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    • Favorite 17 July 2019
      bobjonkman favorited something by wolfie: @ink_slinger also "blood is thicker than water" is actually short for "The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb" which means that friendship formed in hardship is stronger than family bonds, the exact opposite of the shorthandAnd curiosity killed the cat used to stop people […]
    • Favorite 17 July 2019
      bobjonkman favorited something by inkslinger: "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps" was originally satire because that is, um, impossible. It's now stated without irony."Just a few bad apples," when referring to police, conveniently ignoring the full aphorism ials actually: One bad apple *spoils the bunch.*
    • Favorite 27 June 2019
      bobjonkman favorited something by selfcare: Fix something small that gets in your way. Sew on a button, clean a grimy keyboard.
    • New note by bobjonkman 27 June 2019
      Just this once, only for this video and no other, should you #ReadTheComments!https://youtu.be/1OfxlSG6q5Y
    • bobjonkman repeated a notice by gudenau 27 June 2019
      RT @gudenau @dirb @Loki This is what a real toaster is like. https://youtu.be/1OfxlSG6q5Y
    • Favorite 27 June 2019
      bobjonkman favorited something by gudenau: @dirb @Loki This is what a real toaster is like. https://youtu.be/1OfxlSG6q5Y
    • New note by bobjonkman 25 June 2019
      I wish I had seen that article on Switzerland's Housing Co-ops this morning before I did this: https://radiowaterloo.ca/ckms-community-connections-for-24-june-2019
    • bobjonkman repeated a notice by neil 24 June 2019
      RT @neil Despite a lot of interest, there’s only a small amount of co-op housing in the UK. Most non-profit housing is charitable housing associations. Large housebuilders have a hold of the market overall."the Swiss example shows how these non-state and non-capitalist actors can build quality housing at a mass scale, if they’re encouraged — […]
    • New note by bobjonkman 12 June 2019
      Discrimination against atheists goes to BC Human Rights Tribunal: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/byron-wood-nurse-12-step-religious-discrimination-complaint-1.5172488 #Atheism /cc: @indi
    • bobjonkman repeated a notice by davehunt 9 June 2019
      RT @davehunt !joke Yesterday, I ate a clock. It was time consuming.

Shutting down ServiceOntario kiosks could be Considered Harmful

Posted by Bob Jonkman on 9th November 2012

Service Ontario kiosk with "Temporarily shut down" notice

ServiceOntario kiosk

The Ontario government has announced it is shutting down the ServiceOntario kiosks.

Closing the kiosks won’t do any good if the web site is no better secured. ServiceOntario had control over the hardware and software running on the kiosks, but they have no control over the computers people use to access the ServiceOntario web site. User PCs will have all sorts of malware running on them, and malusers can far more easily spend time breaking into a web site than a kiosk. Unless ServiceOntario has much better security on their web site, it is far more vulnerable than a kiosk.

In his article Government to discontinue ServiceOntario kiosks, Sameer Vasta asks if the ServiceOntario web site is ready to pick up the slack. His conclusion is yes, and although the web site user experience could be improved, he considers closing the kiosks a prudent move. But if the kiosk interface was so much easier to use, then the web site could use that interface too. Security isn’t created by the user interface — security needs to be built into the servers. Malusers are unlikely to use the web interface to launch their attacks; they’ll have more sophisticated tools to try to break into the servers.

Of course, since the ServiceOntario web site was already in place while the kiosks were operational it has been a potential vector for attack all along. Closing the kiosks doesn’t increase that vulnerability. And the vulnerability that prompted the government to shut down the kiosks was card skimming, which is not an issue on a Web site accessed from home. But shutting down a fully managed kiosk to be replaced by home users’ PCs that are full of malware does not look like a prudent move to me.

However, it should be cheaper to manage security on one web site than on 72 kiosks. The government reports that shutting the kiosks will save taxpayers about $6.3 million in one-time upgrading costs and $2.2 million in annual maintenance costs. The Star reports that Minister of Government Services Harinder Takhar says the kiosks cost $4 million to deploy, and it will cost $250,000 to remove them.

And shutting down the kiosks has one other benefit: If a security breach occurs as a result of using our own computers then ServiceOntario has successfully shifted blame, hasn’t it? Surely there will be a disclaimer in the fine print on the website somewhere!

–Bob.


ServiceOntario kiosk "Permanently Closed" notice

“Permanently Closed” notice Service Ontario kiosk.

The picture above shows a ServiceOntario kiosk with a notice indicating the kiosk is temporarily shut down. A new notice has been posted, which reads:

ServiceOntario Kiosks Are Now Permanently Closed.

After a thorough investigation into the safety and security issues surrounding ServiceOntario kiosks, it has been decided to permanently shut down the network.

All former kiosk services are conveniently available online, including:

  • License plate sticker renewal
  • Address change
  • Driver abstract

Fermeture permanente des kiosques ServiceOntario.

