Secure IT Foundation

Posts Tagged ‘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 OnlineCollegeCourses.com for use of this graphic

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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.

SecurityBrad

While your Windows Security updates will automatically download and install themselves, to date there has been limited options for home computer users to automatically patch all the other applications installed.  Thankfully a nice Danish company has released the home version of their enterprise tool for automatically updating computers. A fully patched computer makes a much harder computer to break into, while you still need Anti Virus software, you are not relying on a single security approach to protect yourself. Most drive-by malware and self replicating viruses depend on your lack of security to work. Much like your teeth, if there is no hole the risk of cavities is much lower.

Secunia PSI is a free tool for home use which checks all the applications on your computer and tells you which need to updated for security. The latest version of Secunia PSI, recently updated to version 3.0 includes automatic updating for many applications like Oracle’s Java, Adobe Flash and Adobe Reader, possibly the worst security offenders in 2012.  We have completed our testing of the product and while it does not automatically update everything it is the best tool out there for home computer security. If they have any sense Microsoft will purchase Secunia and make it a standard security tool on all home computers… At our shop in Rotterdam, Secunia PSI has been a standard addition to all our customer installations of Windows.

SecurityBrad

Update  – 04/01/2012

Microsoft release a proper patch in the December monthly update release, so if you ran the FixIt then ideally you need to run the remove FixIt tool before updating Windows.

We did test applying the update over the FixIt and it does appear to work successfully but this is not the Microsoft recommended approach…

When you run Windows Update you may notice a new .Net update. This is a new emergency patch issued by Microsoft for another .net security flaw.

SecurityBrad

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You may have heard of a new security problem with all version of Windows, originally identified as a virus called Duqu. What made this virus count is that it uses a previously unknown bug in Windows to install itself.

The Duqu file may come from any source, not just what appears to be a word document as was stated from the initial reports. To protect yourself until there is a proper fix for Windows, Microsoft has made a FixIt, a temporary software plaster, available.

Our advice is to run the FixIt as soon as possible (Do choose the ‘Enable’ FixIt!) and also check that your Anti Virus software is up to date and updated. Eventually a proper fix will be released but that may be too late for some people…

SecurityBrad

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.

September 2010 we said it was time for a brand new start to computing, well it is starting to take shape…

PrentOS is the official public name for the project to develop a new open source licensed operating system with the goal of making a simple, secure computer.

Why PrentOS? Simple really, as it PrentOS is being developed primarily by Brad Prent, the owner of SecurityBrad and Brads Computer Service Station

For now, we have parked the domains www.prentos.com and www.prentos.org while we work on producing the Alpha version and we aim to launch limited public testing via the shop in Rotterdam by the end of 2011.

SecurityBrad

As usual whenever new technology is released, there are security issues found from the early implementations. Web browsers are no different, and a new vulnerability has been identified in Mozilla’s Firefox 4, Apple’s Safari and Google’s Chrome browsers.

This time the issue is with a new feature called WebGL which allows 3D graphics in the browser. As a new feature you most probably do not need to use it for some time, and until updated versions of the browsers are released then we advise that you disable WebGL for now.

For Firefox users, type: about:config in the address bar and find the option webgl.disabled and set the value to ‘True’. Chrome and Safari have other methods to disable WebGL which are too complex for most home users to implement and as such we recommend that you only use Firefox until updates are released.

SecurityBrad



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