June 30, 2012 By Dan Lohrmann
I was recently on vacation with my family in Ocean City, Maryland. As I powered up my iPad from our fifth floor condo on 136th Street, more than a half dozen wireless networks popped up. I asked myself: Can I use (or trust) any of these? Are they free? Is it worth the risk, if they are?
The names were intriguing to me, ranging from Netgear58-5G to Oceanside136 to OceanNet Public Internet ST to Wireless Beach Access. Some of these networks had locks next to them and others did not. Clicking on a few of the options, I received a splash screen asking for a credit or debit card numbers. The price for access ranged from $4.99 for one hour to $9.99 for 24 hours to $42.99 for one month (31 days).
Others WiFi networks asked for a password, and I am happy to report that the networks were fairly secure. (My son wanted to start guessing passwords based upon the network names or Ocean City street names or boardwalk trivia, but I persuaded him not to go there.)
In case you’re wondering: no, I did not connect to any of these hotspots, and my wife and I preferred to use our Verizon data plans instead. This meant we had to up the number of minutes on her monthly data account, and that cost us an additional $20. I did use the free McDonalds WiFi, and the free WiFi at another restaurant but passed on the others.
But this situation leads to a series of questions that I’d like to address for travelers, such as: are any of these WiFi networks safe? Plenty has been written about airport Internet access and free WiFi in hotel lobbies, but what about wider issues for families traveling on vacation? Are there tips regarding which networks we can trust? Are there certain traps we should avoid?
First, how safe are free public WiFi networks? Well this video claims that WiFi hacking is the fastest growing consumer crime in America. This ABC News video on WiFi networks is also worth viewing. Here’s another good video on WiFi security from central Indiana. One message that is clear is that hackers are setting up fake hotspots to view your personal data.
If you do connect to free WiFi networks, you need to understand the risks and the lingo. Check out this article, which described the different buzzwords that are important. From sniffing to sidejacking to honeypots, this picture offers a great summary of the relevant terms.
Infographic by Veracode Application Security
Here are some more helpful tips that I found along the way: Five rules for (safely) using public WiFi networks. I’ve abbreviated the list here, but click on the article for more details:
Also, here’s an extended list of tips for using WiFi networks when traveling (the list is from Symantec).
One simple tip is to use a trusted network from the resort or hotel that you’re staying in – if available, such as Disney’s free WiFi. But even if you trust the source, the safety tips are still important to help.
Another good tip is to ensure that your personal firewall is enabled on your PC.
Bottom line, using public WiFi remains a minefield. While avoiding free WiFi is probably not practical for most people, we need to take steps to protect our computers and our families when traveling. Understanding your options is a good first step, but we need to take action on know steps to protect our data on vacation.
Any WiFi tips to share? I’d love to hear about your experiences, so leave a comment.
June 16, 2012 By Dan Lohrmann
What’s appropriate and what’s not regarding the use of social networks? Beyond formal codes of conduct at work, what behaviors and attitudes will likely lead to trouble? What tips can we share from those who have gone before us and learned about the good, the bad and the ugly? What good habits enable a positive experience in the long run? And, what are some examples of social media technology being used in destructive ways that undermine relationships?
These are topics that need more attention, in my opinion.
One aspect of cybersecurity that gets far too little attention online is pragmatic cyber ethics. Most security bloggers (including me) spend beaucoup time elaborating on viruses, malware, hacking, passwords, insider threats, external bad guys, policies, conferences, cloud computing challenges, do’s and don’ts of government technology contracts and more. However, we spend too little time addressing online etiquette issues that are getting people in trouble – even when technology and security are working properly.
Don’t get me wrong. Social media marketing advice abounds – if you are looking for it. A quick Google search will yield almost half a billion page views. One top article offers: 10 Social Media Tips From a Top Media Agency, with advice like “Don’t Be an Island” and “Listen Up.”
But marketing is not what I’m talking about. I’m referring to personal advice that works for the average user – even at home.
