Stop Using Security Questions

Please stop using security questions.

Why security questions were designed with good intentions

If you forget your password, a site can ask you a series of security questions. This allows you to recover your account while still potentially authenticating you with questions only you know.

Account recovery options are always a great idea, but doing so with security questions is bad.

Insecurity Questions

Seriously — they introduce insecurity. In my experience, I’ve come across a form like this:

What is your favorite color?

Your security question must contain at least five characters!

What do you think the most popular colors are? Red? Blue? What about: teal, gray/grey, etc. A form I’ve came across actually had a 5-character minimum, which removed options from this answer and made guessing black/green/white/yellow a bit easier. My wife will tell you that everybody from the 90’s would say “Crayola Cerulean” is their favorite — I’m inclined to agree.

Facebook even has a feature where people can “know you better” where you can answer questions about yourself and paste it on your profile. Yikes!

Mother’s maiden names are easy to get from your social network (click you, click your mom, look at her friends names, or look at whom you call “aunt”, “uncle” etc).

Distributing Security Questions

I’ve once seen an admin that would screenshot a page that shown user’s security questions. This page existed to help admins verify users are who they say they are over the phone. In lieu of using it for this function, people were screen shotting this info and sending it to users who “forgot” them. Yikes.

I’m a site user — what should I do?

If a site insists you complete security questions, generate random text and throw that in the box. If you need to recover the account later, paste in that random text. While there, look for the company’s security@ e-mail, Twitter, etc. Tell them to fix it.

I’m a webmaster on the world wide web

Heh, old terms. Disable the requirement for security questions, remove account recovery until you can fix it. Replace it with CAPTCHAs and allow them to reset it via an e-mailed link. Make the link valid for <30 minutes, and with a bunch of entropy in the query string. Don’t store the expiration in the query string. If their e-mail is compromised, they indeed can steal this account. For this reason, it is imperative for users to have secure e-mail accounts. Also, wipe the security questions out of the database. If you’re compromised, those answers can quickly become public.

What if I follow the email reset and security questions?

You could. It’s better than no email reset.

 

A Quick Shout-out to Marriott Hotels

Peepholes — The Window you didn’t know you had

Any hotel will have a peephole through the door, a small tube with a fisheye lens at the outset that allows you to see if there is a pizza delivery person or a murder in a clown suit outside your door.

If you walk up to these peepholes from the outside, and try to look in, it is very hard to see the room — with some fisheye lens correction, you can revert the image to a somewhat original state. Other risks, for example, are if somebody were to loosen it and install a camera into the hole. This isn’t as crazy as it seems.

Lastly, even if you use it the old fashioned way, an observer from outside can see if light is coming through it and becomes obstructed (from you looking through it). This can validate if you’re home, and that you’re on the other side of the door.

I have traveled often for both work and pleasure, and the only hotel chain I’ve seen that installs shutters on their peepholes is Marriott (and Fairfield Inn, owned by Marriott).

Just a shout out to them as a thanks for taking security to the next level.

 

 

Telltale Signs of Impending Password Breach

For most, password restrictions are an annoyance that prevents them from using easy to remember passwords, like “password” or “123456”. You can generally tell how a company handles your private information, and I’ll teach you a few tricks on determining which sites potentially store your password insecurely.

Smart Password Complexity Requirements

(none of these should be taken to indicate an insecure storage methodology)

  • Minimum character limits (for example, your password must contain at least 8 characters)
  • You must use numbers/uppercase/lowercase/symbols
  • You cannot use a dictionary word
  • You cannot use your name/username/email/other identifier in your password

Stupid Password Complexity Requirements

(it is probable that sites with these requirements are storing your password wrong)

  • Disallowing -any- symbol, be it dollar sign, comma, quotes/double quotes, hashes, less than/greater than, ampersand, and so on
  • Mentioning any upper limit to the length of your password (maximum 10 characters) *
  • Odd requirements, for example, requiring your password start or end with certain characters (letters, numbers) or prohibiting the ends of passwords from having specific characters.

