Secure IT Foundation

Posts Tagged ‘Personal Security

Well you won’t be alone, there is at least a quarter of a million others as well. If you get the email then do read the explanation from the UK AV company, Sophos and don’t take it personally. Have a read of the stats below from the US and feel lucky it was only your Twitter account, not your bank account or another site with access to your money. Simply put, you have a unique key for each lock for the car, house and work. Do the same with your passwords before your bank or ebay refuses to refund money lost due to user stupidity!
 Hacked Infographic

Thanks to for use of this graphic


As can be seen from recent news of leaks of 100, 000s user names and passwords, regardless of the length or strength of your password, you should change it at least once a year for all your email, websites and computer accounts.

The reason being is that passwords are mathematically secure for a limited period of time. The longer time between you changing the password gives the bad guys longer time to crack it. Same also applies to your bank PIN numbers! So do your security a favour and do change your password (and your PIN numbers) at least once a year. Can’t remember your passwords then use a password manager like LastPass or write them down and store the paper securely. Better to change your passwords regularly with a bit of paper than never changing them or worse using one password for everything online!

You can read more about the topic of password cracking on wikipedia.


As a reminder to use webcams sensibly, given some of the horror stories now coming out in news, a security issue has been identified in many Trendnet IP webcams.

If you have one of the affected models and use a password to prevent other people gaining access to it via the Internet, then you may be at risk of being seen by anyone!

You can check if you are directly affected by typing in your Internet IP address in a browser and adding the text in bold at the end /anony/mjpg.cgi

e.g.  http://X.X.X.X/anony/mjpg.cgi

If you are affected then do apply the update as soon as possible, else there are search engines that can find your camera and you will be come someones public entertainment.

Remember the golden rules for web cams, what is not connected to the Internet cannot be viewed over the Internet and covering the camera may not stop the mic recording from working.

In case you are wondering our shop in Rotterdam‘s cameras are not from Trendnet or use affected Trendnet firmware.


If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, it must be a duck…

If software on computer communicated to third parties like malware, altered settings like malware, behaved like malware, it must be malware. You would think so but there is a threat to computer security that does not get classified as malware.

It gets around being classified as malware by making the user accept the software as part of an installation of other software. For example if you look at the Top 10 downloads from at the moment you will see at number three there is a program called YouTube Downloader, with nearly 800,000 downloads in the previous month.

When you install the software you get a typical install process for Windows, but with an additional option page for a Toolbar:

YouTube Downloader Toolbar Screenshot

YouTube Downloader Toolbar Screenshot

While there is an option to decline (which we strongly recommend you use!), most users do not. There is no informed consent for the user that they are about to install a potentially unwanted program, which will make changes to your computer. But if you click ‘Accept’ the toolbar takes over you browsers and your PC. In nature, this would be called a parasite, as it feeds on the others in a symbiotic relationship.

As the user has clicked ‘Accept’ to the legalese terms they have agreed to allow it control of their computer. Following the trail, brings you to a company called Spigot whose slogan is ‘Turn on the revenue’. In case you don’t realise it, they mean revenue for application developers by using your internet data, mined by the toolbar! You are the cash cow, as they make money on selling marketing information based on your surfing habits.

These terms include:

“The Spigot Toolbar Privacy Policy applies to the Spigot Toolbar only and is independent of any other application(s) you may be installing or using concurrently. Spigot Toolbar is built and maintained by Spigot, Inc. (“We”). We care about your privacy and will never collect personally identifiable information or monitor usage on an individual level.”

The information we collect is for basic reporting purposes only, and includes the following:
a) Date and time of installation
b) Date and time of un-installation
c) Originating IP address and the user’s country at time of installation/un-installation
d) Toolbar status in Internet Explorer or Firefox (i.e. if a toolbar is hidden or displayed in the browser)
e) Partner ID at time of installation
f) Toolbar version at time of installation

Information we collect during Toolbar Usage

We do not monitor the web pages you visit. When you perform a search, your search may be sent through our servers in order to ‘optimize the search result’. This will record the following anonymous usage information:
a) Date and time of search
b) Originating IP address
c) Partner / Channel ID of your Toolbar
d) Toolbar version
e) Search term

In addition, your web browser will communicate to us the same information it gives to every web server on the Internet. This could include information such as your computer hardware and software attributes, cookies for our site, and the URL of web page you are requesting.

