Is WPA Still Secure?

There was a media announcement recently from a Russian company called Elcomsoft claiming to be able to crack WPA encryption. What’s this about and how does it affect you?

WPA is the preferred encryption for wireless networks, the kind you probably have at home or in the office. Here’s a quick recap of where WPA fits in:

  • WEP – the old wireless security option. This is useless, it provides no real security.
  • WPA – this replaced WEP. Some old devices didn’t support it but most new ones do. WPA is good, highly recommended.
  • WPA2 – this is better than WPA

So what did Elcomsoft do?
They developed a way to speed up the time it takes to crack WPA and  WPA2 encryption. Here’s a short summary:

  • If you use a short password, say 10 letters long, it used to take 579,000 years to crack. With this new technology it would now take 5793 years, or 5 years if they purchase 1000 of these machines dedicated to hacking into your wireless network (at a cost of over $1m of hardware).
  • If you use a good password, e.g. 20 characters long, will now take 10,000,000,000,000 years to crack, or shorter if you have thousands of computers working together on this.

In other words the article is mostly hype. Making something 100 faster doesn’t mean much when we’re talking about trillions of years.

The short version is: use WPA/WPA2 and a long password when configuring your wireless network. Use at least 20 characters.

What I’ve written above applies to small networks such as home or small offices. For large networks you should be using a technology called Radius together with WPA, this is much more secure, extremely hard to crack, and of course more complicated and expensive to install and maintain.

630,000 Laptops Lost at Airports Each Year

Another amazing statistic – across 46 states in USA there were more than 630,000 laptop computers reported lost in the past year. That’s more than 12,000 a week. And when you consider that most people still keep documents on their laptop computer when they travel they haven’t just lost a piece of hardware, they’ve potentially lost control of private and confidential documents.

What can you do?

airport1 Laptops can be insured. Anyone who carries a laptop around for work would have it insured, it’s just a cost of doing business. Nothing new here.

As for the documents stored on them, delete them before you travel!. If this sounds extreme then you need to wake up and realise what’s happening in the world.

At many airport security checkpoints customs officers now have the authority to look at the contents of your laptop’s hard drive before they let you board the plane or enter a country. And they don’t always just "look" – sometimes they make a copy of your hard drive so they can look more closely at a later time. Is this legal? Yes, in some places (including most US airports today). Read more about this in this article.

So you now have two reasons to delete all documents from a laptop before travelling:

  1. You could lose your laptop (like 630,000 other people each year in one country alone).
  2. You could be asked to hand over your laptop’s data to customs officers.

What a lot of large organisations do these days is hand their employees "clean" laptops that have no documents on them. Employees are given VPN access, so when they arrive at their destination they can access their office network and carry on with their regular work. If you’re new to the concept of a VPN read our previous article on its benefits. Another trick is to carry your files on a USB flash drive, and hide it in your wallet or luggage. This could be encrypted as well for security, in case you lose it.

Whole disk encryption is another technology that can help you with lost laptops. Whole disk encryption makes the entire contents of the laptop useless without a password. There’s no known way to recover the data. There are still two risks with this method:

  • You need the support of your IT department to ensure your organisation can restore your data in case you lose the password. Encryption management is not difficult for IT departments. For individuals it can be a burden.
  • If customs officers insist on seeing the contents of your laptop’s files you need to hand over the password, and they get to read and even copy your files. This is legal in most western countries, it’s not enough to tell them you forgot the password.

Now if you’re thinking that your laptop needs a password to startup and that this is enough to stop people, remember that the files on your laptop’s hard drive can be copied without a password. You just need to pull out the hard drive (easy to do with laptops). Whole disk encryption is the only effective password protection for laptops.

airport2 And while we’re talking about travelling now’s a good time to remind you not to trust free or hotel wireless networks. You never know who’s monitoring the network traffic (read our previous article on this).

Read the study on lost laptops here, sponsored by Dell.

So in summary:

  • Insure your laptop to recover the cost of the hardware and software
  • Delete all files from the laptop before you travel. Use another technique to gain access to them when you arrive (either a VPN or a hidden and encrypted USB flash drive).

Don’t use old browsers

A new report has concluded that 637 million people are using out of date web browsers. This is bad.

expired Old web browsers have security flaws and vulnerabilities. You’re meant to update your web browser to the latest version because the developers have worked hard to patch it and fix up security holes. And in almost every case an upgrade is completely free. Why would anyone choose to use an old browser?

There are no legal obligations to upgrade a web browser but with this many people ignoring the very simple task of upgrading maybe it’s time for something to change. Now’s a good time to check for updates (the option is often in the Tools menu of the browser you’re using right now).