*- There are functional limitations here, like the maximum POST size practical in a browser, yes, but if you can’t use a 100 character password, this is a problem.

What is a Password Hash?

There’s a separate blog post for that wee lil’ question:

What is a Password Hash?

In short, companies that care, use hashing for your passwords.

So you’re calling a company dumb, why?

Properly hashed data will return a relatively short hash from any sized input data — this is important to know, as it highlights exactly why having a maximum password length is a bad thing — it is a clear sign they’re storing your password in a really stupid way, or their devs are stupid. Either way, means bad security for you.

Now I love Southwest Airlines — a lot, I love flying with them I love their attendants, and none of their pilots have killed me. What else can you expect?

Well, I’d expect a certain level of hashing on my passwords:

Their reply wasn’t what I wanted. Basically reiterating the limitations of the form. It should be noted that this does not mean they’re vulnerable or are storing your passwords wrong, but it does make a pretty solid case that it’s possible.

Another company I used a very long time ago was TCF Bank. Now I know what you’re thinking — lmao, TCF. Yeah, their bill pay was garbage, their online banking from the 90’s, etc. I can’t speak for the interface now, but one thing that stuck out to me was the password length limit.

I’m done calling companies out now…

…Mostly because I don’t have more examples from the top of my head. When you see stupid password policies in place, it is generally in place because of a poorly configured WAF, or poorly built site. They are worried you’ll pass variables or SQL injections into their software so they filter the characters you use. Properly hashed passwords are completely inert — they are made up of hexadecimal letters without spaces, they will not execute as code.

Oh — One more thing, password resets:

If you reset your password and you get an e-mail back with your password, then they are clearly storing it WRONG. Change all of your passwords (except this site) and stop using it immediately. Close your account if possible. This site, once breached, will present no difficulty to anybody wanting your password.

Finally: Security questions suck really bad. Tell me what your favorite flavor of ice cream is in the comments!

What is a Password Hash?

What is encryption?

Encryption is a reversible message obfuscation technique which applies keys or mathematical models against a string of text. The key here is that, with the proper password or key, you can retrieve the original contents of the message.

Remember making up codes like “A=Z, B=Y, C=X” in school (this is a ROT13 Caesar Cipher by the way)?

That is encryption. Horrible encryption, since it is really easy to break, but it still counts.

What is Hashing?

Hashing is an irreversible message digest technique which applies mathematical models against a string of text. The same string of text will always generate the same output hash.

Let’s use MD5 because it’s old and people will comment on my blog if I mention it:

If I MD5 the word “hello”, I get the string “5D41402ABC4B2A76B9719D911017C592”

Go ahead, try it for yourself!

Every time you run a word through a hashing algorithm, it comes up with the same value. In theory, you can never “decrypt” a hash since the original information is no longer stored in it, just a representation of that data. This is the formats best selling point, and also it’s greatest weakness.

Password hashes, if unsalted/unpeppered, are vulnerable to these issues right out the gate:

  • Collisions, since we are using a limited amount of characters (in the case of MD5, 32 hex or 128-bits), it would be fundamentally impossible to ensure there is no collisions when hashed strings are both longer and shorter than 32 hexadecimal bytes.
  • Precomputed hashing tables “Rainbow Tables” — With enough time or storage, it is trivial to generate an MD5 hash of every common password (these lists are very easy to get). It is easy to reverse MD5/SHA1/any improperly handled hash. One of the biggest threats to password hashing is evolution — it used to take a “long time” to generate an MD5 hash, now GPUs can spit them out at astonishing rates. When your password is leaked by a company improperly storing your passwords, this is usually the first step — reverse all of the hashes.

 

What is a salted or peppered hash?

Due to the risks of precomputed hash tables, programmers have to work around the users. People will still pick terrible passwords that rainbow tables will contain. For this reason, a properly salted password is one that contains a randomly generated string for each password on the site. This is important, as using the same salt is as good as using no salt. People will get an export of your database, and generate a new table specific for your application. Having a salt for each password drastically increases the time to successfully attack your userbase (this is where password expiration come into play).

