO-ready server or website. Users authenticate on their devices with fingerprints or PINs, for example, and log in to the server using a secure public key.

Authenticate usersThe Universal Second Factor (U2F), originally developed by Google, is an effort to get the Web ecosystem (browsers, online service providers, operating systems) to authenticate users with a strong second factor, such as a USB touchscreen key or NFC on a mobile device.

FIDO’s local storage of biometrics and other personal identification is intended to ease user concerns about personal data stored on an external server or in the cloud. By abstracting the protocol implementation, FIDO also reduces the work required for developers to create secure logins.

Samsung and PayPal FIDO partnershipSamsung and PayPal have announced a FIDO authentication partnership. Beginning with the Samsung Galaxy S5 users can authorize transactions to their PayPal accounts using their fingerprints, which authenticates users by sending unique encrypted keys to their online PayPal wallets without storing biometric information on the company’s servers.

FIDO promises to clean up the strong authentication marketplace, making it easier for one-fob-fits-all products. The open standards shift some of the burden for protecting personally identifiable information to software on devices or biometric features, and away from stored credentials and passwords. ComputerWeekly described FIDO’s potential this way:

The FIDO method is more secure than current methods because no password of identifying information is sent out; instead, it is processed by software on the end user’s device that calculates cryptographic strings to be sent to a login server.

In the past, multiple factor authentication methods were based on either a hardware fob or some kind of tokenless products. These products use custom software, proprietary programming interfaces, and considerable work to integrate the method into your existing on-premises and Web-based applications.

ComputerWeekly says FIDO will divorce second-factor methods from the actual applications that will depend on them. That means the same authentication device can be used in multiple ways for signing into a variety of providers, without one being aware of the others or the need for extensive programming for stronger authentication.

Integrating FIDO-compliant built-in technology with digital wallets and e-commerce  can not only help protect consumers, but reduce the risk, liability and fraud for financial institutions and digital marketplaces.

Target-like point-of-sale exploit The big leap that FIDO is taking is to use biometric data – voiceprint, fingerprint, facial recognition, etc. and digitize and protect that information with solid cryptographic techniques. But unlike the traditional second-factor authentication key fobs or even the tokenless phone call-back scenarios, this information remains on your smartphone or laptop and isn’t shared with any application provider. FIDO can even use a simple four-digit PIN code, and everything will remain on the originating device. With this approach, ComputerWeekly says FIDO avoids the potential for a Target-like point-of-sale exploit that could release millions of logins to the world, a big selling point for many IT shops and providers.

It can eliminate having to carry a separate dongle as just about everyone has a mobile phone these days this is a mobile world we live in, and we need mobile-compatible solutions; otherwise you’re behind the curve right out of the gate.

Related articles

Ralph Bach has blogged from his Bach Seat about IT, careers and anything else that catches his attention since 2005. You can follow me at Facebook and Twitter. Email the Bach Seat here.

SMS is Done

SMS is DoneFollowers of the Bach Seat know that passwords suck and no longer provide reliable security. Because automated mass cybercrime attacks are hammering businesses daily, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is disrupting the online security status–quo. According to InfoWorld the US government’s standards body has decided that passwords are not good enough anymore. NIST now wants government agencies to use two-factor authentication (2FA) to secure applications, networks, and systems. Two factor authentication is a security process where the user provides two means of identification from separate categories of credentials. The first is typically something you have, a physical token, such as a card. The second is usually something you know like a PIN number.

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)The proposed standard discourages organizations from sending special codes via SMS messages. Many services offer two-factor authentication. They ask users to enter a one-time passcodes sent via SMS into the app or site to verify the transaction. The author writes that weaknesses in the SMS mechanism concerns NIST.

NIST now recommends that developers use tokens and software cryptographic authenticators instead of SMS to deliver special codes. They wrote in a draft version of the DAG; “OOB [out of band] using SMS is deprecated and will no longer be allowed in future releases of this guidance.”

Short Message Service (SMS)Federal agencies must use applications that conform to NIST guidelines. This means for software to be sold to federal agencies, it must follow NIST guidelines. InfoWorld says this is especially relevant for secure electronic communications.