I like this About.com article entitled: Top 10 Social Media Do’s and Don’ts, which focuses on finding a job using social media. Also, there is advice on how to act online to, amongst other things, “not get fired.”
Another worthwhile article is a few years old but still very relevant: Social Media Etiquette: 20 Dos and Don’ts to Avoid Looking Like an Ass. Here’s an excerpt:
“… DO think before “speaking.” – Yes, social media involves the ability to publish your thoughts instantly. But just because something pops into your head, it doesn’t mean it should be shared with the world. Think first.
DO personalize messages and introductions. — When you first connect with someone new and they don’t already know you, go ahead and say hello. Let them know how you came across them. It’s a little less creepy and you might just make a great impression.
DO think (and network) outside your circle. — If your social networks only involve people who agree with you, you’re living in a box. It’s silly at best.
DON’T post questionable photos of others without their permission. — Regardless of whether or not you legally need a model release to post a certain photo, don’t post anything questionable or compromising of someone else unless you check with them first. It’s just the right thing to do. And if you don’t, remember this — karma’s a bitch. You have no idea what they have on you.
DON’T send automated messages to new followers. — When someone follows you on Twitter, don’t use automated tools to immediately bombard them with messages (no matter how sweet you think you’re being in your not-so-personal “hello”). Remember, it’s not just you annoying them — others are doing it too….”
But my favorite social media advice, and the blog that got me thinking about this topic again this week, comes from Pastor Kevin DeYoung. I urge you to read his entire post – regardless of your religious beliefs. Here’s an excerpt from: The One Indispensable Rule for Using Social Media:
“…Whether you are a tween, a teen, a pastor, a politician, a grandma, or a grad student, whether you blog, tweet, post, or pin, here is the one indispensable social media rule you must follow if you want to be wise, edifying, and save yourself a lot of anguish:
Assume that everyone, everywhere will read what you write and see what you post.
No matter your settings or how tight your circle is, you ought to figure that anyone in the world could come across your social media. All it takes is a link or a search or a bunch of friends you don’t know gathered around a phone that belongs to someone you do know. Anyone can see everything. Your pastor, your parishoners, your ex-whatever, your boss, your prospective employer, your spouse, your kids, your in-laws, your I don’t know if people forget fans, your constituents, your opponents, your enemies, your parole officer, the girl you like, the dude who freaks you out, the feds, the papers–assume everyone can read your rant and see your pics….”
Now I’m sure that some readers will misinterpret this perspective – especially endorsed from a chief security officer. No, I am not giving up securing sensitive data via appropriate channels. Yes, I think Facebook, Google and other others should offer better privacy setting options.
But social media sites are, by design, very open and shared. Kevin's advice affects how we wisely post material and interact in online conversations. There are real consequences to bad judgments regarding whether content should be posted. One friend said to another friend: “What part of the words ‘social media’ don’t you understand?”
I even left a comment on Kevin’s blog about this rule applying to most email exchanges at work. (I know this goes beyond the social media category.)
Yes, I believe secure email can be private. However, I have seen hundreds of examples of inappropriate use of email by staff to rant about personnel problems, coworkers, their management, a lack of a raise, their spouse or other topics. These emails can be forwarded to others, show up in court proceedings via an e-Discovery (court-order) request, accessed by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in governments, sent via “blind cc,” or even inadvertently read by coworkers on screens.
I’m no longer surprised by stories of the inappropriate uses of social media. Yes, I am an optimist who believes that technology can, and will, do amazing things. But as Thomas Jefferson once advised, “When angry count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred.”
I think this quote applies to online social media channels as well. What are your thoughts? Any tips to share?
June 10, 2012 By Dan Lohrmann
Computer experts from around the world are warning users to change passwords immediately following the announcements that millions of passwords from LinkedIn, eHarmony and Lastfm were posted on hacker websites.
The Internet is full of stories about various topics surrounding the breaches as well as articles on how to effectively protect passwords. Here’s an excerpt from a Washington Post article on the password breaches:
“If there’s one thing that the LinkedIn, eHarmony and now Last.fm hacks have taught us in the past week, it’s that people are really bad at picking secure passwords….