How we use the Information we collect

Information we collect from you is used on an aggregate basis and for reporting purposes only. For example, we measure the total number of Toolbar installations per month in order to pay our partners, the total number of Toolbar searches conducted per month to measure growth patterns, the number of Toolbars used in Microsoft Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox per month to study browser trends, and so on. All information is collected in aggregate and never measured on an individual basis.

Information collected by Third Parties

Search results pages you visit when performing a search using the toolbar are provided by our search engine partners (i.e. Yahoo, Baidu, Yandex, eBay, Amazon). These search engines can track the following:
a) Search term that was entered into the search box
b) Originating IP address and the user’s country or OS language setting
c) Sponsored listings or other advertisements that were clicked on
d) That the search request came from the Spigot Toolbar and its associated revenue tag

The toolbar does not collect personally identifiable information or monitor your surfing behavior.

Use of Cookies

When you conduct a search using the toolbar, our content providers who supply search results (i.e. Yahoo, Baidu, Yandex, eBay, Amazon) may set or access cookies on your computer. The cookies are used for the purpose of measuring referrals from our toolbar on an aggregate basis and are not tied to your personal information. Many browsers offer users the option of declining cookies. If you do not wish to accept cookies, please modify the settings in your browser.

Toolbar Updates

The toolbar communicates with our servers from time to time to check for available software updates such as bug fixes, patches, enhanced functions and new versions. By installing the toolbar, you agree to automatically request and receive updates. If you wish to turn off automatic updates, you can do so from the “Options” menu in the toolbar.

Toolbar Uninstall

You can easily uninstall the toolbar in the traditional Add/Remove programs section in Windows, or from the toolbar by selecting

Options > Help > Uninstall.

Toolbar Deactivation

You can easily hide or deactivate the Toolbar in Internet Explorer or FireFox by selecting View > Toolbars, and then unselecting the checkbox for the toolbar.

Changes to this Privacy Policy

We may update this privacy policy from time to time. We will notify you about significant changes in the way we treat personal information by placing a prominent notice on our site. “

The bold type highlights the problem. It claims it only monitors your search terms without identifying you but your IP address is like a fingerprint. It always leaves a trail on every computer you communicate with and all those in between. The legal issue is that on its own an IP address is not classed as personal data, for example compare the UK stance with the US approach. In reality, every email you send, website you visit or post on a public forum can log your IP address. Combined with your email address or forum username and you can have personally identifiable data.

In addition some toolbars ‘optimise’ the search results to preferred companies whose activities may not be strictly legal or could be classified by some people as scam merchants.

Until these legal issues are resolved, Anti Virus and Computer Security companies cannot classify Toolbars as malware without risk of litigation from the companies involved, says a lot about the money involved here.

So there is a stalemate situation where you know its bad software but your security defences let it through as if it was ok. For now, all we can advise is when you install new software, read the install pages and look out for Toolbars and changes to your search engine and browser settings. If you see one, untick all options and decline it! Weasel words to look for include ‘Community‘, ‘Conduit‘, ‘Spigot‘ and ‘Mybrowserbar‘ amongst many… Clues to look for are those companies who don’t tell you where they are and have no publicly checkable address showing.

Say No to Toolbars and rid the Internet of another parasite by cutting off their revenue stream, namely your information.


It has been difficult to avoid the news stories regarding a Dutch company called Diginotar and the prediction of the end of Internet security as we know it. Some stories have been based on facts, while others have clearly been written just to sell news or by those who have little comprehension of how the Internet and computers work.

To help explain the saga we have written a FAQ based on queries we have received.

Who is Diginotar?

Diginotar is a private company set up in 1998 to supply electronic identity management products including the issuing of ‘digital certificates’ for secure Internet transactions. In 2004 the Dutch government trusted Diginotar with the responsibility for providing digital certificates for all government / citizen interactions under a scheme called ‘PKIoverheid‘.

What are digital certificates?

