Monday, July 24, 2017

Enterprises Don’t Care About the 10,000 Most Common Passwords

At least yours shouldn’t. Your enterprise should not care about the 10,000 most common passwords and the reason is unbelievable! Out of the 10,000 most common passwords only 10 of had 12 or more characters. Perhaps this statistic is not surprising, but “unbelievable” did represent 10% (1) of the passwords that were 12 characters or longer! Not a single one of the passwords met the typical length and complexity requirements most enterprises inflict upon their employees.

The one 18 character password on the list was “films+pic+galleries” and was almost certainly magnitudes stronger than any 14 character password used in your organization, unless it was a category on the TV game show Jeopardy. I say “almost certainly” because there are probabilities that may make a longer password with equivalent entropy weaker than its shorter counterpart. You are not going to be able to do much about entropy and probability control enforcement for the passwords your users create though. I will discuss what I mean about probability factoring into password cracking in another blog.

Rules about using a password with at least 12 characters and multiple character sets encourage the use of 12 character passwords. This also results in the creation and use of short passwords that have predictable formats such as number or a symbol preceding or trailing a single word. What is the difference between the passwords “techniques” and “1Techniques&”? Not much. Perhaps a few seconds?

Recently NIST has adopted new guidelines concerning passwords that security experts have long been advocating for – dump complexity for length and don’t make users change their passwords frequently. In simple terms, don’t make me use “^incredible1” for a password and then swap “incredible” for another 10 letter word three months later. Trade complexity for length. It’s a win for all concerned.

I talked about passphrases in a previous blog, but I did not touch on passphrase token attacks. These are techniques that can be used that to exploit common weaknesses of passphrases. This does not mean the actual strength of a passphrase is less than a 12, or even 16 character password though. In another blog I’ll delve into token attacks and then provide easy ways to mitigate such attacks in another blog. For now, take a deep breath... Your users probably are not using very many of the rest of the top one million most commonly used passwords because they probably don’t meet your password strength criteria.

Randy Abrams

Independent Security Analyst

Friday, July 21, 2017

Remembering Your Password Can Put You at Risk – How to do One Time Passwords for the Non-Geeky

A long time ago an engineer invented a technology for computers called PCMCIA. To the best of my knowledge PCMCIA stands for People Can’t Memorize Computer Industry Acronyms.  Yeah, people also can’t remember 15 good passwords for 15 different sites with the rules they have to follow today. You have to use upper and lower case letters, numbers, and special characters when all you really need to be safe is a few words (passphrase).

Here is an example of a passphrase: boat plane dog cat fish. That passphrase can be memorized in a short amount of time although a real sentence, such as “I would sure like a ham sandwich!” is easier to remember. Both of these passphrases are far better passwords than “1Xrv24%/&4Zb.” The reason they are better is math. There’s a point where longer and simple is harder for a computer to figure out than short and complex.

So why won’t your system administrator let you stop using numbers and special characters? It’s tradition. Back in the days when passwords were limited to 8 or 12 characters it made a difference – a huge difference. It still does at some sites that only allow short passwords.

I have some good news. There is a growing shift in perspective on the subject. Standards are being set that only focus on length. You don’t even have to change your password very often, if at all, with these new standards. Passphrases are even encouraged.

I still have problems with passphrases though. It is a problem of remembering which of my 15 passphrases went with which site. You still need to use a different password or passphrase at every site you visit. I suppose I could do something like “dog cat rabbit squirrel facebook” and know that that one is for Facebook, but if someone gets that password it is the same as using the same password at every site. dog cat rabbit squirrel gmail, dog cat rabbit squirrel linkedin, etc. You are really using the same password everywhere.

Your bank has a great solution for bad passwords that rarely or never change. The solution is a onetime passwords (OTPs). You probably call them verification codes. OTPs are great for security. You get an email with a few numbers, type in the numbers and forget it. 123321 can be a really good password if someone only has two minutes to find it and guess it, and then figure out your other password. Your bank knows how to set up the system so that all you have to do is get a text and type in a few numbers, but you don’t have the bank’s resources or technical skill. What do you do? Simple, you make your own one-time passwords because for you it is free and easy.

Before I proceed I need to make a brief safety announcement.