SMS-based 2FA is considered insecure by NIST for a number of reasons. First, someone other than the user may be in possession of the phone. The author says an attacker with a stolen phone would be able to trigger the login request. In some cases, the contents of the text message appear on the lock screen, which means the code is exposed to anyone who glances at the screen.

SMS based two-factor authentication (2FA)InfoWorld says that NIST isn’t deprecating SMS-based methods simply because someone may be able to intercept the codes by taking control of the handset, that risk also exists with tokens and software authenticators. The main reason NIST appears to be down on SMS is because it is insecure over VoIP.

The author says there has been a significant increase in attacks targeting SMS-based two-factor authentication recently. SMS messages can be hijacked over some VoIP services. SMS messages delivered through VoIP are only as secure as the websites and systems of the VoIP provider. If an attacker can hack the VoIP servers or network they can intercept the SMS security codes or have them rerouted to her own phone. Security researchers have used weaknesses in the SMS protocol to remotely interact with applications on the target phone and compromise users.

Signalling System 7 (SS7) Sophos’ Naked Security Blog further explains some of the risks. There is malware that can redirect text messages. There are attacks against the This hack

Mobile phone number portability also poses a problem for SMS security. Sophos says that phone ports, also known as SIM swaps can make SMS insecure. SIM swap attacks are where an attackers convinces your mobile provider issues you a new SIM card to replace one that’s been lost, damaged, stolen or that is the wrong size for your new phone.

SIM swap attacksSophos also says in many places it is very easy for criminals to convince a mobile phone store to transfer someone’s phone number to a new SIM and therefore hijacking all their text messages.

ComputerWorld highlights a recent attack used social engineering to bypass Google’s two-factor authentication. Criminals sent users text messages informing them that someone was trying to break into their Gmail accounts and that they should enter the passcode to temporarily lock the account. The passcode, which was a real code generated by Google when the attackers tried to log in, arrived in a separate text message, and users who didn’t realize the first message was not legitimate would pass the unique code on to the criminals.

Password“NIST’s decision to deprecate SMS two-factor authentication is a smart one,” said Keith Graham, CTO of authentication provider SecureAuth. “The days of vanilla two-factor approaches are no longer enough for security.”

For now, applications and services using SMS-based authentication can continue to do so as long as it isn’t a service that virtualizes phone numbers. Developers and application owners should explore other options, including dedicated two-factor apps. One example is Google Authenticator, which uses a secret key and time to generate a unique code locally on the device for the user to enter into the application.

Hardware tokens Hardware tokens such as RSA’s SecurID display a new code every few seconds. A hardware security dongle such as YubiKey, used by many companies including Google and GitHub, supports one-time passwords, public key encryption, and authentication. Knowing that NIST is not very happy with SMS will push the authentication industry towards more secure options.

Many popular services and applications offer only SMS-based authentication, including Twitter and online banking services from major banks. Once the NIST guidelines are final, these services will have to make some changes.

fingerprint recognitionMany developers are increasingly looking at fingerprint recognition. ComputerWorld says this is because the latest mobile devices have fingerprint sensors. Organizations can also use adaptive authentication techniques, such as layering device recognition, geo-location, login history, or even behavioral biometrics to continually verify the true identity of the user, SecureAuth’s Graham said.

NIST acknowledged that biometrics is becoming more widespread as a method for authentication, but refrained from issuing a full recommendation. The recommendation was withheld because biometrics aren’t considered secret and can be obtained and forged by attackers through various methods.

Biometric methods are acceptable only when used with another authentication factor, according to the draft guidelines. NIST wrote in the DAG;

Biometrics[Biometrics] can be obtained online or by taking a picture of someone with a camera phone (e.g. facial images) with or without their knowledge, lifted from objects someone touches (e.g., latent fingerprints), or captured with high-resolution images (e.g., iris patterns for blue eyes)

At this point, it appears NIST is moving away from recommending SMS-based authentication as a secure method for out-of-band verification. They are soliciting feedback from partners and NIST stakeholders on the new standard. They told InfoWorld, “It only seemed appropriate for us to engage where so much of our community already congregates and collaborates.”