À la suite d’une enquête approfondie sur les problèmes de sécurité survenus dans les kiosques ServiceOntario, il a été décidé de fermer le réseau de façon permanente.

Tous les services anciennement founis dal les kiosques son offerts en ligne, notamment les suivants:

  • Renouvellement de la vignette d’immatriculation
  • Changement d’addresse
  • Résumé de dossier de conducteur.

We look forward to serving you.
For these services, and more than 40 other online services, or for a complete list of our locations and available services, please visit ServiceOntario.ca

Au plaisir de vous servir.
Pour ces services, et plus de 40 autres services en ligne, ou la liste complète de nos centres et de leurs services, visitez ServiceOntario.ca

Images courtesy of lothlaurien.ca used under a CC BYCreative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada License license.

Thanx to my friend RW for the idea for this post, and her contributions.

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Posted in considered harmful, Politics, security | 4 Comments »

Browser Security

Posted by Bob Jonkman on 30th November 2011

Browser vulnerabilities are a common contributor to computer malware. Attacks have become so sophisticated that just viewing a Web page with an unsecured browser can infect your computer with malware. Fortunately, there are settings and extensions that will make surfing the Web a safer experience.

Browser selection

This article deals only with securing Mozilla Firefox. Firefox offers an wide selection of extensions that can help secure the browser. Google Chrome, Opera and Safari also offer some extensions, but I have not tested them. Microsoft Internet Explorer appears to support Add-ons, but Version 8 offers none for browsing security.

Internet Explorer is particularly vulnerable. In part, this is because IE is by far the most popular browser, and so it suffers the most attacks. Because it is the most popular browser it is especially targeted for attack by malusers. And compounding the problem, Microsoft has been slow to acknowledge vulnerabilities in its products, never mind fixing them.

Privacy settings

Privacy is not so much about keeping your personal information secret, but about keeping control over your personal information. If I choose to tell Facebook my name, age and browsing habits that’s OK, but my privacy is violated if Facebook finds out about my browsing habits if I don’t tell Facebook myself.

Malware is pretty good at correlating information when you least expect it. For example, you may keep your browsing history confidential, but allow Javascript to change the layout of your screen. To do so Javascript reads elements of the Document Object Model (DOM), including the colour of text. But if a link is coloured purple instead of blue, then Javascript can figure out that you’ve visited that link before, violating your privacy settings for browsing history.

To see your Firefox Privacy settings select Tools, Options and click the Privacy icon.

screenshot of Firefox Privacy dialogue

Settings for Firefox Privacy options

For maximum protection check Tell Web sites I do not want to be tracked and select Firefox will: Never remember history. But having to type in all your passwords and data every time you access the same web sites can be inconvenient, so I actually browse with the setting Firefox will: Use custom settings for history, leaving Always use private browsing mode unchecked. It is usually safe to have Accept cookies from sites turned on, with Accept third-party cookies turned off and Keep until: I close Firefox selected. Custom settings for Clear history when Firefox closes has only Cookies and Active Logins checked:

Screenshot of Clearing History dialoge

Firefox Clearing History

Security settings

To see Firefox Security settings select Tools, Options, then click on the Security icon.

Screenshot of the Security tab in Options

Screenshot - Firefox, Tools, Options, Security

For maximum security, make sure all the checkboxes are checked.

Warn me when sites try to install add-ons will avoid drive-by infections, which is when merely browsing a Web page with Javascript enabled can launch malicious processes. This will at least give you a warning.

Block reported attack sites and Block reported web forgeries do add some additional protection from malware sites, but potentially at some expense of your privacy. Every 30 minutes Firefox downloads a list of malware sites. If you browse to such a site then Firefox will check for that particular site immediately before blocking it. It uses Google’s malware list to do so, and will send Google’s cookies when checking.

You can test for phishing protection at the phishing test site and for malware protection at the malware test site.

Use a master password will encrypt the list of passwords stored on your computer. This is mostly useful if your computer should get stolen or left on the bus, but without the Master Password it might be possible for a malware site to retrieve your list of passwords through some (as yet unknown) vulnerability.

Security Extensions

Firefox’s extensive collection of extensions (Add-ons) make it my preferred browser.

NoScript

NoScript prevents Javascript from executing on specific web sites.

Javascript determines the fourth characteristic of a web page (Content, Semantics, Presentation, Behaviour). A well-designed web site will degrade gracefully — if the browser cannot manage the page layout (Presentation), it should still be able to identify the components of a page such as paragraphs and headers (Semantics), and still show the Content. Even if the browser can’t identify a paragraph from a heading (Semantics), it should always show the content. Javascript is responsible for the behaviour of a page. This is what makes Google Maps’ slippy map work when you drag the mouse cursor across the page. That behaviour degrades gracefully, so that when you view Google Maps with Javascript disabled you can still see a static map. Sadly, many web sites today are designed so that Javascript is required to show the content. NoScript addresses this problem by selectively allowing you to enable Javascript for those sites that you trust.

