Thursday, September 11, 2014

Web Filtering Is Not Glamorous, but You May Still Make the Paper

What may be done at any time will be done at no time. 
  ~ Scottish Proverb

Procrastination seems to be built into human nature somehow; some problems become crises before being dealt with. In the beginning, most web content filtering problems are virtually unnoticeable. Maybe it’s because they always seem to start so small they’re nearly innocuous: A slip here, slide there. And who really wants to deal with web filtering and make it a priority?

Web content filtering isn’t glamorous. Other issues feel more pressing, like network failures on testing days. Some issues are just more pleasant to deal with, like procuring new hardware. And let’s face it, students won’t sing your praises for bulletproofing your web filter. It is, however, necessary. Unlike rescheduled test days or network performance issues, a web filter failure will get your name in the paper.

Take Glen Ellyn Elementary District 41 near Chicago, Illinois. After a web filter failure there, in which fourth and fifth grade students were caught viewing pornography on the playground, parents combined forces to bring to light “other instances of inappropriate computer usage at district schools.” All together, the story originally broke in early May, but once on radar with the press, progressive coverage of events becomes standard. The most recent update on Glen Ellyn was published in August.

Another example of this phenomenon happened in Forest Grove, Oregon. A student there was using her IPad to look at erotica through the literature curation website Wattpad. The story was a follow-up in response to an investigational piece by the local news which focused on student agility in filtering circumvention.

And it isn’t just emergencies that get a school noticed for its web filtering policies. Apparently even over blocking of sites is press worthy, as indicated by the Waseca County News, on grounds that it is unfair. Sometimes the discussion even gets political, as it did in Woodbury, Connecticut, where a student doing research noticed that there seemed to be uneven blocking of conservative branded sites.

There are also probably more instances of web filtering gone bad that go unreported, but there’s really no way to tell how a filtering fumble will shake out before it hits the press. Of course, that begs the question; with so much at stake, why take the risk? Like laundry, dishes, or getting your oil changed, making sure your web filter is up to the challenge is the first small step in making sure that your students are protected, but it’s an important one. Perhaps it’s time to schedule some time

Monday, September 1, 2014

Red Letter Day for Onanists and Internet Fraudsters

Yesterday a number of explicit photographs of celebrities, including Jennifer Lawrence, were leaked on the Internet. I'll get to that in a moment. First, if you read no further, read this:

Don't go looking for these photographs, and don't click any links sent to you purporting to be them.

If you must look, we've hosted them all here. Seriously, we have been out a-searching since the news broke, in order to protect our users from the inevitable tide of malware links that have already begun to spring up. The major search engines work hard to keep malicious sites seeded with "current event" keywords from popping up, but this time will be harder, as the sites offering these images will often be similar to those offering the malware.

Now I am going to break from the norm. Most security blogs include the advice "don't take nude photos". I'm not going to ask you to quit. If that's your bag, keep at it — but bear in mind that your photo collection is now worth more. It's now worth more to an attacker who wants to populate their porn site, or to  blackmail you. It is also worth more to you, for the peace of mind of those images being kept private.

If we said the answer was "don't do it" every time doing something on the Internet resulted in a problem, we wouldn't have Internet banking. Or the Internet, come to think of it. So no, you absolutely should store your personal photos on the Internet. You just need to take further steps to ensure they are secure.

These steps include:

1. Make sure you know where your photos are. Many phones now automatically send your images to the NSA/GCHQ etc. under the guise of backup. This can be turned off. Weigh up your dismay at not having your photos any more, vs. the chance of them being stolen. Personally, I vote for backup, as anyone who pinches my pictures will find a heady combination of safari shots, and pictures of serial numbers for things I need to fix. Remember any other backup services (DropBox, Mozy, Backblaze, Crashplan et al) that you use here as well.

2. Secure the photos on-device. If your PC has no password, and your phone regularly sits around unlocked, there's no point hacking your backups. Seems obvious, but the proportion of people who take nude selfies is greater than those who use a lock screen. Apparently.

3. Use a password you use nowhere else. No, really. I mean it this time. I know you ignored me when I said "use a different password everywhere". Look, I forgive you, because I like you. But this one is pretty serious. Don't share the password with the one you use on a messageboard, or for grocery shopping.

4. Turn on "two step verification", "two factor authentication" or whatever anyone's calling it these days.

5. Secure the reset channel. Password resets are a good way to break an account. This could be email (password and 2 factor advice applies here), phone (PIN protect your voicemail!), or silly security questions that anyone with access to your Facebook can answer (make like Graham Cluley and tell them your first pet was called "9£!ttty7-").

