Security

Apple Battery Hack Could Lead To Ransomware

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I just read about the ‘Apple Battery Hack‘ where by specially crafted code could brick an Apple laptop battery.

Luckily the author who discovered the hack provided Apple with the information so they can fix it. Hopefully soon.

Imagine if hackers created a virus that took advantage of the bug and infected your laptop, threatened you to pay a ransom or else they render your laptop inoperable?  You are probably saying to yourself, ‘Apple doesn’t get viruses’, which is completely false. Just look at what happened with ‘Mac Defender‘. Websites were created in order to trick people to download and install the software, because the software looked legitimate. Lo and behold it was a virus. Hats off to those of you who can’t be tricked, but there were many who were duped.

As of July 28, 2011 an Apple laptop batteries costs $129 USD. How many times are you willing to replace the battery before you give in to the hackers demands?

I’m not saying it’s the end of the world either and freak out. Nothing can be done until Apple releases a fix. Until then, you need to stay vigilant and be aware of what you install on your computer. Someone else would have to discover how the vulnerability works and then create a conceivable way of delivering it and infecting a user with it. By then, Apple will have likely released a fix for it. It’s up to you apply the fix.

The moral of the story is, keep your operating system software up to date. Be it MAC or Windows. As the article pointed out other laptops weren’t tested, and they could conceivably be affected by the same type of issue.

 

Anonymous Asked: How Much Information Do You Share On LinkedIn

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A securityphile reader recently submitted a question regarding LinkedIn and I thought I would share it with the rest of the readers:

“I’d created a Linkedin profile a year ago, but now I feel that the information on that site is just *too* much. Do you agree? I’m in the process of deleting every detail that I wrote about myself on that site… and just wanted to know your thoughts on the uses/potential for misuses of that site.”

Our anonymous reader agreed to let me post the question and response so that other readers can benefit from she learned.

My recommendation is to limit the amount of information you place on LinkedIn. By default, LinkedIn makes your profile available to search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo. You can turn this feature off.

I would only enter the name of your employer and your position, nothing more into LinkedIn. No details about accomplishments, projects etc (you could be breaking confidentiality clauses you might not be aware of either you or your employer are liable for).

The more information you provide, the easier it is someone can build a profile of you. Since it’s the Internet, you have no control who can view your information. It’s easy to create a fake profile on any social networking site, people can use that fake profile to monitor you.

If someone is legitimately interested in contacting you regarding your experience, they can contact you further (make that known on LinkedIn).

 

Potential misuses could lead to identity theft, fraud or plain theft.

Depending on your employer and your position, you could be targeted by hackers (who may be employed by hostile governments etc.) who try to make you install software on your computer at work. If someone can see who you use to work with in the past, they could potentially pose as that person therefore gaining your trust.

It’s all about risk and the likelihood that that situation happens. If you are an administrative assistant to a high level executive in the auto industry or Canadian government, you could be a target. Those industries contain secrets and intellectual property that other countries may find very valuable. If you were the financial controller of a small business, you might be targeted because you have online access to your business’s bank accounts. If you are a receptionist at a high school, its unlikely a hostile government would try to hack you, but maybe one of the students might target you.

Threats to personal safety

If you have run away from an abusive husband and he has hired a private investigator to find you, one of the places he might look is LinkedIn. LinkedIn gives away information about location and name of employer. Your information may be unnecessarily exposed.

If someone was trying to steal your identity, they could call up one of your previous employers and pretend to be a new employer doing a background reference check. Depending on the person that is asked, they may unknowingly give up personal information about you. While you might not share such information, you can’t vouch for what another would do in the situation.

 

 

Why The iPhone Tracking Issue Is More Hype Than Threat

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Here is my two cents on Apple Gate, (the iPhone tracking issue), and why I believe its a red herring. It’s not a threat to your privacy based on the other research I have found.

First off, privacy has been a hot topic for the last year. Everyone is learning the lessons they faced with Facebook and are rightfully concerned. Also, reports of other companies, most recently Sony getting hacked, losing customer data is also getting more attention. So its understandable everyone is a little edgy when it comes to privacy.

Second, this is the opportune time for fans of BlackBerry and Android to take swipes at Apple. Unbeknownst to many people though, Android, BlackBerry and Microsoft all collect location information much like Apple did.