Now that we have that out of the way, let’s do it. Go to a website and create an account, or reset your existing password for an account you already have. Now open notepad and start banging away on the keyboard like a chimpanzee.  I am serious. Completely randomly bang away for 2 or 3 seconds until you come up with something like this f43wejao;argnhol;vh;oweiuowfgrfikonarhgjo3245garfgnfr42. Don’t even think about what keys you hit, just hit a bunch of keys. Forty characters is more than enough. 30 characters is fine too. Don’t worry, you are only going to this password once and you are just going to copy and paste it anyway, so you don’t even have to type it in again. If you need to go back to the website and log in again, well that’s what password resets are for. By the way, the chimpanzee method may result in tabs and enters you will need to remove. A few places may allow tabs, but the enter key (new line) probably won’t work. Get rid of those.

This is my reset passport philosophy:
 “Reset password” is not there to help you if you forget your password, it is there to encourage you not to remember your password in the first place!
Let me repeat that.
Goto This is my reset passport philosophy
Sorry, the goto thing is geek humor.

Before we get to the part about “I don’t want to reset my password every time I log in, give me a few sentences.

Unlike the bank’s verification code, these OTPs are valid forever and still safe. The length and complexity of the password is such that one of three things will happen before a hacker cracks the password.

1) The website is gone. The company changed it or went out of business. Whatever.
2) You log in again. You just reset the password and the forever clock too.
3) You die. You will not care about that password, forever. It’s not your problem.

Now to address the complaint that it is a hassle to reset the password each time you log into a site. You are right. I usually will use this method when it is a site I rarely visit. It isn’t worth remembering another password when an occasional reset it really isn’t a big deal. I don’t do this for my email account, although it would be super secure.

For sites I use a lot, I use a password manager. Why would I use the chimpanzee password reset method it I have a password manager? I do not want to clutter up my password manager. If I sign up for a mailing list and then only log in once a year, I don’t need to have yet another entry in my password manager. If you only use less than a dozen sites then clutter isn’t a problem for you. I sign up for webinars, and all kinds of things that I wish I didn’t even need a password for. My password manager has too much stuff in it now because I didn’t think of what I just taught you until after it was cluttered. I’m getting rid of many passwords now. I’ll just reset them if I even need them again.

For the sites I do visit more frequently I use a password manager because it allows me to use very long, complex and unique passwords for each site, and they last a lifetime if the site doesn’t make me change them. I’ll get to data breaches momentarily.

Companies spend a lot of money to set up OTP systems because they can add a lot of security. You can do the same thing for free.

An important instruction for safe password manager use and then a note about data breaches.

The most critical part about using a password manager is having an extremely great, fantastic, stupendously wonderful password. The password manager holds a lot of eggs in one basket. I would recommend a passphrase that is very long. Let me show you.

My dog ate all of my books and bit my teacher.

This is an awesome password. A person I knew at Microsoft reputedly used a 75 character password. That is well beyond insanely long. It can be very easy to remember, but it’s a lot to type for me.

I can remember “Mary had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb. Mary had a little lamb its fleece was white as snow” I’ just not going to type it in. Of note, the commas made the passphrase even stronger.

It really is best to make up your own sentence rather than a well-known one.

Now for the data breaches. There are times that a company did something wrong, really wrong, and your password was compromised. You may have to change a password. It depends on what it is. If it is an email account, a social networking account, etc. you need to change it right away. There are a few cases where it doesn’t really matter at all, but pretend like I didn’t say that… just change it.

Randy Abrams
Independent Security Analyst

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Child’s T-Shirt Point of Sale (POS) Attack

Despite the fact that sometimes I discuss serious security topics, the name of this blog is after all “Security through Absurdity” and so absurdity is required at times. Prepare yourself for a Costco-sized package of absurd.

As I was walking through Costco today I saw a woman pushing a cart, with her kid in it. I figured if everything else in the cart has a barcode so should her kid. And so I spoke my mind. “You needs a kid’s t-shirt with a barcode on this. I thought she was going to ignore me, but a few seconds later she finally replied "No thanks, I already pay enough for my kids." I had actually thought about the absurdity of paying for your own kid and so I had my own reply (which I thought of on the spot) "what if the barcode is a rebate?" She liked that idea. And that was the birth of the child t-shirt exploit attack.