What’s important to remember, even if you can’t keep track of a different password for every account, is that you shouldn’t ever use the same password for accounts that you use every day. That means, Facebook and Gmail should have different passwords, which in turn should be different from your LinkedIn, Spotify, Pandora, Twitter or, goodness forbid, your bank. Hackers are unlikely to target you, specifically, but if one of your passwords gets into a major data dump, you’re just opening the door for them if you’re sharing passwords.”
No doubt, this string of reported hacks has lit a fire under many people regarding their online habit of providing simple passwords or reusing passwords for multiple sites. I made a LinkedIn password change myself this week. My guess is that the disclosures actually underestimate the overall problem. How many others websites have been hacked that we don’t know about yet for a variety of reasons? Is this the tip of an iceberg? I totally agree that this is a wakeup call for users’ password habits.
However, I disagree with the advice, which is growing more popular and mentioned in several referenced articles, that we should even lie about such things as the answers to security or profile questions in order to fool the hackers. I believe that the practice of online lying can (and will) create other unintended consequences. Even though some people view these as harmless “little white lies,” this practice leads down a very slippery slope regarding cyber ethics. We are trying to build trustworthy interactions in cyberspace, and lying usually leads to more lying.
For example, the Washington Post interviewed Chet Wisniewski, senior security advisor for Sophos, who said, “… People should think about being a little less truthful on their security questions, as well, just as a precaution. Name, for example, your second car and not your first, or your child’s high school mascot.”
Huh? Will we remember which “a little less than truthful” answer we gave to which online question? (I already have trouble remembering whether I included words like "street" or "drive" on truthful answers.) Soon, we’ll need a database for all of the fabricated answers we gave to the dozens of different social networking sites that questioned us as we changed passwords.
Also, if we lie about answers to security questions, why not lie about a whole host of other things online. What messages are we sending to our kids about online conduct regarding downloading files, lying in chat rooms, profile settings about age, home addresses or a long list of other items? We already have a large part of society which (wrongly) believes that what we do or say online doesn’t count the same in real life. No, lying on security questions is definitely an unwanted rabbit trail.
What do I recommend instead? How about if the security questions were different or better? Stop asking us our mother’s maiden name. Why not just let us choose or even write our own questions? Or, I could pick my favorite car. My daughter likes the Facebook security challenge where she needs to name the pictures of several of her friends – rather than answering pre-populated questions or typing in a CAPTCHA. I agree with her, and I’ve had trouble with CAPTCHA’s before myself.
Moving on, there is no doubt that breaches harm the reputation of an online service. One article from Reuters even claims that this latest breach places LinkedIn’s reputation on the line. Here’s an excerpt:
“LinkedIn is a natural target for data thieves because the site stores valuable information about millions of professionals, including well-known business leaders.
‘This is the serious social networking site. This isn't the one I got to see pictures of my friend's new dog,’ said Mary Hildebrand, chair of the privacy practice area at the law firm Lowenstein Sandler.
The way that the company responds to the theft will play a critical role in determining the extent to which the incident damages LinkedIn's reputation, experts said”
Forbes went further and addressed the relationship between these breaches and the hacking of online banking sites. There is starting to be a cumulative effect of the massive number of new hacks that seem to be announced weekly. At what point does this start to slow down e-commerce? Will we get to the situation where people don’t want to go online with their sensitive data at all for fear of being hacked? This “stay offline” message is what the US Postal Service (USPS) tries to infers with their recent commercials on TV.
Only time will tell us about the long-term impact of this new password hacking trend. But meanwhile, I’ll repeat the manner that the IEEE Spectrum article on this same topic closes, “Let's hope that ‘inconvenience’—like getting lots of phishing email asking you to reset your eHarmony or LinkedIn passwords—is the extent of the suffering.”
June 4, 2012 By Dan Lohrmann
A new era began this weekend in cyberspace. Starting with the New York Times article dated June 1, 2012, which proclaimed: Obama Order Sped Up Wave of CyberAttacks Against Iran, the global discourse regarding cyber attacks has now shifted.