A final word on this: watch for those malware links. They're already out there.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Security: Hard to Get Right!

Couple of interesting articles doing the rounds this week, which are worthy of a quick comment!

Heartbleed: the bug that keeps on giving
Reports suggest that the Heartbleed vulnerability was involved in a breach of over 4 million records from a health provider in the US — we won't see many of these, as identifying the culprit as Heartbleed is really difficult in most cases. That instances like this are still cropping up reminds us of the need to ensure we're patched, and not just in the obvious places like a web server. This time it seems to have been SSL VPN at the heart of the issue, so to speak.

Passwords: why are we still so rubbish at this?
Apparently 51% of people share a password. This is properly daft. Really, crazier than a box of weasels. Even if you trust the other person, there's no telling what accidents might occur, or where they may re-use that password themselves. I always get gyp from my wife that I won't tell her my passwords, but I won't — and believe me, I do pretty much everything else she tells me!

EU "right to be forgotten" rule still here, still a waste of time?!
Internet numptys are still asking Google to remove them from searches in their droves. Happily the BBC is kind enough to reveal who they are by linking us to the relevant articles. When will people realise that once you publish something on the Internet, it is there forever. Unless it's that really useful document you bookmarked last week, which now 404s and was never in the Internet archive. Yes, that one.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

For an Internet of Things, We Are Going to Need Better Things

There's a lot of hype around at the moment about "The Internet of Things" (IoT), which, I suppose, is all about attaching, uh, things to the Internet. By "things", it seems we are supposed to be thinking household goods, vehicles; basically anything with electrical current running through it is a candidate for the "internet of things".

While setting up a cheapo DVD player last week, I couldn't help thinking of Chief Brody in the film "Jaws"... "You're going to need a bigger boat", he says, on seeing the enormous shark. We're going to need a bigger mindset on security if we are to survive the onslaught of "things". The firmware in the kind of devices we are already routinely connecting up is drivel. I mean some of it is absolute garbage. I know there are exceptions, but most of it is badly built, and almost none of it is ever updated.

Each of these devices is likely perfectly capable as a host in a botnet - for DDoS, for sending SPAM, SPIM and SPIT (OK, we are yet to see much in the way of unsolicited Internet Telephony... but with the IoT, devices built to make calls/send texts are likely to get hijacked), so each of these devices has a value to the Internet's vast supply of wrongdoers.

Researchers at Eurcom recently completed a study showing up vulnerabilities in the 30 thousand or so firmware images they scraped from vendor websites. Apparently one image even contained a linux kernel whose age had just hit double figures. Ouch. The "Nest" next-gen thermostat hasn't been without issues either, a high profile target, at least we can expect firmware updates from them!

Synology's NAS storage devices are among the early victims of malware attacking non-traditional computing devices, and may be an indication of IoT issues to come. Users of these storage devices have found themselves victim of a crypto-ransomware attack: their files are encrypted, and the encryption keys offered for sale back to them! Other early warnings come in the form of attacks on SCADA industrial control systems. These are all places that traditionally, little or no emphasis has been placed on security.

What can we do to help ourselves here? My advice is be careful before you buy anything you're going to add to your network. Look to see if the vendor has a firmware download, and if there's a recent-ish update. If they're the fire'n'forget types, you're probably not going to want to deploy it.

Footnote: Gartner appears to believe the Internet of Things to have reached "peak hype". Reminds me of an old saying about those dwelling in vitreous abodes launching masonry...

Friday, July 4, 2014

Of Wikipedia and vandalism.

Wikipedia is regarded as a bastion of factual accuracy and impartiality.

If you have no idea what Wikipedia is, please step blinking into the sun and let me explain:
It's an online encyclopaedia that anyone can contribute to. Literally anyone. There are no pre-requisites, no background checks and exactly one hoop to jump through: bothering to post the edits.

Fantastic idea isn't it? A platform for the entirety of human knowledge to be collected in a single shining pantheon, stripped of journalistic bias and sensationalism, and laid bare for all to marvel at. Enshrining almost 60 times more information that the Encyclopaedia Britannica. A beacon of knowledge and wisdom through collaboration and communal spirit!

Except this is the internet, a place which at times can be a wretched hive of scum and villainy.