You can review the draft of Special Publication 800-63-3: Digital Authentication Guidelines on Github or on NIST’s website until Sept. 17. Sophos recommends security researcher Jim Fenton’s presentation from the PasswordsCon event in Las Vegas that sums up the changes.

VentureBeat offers some suggestions to replace your SMS system:

  • Hardware tokens that generate time-based codes.
  • Apps that generate time-based codes, such as the Google Authenticator app or RSA SecurID,
  • Hardware dongles based on the U2F standard.
  • Systems that use push notifications to your phone.


Ralph Bach has blogged from his Bach Seat about IT, careers and anything else that catches his attention since 2005. You can follow me at Facebook and Twitter. Email the Bach Seat here.

Wearables – Growing Enterprise Risk

Wearables - Growing Enterprise RiskMarket research firm Tractica predicts that the high levels of interest will drive worldwide shipments of wearable computing devices for enterprise and industrial from 2.3 million in 2015 to 66.4 million units by 2021 and could reach 75.4 billions by 2025. Which means there will be a total of 171.9 million wearables in the wild by 2021.

Wearable techThe report at FierceMobileIT cites a large number of trials or deployments with a diverse set of wearables across a variety of industry sectors for the growth.  Tractica research director Aditya Kaul explained the prediction,

In the past year, the enterprise and industrial wearables market has moved into an implementation phase, with the focus shifting from public announcements to the hard work that needs to be done behind the scenes to get wearables rolled out at commercial scale.

Tractica noted a range of new IoT use cases are emerging for workplace wearables. The new uses are focused on application markets like; retail, manufacturing, healthcare, corporate wellness, warehousing and logistics, workplace authentication and security, and field services.Shipments of enterprise and industrial wearables

The market research firm believes the primary wearable device categories will be; smartwatches, fitness trackers, body sensors, and smartglasses, There will also be also be  that other niche categories will play a role for specialized use cases.

Internet of ThingsThe report does concede that in terms of unit volumes and revenue, enterprise and industrial wearables are still a very small portion of the IoT overall market. Wearables share of the total market is expected to grow over time, according to Tractica.

The proliferation of wearables does not bode well for IoT or enterprise security. A recent survey of 440 IT pros by IT networking company Spiceworks found that enterprise wearables are most likely to be the cause of a data breach out of all Internet of Things devices connected to a workplace network.

wearables are the least secure of all IoT devicesAccording to FierceMobileIT, the survey found that 53% of IT pros believe wearables are the least secure of all IoT devices. Overall, 90% of those surveyed think IoT makes workplace security more difficult. Spiceworks also found that only one in three of those surveyed are preparing for the tidal wave of these devices.

IoT insecurityThe number of companies allowing wearables on the network has jumped from 13% in 2014 to 24% in the current Spiceworks survey. That’s a significant jump, and especially worrisome for the two-thirds of organizations putting off a proper security protocol. 41% of those surveyed said that their organizations have a separate network for connected devices, 39% allow them on the corporate network and 11% don’t allow IoT in any capacity.

Enterprise IoT devices aren’t the only reason IT pros should worry, as Andrew Hay, CISO of DataGravity, told FierceMobileIT at the RSA conference this year. Workers are bringing consumer-grade IoT devices into enterprise environments, too. In other words, IT pros don’t have a choice at this point but to seriously consider security measures for IoT.


I first covered IoT security holes in 2011. In 2014, I wrote about HP research which found on average 25 security flaws per device tested. If these stats are right, there will be almost 4.3 billion security flaws in the wild.

Some of the security flaws HP pinpointed in wearables during 2015 included:

  • Mobile interface lack two-factor authentication or the ability to lock out accounts after login failed attempts.
  • Watch communications to be easily intercepted.
    • Firmware is transmitted without encryption.
    • Half of tested devices lacked the ability to add a screen lock, which could hinder access if lost or stolen.
    •40% were still vulnerable to the POODLE attack, allow the use of weak cyphers, or still used SSL v2. Transport encryption is critical because personal information is being moved to multiple locations in the cloud.


Ralph Bach has been in IT for fifteen years and has blogged from his Bach Seat about IT, careers and anything else that catches his attention since 2005. You can follow me at Facebook and Twitter. Email the Bach Seat here.