Delfigo Security - Strong Authentication

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Can Google's Password Alert Save Chrome Users From Themselves?

Last week Google released Password Alert, a Chrome extension intended to help users avoid phishing attacks and keep passwords safe by preventing users from inputting their Google password on other sites and from reusing Google passwords on non-Google sites. Whenever a Google password is input into a website, Password Alert shows a message saying "Your Gmail password was just exposed to a non-Gmail page," and tells users to change their Gmail password immediately. While many users would likely tell you they know the difference between a phishing site and the real thing, phishing continues to be an issue and some of the most used and trafficked sites and apps are still targets. Says Andy Greenberg for Slate/Wired: "Phishing remains one of the most serious and intractable problems in information security, and is often the initial breach point for hacker schemes ranging from mass credit card harvesting to sophisticated, state-sponsored targeted attacks. Google estimates that as many as 45 percent of some well-crafted phishing emails can successfully trick users, and that 2 percent of all Gmail messages it sees are phishing attempts. A Verizon report published earlier this month found that a phishing campaign launched against a target corporation or agency can find a gullible user and gain an initial point of compromise within as little as 80 seconds."

It took just a day for a hack to appear on YouTube, showing how a site can get around this tool by simply inserting a few lines of code. Google has since issued a patch.

It isn't as easy as a Chrome add on to instill in users the kind of wariness and discipline that will keep them safe online. As this blog has previously discussed, increased awareness and education are needed as opposed to tools that blunt a user's ability to compromise themselves unknowingly. Tools will always be vulnerable, and the best weapon more likely to be awareness of the dangers facing users.


18 Year Old Security Flaw Can Still Get Your Password

Cylance, a firm that has been working on a security vulnerability in Windows for the past month and a half, has made public the details of an 18 year old security hole that makes users' usernames and passwords vulnerable when redirected from an HTTP or HTTPS connection to a malicious SMB server. "Cylance found no fewer than four Windows API functions that can be used to redirect a user from an HTTP or HTTPS connection to a malicious SMB server. The forced authentication makes it relatively easy to get hold of usernames and passwords, even if they are held in encrypted form. As well as Windows itself, other programs affected by the problem include AVG Free, Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player, BitDefender Free, TeamViewer, and Github for Windows" says Mark Wilson for, in a post summarizing the findings.

Microsoft will likely release a patch for this, and Wilson notes at least one available workaround at the close of his post, but this news will add to the growing urgency around using more than a username and password to authenticate. For those who use the same credentials across multiple sites, this should also serve as a wake up call - If all you/your users use to authenticate is a username and password, and/or you use the same credentials to access multiple sites, it is time to reconsider your position, and begin using second/multi-factor authentication to verify that users are who they say they are.


Is 2 Factor Enough?

Is 2 factor authentication enough?

The value of a second factor when it comes to authentication has been widely discussed, here and across the media. A second factor when authenticating gives the user a second level of protection, which might be enough to stop many of the basic hacks sites and organizations have fallen victim to, where all that was needed to access a system was a valid set of user credentials.

A chat room service called Slack got hacked this week, and in response, added 2 factor authentication. But that's not all they did - they also added a "password kill switch feature" which allows an administrator to kick out groups of users and require a password reset. Balancing user experience and security has also been discussed at length here, but Slack adding this feature suggests that security isn't always losing to ease of use anymore. The difference here is that an administrator would use this feature when they suspect that some thing might be amiss, showing that a heightened awareness of security and potential security risks is part of the response. This is different some simply adding complexity to password requirements or even by requiring a second factor, which effects all users. Slack's decision to add security that is responsive is a step beyond requiring 2 factor, in the right direction


Where is the Flaw in iCloud Authentication?

This week news broke that private pictures belonging to several popular celebrities had been obtained by an individual who then posted these pictures on 4chan. They were then linked to, and widely discussed, across many media outlets. Initial speculation and discussion as to how this content was obtained suggested it was done through vulnerabilities in the Find My iPhone app, or with iCloud itself, strongly implying that access to these pictures was gained because of a technical flaw or vulnerability which was exploited by a "hacker".

Apple released the following statement on September 2:

Update to Celebrity Photo Investigation

We wanted to provide an update to our investigation into the theft of photos of certain celebrities. When we learned of the theft, we were outraged and immediately mobilized Apple’s engineers to discover the source. Our customers’ privacy and security are of utmost importance to us. After more than 40 hours of investigation, we have discovered that certain celebrity accounts were compromised by a very targeted attack on user names, passwords and security questions, a practice that has become all too common on the Internet. None of the cases we have investigated has resulted from any breach in any of Apple’s systems including iCloud® or Find my iPhone. We are continuing to work with law enforcement to help identify the criminals involved. 

To protect against this type of attack, we advise all users to always use a strong password and enable two-step verification. Both of these are addressed on our website at

Apple's assertion that a "very targeted attack on user names, passwords and security questions, a practice that has become all too common on the Internet" isn't a flaw in their system is both correct and incorrect. This blog often discusses vulnerabilities of sites and apps that are not properly protected by strong 2-factor and multi-factor authentication. In this case, Apple's system was not able to identify the true account owner, even when correct credentials were provided, and correct answers were given to security questions. That is a flaw, especially since technology is available to address this use case, including biometrics, advanced device identification techniques, and external multi-factor authentication. Mashable says "...Although Apple might be technically correct in that its own systems weren't breached, the fact that this type of "ripping" process is so common on the underground certainly raises questions about the overall security (or at the very least, education) of iCloud's systems."

In fairness to Apple and iCloud, this is a vulnerability that exists across many, many sites and cloud based offerings. It isn't specific to iCloud. iCloud is the example - this time - but it's an example of a much bigger problem. Cloud providers should take this incident as a warning, and a critical use case, and work to address the question "are you who you say you are" every time an account is accessed.


If A Hacker Has Your Password...

A firm called Hold Security has announced their discovery that a single hacker group holds over a billion user credentials (usernames/passwords). “Hackers did not just target U.S. companies, they targeted any website they could get, ranging from Fortune 500 companies to very small websites,” said Alex Holden, the founder and chief information security officer of Hold Security told the New York Times. “And most of these sites are still vulnerable.”

Many of us have experienced our credentials being hijacked - or have received emails or social media communications from someone we know to whom this has happened. Typically, the ability to access email accounts simply allows the hacker to spam contact lists to phish them or to advertise products - which they make money doing. If your account is hijacked in this way, it is a matter of resetting your account credentials with a new username and password. After doing so, you're only as safe as your credentials an no less vulnerable to the same attack the next time the threat comes around. Access to even seemingly benign credentials can open the door to much more serious risks, like identity theft which can take years to untangle and liability for financial transactions that can take place under these circumstances (most banks protect from this kind of fraud on credit cards, but if the hackers reaches your cash, it's a different story).

If your credentials are in a database like the one Hold Security identified, it doesn't matter how secure your password is (length, varied characters, etc). You'll be advised by well meaning companies you deal with, who will contact you after discovering the breach, to change your password - a process with which by now we are all familiar.

But what's really needed here is a deeper collective understanding of our digital identities, and better ways to protect them. 2 Factor authentication (which has been recently discussed previously here, here and here in this blog) is a good way to start taking control of your credentials - so that a username and password alone are not enough to compromise you, but often the impact on user experience (waiting a bit longer to access your favorite site, carrying around a piece of hardware that's easy to lose and expensive to replace) hinders adoption by both end user populations and organizations.

If a hacker has your password, you should think about how many more times you want to go through this, because this won't be the last time, unless and until we collectively commit to better security.

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