Tag Archive for Encryption

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.

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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.

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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.

Independence Day 2016

Independence Day 2016The 4th of July is the time when Americans celebrate freedom from a tyrannical government in the 18th century. While gaining that freedom, the founding fathers used encryption. They used encryption while risking their lives to gain the freedom we celebrate on July 4th. The EFF documents  how many of the Founding Father of the United States used encryption to secure our freedoms.

  • Thomas Jefferson, the principal Thomas Jefferson invented an encryption deviceauthor of the Declaration of Independence and the country’s third president, is known to be one of the most prolific users of secret communications methods. He even invented his own cipher system—the “wheel cypher” as named by Jefferson or the “Jefferson disk” as it is now commonly referred. He also presented a special cipher to Meriwether Lewis for use in the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
  • George Washington used encryptionGeorge Washington, the first president of the United States, frequently dealt with encryption and espionage issues as the commander of the Continental Army. He is known to have given his intelligence officers detailed instructions on methods for maintaining the secrecy of messages and for using decryption to uncover British spies.
  • John Adams, the second U.S. president, used a cipher provided by James Lovell—a member of the Continental Congress Committee on Foreign Affairs and an early advocate of cipher systems—for correspondence with his wife, Abigail Adams, while traveling.
  • James Madison, the author of the Bill of Rights and the country’s fourth president, was a big user of enciphered communications—and numerous examples from his correspondence prove that. The text of one letter from Madison to Joseph Jones, a member of the Continental Congress from Virginia, dated May 2, 1782, was almost completely encrypted via cipher. And on May 27, 1789, Madison sent a partially encrypted letter to Thomas Jefferson describing his plan to introduce a Bill of Rights.

TechDirt correctly concludes that If encryption was good enough for the Founding Fathers to use in the 18th Century … it’s pretty ridiculous that we’re still having this debate now in this age of constant government monitoring, warrantless searches, corporate data aggregationdata sharing and tools like IBM’s Non-Obvious Relationship Awareness software (NORA). The time is now to fight shortsighted “going dark” claims by theFBI and efforts by clueless politicians like Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) who have plans to ban encryption.


George Bush Mission not accomplishedSeems to me that the biggest threat to America these days is the political ambitions of technically illiterate know nothings in the gooberment. Be like the Founding Fathers and encrypt something start with HTTPS Anywhere from the EFF.


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.

Malware Steals Your Cash At ATM

Malware Steals Your Cash At ATMOn September 2, 1969, America’s first automatic teller machine (ATM) started dispensing cash to customers at Chemical Bank in Rockville Center, New York. Since then ATMs have been a trusted avenue for many banking transactions. However, the Business Insider warns that the next time you pull cash out of the ATM, or “Tap the Mac” you should take extra care. BI reports that Internet security firm Kaspersky Lab has announced the return of a newer and more dangerous version of the Skimer malware.

THacked ATMhe report characterizes Skimer as an especially dangerous malware that turns whole ATMs into card-skimming machines. The malware first appeared in 2009 and has been distributed at ATMs all over the world.

The majority of ATM fraud takes place through card skimming. Card skimming is usually physical, as criminals typically install an illegal card-reading device into ATMs, film people entering their PINs on keypads, and then create duplicate cards for sale and use, reports the New York Times. Fortunately, users can uncover these card skimmers because they’ll spot a problem with the card reader or notice an unusual camera.

Gas pump skimmerSkimer is particularly problematic because it is software based. The article explains the threat is undetectable to the common ATM user since there is no physical sign of the ATM being tampered with. The Russian based program lets criminals access an ATM remotely, install the malware, and then gather data such as PINs, card numbers, and account numbers over the course of time. A “money mule” can then insert a special magnetic stripe card into the ATM to access the stolen data, take out money, or print card numbers onto a receipt.

The attack begins by gaining access to the ATM system either through physical access, or via the bank’s internal network. Then Backdoor.Win32.Skimer malware is installed which infects the core of the ATM. The ATM core is responsible for the machine’s interactions with the banking infrastructure, cash processing and credit cards. After that, the ATM has become a skimmer. The compromise allows the attackers to withdraw all the funds in the ATM or grab the data from cards used at the ATM, including customers’ bank account numbers and PIN codes.

KasperskyKaspersky is trying to help banks detect Skimer and is providing techniques for identifying affecting machines and securing their ATM networks in the future. Sergey Golovanov, principal security researcher at Kaspersky Lab explains it is possible for banks to stop Skimer.

We have discovered the hardcoded numbers used by the malware, and we share them freely with banks … they can proactively search for them inside their processing systems, detect potentially infected ATMs and money mules, or block any attempts by attackers to activate the malware

To prevent ATM attacks, Kaspersky recommends that banks:

  • Perform regular AV scans,
  • Use whitelisting technologies,
  • Have a good device management policy,
  • Enable full disk encryption,
  • Protect the ATM’s BIOS with a password,
  • Only allow HDD booting,
  • Isolate the ATM network from any other internal bank network.

ATM fraud continues to growDespite a way to control Skimer, ATM fraud continues to grow according to BI. A recent FICO study found the number of compromised ATMs in the U.S. surged 546% from 2014 to 2015, thanks in large part to the slow EMV migration of debit cards and ATMs. The article speculates that EMV upgrades would stop Skimer. The resistance to EMV means ATM fraud could grow even more from 2015 to 2016.