A peppered hash is a bit more uncommon, but still has it’s place. This value is an additional salt that exists only in the software. These are generally common across all passwords or are generated from other repeatable values. The purpose is layers — if the database leaks, and the pepper didn’t, it will be harder to get a password.

What is a Password Hash?

Finally — the question the post was made to answer. A password hash is simply a representation of your password that is repeatable and difficult to recover for the owners of the system and for attackers.

When you create an account, your password is hashed, therefore the site has your password but stores it in a secure manner.

When you log into the site later on, your password is again hashed and that hashed value is compared to the one from the time you created your account. If there is a match, you’re logged in. If not, it is “Forgot my Password” time.

 

 

 

Home Depot Replacement Card Misfire

Today, I received a new credit card from The Home Depot. (In the picture, the top one is my old one and the bottom is, obviously, the new one). The first thing I noticed was the new card was attractive and that they added a chip. I thought that was fantastic that a store card would go through the work. I then dug a bit further, and was less happy.

Behind the card, there is a mag stripe still. The Home Depot (“Home Depot”) cards are not valid at other stores (like a Visa, MasterCard, etc). This means that they control the entire payment ecosystem. My local Home Depot has chip technology, as have a few other locations I’ve been to. This means that they could have issued strictly chip cards and done away with the magstripe entirely. This would make them a clear leader in payment technology and I would have really been impressed. Sadly, they didn’t. Oh well, most companies don’t even have chips, and the big banks universally issue mag+chip cards.

The next issue I noticed (honestly, it is kind of a nice feature even it if it incredibly insecure) was that the card comes activated, ready to start using. I don’t need to call from my home phone, I don’t need to activate online. Just go and start buying lumber, screws, or even a garage kit… Oh, and look — the credit limit is printed right on the paperwork!

The next issue is that the entire card number is printed on the flyer attached to the card. You might believe that this is a bit pedantic because, after all, the card is attached. If somebody stole the mail, they’d surely have the card #.

Sadly, this makes it much easier to shine a light through the envelope and see the entire card number unmolested. Likewise, after disposing of the document (if unshredded), now your entire card number is in the bin somewhere.

The final issue is that this was an unsolicited bulk card reissue. I didn’t lose my old card, I didn’t know a new card was on its way. The issue with all of these vulnerabilities is magnified when an event like this happens. Somebody like me can receive a card, realize these issues, and then start grabbing these documents out of the mail. Postal workers can bring a flashlight and a cellphone to work and start capturing these numbers enmasse. The chip was a nice addition, and the new card looks great. The security, however, leaves much to be desired.

Scanning IDs — Making Fakes Easier

Not long before I procured my wonderful license, they were printed pieces of paper with a photograph attached, then laminated.

For both security and durability reasons, the state (Illinois) had moved away from this technique of identification. It was trivial to make fake IDs, and people knew it.

I used to smoke, up until November of 2016, and as part of being a smoker, I would have to engage with store clerks. My receding hairline was usually enough evidence that I was old enough to buy them, but the occasional pedant would request proof anyways. Being a cashier at a gas station years ago, I understand the request and the problems with not doing so, therefore I obliged the request. They view the license, DOB, expiration date and make sure it matches me. Transaction success.

A strange new behavior has developed where companies are forcing cashiers to scan in the driver’s licenses. I’m not sure what they stand to gain, are you hiring people so incompetent that you can’t trust them to read dates off of a license? (You also trust them with the entire shifts income, sans-drops). If I were a cashier, I’d be insulted by this policy.

This is where it becomes interesting. Driver’s licenses have a plethora of features, holograms and colored stripes that cross over both the date of birth, as well as expiration dates. More modern licenses even have underage kids with a vertical orientation and different colored banners.

The holograms and stripes are to prevent bleaching, a technique where a legitimate, government-issued identification is otherwise modified to indicate a different date.

There are a few barcodes on the back of an Illinois license, one of them looks similar to the barcode on a can of tomatoes (this is your license number). The more complex one that looks like a long QR code — this one is what they usually scan.