NoScript has expanded its scope so that it now also checks for Cross-Site Scripting vulnerabilities, Application Boundary violations, and other esoteric security concerns.

Adblock Plus

Adblock Plus removes ads. That’s wonderful all by itself, but there’s more! When ads are blocked, you don’t waste any bandwidth downloading them. But there’s more! The hits from Web Bugs aren’t recorded and tracked. And blocked ads from third-party sites can no longer query third-party cookies, or enable cross-site scripting attacks.

When you install Adblock Plus you’ll be asked to subscribe to one of the pre-defined block lists. I usually choose EasyList or Adblock.org.

ForceTLS

ForceTLS requests an encrypted page (https) when the server supports it. The functionality is now built into Firefox directly, but ForceTLS still provides a handy dialogue box to add Web sites for servers that don’t automatically switch to https.

HTTPS Everywhere

HTTPS Everywhere forces a Web pages to use https, and can change the URL for those sites that use different URL paths for their secure content. HTTPS Everywhere only works for Web sites in its Preferences list:

Screenshot of HTTPS-Everywhere preferences

HTTPS-Everywhere preferences

HTTPS Everywhere is not maintained on the Mozilla Add-ons web site, so you have to download it from the EFF directly. Firefox will ask you to verify that you want to install an add-on from an unknown site. Click on the Allow button to install the HTTPS Everywhere add-on.

Installing the HTTPS-Everywhere extension in Firefox

Keeping Updated

Security is not a single solution to a single problem. It is a constantly evolving process that tries to keep up with constantly evolving attacks. It is important to keep everything up-to-date.

Updating the Browser

To ensure that the browser and all its extensions stay up-to-date check all the boxes on the Tools, Options, Advanced, Update screen:

Screenshot of the Firefox Update screen

Updating Firefox

Updating Extensions

To update the Firefox extensions select Tools, Add-ons, click on the Tools for all add-ons button, and make sure there is a check mark beside Update Add-ons Automatically. If there is no check mark then click on Update Add-ons Automatically, and you should also perform updates manually by selecting Check for Updates. If there are any updates a View all updates link will be displayed, click on it, then click on the Update now button for each add-on in the list.

Screenshot of the Firefox Add-ons Update button

Screenshot showing the 'Update' menu

Updating the Operating System

Finally, no amount of browser security will keep you safe if your operating system is not safe. Be sure to activate Windows Updates (or Linux Updates, or AppleMac Updates), and keep your Anti-virus software, firewall, spam filters and other security software up-to-date.

–Bob.

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Posted in Internet, security | 3 Comments »

What to do about compromised Hotmail passwords

Posted by Bob Jonkman on 18th November 2010

autoroute à emails

autoroute à emails by Biscarotte

I administer a number of e-mail systems, and I’ve been seeing a lot of spam coming from Hotmail accounts recently. And both friends and clients have been telling me that it’s not them who are sending spam from Hotmail (and ending up in my e-mail systems), their accounts have been hacked. One person asked me:

Is it just Hotmail? What else could I use? Can’t I just change my password?

Changing passwords is only an effective solution if the account was compromised by social engineering, eg. the legitimate user giving out the password in a phishing attempt or other direct means, or if a simple password was guessed or cracked.

There is evidence that Hotmail and Yahoo’s password recovery mechanism is flawed (eg. the Sarah Palin breach), so that malusers can acquire a new password for an account. I don’t think this is happening, because victims are not reporting being locked out of their accounts. Of course, if the service merely sends out the current password then this may be what is happening, and no amount of password complexity will protect the account.

If the passwords were compromised by an automated password cracker then I would expect only simple passwords to be breached, and accounts with strong passwords would be safe. I do not know what kind of passwords were in use by the people who have compromised accounts, but it is likely they were simple passwords.

While I have no evidence, I think the current rash of breaches is due to a more systematic attack by URL munging, or fuzzing the inputs on a POST request, or some other attack vector. These attacks do not require an authenticated login, and in that case no amount of password complexity will provide security either.

I haven’t heard of similar compromised accounts in Gmail, so that may be a suitable alternative for now. I’ve been recommending that people use the mail accounts provided by their ISPs, largely so that they can make use of the ISP’s technical support if their accounts do get compromised. And, of course, if they’re paying their ISP for a mail account then there may be immunity from liability (“My mail account was compromised and I was paying my ISP for security, so all this spam is their fault”).

–Bob.

Update 5 Feb 2012: I retract the first sentence in the last paragraph. E-mail Administrator friends have been telling me that Google Mail is just as vulnerable as Hotmail and Yahoo. Having just read “Hacked!” in The Atlantic I’m convinced the problem of compromised mail accounts is worse than I thought, and that no online providers (especially the “free” ones) adequately protect the e-mail of their users.

autoroute à emails by Biscarotte is used under a Creative Commons by-sa-v2.0 license.

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Posted in email, Internet, spam | 1 Comment »

 
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