From Wikipedia:
Vandalism is any addition, removal, or change of content, in a deliberate attempt to compromise the integrity of Wikipedia. Examples of typical vandalism are adding irrelevant obscenities and crude humor to a page, illegitimately blanking pages, and inserting obvious nonsense into a page. 
Wikipedia has an entire team and comprehensive guidelines for dealing with vandalism.
As of April 2014, there were 4,500,000 articles on Wikipedia. That's potentially 4,500,000 blank canvases for anyone with the inclination and an email address to put their mark on. Repeated transgressions will result in the user or their IP being banned from editing anything on Wikipedia. This is fine for Vandal A sitting at home trolling, but becomes a problem when an entire organisation's connection is blocked. They don't like to, but Wikipedia can block an entire IP range if the need arises. Jobs have been lost due to irresponsible Wikipedia edits (in Government, no less) — there are very real risks.

Here at Smoothwall, we've had more than one request for the ability to make Wikipedia read only in an effort to prevent this issue getting that far. Tomorrow this goes live and is in a similar vein to our previous work on Facebook and Twitter, albeit a little more niche. It's also not a blanket on/off switch, it's applicable the same way as any policy is — to whomever, whatever and whenever you like.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

2 Weeks To Secure Your Networks... Starting...

Well, roughly 2 weeks ago. Apparently, there's a malware storm a-comin' - batten down the hatches, man the barricades, etc.

Yawn. Look, if you're not ready for this influx of malware, you're not ready to plug in your router. Surviving on the Internet during this coming malware bonanza is like surviving in a 'phone booth with 2 angry brown bears. If I said, hey, let's go with one angry brown bear instead, you wouldn't fancy your chances any better.

Ursine analogies aside, if we do get the proposed storm (and here I'm going to suggest that we're looking at a level of likelihood similar to that of weather forecasting), keep doing what you're doing. It's always a good time to start doing what you're doing better, but to make changes for this - fairly generic - incident that you're not willing to keep in place full-time is a second rate scheme.

My advice, pick one thing you've been looking to improve about your IT security for a while, and use the press coverage to justify your budget spend - but don't show the bean counters this article.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Passwords - At it again?

The recent eBay hack got me thinking about passwords, for about the 5th time this year. After Heartbleed, I did a bit of an audit on the passwords I was using, and I hope you did too. I then moved house, and had to change a bunch of address details, and in the process, I found a few more places I had passwords set up that I didn't know I had. One of these places emailed me a reminder with the password in plain text. This means they are storing my password, on their server, in the clear. I'm not mean enough to name names, and indeed I have offered to help them fix it, and given a few pointers - I'm nice like that, you see!

There's a moral to this tale, however. I should be concerned that Company X's servers may be compromised, and my password released, because they stored it badly. If that was the case, I would want to change my password as soon as I heard of the breach, as an attacker would immediately be able to access my account. My best defence would probably be that my name's likely to be right in the middle of the list, and any attacker is probably working his way past Archibald Atkins up there at the top of the user list - I hope I can get to reset my creds before the bad guys get to "N"!

However, I hope that eBay are smarter (not that there's any direct evidence that this is the case: they've been a bit evasive on how they stored our passwords). Despite this, I immediately changed my eBay password too. Why? because even a hashed password is cracked fairly easily these days, and that crack is getting easier every day.

Given a 6 character password (still accepted by many sites), hashed with MD5, it is possible to check every possible password in less than a minute on standard hardware.

So: sites are still storing passwords plaintext. For a while, MD5 was the go-to hash function. How many people do you think are still using that? SHA-1? Not much better apparently. Salt-per-password - better odds, but not unbeatable. While there's so much that a site could do "wrong" that would mean your password is brute forced in no time, there's a bunch you could do wrong too, like picking a dictionary word, or something nice and short. Be aware that the bad guys are finding ways to crack passwords orders of magnitude faster, such as using CUDA/GL setups.

What can we do to protect ourselves against the disparity between the ability of wrong 'uns to crack passwords, and the slow uptake of more secure hashing?

You can never ever re-use a password. I am pretty sure I still am - probably on accounts I should have closed years ago, but tidying up your passwords is worse than changing your postal address! It's really difficult. You will need a password manager. I chose Lastpass personally, some of my colleagues use passwordsafe and keep the file in dropbox - pick the one that's right for you.

A password manager is essential to keep up with the large number of passwords you will need - however, I would advocate keeping your key passwords out of any manager - eggs, basket, and all that. So email, financial services, that sort of thing, probably should stay in your head!

Finally, any sites which offer 2 factor authentication, please do take them up on the offer. That way you're less likely to suffer a breach while the organisation decides on the best way to tell you your password has gone walkies.

TL;DR - three things you need to remember about your passwords:


  • Two factor Where You can
  • Password Manager for the Many
  • Remember the Few