It’s likely this is the result of bad design or a bug, I’m guessing in the next version of iOS the location data might be encrypted and further buried again (security through obscurity). This information has actually been available before the blog post by Pete Warden last week.

I’m guessing the fact they store the entire history of your location is a bug. The fact that after disabling ‘Location Services’, your location continues to be logged sounds like a bug – and nothing more.

Let’s not forget that Apple is still trying to make an entry into social networking and using location based services would be an ideal way to jump in. The market for location based services is still relatively new, Foursquare is definitely leading the pack in that area, however there is still no clear market leader. I’m guessing Apple wants to dominate here.

Apple has testified previously to US Congress about collecting location data and they’ve indicated the data is anonymized. We’ll just have to wait and see when Apple responds.

Update, April 27, 2011: Apple has just confirmed it’s a bug, among many other details released in this Q&A

Guest Post on With Love… “Are You Sharing Too Much Online”

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My guest post about “Sharing Too Much Online” is up on With Love… I was honoured that Marta asked me to write this piece for her readers. I thought it was a great opportunity to cross over into the world of fashion blogs and hopefully share my knowledge about online safety with the fashion community. I was glad to see from the comments, quite a few people enjoyed the article and found the information valuable.

If you are interested in having me write a guest post for your blog, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

 

WordPress.com Hacked

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WordPress.com was hacked, it was announced yesterday. They are still conducting an investigation as to the extent of the hack and what data may have been compromised.

They recommend some preliminary measures to take like changing passwords, don’t re-use passwords on different sites and use a password manager.

All of which are good, necessary measures to protect yourself.

This is what I recommend you should do to protect yourself:

1. Change your username and/or email address in addition to changing your password

2. Generate new API keys for Webmaster Tools if you use them.

3. Check your settings to see if there is data you don’t recognize (like links to malicious ads)

4. Be aware of suspicious emails or SMS sent to you in the next few months, especially those asking you to reset passwords. Your phone numbers and e-mail addresses may have been exposed, .

5. If you use the hosted version of WordPress and you use the Jetpack feature you should reset your password as it requires you to create an account on WordPress.com

WordPress.com has calmed a lot of customers down by being transparent about the initial incident in their blog post. Hopefully they continue their communication after they’ve conducted their investigation.

Take note that having on a blog on WordPress.com is different than having your WordPress blog hosted on Go Daddy, Dream Host, Media Temple etc. etc. Read more about the differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org.

I would check back on the WordPress.com blog and look for any updates.

The comment section also provides good insight as to the customer sentiment and additional details provided by WordPress.

Are You Sharing Too Much Online? A Quick Guide To Online Safety

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About a month ago, I was contacted by Marta who runs the fabulous fashion blog ‘With Love‘, and she asked me to do a blog post for her about online safety and women. I thought it was a great topic and readily agreed. I have my own blog called ‘Securityphile‘ where I talk about everything and anything related to online privacy, safety and identity.

When it comes to online safety, the most important thing to remember is protecting your personal information. Without any information available about you online, your safety is pretty much guaranteed right? Unfortunately that isn’t a reasonable solution. It’s a rather extreme and narrow view of trying to stay safe, especially in 2011. What needs to happen is there needs to be balance. Today, a lot of our daily activities revolve around the Internet, and it has become the norm. Friends, family, co-workers are all sharing photos, shopping for clothes, listening to music, paying bills, handing in school assignments, talking to friends, etc. etc. – all on the Internet. In order to do any of that, we are required to give up information about ourselves in order to use the services. Typically an email address and a password are required so you can identify yourself. If you are shopping, credit card information and an address are also required so that you can pay for and receive your purchases. That is it. Any other information requested is usually optional.

However, things start to get complicated when you start using sites like Facebook, Twitter , Foursquare, Youtube, or any other social networking related sites. In order to get any reasonable use out of them, you need to participate, but instead of paying for a product or service, you engage and socially interact with others. You end up providing content (which is really just personal information about yourself), and it usually comes in the form of text, images, video or location, all of it delivered to a combination of friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances or strangers. Your friends and family may get to know you better, but so do strangers and acquaintances. Is that something you are comfortable with? If you aren’t comfortable, one way you can control this is by enabling the privacy settings, this way, you know who and who isn’t seeing what you post. In Facebook, the settings are quite granular, but for Twitter, its an all or nothing privacy setting. The feature ‘block this person’ is helpful too! Whatever you use, I highly recommend using privacy settings to control who can see your personal information.

