Balancing Security

3. October, 2014

For your IT security, you want

  • Security
  • It must be cheap
  • And comfortable

Now choose at most two.

As always in life, everything has a cost. There is no cheap way to be secure which is also comfortable. Home Depot chose “cheap” and “comfort” – you’ve seen the result. Mordac would prefer “secure” and “cheap“.

Those example show why the answer probably is “secure” and “comfortable”. Which means we’re facing two problems: “cheap” is out of the question and the two contradict each other. Secure passwords are long, hard to remember, contain lots of unusual characters (uncomfortable the first time you travel to a different country – yes, people there use different keyboard layouts). Turns out there is a “cheap” part in “comfortable”.

Taking this on a social level, the price for security is freedom. To quote Benjamin Franklin: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” I don’t know about you but I feel bad about terrorists dictating us how much of our freedom we have to give up.

In a similar fashion, you can either punish criminals or prevent future crimes but you have to choose one. We have learned through bad experience (witch hunts, flaws of the US penal system) or good (like the Norwegian system) that punishment doesn’t always help nor does it make victims happy. Which leaves us with the only conclusion: We, as a society, pay money to prevent future crimes because that’s the most reasonable thing to do.

Even if it leads to people mistakenly attribute modern penal system as “holiday camps.”


Good Summary of Heartbleed

17. April, 2014

This article contains a good summary of the Heartbleed bug and it’s consequences.

Want to know whether you’re affected? Check sites you use here: filippo.io/Heartbleed/

Note: You will want to check the issue date of the certificate as well. If it was issued before the April 8th, 2014, you may still be vulnerable since an attacker might have stolen the private keys.


HTML5 vs. Security

22. November, 2013

HTML5 vs. Security” was a talk given by Thomas Röthlisberger of Compass Security AG which gave a nice overview over some of the security problems that HTML5 brings.

Areas covered by the talk:

Together, those technologies allow remote attackers to scan internal networks, access intranet sites and track users.

For example, if you’re visiting a site while connected to a compromised WLAN access point, an attacker might send you a manifest for this site. The manifest then contains the names of some files which exist on the original site plus additional resources. When you’re back in a safe network, the browser will use the saved files when you visit the site again, making the attack permanent.

Another place to save malicious code is the local storage. Or we can use the local storage to attach a permanent ID to the browser / user.

CORS and WebSockets allow to scan the local network for open ports. With Web Workers, thousands of ports can be scanned in the background. Or you can use the technology to build an ad-hoc botnet to crack passwords.

Shell of the Future is a proof of concept that demonstrates how you use the browser of another person to browse the web. This means that the attacker can a) see all the information (session cookies, JavaScript) that the hijacked browser has and b) that the attacker can drive said browser (downloading more resources, scanning the intranet, etc).

In some cases, these vulnerabilities are necessary to make the new feature useful. What you need to be aware:

  • Decline strange/unexpected requests by your browser
  • When you configure your server, make sure you send the correct Access-Control-Allow-Origin headers. Never configure your server to reply with “*”.
  • There is no anonymity if you allow web sites access to the Geolocation API or local storage.

Google Shares Your WLAN Passwords with NSA

17. July, 2013

If you “Back up my data” is enabled on your Android phone, then Google keeps a clear-text, unencrypted copy of your WLAN passwords on its servers. Since Google is an US company, the government and its agencies have access to this data. Google also keeps a database with the location of all WLANs (for their location service) so it’s trivial for them to gain access (even though someone must physically walk/drive into the range of the WLAN router).

Solution: Disable this function, use a local backup program (disable cloud backup for them as well) and change all your passwords.

Related articles:


Overview Of Man in the Middle Attacks

26. February, 2013

David Blake posted a current overview of Man in the Middle type attacks15 Surprising Ways You Could Fall Victim to a Man in the Middle Attack

These include:

  • Key-loggers (hard- and software)
  • Browser plugins
  • Cameras (a.k.a Shoulder Surfing)
  • Wireless attacks

CVE Changes Counter

7. February, 2013

The Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures or CVE is a registry for security related flaws and computer systems.

The old counting system allowed only for 9’999 bugs per year.

That’s no longer enough.

Isn’t that scary?


Passwords Suck

25. January, 2013

On Wednesday, GitHub improved their code search. A few hours later, a couple of people had tried “begin rsa private key” and got more results than any sane person would anticipate. Just in case, this isn’t a problem of GitHub, the same problem can be found on pastebin or with Google.

There are several reasons for people to publish sensitive data:

  • They don’t know what they’re doing (ignorance)
  • They are sure “no one will ever find out” (security by obscurity)
  • Distributing sensitive data anonymously (crackers)
  • It’s easier that way (laziness)

It’s not a corner case, either. The SQL*Plus tool from Oracle has no easy way to set the password from a script except by passing it on the command line which effectively publishes the password to any user on the same computer. You can install a “client-side Oracle wallet” to fix this.

But the common issue behind all that is that it’s either too easy to do it wrong or too hard to do it right. Just to see how bad the situation is, I asked for a secure web login/example on stackoverflow.com. The answer was basically “it’s too complex to do.”

This sucks.


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