Replacing barcodes on products to get a cheaper price was innovative - one time - many years ago. The second time it was done was ho-hum.  The Child’s T-shirt POS attack is more interesting. I’m sure I am not the only one who has thought of this, but I think my idea of how to monetize it in the real world may be innovative. The Child’s T-shirt POS Attack is the perfect application of social engineer to exploit a cashier with a barcode scanner. The attack exploits the fact that a toddler sitting in a shopping cart, wearing a t-shirt with a barcode on, it is irresistible. Cashier: “Oh isn’t that adorable. Here you go cutie, let me scan you.”  Scan - ding - five bucks off. Ten bucks if you have two kids.

Is that awesome social engineering or what? It can work too, for both Costco and you!

Costco, you owe me big time for this idea...

Sell a child’s t-shirt with a barcode on it that gives the adult accompanying the kid 2% back on each purchase. You give 2% back for executive card holders so you can’t tell me the idea is cost prohibitive. You get your brand displayed every time the kid wears the shirt. The amusement factor is such that the t-shirt will be worn a lot. You will entertain most shoppers. Parents enjoy hearing “that is so adorable” when it’s talking about their kids. You’ll get the “mommy, daddy, I want that” sales (which you get anyway). Finally, the savings makes it less painful for the parents who have to put up with “mommy, daddy, I want that.”

Marketing is about social engineering. If you want to protect against the Child’s T-shirt POS Attack then embrace it and use social engineering to your advantage.

Randy Abrams
Independent Absurdity Analyst 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Stackhackr; Useless for Testing – Good for Marketing

Barkley, a self-proclaimed security company, has revived the 1990’s era Rosenthal Virus Simulator; an application that called false positives good while claiming to test the quality of antivirus products. Some users believed that this simulator indicated if an antivirus product was good at detecting malware. As a result some AV companies wrote detection specifically for Rosenthal’s harmless files. The customers wanted harmless false positives for harmless files and so they got them.

Barkly has come out with a free product they call stackhakr. Stackhackr is a lead generation application that is disguised as a security product testing tool. In reality it is another Rosenthal type program that convinces users that false positives mean better security.

According to Barkly “The malware you create won’t actually cause any harm, but whether it runs or gets blocked will tell you if your system is vulnerable to the real thing.”

Really? If a completely ineffective security product writes detection specifically for this application then you are not vulnerable to the real thing? If a product false positives and detects your harmless files, then the company’s customers are not vulnerable to ransomware? In order to use stackhackr you have to provide your contact information. It is only then that you get something that does not do what it was promised to do. Like I said, stackhackr is a lead generation application, not a test tool.

Stackhakr does not test the ability of a product to detect ransomware, malware, or the ability of a product to effectively deal with any attacks. Due to the security effectiveness of application reputation Barkly specifically calls out this type of detection as a false positive. Barkly claims that detection of their launcher application is a false positive because the launcher file is harmless and not part of the test. Seriously? Detecting a harmless launcher is a false positive but detecting the harmless files it writes is not? Take me to security school, I had no idea that’s how it works. In reality detecting a “harmless” file is not a false positive when it is only ever seen launching malware. Blocking a launcher or a dropper before it delivers its payload is a good thing. If launcher.exe is used to launch the simulator then it is fair game. Blocking the launcher protects users from a false sense of security. The detection is accurate, not a simulation but real protection against deception.

Now for all you AV vendors, Barkly has thrown down the gauntlet, so what are you going to do? If you identify a site delivering ransomware or other malware you block the site. If simulated ransomware or simulated malware creation kits are on, then let’s get this simulation off the ground and go block the site. Be sure to mention it is a simulated malware toolkit creation site you are simulating detection of.

I have interacted with major security product testing organizations as an enterprise security professional and as an employee of a security vendor. I have actually worked for a company (NSS Labs) that tests (and breaks) security products. There are no competent testers in the world that would tell you that stackhackr is usable as a security product testing tool.

I recommend against giving Barkly your user information in exchange for stackhackr. You will not receive anything I can deem as even slightly valuable.

Randy Abrams

Independent Security Analyst