The deal is, the more information you give up, the more people get to know you. This can be a good and bad thing. While it can be good for family and friends, it’s usually a bad idea when it comes to strangers and acquaintances. Then again, I bet there are certain friends or family members that you wouldn’t want to share everything with either am I correct? Strangers will know what you look like, but you don’t know what they look like. You don’t know what their intentions are and you have no way of judging their character. You dont know if they’ve been previously convicted of a crime or are mentally unstable. I would say for the most part, people are generally nice, which is why we tend to let our guard down and trust people. But it also makes it quite difficult to pick out the scary people. It’s tough to judge people sometimes, and people change too. The trick is to find a balance where you can share enough information that lets you participate effectively, yet you don’t end up giving up too much that people can figure out what your daily routine is.

I came up with a list of things to avoid when engaging in an online public discussion:

  • Your age
  • Your birth year
  • Marital status
  • Where you work/go to school
  • People you live with or if you live alone
  • Expensive items like cameras or computer equipment, jewelry
  • Your location, past, present and future (including vacations)
  • Your home address and the area you live in
  • Your main method of transportation (car or public transit)
  • Names of Family members and their relation to you

While the individual pieces of information above may mean nothing on their own, when you combine them with other pieces of information taken from Twitter, Facebook or Foursquare, it can give anyone a deeper insight about yourself, knowledge that you normally might not divulge. When sharing information online, I recommend being vague when it comes to personal information. If you want to share personal info with people, use a non-public channel like email or instant messaging. This way, you control who you are sharing it with.

Its not just your physical safety that you have to worry about. You need to protect your identity online as well. If someone gains access to your personal accounts like email, Facebook or online banking account, they may blackmail you, steal financial information from you or from your place of work. They may choose to take over your accounts and impersonate you. I’ve seen it happen to many friends on Twitter and Facebook. Have you?

How to Protect Yourself

Test yourself by checking your Gmail or Facebook to see if your account has been accessed by someone else. I have seen friends on Twitter talk about how they discover their Facebook accounts are being accessed – from a different state or province. Checking Gmail and Facebook can tell you if your safety/identity has already been compromised. If it has change your password immediately! If you have your own domain name, make sure you have chosen the privacy option for your WHOIS record. Doing a WHOIS look up will tell you if you are unnecessarily exposing your home address, when you should be keeping it private.

More Important steps you should take to protect yourself online:

  • Always use a different password for different accounts
  • Change all of your passwords. Every 4 months
  • Back up your data, documents, pictures, music on your computer and smart phone
  • When using public, free wifi connections, use it only to browse for public information. Dont use it to check email, access Facebook, online banking,
  • Same goes for public computers that are shared, you dont know what previous users have done to the computer
  • Answers to secret questions shouldn’t be information you can figure out from Facebook or Twitter. This was how Sarah Palin’s email got hacked. (Its not a good idea to use the secret question ‘what is your mothers maiden name when she is a friend on Facebook.)
  • Google yourself and create alerts whenever your name appears online
  • Keep your operating system updated, even if its MAC OS X
  • Use anti virus

I also spoke to some female friends to get their perspectives about online security and to understand how they protect themselves. All of them have a presence online, typically its a combination of a blog, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube etc. etc., all of which they incorporate into their regular, daily lives. I was quite surprised to hear they haven’t had any major issues with being harassed, stalked or had their identities stolen. When I delved further into the issue, it turns out everyone already practiced some form of safety routine. I was quite impressed by their knowledge and the various methods they used to protect their privacy. They use updated anti virus, update their operating systems on a regular basis, change their passwords or keep them in a safe location. Almost everyone I spoke to have set up separate email addresses, one for strangers and acquaintances and the other is for family and friends. Most importantly, they censor themselves and are careful about the content they post online. I am proud of my friends!

At the end of the day, it’s really up to you to decide what to share and what not to share and to whom. Its the type of information and the amount that you share online that affects your safety. Always think about what you are about to say online, you might forget what you said 2 years ago, but the Internet won’t. Always keep in mind that the information you post online can be interpreted differently by different people. Being online can make you closer to friends and family and when used properly, it can keep strangers and acquaintances at an arms length.