John Heggestuen, at BI Intelligence, explains that EMV cards are being rolled out with an embedded microchip for added security. The microchip carries out real-time risk assessments on a person’s card purchase activity based on the card user’s profile. The chip also generates dynamic cryptograms when the card is inserted into a payment terminal. Because these cryptograms change with every purchase, it makes it difficult for fraudsters to make counterfeit cards that can be used for in-store transactions.

EMV cardsRetail card fraud cost U.S. retailers approximately $32 billion in 2014, up from $23 billion in 2013. To solve the card fraud problem across all channels, payment companies and merchants are implementing new payment protocols that could finally help mitigate fraud. In the article, BI’s Heggestuen describes some of the other technologies that financial institutions are utilizing to reduce fraud risks.

Encryption of payments data is being widely implemented. Encryption degrades valuable data by using an algorithm to translate card numbers into new values. This makes it difficult for fraudsters to harvest the payments data for use in future transactions.

Point-to-point encryption electronically changes sensitive payment data from the point of capture at the payments terminal all the way through to the gateway or acquirer. This makes it much more difficult for fraudsters to harvest usable data from transactions.

Point-to-point encryption
Tokenization increases transaction security. Tokenization assigns a random value to payment data, making it effectively impossible for hackers to access the sensitive data from the token itself. Tokens are often “multiuse,” meaning merchants don’t have to force consumers to re-enter their payment details. Apple Pay uses one emerging form of tokenization.tokenization
3D Secure is an imperfect answer to user authentication online. One difficulty in fighting online fraud is that it is hard to confirm that the person using card data is actually the cardholder. 3D Secure adds a level of user authentication by requiring the customer to enter a passcode or biometric data as well as payment data to complete a transaction online.


The best recommendation to protect yourself from Skimer and other ATM threats is to use ATM’s at your bank or credit union. These ATMs are harder for thieves to install any type of skimmers or malware on because of the higher traffic and monitoring. ATMs located outside a financial institution like at a 7-11 are highly suspect.


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.

Lessons From the LinkedIn Breach

Lessons From the LinkedIn BreachReaders of the Bach Seat know that passwords suck and that people are awful at picking passwords. The Business Insider offers more proof. According to a recent article, the 2012 LinkedIn hack exposed a whopping 167 million accounts were compromised, including 117 million passwords.

LinkedIn hackThe article says the passwords were hashed, or encrypted so they can’t be read, but researchers at LeakedSource have been able to decrypt them. Their findings, should be no surprise to Bach Seat followers. The results show just how much the same passwords get used over and over (and over and over and over and over) again.

92% of the top leaked LinkedIn passwords were identified as a top 25 most frequently used password in 2011 or 2012. Nearly half of the password listed were the most commonly used password in 2011, 2012 or 2013. The top 5 bad passwords were used to “secure” over 1.2 million accounts.

Most popular passwordsThe LeakedSource data says the most popular password for LinkedIn in 2012 was 123456. That password was used by more than 750,000 accounts. Data the Bach Seat has collected says that 123456 has been the top 1 or 2 passwords every year used since 2011.

The remarkably unstealthy password ’linkedin’ is the second most used password on these breached LinkedIn accounts with 172,523 users. That is just so wrong on so many levels.

The password ‘password’ is number three with 144,458 hacked LinkedIn users relying on it to secure their professional profile. Our historical data says that ‘password’ has swapped the top ranking with ‘123456’ since 2011.

Password ‘password’12345678’ is the fourth most popular bad LinkedIn password with 94,214 users according to LeakedSource. This password has been a consistent #3 in my data.

The data for the top 49 passwords is below. You can search for your user name here  Fix your passwords.

1123456753,305#2 in 2012
3password144,458#1 In 2012
412345678994,314#6 in 2012
51234567863,769#3 in 2012
611111157,210#12 in 2011
7123456749,652#7 in 2011
8sunshine39,118#15 in 2011
9qwerty37,538#4 in 2011
1065432133,854#21 in 2011
1100000032,490#25 in 2013
12password130,981#21 in 2013
13abc12330,398#5 in 2011
17michael23,075#16 in 2012
19princess22,122#22 in 2013
2012312321,826#11 in 2013
21iloveyou20,251#9 in 2013
22123456789019,575#13 in 2013
25bailey18,805#17 in 2011
28Passw0rd18,208#18 in 2011
29baseball17,858#9 in 2012
30shadow17,781#17 in 2011
33monkey16,958#6 in 2011
44jordan15,839#22 in 2012


The advise remains the same as I wrote about in 2010.

Strong passwords characteristics:
• At least eight (8) alpha-numeric characters
• At least one numeric character (0-9)
• At least one lower case character (a-z)
• At least one upper case character (A-Z)
• At least one non-alphanumeric character* (~, !, @, #, $, %, ^, &, *, (, ), -, =, +, ?, [, ], {, })
• Are not a word in any language, slang, dialect, jargon, etc.
• Are not based on personal information, names of family, etc.
• Are never written down or stored on-line.

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.