This NY Times article openly discusses cyberweapons and the efforts that the US Government took to derail the computers that run Iranian nuclear enrichment facilities. Here’s a brief excerpt:
“…This account of the American and Israeli effort to undermine the Iranian nuclear program is based on interviews over the past 18 months with current and former American, European and Israeli officials involved in the program, as well as a range of outside experts. None would allow their names to be used because the effort remains highly classified, and parts of it continue to this day….”
Regardless of your views as to whether this program was a good or bad thing, or your opinion as to whether this story should be available in the NY Times, there can be little doubt that these revelations dramatically alter the global landscape. Discussions regarding a “new 21st century cold war” have now become more heated. More than that, the relevance and priority of dealing with malware, viruses, hackers, identity theft, fuzzing, zero day exploits and potentially even cyber war have entered a new stage. This phase is likely to be even more precarious, if that is possible, for businesses, governments and even citizens who use the Internet.
Why do I know this is a new phase?
I opened up the Washington Post on Sunday morning, June 3, expecting to see a front page headline about Europe’s economic crisis or Egypt’s troubled leadership or Syria’s civil war or Britain’s Diamond Jubilee or perhaps some new aspect of the 2012 presidential election. But the bold print read, “Vulnerabilities pervade the digital universe.” I thought to myself: Is this really the top story?
As I read on, what was even more surprising to me were the dozen or so links to videos such as Zero Day: Exploring cyberspace as a new domain of war, graphics on fuzzing, quizzes on personal online habits, timelines on the history of the cyber threat and much more, as the Washington Post launched their “Zero Day” series.
I rechecked the URL at the top of the screen to make sure that I hadn’t inadvertently brought up an old issue of Computerworld. Nope - and that was only Part 1 of their investigative series on cybersecurity in 2012.
But the Washington Post was not alone in reporting on this topic. USA Today ran a major story: Risk of boomerangs a reality in cyber war. Here’s an interesting excerpt:
“The government's dual roles of alerting U.S. companies about these threats and producing powerful software weapons and eavesdropping tools underscore the risks of an unintended, online boomerang.
Unlike a bullet or missile fired at an enemy, a cyberweapon that spreads across the Internet may circle back accidentally to infect computers it was never supposed to target. It's one of the unusual challenges facing the programmers who build such weapons, and presidents who must decide when to launch them.”
If you want to know more about Flame, you can find numerous articles on this “highly sophisticated virus” as well.
There is also an excellent new series in the NY Times on Cyberwar, which covers many aspects of our new “digital combat.”
Other coverage on this topic includes CNET Cyber War .
Voice of America – Obama Knew of Attacks Against Iran.
Chicago Tribune – Cyber-attacks bought us time.
But perhaps the most intriguing (and yet scary) part of this “new normal” takes us back to the first article I mentioned in the NY Times. There were over 360 comments to that article as of Sunday evening, and many of them are worth reading. After I examined hundreds of responses to this article, I instinctively thought back over the past two decades and how fast the Internet has changed. There has been so much good and yet so many problems in cyberspace.
Overall, there is a sense in which a major attack against our critical infrastructure in the USA is inevitable. Will it be the power grid or natural gas or water or banks or food or other forms of transportation that is impacted? We have so many cyber vulnerabilities; can we possible stop all enemy attacks? The vectors are so much more numerous and complex as compared to stopping physical explosives from getting on a plane.
One thing is for sure: we now have a much more sobering view on the meaning of a “cyber attack.” Our government leaders have (reportedly) opened the gates by initiating a cyber attack – if other governments had not already opened that gate first. Either way, there is no going back.
I hope my prediction on a critical infrastructure attack does not come true. Still, all is fair in love and cyber.
Building effective virtual government requires new ideas and hard work. Security professionals need to be enablers of innovation. From helpful Internet training to defending cloud computing architectures to securing mobile devices, Dan Lohrmann will cover what's hot and what's not in protecting your corner of cyberspace.