 

 

Don’t Announce On The Internet Where The Recipe to Your Secret Sauce Can Be Found

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I recently saw a post on Twitter where someone extolled their love for the password manager software they use. They also mentioned the information that was stored in it, the type of information that is the secret sauce to a person’s identity: user names, passwords and banking information.

While I think the use of password management software isn’t entirely a bad idea (as long as you have other defenses in place), I do believe it’s a bad idea announcing WHAT YOU USE to store the recipe for your secret sauce, particularly when it’s on a social networking website, for everyone to see. That’s akin to announcing to the whole world the name and model number of the safe I use at home, what’s stored inside and where it is. But I’m still using a safe, so I’m secure right? No!

Posting critical information like that to a social networking website will make you a likelier target for hackers. It will be easy for them to build a profile of people based on their blog, Twitter and Facebook accounts, then plan a social engineering attack. The attack may come in the form of gaining your trust, then sending you a malicious file for you to execute. A general search of 1Password or Keepass on Twitter, will show you lots of users who are using the software.

While the secret sauce maybe encrypted, if a computer is infected with a trojan horse that has key logging features, the encryption no longer protects you and it becomes a moot point. If you don’t keep your operating system up to date, use anti-virus and a firewall that just makes you even more susceptible to your secret sauce being revealed.

The other question to ask yourself is, where do you store this information? Is that encrypted file on a laptop or desktop? What if the laptop is lost or stolen? Hopefully there is a back up. And a back up of that back up.

Rule of thumb: The more information you reveal about your computer’s defenses, the more vulnerable you become.

What concerns me, is how easily this lack of knowledge is spread via Twitter, and it will give people who aren’t as technically savvy, the wrong idea. I can guarante a lot of people will try out the password manager but forget to do everything else, like update their browser, anti-virus, operating system and install a firewall. If that’s the case, they will have all their eggs in one basket, and be ripe for the picking.

Video: How ATM Card Skimming Works

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Has Your ATM Card Been Skimmed Before? This Is How It’s Done!

Information security is important even when you aren’t in front of your own computer or using your smart phone.

Remember, ATMs are computers as well, except you have no control over them.

In the video you’ll see a before and after picture of the ATM. Notice any differences?

When you are out and about, always try to use an ATM that is owned by an established bank and not the random machines you see in convenience stores etc. Try to be familiar with the location of the ATM as well.

You should really use your own bank’s ATM machines, so you avoid the unnecessary charges.

The video comes from the US version of the show ‘Real Hustle’, as it originally started out in the UK, much like many other TV shows.

Keep in mind, its not just ATM machines that are compromised. ATM pin pads are also affected by thieves attaching a device that is connected to the pin pad, reading all of the pertinent information as you enter it.

Sites Asking You To Test Out Your Password Is a Bad Idea

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I came across a website that tests out the strength of your password and had a few comments regarding it.

There maybe disclaimers that it doesn’t store any data. There is even links to the source code to prove it.

But the site doesn’t use SSL (I don’t see HTTPS in the URL of my browser) so your password is transmitted IN THE CLEARIT’S NOT ENCRYPTED.

Okay, you aren’t supplying a user name, but your IP address will most likely give you away as to what area you are from.

Sure the source code is available, but does the regular, every day person understand code? Who has tested it and verified that it works properly and it can’t be hacked. How secure is the website and the web host? The answer: You don’t know.

Bottom line: You shouldn’t be entering your password where it doesn’t belong.

Why Is Software Insecure?

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Here is a great article that gives some context regarding the software development process and how it relates to security vulnerabilities.

Software vulnerabilities will always exist in any platform, either in the past, present or future. This includes MAC OS X, Windows 7, any flavour of Linux and BSD etc.

Vulnerable software is a fact of life. However there are processes that companies can take to mitigate the vulnerabilities that exist.

As an aside, I’m noticing an increasing trend, particularly amongst MAC users, that believe they are impervious to malicious software who feel they don’t need to take the same precautions as WIndows users would. (running anti-virus, firewall etc.).

This lax behavior will only contribute to an increase in malicious software aimed specifically at MAC users.

The more users let their guard down, the more likely their computers will become infected.

Developing software to not be as vulnerable is a challenging process, therefore, users must take the initiative in protecting themselves and not depend on the vendor of the software.

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