BBC News is reporting today that Google has updated their search engine algorithm to provide a higher rank to websites that use HTTPS. The web news site Gigaom explains further that the algorithm identifies web sites that use HTTPS / TLS and uses it as a ‘light factor’ that impacts less than 1% of global queries.
ars technica has a great article that explains recently published Apple guidelines regarding what customer data the company will provide to law enforcement. Reviewing and understanding Apple’s position is important as the companies consumer devices such as the iPhone, the iPad, and Mac computers running OS/X readily provide users the capability to use both local and cloud storage for data.
The guidelines that are referenced in the ars article were posted by Apple under the heading “Legal Process Guidelines for U.S. Law Enforcement” and were released on May 7th, 2014.
If you are near New York City and interested in cyber security and criminal justice I suggest attending the seminars at the Center for Private Security and Safety at John Jay College in Manhattan. I attended seminars on cybersecurity and cyber espionage. The presenters that I saw are faculty from the college. I found the seminars to be very well prepared and presented. The technical level of the seminars seems targeted at an undergraduate upper class person (Junior or senior) but all questions both more and less technical in nature were answered.
After reading Thomas’ article on re-evaluating the safety of Mac OS/X last week I finally managed to bring most of my Apple equipment up to current. I checked all the network devices and updated most of those. My Windows machines are all current. I do have that one Mac that won’t run a current OS. I read a great tips article over at Naked Security about bringing that as close to protected as possible.
While many folks enjoy the iPhone and all of the apps that are available for the device from iTunes or Apple’s App Store; there are people out there who want to do more. The only way to run software on your iPhone that isn’t available from iTunes is to run another operating system other than Apple’s iOS on the phone. The process of installing and running another operating system on an iPhone is known as ‘jailbreaking’ (see this great post at iphonehacks.com for more info).
Who does this? People who want to listen to music obtained from sources other than iTunes (DRM free). People who want to run apps that Apple has not approved. And then there are people who obtained their iPhone through other than normal commercial channels.
The downside to jailbreaking used to be that you had to trust whoever wrote the new operating system and whatever apps you wanted to run. That’s not Apple. If you jailbreak you can’t take your phone to the Apple Store for help or service. You also can’t use iTunes or the App Store to use iOS apps.
When you read about iPhone ‘hacks’ or attacks it is important to find out if they are against iOS or jailbroken devices. Often these hacks and even research (see touch logging) into how to attack iPhones are against jailbroken devices.
Five years ago I made a decision to move from PasswordSafe to AgileBits 1Password. As someone in the security field I’ve always tried to practice what I preach and using different passwords for different sites and cycling passwords (changing passwords every N months) is important. I looked at a number of different password management solutions. I enthusiastically moved to 1Password as it offered everything I was looking for. Early on I used a local database but after becoming comfortable with the product I moved to using a shared database stored at DropBox.
One of the other password managers I looked at was PasswordBox. PasswordBox offers an application that includes the capability to sync passwords back to ‘cloud’ storage at the developers site and is available for Mac, Windows, and mobile platforms. When I first looked at this my concern with PasswordBox was that there was no knowing how my passwords would be secured given the applications storage model (i.e stored where?). With 1Password storage is either local or at DropBox. The 1Password folks have been called out on encryption (Cult of Mac 2012, Lifehacker 2013, TraxArmstrong 2013 ) numerous times over the past years. I followed that controversy and think the AgileBits team handled it well so I have no reservations recommending 1Pasword with DropBox.
Using any password manager one of the harder problems seems to be keeping the browser plug-in alive. As Firefox has marched through release after release I’ve had to update the plug-in and recently had to uninstall / reinstall the plugin after the 1Password major version change. That’s just one browser. I try to keep 1Password running in Firefox, Safari, and Chrome.
