Can Apples be more secure?

camoThe US Army has been upgrading their servers and workstations to Macs and are claiming they’re harder to hack (i.e. they’re more secure).

The primary reason they state is that fewer attacks are written for Macs than for Windows. This seems true for now.

One common weakness between all operating systems (Mac, Windows, Linux, etc) is the user. People can be tricked into clicking on things or carrying out other hazardous tasks no matter what computer they use (this is where security education comes in).

More details here.

Using Unsecured Wireless Networks

Sophos (a large IT security company) recently conducted a survey of 560 people. 54% of them admitted to using someone else’s wireless network without permission. That’s more than half the respondents. Why should you care?

If you have a wireless network that isn’t well secured then:

  • Someone could be using your internet account and incurring expenses (or pushing you over a capped limit and effectively slowing down your connection)
  • Someone could be illegally downloading copyrighted content (such as using a file sharing program to download commercial movies – it’s illegal and you’re liable for providing the connection)
  • Someone could be using your internet connection to commit online crimes (just read the posts on this site to get an idea of how common this is).
  • It lets anyone within range bypass your firewall, making your computers and other wireless devices vulnerable. This is especially important if you have wireless in an office environment
  • It’s easier for someone to install spyware on your computer, making activities like online banking very dangerous

aerials The most important reason of these is how easy it makes it for someone to use your network to commit crimes. Imagine being involved in a child pornography investigation, or having your internet disconnected because your network was used to send millions of spam emails.

I’ve written before on how to secure a wireless network and if you haven’t done so it’s worth reading through here.

If you’re in the 54% of people who wouldn’t think twice of using someone else’s wireless network without permission then you should know that:

  • It’s illegal in a lot of countries (people get arrested for this quite often)
  • It’s effectively stealing. It isn’t a victimless crime
  • You can’t trust the network you’re using. It’s easy for someone to setup a wireless network in such a was that they can record all the traffic from it. This is one way to eavesdrop on other people’s traffic and to capture passwords

So the message here is to secure your wireless network, and don’t use other people’s wireless networks without permission.

Wireless Network Used in Extortion

An Australian man in Rockhampton has been arrested for trying to extort money from people. Here’s how he did it.

  • He gained access to other people’s wireless networks. This is fairly easy to do, even if you turn on WEP encryption (read about securing a wireless network here). By using other people’s networks he was harder to locate
  • He sent users threatening messages, made to look like they came from elsewhere
  • He then demanded money to be dropped off at a specific location
  • And he repeated this a total of 12 times

Suitcase full of moneyThe police were able to find him and arrest him. It’s important to secure your wireless networks so that other people don’t use it to commit crimes.

Full article here.

Statistics Update

Secured CDA quick update about online crime.

In Italy, 26 people were recently arrested for taking part in running phishing sites (web sites that look like bank sites (for example) but are designed to capture your account number and password). Two of these people have already been sentenced (5.5 – 6 years prison). It’s important to realise how common this problem is in the world.

And a short while ago I wrote about some important disks that were lost by the British government, containing personal data on 25 million people. That incident received a lot of press coverage and it’s not an isolated case. This stuff happens frequently, like in Northern Ireland. Two CDs were lost this week by one of their government agencies containing personal data on 6000 residents. These disks were not encrypted, as the previous case. Full article here.

Then in California a laptop was stolen containing personal information on 45,000 patients of Sutter Lakeside Hospital. Again the data was not encrypted, making it all too easy for anyone to use this personal information as they see fit. I recently wrote an article on protecting laptops when used to take home work. Full press article here.

Some lessons to be learnt are:

  • There are a very large number of online criminals doing everything they can to try and steal your money
  • Disks and notebooks (laptops) are lost or stolen all the time. If they contain sensitive information they should be encrypted
  • Keep in mind that your personal details are not all that private anymore

Skype Encryption

Skype is a popular communication tool allowing people to have voice and video conversations over the internet. And one of its features is how it transports that communications data. Skype first encrypts your data then distributes it using a network of other skype users (using what’s called a peer to peer model).

The encryption is intended to stop random strangers eavesdropping on your conversations. And it seems to be fairly effective from what this article says – the German Federal Police Office have a problem wiretapping Skype calls.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Well, it’s a little of both. It gives Skype users a level of security that makes the general public comfortable enough to use it, and stops casual eavesdropping. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that VoIP traffic (phone calls over internet) can be intercepted in other ways. When it becomes too hard to break the encryption, as the German police found, an easier path is to install a trojan on the PC and intercept the voice data before it becomes encrypted. This stuff really happens.

The German federal police office is looking into developing trojans so they can install one on people’s computers they need to listen in on (article here). This is a legal form of spyware (at least in the country it’s used in). Other governments have been using this technique for years and legally it’s not much different to wiretapping a phone. What makes it scary is that antivirus companies have an understanding with law enforcement agencies and some government spyware may go undetected.