The Problem with Scanning Identification Cards

Bar codes look secure, high tech, and modern to people who are none of the above. Barcodes are as easy to read and write as basic English given the “write tools” (punny). They are really hard to find. As a matter of fact, I used to host a driver’s license number generator on this site, and it turned out a few banks actually used it to validate that people were presenting real IDs!! The License number in IL is really easy to figure out. From the last 5 digits, for example, I can tell your date of birth and gender. The first four are encoded with soundex, and the middle three are from a lookup table from your first name.

Generate a License Number

The entire number is generated from just a few facts about you:

A123-4567-8900

A123 – Your last name, encoded with Soundex. Try me!

456 – Your first name and middle initial, compared against a lookup table

7-8 – The year of your birth (1978)

900 – This is your month of birth, minus one, times 31. Then you add the days. So for somebody born on January 25th, 1978, you would get: ((1-1)*31)+25 or 025. If you are a female, you add 600 (and get 625).

Make it a Bar Code

So you now know how the number is decided, and lucky for you the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) is a standards organization that specifies exactly how to format the barcode on your license (how to structure the data), and how you should use the PDF417 styled barcodes. Really though.

So if you don’t think you can trust that person reading a driver’s license, remember you’re now trusting the bearer to present it honestly, and it is much easier to trick a computer than a person. We call this “client-side security.” You’re letting them forge variables with impunity.

What about the consumer?

I stopped by a BP station in my neck of the woods a few years ago to buy some of my Marlboros. I wanted to feel like a real rancher that day. They insisted that they scan my ID, which I politely declined, explaining that my address is not pertinent to my purchase of cigarettes. The clerk told me “well you paid with your credit card, and they have your information.”

I was surprised he didn’t see the distinction. A company that I have made a financial partner would, obviously, have my information to contact me about payments and debts. A gas station does not require an ongoing level of trust. I pay, they provide, and I leave.

The large barcode contains everything from your address to your eye color. It is trivial to log more information than simply checking your DOB and expiry.

Nobody benefits

In the end, retailers are put at increased risk while causing consumers more privacy invasion issues. Nobody is the winner here. I’m not cool enough on the internet to drive enough interest to my blog to see change happen, however you can. Throw tape over the barcode. If you get pulled over, either pull it off or make the officer type it in manually. If you buy smokes and they’re willing to hire people they don’t trust, why are you trusting them not to swipe your card in a square reader of their own?

 

Free Corporate Security Training

(Link is at bottom of post).

Every company should have a certifiable online security training, from how to handle documents to different techniques such as phishing, social engineering, etc.

I am an avid certification collector, so long as I don’t have to pay for it (and some I did). The United Nations offers several great courses in cyber security, active shooter response, and security in the field.

The two we’re going to talk about today are the foundational and advanced certificates:

Information Security Awareness - Advanced
Information Security Awareness – Advanced
Information Security Awareness - Foundational
Information Security Awareness – Foundational

The Certifications

The courses and training do have some UN-specific elements, such as reference documents within the UN pertaining to retention periods, classification and destruction of data, and UN or military-related scenarios.

I found it trivial to relate the work being done in the scenarios to my day-to-day tasks, and I find most people will not struggle with the material. There’s nothing against taking notes, but I did not need to at any point.

The foundational course is a prerequisite to the advanced course, and then there is a third one (that I have not completed) that deals with additional training.

The training reinforces best security practices:

  • Verifying encryption is being used (VPN or HTTPS)
  • Prioritizing cell-phone based hotspots instead of public wireless if possible, or falling back to encryption.
  • Scenarios demonstrating who you should share your password with and how they are social engineered from people (yes, even your manager should not have your password).
  • Password complexity rules, and entropy (how adding characters adds time to crack a password).
  • How to spot phishing sites (paypal.example.org, etc).
  • Navigating away from browser-based virus popups instead of installing the software.
  • Always reporting errors and security issues to the IT staff.