Something that I have been looking for as a feature of a password manager has been some way to do password escrow. That is creating the means to pass on information in my password manager should something happen to me. The simple way of doing this is to give someone I trust the password to my password manager. The downside is that the act of giving that password information creates a potentially huge point of friction. You have to ask yourself ‘Will the person I gave that password to do the right thing at the right time?’. Giving someone the password also equates to giving them the keys to everything. You lose the capability to purge some information you don’t want to pass on. One way around that is the capability offered by an application such as Legacy Locker.
Legacy Locker and other apps like it (Perpetu) offer a service that passes on usernames and passwords that you select to some person or people that you designate in the event that you ‘in theory’ pass away or become permanently incapacitated. All of these offer some form of credential or service escrow capability. They solve a very difficult problem that is faced by virtually all Internet based service providers; how to allow someone other than the user who agreed to the terms of agreement and opened the account into an account.
My advice regarding password managers is that more people should use them. They are an important tool to maintaining one’s individual security on the Internet. In order to be truly useful across multiple devices a password manager needs to use some common storage point and using Internet Cloud based storage works. The key to using Cloud based storage and keeping your passwords secure is making sure the manager supports strong encryption.
I read an excellent article by Nate Anderson in Ars Technica, “How the FBI found Miss Teen USA’s webcam spy” about how they broke the recent Miss USA ‘sextortion’ case. It got me thinking about how many of my friend and colleagues become temporary IT support personnel at the end or the year trying to help their parents and loved ones through their various computer problems. While remote access tools are a tremendous help in solving these issues without having to travel to someone’s home; they do pose a risk. Even my wife’s favorite support tool; Teamviewer has been targeted. By their design these tools are developed to sit and listen for an incoming connection. If you do use these tools make sure that you are using a non trivial password or pass-phrase. Try to make sure that the tool doesn’t load upon start up and requires that someone find and execute the program before a remote connection can be created. If possible move the link to the utility out of the normal applications folder and into a sub folder so that it is that much harder to ‘accidentally’ launch.
Trying to secure the Internet and all it’s users, content, and services is a difficult job. The Internet is a global resource that supports many different cultures and languages. The purpose of the various Internet web sites that appear on the Internet vary from commercial sites selling products and services to informational sites about many more topics that most people need or care to know about. There are a myriad of operating systems and applications used to produce and access those sites. As if Advanced Persistent Threats (APT) were not bad (or scary) enough there is now a new term used to describe the attacks that security personnel are trying to secure all these operating systems and applications from. Welcome Targeted Persistent Attacks (TPA)!
The first read where I came across TPA was over at Tech Republic. During an interview with the Research Vice President at NSS Labs they report:
“The truth of the matter is that an APT is sometimes made up of known exploits/vulnerabilities that are not that Advanced; so the term APT doesn’t define the action correctly. TPA highlights that the actor is going after a specific target such as company X or an entire industry sector like financial services, and will be persistent in attacking the target”
Uhh? So the reason we need a new category of product is because some malware writer slacked off and didn’t use the latest, most advanced exploit or vulnerability and instead used something that Microsoft already addressed a couple of Tuesday’s ago?
To be fair this blog post that also appeared at NSS labs makes a better case for the new term (TPA that was). What NSS Labs seems to be talking about here is threat or breach detection. Of course, there is also a TPA focused Breach Detection Systems (BDS) product buyers guide.
The NY Times reported this afternoon that David Pogue, longtime (13 years) tech columnist for the New York Times is leaving to start a new consumer-oriented tech site for Yahoo!. I’m a fan or all three: the NY Times (great paper and good business oriented tech coverage) , Yahoo! (been a subscriber there since the week they started offering subscriptions), and Pogue as a talented tech writer. I’ll continue to read the Times daily (yeah Bits Blog!) and use Yahoo! both as an info and services source. I think the biggest challenge will fall to Pogue. He’s usually a great writer and if you have seen his videos you know that he can stand in front of a camera and report on a story. Can he carry an entire site? I guess we will all see?
I have been thinking a lot about how security practitioners can share information. They need to be able to tell the masses about security issues. I usually refer to this as security awareness. They need to be able to communicate the current security and risk state to organizational leaders. I came across an interest web site that uses a Heat Map to relate security state information.