The report is here.

New Fraud Statistics

Sometimes it’s hard to believe these statistics, the numbers are so large. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has finished their first survey of personal fraud. Their findings are that 800,000 Australians fell victim to fraud in some way.

453,100 of those lost money, for a total of $977 million. That’s a lot of people and a lot of money for a rather small population.

329,000 Australians lost money after responding to lottery scams and other phishing related scams.

A lot of people keep falling for scams. The best thing you can do is help them become aware of what scams and fraud tricks are being used. Remember that you can always subscribe to by email or with an RSS reader.

Nigerian 419 Scams

How much money do you think Australians send to Nigerians because of the old Nigerian 419 scam? (Keep in mind that Australia has a small population of 21 million)

wallet The answer is millions of dollars.

This very interesting interview with the head of the Queensland Police Corporate Crime Investigation Group (what a long title) discusses these scams and provides some interesting details.

People who fall for these scams often don’t report it, and in many cases repeatedly fall for these scams. Watch the video, discuss it with your friends, family and colleagues, and help raise awareness of this particular kind of scam. You can also read this article on how Nigerian scams work.

Link to video.

AusCERT Survey

look An Australian security organisation called AusCERT has conducted a survey and come up with the following results. I’ve added my own comments on the right.

Survey Results Comments
84% of respondents use the internet for banking 84% of internet users have something to lose if they’re not careful.
5% have used a neighbour’s unsecured wireless internet This is not only illegal but they’re using an untrusted network
11% never update their operating system Updates exist to patch known vulnerabilities, so these 11% of people have computers that can be hacked
8% never update their anti-virus software New viruses are discovered every day so these people are at greater risk
23% have malware infections on their computer Malware such as spyware and internet banking don’t go well together (i.e. this is how criminals steal money). Malware is always a bad thing to have on your computer. Do something about it.
68% are confident or very confident with computer security The other 32% should be reading

The full survey results have been published here. It’s an interesting read, especially seeing the reasons why some people don’t use anti-virus and anti-spyware software.

Malware Statistics

Symantec, a  large security company, have reported that there are now more malware writers than legitimate software writers.

They state that 65% of the 54,609 Windows applications released to the public in the past 6 months were malicious.

Another interesting statistic from this report is the percentage of browser plug-in vulnerabilities:

  • 79% ActiveX
  • 8% QuickTime
  • 5% Java
  • 5% Flash
  • 2% Windows MediaPlayer

What this means is that by disabling ActiveX from your web browser (Internet Explorer) you can avoid 79% of web browser plug-in attacks. Here’s an article on how to disable ActiveX.

As for the other types of plug-ins, keep them patched and up to date to reduce the risk of infecting your computer.

Here is Symantec’s internet security report.

3.6 Million People

crowdGartner is a well recognised research company. They’ve recently added up the numbers and come up with 3.6 million adults that lost money in 2007 due to phishing scams. In 2006 the figure was 2.3 million.

That’s a lot of people being conned and losing money online. According to this report it adds up to US$3.2 billion in USA alone.

Some tips you might find useful to avoid being of of these 3.6 million people:

  • Never hand over personal details to people or web sites, unless you’re 100% certain of who you’re handing the details to.
  • Pay attention to web addresses you click on. Read our article on this here.
  • If you didn’t ask your bank or other service provider to send you an email then treat it as suspicious.
  • Scammers always take advantage of popular events to send phishing emails. E.g., it’s now Easter so expect lots of Easter related scam emails.
  • Be skeptical of what you read online. Chances are you didn’t really win a lottery in Spain without even buying a ticket.
  • Use a good antivirus package that includes a web site scanner. The newer packages filter out fraudulent pages.

eBay Fraud

eBay fraud is rampant in Romania, Russia and China. In fact, eBay says that the majority of all eBay phishing emails comes from these countries.

Mark Lee is the trust and safety manager for eBay UK and he’s made the following comments:

  • “[there’s] no fear of real punishment [in these countries]”
  • “These attacks are definitely organised”
  • “There are towns in Romania where the entire focus is on sites like eBay as the main source of income”

There have been several hundred arrests in Romania after eBay initiated a campaign to stop fraud, in June 2007. But this hasn’t stopped them and it’s still rampant in these parts.

Techniques used by these criminals include asking eBay shoppers for personal details (when people bid or ask questions on the site) – this is known as phishing and the personal details are later used to commit other crimes.

If you use eBay to buy or sell goods have a read here [ ] for tips and tutorials on eBay security. And continue to read for online security tips.