Obviously, there’s a lot covered, as you will see. The course is offered free to everybody, so I cannot see why this would not be a good solution for small companies that cannot afford proctored exams or the development of training material.

Has anybody else found great employee-level solutions for security training? I’d love to hear about it!

Here’s the link! United Nations Information Security Portal

 

Blocking Tor Exit Nodes by .htaccess with PHP

What is Tor?

Tor is a multi-layered anonymizing proxy, used by a lot of parties interested in privacy or avoiding government overreach (great firewall of China, for example).

It is also used by annoying spammers who don’t know how to configure a traditional VPN, so they rely on pre-configured browsers.

Candidates for this Method

If you run a forum, for example, where you’re not looking for Tor users to visit your site, you can simply deny them with .htaccess. This isn’t the most elegant solution, as a firewall would be ideal. But it is a quick win. This assumes you’re using Apache 2.4, PHP 7, and Ubuntu 16.04. It also requires root access or a user that can edit .htaccess of the site required and run PHP. You should also not have anything already in htaccess, as this will overwrite it. If you require htaccess later, this can be modified as needed.

Configure your VirtualHost

You will need to modify your virtual host (probably located in /etc/apache2/sites-available/——). Adding the code below will instruct Apache to process the htaccess files, make sure to modify the path as needed.

<Directory /path/to/site>
   Options Indexes FollowSymLinks
   AllowOverride All
   Require all granted
</Directory>

After completing the change, run this:

sudo apache2ctl configtest

If you see “Syntax OK” at the end, you did a good job. Restart Apache:

sudo service apache2 restart

Set up the PHP script by entering your path where it is bold below:

<?php
$nodeList = file_get_contents("https://check.torproject.org/exit-addresses");
$nodeList = str_replace("\r\n","\n",$nodeList);
$lines = explode("\n",$nodeList);

foreach ($lines as $v) {
 if (substr($v,0,11)=="ExitAddress") {
 $exitNode = explode(" ",$v);
 $exitNodes[] = $exitNode[1];
 }
}

$file = fopen("/path/to/site/.htaccess","w");
fwrite($file,"# Any changes here will be overwritten. File managed by /automation/getTorNodes.php".PHP_EOL);
foreach($exitNodes as $v) {
 fwrite ($file,"Deny from $v".PHP_EOL);
}
fclose($file);

I like to have this file in an automations folder. You can trigger it as often as you like, though I recommend not more than once a day. You can either manually trigger the php script, or add a cron job.

Bonus: If your firewall is a Ubiquiti Security Gateway:

You can SSH into it and modify /config/config.json and add this in. I haven’t tested persistence across re-provisioning. I’d suggest adding the group through the web UI first, finding the IP(s) you added in the JSON, and then adding them there.

 group {
 address-group 5a61631fe4b0d5a0bfa53416 {
 address 46.165.254.166
 address 51.15.3.40
 .........
 description customized-TorNodes
 }

 

 

 

Goo.gl Virus (Well, Phishing Scam)

First off, I want to be very clear that this is not actually a virus. This is a phishing scam.

I also want to make it clear that just seeing the domain https://goo.gl/ does not mean it is a scam, likewise not seeing that domain does not imply it is safe.

Sadly, the local community college would rather tell people about art than about data security and privacy, and the term “goo.gl virus” is a term people often use for these things.

What is this Goo.gl Site?

It is a URL shortener, similar to bit.ly, bit4.me, and others. In lieu of telling a friend to visit “https://robert-lerner.com/wildSpEllingandCaps123/123/4” you can create a short link, and tell them that instead.

That’s where the utility ends, and the scam starts. Link shorteners allow masking the actual destination of the URL, and thus, makes it harder to determine if the destination is legitimate. This site: CheckShortURL allows you to paste in the short URL and see where it is going. Always do this.

How does this scam look?

It could be anything from a friend to a post in a garage sale site. Below is an example of one I seen on a garage sale site just today:

Facebook Phishing Campaign

If you see something that sensational, it’s probably going to be fake. It has no place in a garage sale group. Another good indicator is that commenting is turned off. Why would you share news and expect no reactions? Simply put — it’s because they didn’t want the scam unveiled.