Digital certificates are part of the technology which allows a home computer user to communicate securely over the Internet for important transactions like banking, paying bills, interacting with government services online etc.

Each time you see padlock in your browser, or the address bar turns green or you see https:// in the address you browser has established a secure channel over the Internet using complex mathematics to provide encryption.

If you think that most of your Internet activity does not involve using a secure channel, you can liken it to using a postcard to send a message to a friend in the real world. Anyone can read the message between you and your friend. This may be fine for arranging a meet in a bar but you would not the world to be able to view your banking transactions in the same way. This is where digital certificates come in, to provide secure electronic communications.

Each major company who wants you to communicate with them purchase digital certificates from companies like Diginotar, called Certificate Authorities officially. These Certificate Authorities verify the identity of the company wishing to buy a certificate, and issues the company with a unique code. When you want to establish a secure channel with your bank, your browser receives part of the unique code and checks that is really does belong to the company it claims to be. This proves that you are talking to the right company and allows a secure channel to start.

How does my browser know the identity of my bank?

Your browser e.g. Google Chrome, Apple Safari, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer etc all contain a list of trusted Certificate Authorities including Diginotar, each represented by a unique code. These companies around the world are trusted to provide digital certificates, some government owned but mostly private companies.

When your browser wants to verify the identity of the company or organisation e.g. a bank, it obtains the unique code from the digital certificate for the bank and mathematically checks it that it is valid with the unique code stored by the browser for the issuing certificate authority. If all checks pass then a secure channel is started. The proper name for this secure channel is an ‘SSL‘ connection.

The digital certificate gives you trust that you are communicating with the right organisation or company. Extra checks are made for a scheme called Extended Verification SSL certificates. When used, these ‘EVSSL‘ certificates are the type that make your browser address bar change colour to green, which highlights the verified nature of the company you are communicating with.

So what actually happened?

Based on the information published by Fox-IT BV, a major Dutch computer forensics company sited close to the Secure IT Foundation base in Rotterdam. It seems that hackers gained access to Diginotar’s internal computer systems as early as 6th June 2011. The hackers then attempted to make their own digital certificates. On the 10th July they succeeded in making a certificate which allow them to impersonate Google. The hackers continued for 10 more days making hundreds of digital certificates for major companies and computer systems.

Finally a security breach was detected by Diginotar on the 22nd July and an unnamed security company was called in to report, which they did on 27th July 2011. The same day, other security experts began to report unusual use of Google’s digital certificate and the next day traced it and it was being used in Iran. Diginotar went public on the security breach on the 30th August 2011, with the consequence that Diginotar’s validity as a certificate authority has been revoked by most browsers in recent updates.

While information is still being gathered and full facts may never be known publicly, it appears that the Iranian authorities have been able to intercept ‘secure communications’ with any of the companies impersonated by these rogue digital certificates by anyone using an Iranian computer network for about a month. In addition there was a potential for people outside of Iran to have been redirected to websites under the Iran authorities control, allowing for interception to occur to non Iranian citizens.

A similar attack on another certificate authority was made earlier in March 2011 on a US company called Comodo, which Comodo blamed fully at the Iranian authorities. However in this case only 9 rogue digital certificates were produced and the incident was stopped in a much shorter time frame than Diginotar.

How does this affect my home computer?

You may have noticed Mozilla and Google updated their browsers recently and Microsoft issued a patch via Windows Update. These changes remove the use of Diginotar as a valid certificate authority. If you visit a website using on of the rogue digital certificates then you should get a message not to trust the website you are communicating with. If you see a browser warning about the website’s authenticity then it is best not to continue the session and seek expert advice.

Outside of The Netherlands and Iran, most people will not see any impact from this security breach. Secure communications in Iran have become significantly harder but the most affect country so far is The Netherlands. Diginotar also managed part of the PKIoverheid system for secure Government communications so there has been some disruption to the service while new digital certificates have been issued to replace Diginotar supplied certificates. Thankfully the Dutch government had the sense to use multiple suppliers so the digital certificates issued by Diginotar have been replaced by one of the other three accepted certificate providers, without collapsing the whole Dutch system.

Is the problem now solved?