This isn’t a problem to most people. And at the end of the day it’s no different to using a house or mobile (cellular) phone.

The message in this article is that you should place the same level of trust in any VoIP phone (such as Skype) as you would with any other phone. It doesn’t offer any additional level of privacy. Law enforcement agencies have been finding ways to listen in, and fairly soon we’ll have spyware that can do the same thing only with less legal intentions. has been compromised

GnomeSome pages on the website have been compromised, using iframes to cause people’s browsers to download malware and steal information from the computer. This is a risk if your web browser loads ActiveX controls (such as Internet Explorer). is used by players of online games such as World of Warcraft.

The use of a good antivirus program that filters websites would help here. And hopefully by the time you read this the people supporting the site would have fixed it.

Wireless Keyboards are easily hacked

Wireless keyboards can be intercepted, very easily. This is something you should be aware of not only when purchasing new equipment but when using someone else’s computer. There’s no real defence against it either, other than using a wired keyboard.

Before I explain the risks let me point out which keyboards it does and doesn’t affect:

  • All keyboards using a 27MHz transmitter are at risk (which includes most of them)
  • Keyboards that advertise "wireless encryption" or "secure" features are also at risk
  • Bluetooth keyboards are safer (though these are generally more expensive)

typewriter The risks of such an "attack" should be obvious – other people within range could be recording every keystroke. This includes the address of websites you go to, usernames, passwords, the contents of emails, chat conversations, etc.

In a business environment this would be a critical breach of security. Giving away passwords, trade secrets, and other sensitive information is quite serious, and in a lot of cases criminally irresponsible. Wireless keyboards that fall into the "at risk" categories above should be banned.

At home the risks are just as serious. Anyone using a home computer to do internet banking should immediately recognise the dangers of giving away too much information (i.e. finding a large amount of money removed from your bank account). Again, either use a wired keyboard at home, a Bluetooth wireless keyboard (expensive), or limit the keyboard & computer’s use to trivial tasks such as gaming.

How does the attack work?

Well, it seems there are only 256 possible encryption codes, so hackers have cleverly written software that tries them all within seconds. Then there are other tricks they use to break the encryption that some keyboards use (for the IT savvy reader, it’s an XOR protocol).

So it takes about 20 to 50 keystrokes before enough information can be gathered to break the encryption.

How close does one need to be to "sniff" wireless keyboard signals? Usually it’s 4-8 feet, or 1-3 metres. But with more powerful aerials this can be extended much further (hundreds of metres).

Also keep in mind that Bluetooth generally isn’t a very security protocol. It’s only considered safer because of how easy it now is to hack normal wireless keyboards. But you shouldn’t use it to keep million dollar secrets.

There’s a video here demonstrating how it works (warning, it’s geeky and technical): Wireless keyboard hacking.

So go back to wired keyboards, they not only more reliable and more secure, they don’t have batteries that need replacing or recharging.

Chinese CyberSpying

Security Gate British businesses are being warned about Chinese industrial espionage aimed at retrieving financially sensitive data. In particular, at least 1000 businesses have been warned that they’ve potentially been targeted to obtain data on their trading with Chinese companies, in an attempt for the Chinese parties to negotiate higher prices in their business dealings. There’s an article here with the full story.

This post is aimed at businesses, whether large or small. Online espionage, or cyber spying, is a real threat. It doesn’t necessarily need to come from China either, the technology and skills exist in just about every city and country that’s connected to the internet.

Everyone needs to secure both their networks and the computers with it. The old belief that a firewall is enough has always been false, even more so now that data threats can come from so many levels (see the SANS document that was mentioned here earlier). It’s everyone’s responsibility to do everything within their power to increase security. The threats are out there, large amounts of (your) money are stake, and there’s always something you can do.

So now is a good time to review your network security and to improve it.

Top 20 Internet Security Risks

SANS is an organisation that does a lot of security research as well as other things, and they have a good reputation for their work. They’ve just published a report showing the top 20 internet security risks. They point out that social engineering is one of the biggest risks at the moment. Social engineering is the term used to describe how people effectively trick (or otherwise convince) others to provide sensitive details.

There’s a lot of detail in this report and it’s well worth reading. Below are a few bits of information from the report and it’s just not possible to summarise it all here. Have a read through it if you have time.

  • Web applications are vulnerable to being hacked and information misused or stolen.
  • People can be manipulated
  • The following applications are the most vulnerable:
    • Web Browsers
    • Office Software
    • Email Clients
    • Media Players
  • Unencrypted laptops are a risk to losing large amounts of data
  • Instant messaging and peer-to-peer programs are a risk to businesses

The full report is here. It’s long and very detailed, and well worth your time in reading it.