Sadly, this user probably fell for this trick, and lost her account which is now posting this in all of the groups she’s in. It may even be requesting money from friends and so on.

Facebook does not provide a good avenue for reporting this sort of issue, and garage sale group admins aren’t always online. I went after the hosting company itself “Wix” to see if they can approach it, but at the time of writing no action was performed.

So, I clicked the link to see where it goes…

… I did it safely though, using a Liveboot of a Linux distro inside of a virtual machine. This sandboxes the attack from any valid sessions I may have open. At this point I didn’t understand the attack, so I was extra cautious.

At first, the link takes you to this page:

Broken Video
Pretend broken video

Looking here, you can see the image is warning you of gruesome content — you probably expected this consider it would show people hurled off of a roller coaster. (Alright, so it’s kind of sick you’d click this, but whatever). Simply hovering over the pretend video player reveals it takes you to another site entirely… but it isn’t what you think:

Not-Facebook
Not-Facebook

Here, I left the URL bar partially visible. You can see obviously that you’re not on Facebook, but it is looking for your login. This is where people fall victim, they enter their e-mail and password to see the video. At this point, the attacker gets a copy of this.

I did a “whois” inquiry, which may allow me to see who owns this hacking domain, but the owner was hidden. The registrar was Namecheap.com (this is where they bought the domain). All of them have abuse@namecheap.com style e-mail addresses to report the phishing scams, though the turn around for these sites is often low.

How do I know if it is Facebook asking for my login?

When in doubt, don’t log in. In this case, it is obvious that the site is not Facebook. In some circumstances you can specify a fake email and password. If you don’t get a “bad username or password” message, it’s probably a bad site. (This is a guide, not a rule).

So I’ve been scammed, they have my FB login, but do I get to see the video?

Imgur wtf
Imgur wtf

Nope, rather hilariously, they dump you on imgur — at a “page broken” image. There is no video, there’s only you and your vacated account.

Update!

I worked with Namecheap.com’s abuse contacts (who is the registrar of the domain) and they acted promptly and cleared all of the DNS records for the domain, effectively taking it down.

Unfortunately, I had also reached out to Wix about the initial hosting domain, and as of this update the page is still live, and they offered to “report it” even though it is one of their own customers. Obviously, clicking the link below exposes you to part of the phishing site:

 

 

 

New Atari 2600 Game — Speedway

Download Speedway v0.1

The Atari 2600 was released back in September of 1977, 40 years and a few months ago. I wrote a rather simple driving game for the Atari back in September of 2014, and finally I’m getting around to putting it online.

Lerner Manufacturer Title Card

Don’t expect a whole lot, I’m not a graphic designer, or a game dev. I’m also younger than the system I built for. I built it for fun as a learning lesson, as the 2600 is notoriously hard to program for (racing the beam, etc).

Speedway Title Card
Speedway Title Card

Well, if I’m going to make something to “race the beam”, what better than a racing game. Be prepared, GTA5 lovers, these graphics are “SIK” and “4K” if 4K means 4Kolors:

Speedway Screen Shot
Speedway Screen Shot

You’re the car on the right (solid black), the opponents are your drunk neighbors (the car on the left). They’ll drive on the wrong side, the middle, anywhere! Your job is to avoid a collision by using a joystick to move left and right. You can accelerate by going up, or crash into the wall to slow down.

 

Speedway Game Label
Speedway Game Label

The archive you downloaded (top and bottom of post for the link) includes some game art (the top and front labels, if you are going to flash this to a cartridge), as well as a nice, full-color manual! The picture is one I took ca. 2003 at the NHRA drag races at Route 66.

Speedway Manual
Speedway Manual

The game is playable, it’s enjoyable, if you go fast enough, it’s hard. It may even run on an old school 2600, though I recommend a nice RetroPi or, for even more immediate results, Stella.

Please leave feedback in the comments! I always enjoy it! (Good or absolutely terrible!)

Download Speedway v0.1