The dust has yet to settle and there are claims that other certificate authorities like Diginotar have also been compromised, however until new information is confirmed it does appear that the matter has been finalised. Diginotar’s continuing ability to trade is certainly going to be questioned as the initial findings from Fox-IT show Diginotar to be well below best practice for a security business.

As usual, whenever the topic of “which Anti Virus product should I use” comes up, people always mention the product they use. Wrong place to start, as you need to focus on which products perform well in independent testing. You would be shocked at the results from some free and paid companies.

Anti Virus is also the last line of defence against malware not the first. When did you last run Windows Update? Have you updated your applications recently? Malware finds holes in your computer using ‘exploits’ and burrows in. The more up to date you are then the less risk of malware. Use a highly recommended free program called Secunia PSI to see how many updates you are missing… In the configuration you can turn on the secure browsing option and see if your browser is even secure for Internet use. We normally recommend people use Firefox with the extensions ‘Adblock Plus’ and ‘NoScript’ for safer surfing.

Not only can exploits be used but the current form of spreading malware is to exploit the user. By downloading files from torrents and file sharing networks, magic fix programs, cracked games etc you are always taking a big risk. If you agree to a install a program then unless your anti virus realises what is going on quick enough, then the malware can install and disable your security before it works. You can read our advice on home computer security and try our risk profiling at our site

Once you have a fully up to date computer, and are using a secure browser then you can think about what will be the way to save your butt when all else fails. Any single Anti anything solution is always flawed as the bad guys know what is popular and write malware around these single provider solutions.

Our recommended layered approach consists of the use of four products. All are free and trustworthy. For computer security you need to think of having a team rather than just a single player.

For your defence you need a strong Anti Virus program that stops almost everything. We suggest Microsoft’s own free Anti Virus called Microsoft Security Essentials . Consider it their gift to Windows users to atone for their other security sins.

There is little benefit for paying for Anti Virus programs as the best they can offer is support once you have a virus. Save your money, and use a computer shop for emergency virus removals when all else fails. You can get two or three visits for the cost of the Anti Virus program.

Your midfield should be a cloud based Anti Virus program called Immunet. This works by checking files in real time and catches items that signature based Anti Virus like Microsoft Security Essentials can miss.  You can choose the cloud only or use the Clam AV database as part of the product for free. By the way Clam AV for Windows is the Immunet product!

Time for some proactive forwards in your team as security doesn’t have to be passive! Spybot Search and Destroy  is a free Anti Spyware program written by one bloke and sadly the user interface looks like it. Be patient with it as its rewards are worth it. Bit like a temperamental star, needs a bit of work but scores well. Once installed, you make a backup of your ‘Register’ for sanity. Then update it, let it restart, immunise your computer and let it check for problems. Remove anything found, reboot and repeat. The tea timer can time tea, but its main function is to stop malware getting on your computer through changing security settings.

If any malware has got past that lot then your fourth program will help root it out. MalwareBytes is a program that offers free and paid versions. For our use, the free version works fine but if you want to use the full version it has our blessing. Once a week run a quick scan after updating the program. Once a month run a full scan over your entire computer and external drives. As each file is accessed it will be checked by your other anti virus programs so you can see if anything is suddenly detected, that way you know if anything had been missed. If everything is clear then it would be a good time to make a full backup to an external drive only used for backups.

Next time you are asked what Anti Virus program to use copy this information or point them here, our free security advice website!


Version 2.0 of the Secure Computer Standard has been published on the Standards and Documents pages.

The Secure Computer Standard is a document published by the Secure IT Foundation, to give computer manufacturers, repairers and sellers guidance as to what steps they should be taking to provide a computer ‘secure out the box’ or a baseline for repairers to give good service. It has been simplified and reworked following over six months testing at Brads Computer Service Station in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

The rating scheme has also been simplified following real world feedback.

As usual this is a living document, and all suggestions for improvement and error corrections are appreciated. You can contact us here.



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  • Coldwind: Couldn't agree more. I downloaded a piece of software just now, disabled the 'toolbar' 'offer' (which fortunately for me has become a reflex); but co
  • ModemJunki: I only discovered this today - I had updated the firmware to the latest out of habit, and I could STILL access my TrendNet cams on the local network w
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