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It’s no kiddie joke: You’ve been pwned

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Computer users are in big trouble, and the threat is faced by consumers and the business community alike, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Almost all users of online business sites and tools are potentially in big trouble – they just don’t know it.

When hackers broke into the most popular social network for professionals this year and the most popular file storage service a few years ago, they didn’t just make off with the passwords for their own use. They published their lists of stolen user names and passwords on hacker sites and on what is know as the Dark Web: an Internet underground that is accessed with specialised browsers.

The biggest problem is not so much that hackers managed to get to the passwords. The average person is simply not worth targeting by the hacker looking for a big payday.

There are two bigger issues, says Stefan Tanase, senior security researcher in Kaspersky Lab’s global research and analysis team. At Kaspersky’s annual Cyber Security Weekend in Malta last week, he offered a sobering perspective on just how easy the hackers have it.

First, he says, most people don’t change their passwords even when they have been compromised in this way – precisely because they feel these particular accounts wouldn’t interest anyone.

Second, once such details have been made available to others, there are armies of potential wrongdoers scouring these lists and testing accounts to exploit vulnerabilities. These can be as mundane as the opportunity to damage people’s reputation by posting vile content in their names.

But even if a password has been changed, a deeper threat remains.

“Since it is so difficult to keep track of one’s passwords across multiple sites, many people use the same standard password wherever they log on,” says Tanase. The sharp criminal mind – and there are many of those – uses publicly-posted stolen log-on credentials to try logging onto various other sites.

Sooner or later, they find their way into people’s Facebook, Twitter or Gmail accounts. Here they harvest profile information, combine it with the log-in credentials that have already proven fruitful, and proceed to break into anything from PayPal to online bank accounts. Where they have access to the victim’s email, it is a simple matter to alter security credentials, and begin transacting in that person’s name.

That is a worst-case scenario – but one that is all too real. There is a word for it: “pwned”. That’s hacker/youth/hipster slang for being “owned” by someone, or conquered.

Most of us have already been pnwed, but don’t know it. Visit the website https://haveibeenpwned.com and type in your email address. It will tell you exactly which stolen passwords lists include your details. If nothing comes up, you’ve kept your online registrations to a minimum. If something does come up, make sure you change your passwords on any sites mentioned – as well as on any other site where you use the same passwords.

“Whenever hackers publish a hacked database, the people at haveibeenpwned  collect it and put it in a searchable database where the public can check for their email addresses,” says Tanase. “Don’t worry, it doesn’t make passwords available. But it includes an incredible  number of accounts – from 152 leaked databases and 1,8-billion accounts ‘pwned’ by hackers.”

Tanase himself, an affable Romanian who has been analysing threats for Kaspersky Lab for much of this decade, admits he has been pwned.

“Even though I’m a security expert, and done everything right, I’ve been massively pwned. My information was leaked from at least five providers who were hacked.

“Even if you do everything right from a security standpoint, with two-factor authentication, complex passwords, don’t reuse passwords, don’t click on phishing links, you’re still vulnerable when a website gets compromised.”

There is little people can do to prevent one-off theft of passwords after an intrusion, but they can close the hole quickly by changing the password as soon as it has been compromised, If they don’t reuse passwords, then the blow to the ego of getting pwned will be the worst of the damage. If they do reuse passwords, then some serious maintenance suddenly becomes a priority.

For those who are deeply concerned about email and messaging privacy, Tanase has one simple piece of advice: “Crypto is your friend.” By this, he means that using encryption tools will generally safeguard you from personally targeted intrusions. “It is mathematics; it will never lie to you,” he says.

“There are tools you can use, you just need to know about them and also get your friends to use them because, if you’re the only one using it, its not encrypted.

“Let’s imagine every site you use is 100 per cent secure with 100 per cent customisable privacy controls, flawless platform with bulletproof protection. But what happens if one of your friends gets infected? They have access to your private emails sent to the friend, and access to all the information that contact has.

“I want to encourage people to explore the privacy and security settings that are available on all the big platforms, settings that were not available a few years ago, but you still need to enable them from your settings.

“Another important thing is two-factor authentication, where you need both a password and a device where you receive a one-time pin or password. It’s the easiest and quickest thing you can do to massively improve security of your online accounts, online banking security for your Facebook or email or Twitter account. It’s not available by default for simplicity sake, but if you really want security, look for it in the settings. The moment you do that, you make it twice as hard for hackers to access your account.

“Use a password manager to manage all your different passwords. And make sure you keep everything up to date to massively increase your level of security. If you want more security, you have to be okay with less convenience.”

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

Sidebar: Compromised web sites, courtesy haveibeenpwned

Adobe: In October 2013, 153 million Adobe accounts were breached with each containing an internal ID, username, email, encrypted password and a password hint in plain text. The password cryptography was poorly done and many were quickly resolved back to plain text. The unencrypted hints also disclosed much about the passwords adding further to the risk that hundreds of millions of Adobe customers already faced.

Compromised data: Email addresses, Password hints, Passwords, Usernames

Dropbox: In mid-2012, Dropbox suffered a data breach which exposed the stored credentials of tens of millions of their customers. In August 2016, they forced password resets for customers they believed may be at risk. A large volume of data totalling over 68 million records was subsequently traded online and included email addresses and salted hashes of passwords (half of them SHA1, half of them bcrypt).

Compromised data: Email addresses, Passwords

Last.fm: In March 2012, the music website Last.fm was hacked and 43 million user accounts were exposed. Whilst Last.fm knew of an incident back in 2012, the scale of the hack was not known until the data was released publicly in September 2016. The breach included 37 million unique email addresses, usernames and passwords stored as unsalted MD5 hashes.

Compromised data: Email addresses, Passwords, Usernames, Website activity

LinkedIn: In May 2016, LinkedIn had 164 million email addresses and passwords exposed. Originally hacked in 2012, the data remained out of sight until being offered for sale on a dark market site 4 years later. The passwords in the breach were stored as SHA1 hashes without salt, the vast majority of which were quickly cracked in the days following the release of the data.

Compromised data: Email addresses, Passwords

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Welcome to world of 2099

The world of 2099 will be unrecognisable from the world of today, but it can be predicted, says one visionary. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK met him in Singapore.

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Futuristic structures tower over the landscape. Giant, alien-looking trees light up with dazzling colours amid the hundreds of plant species that grow up their trunks. Cosmetic stores sell their wares via public touch-screens, with products delivered instantly in drawers below the screens.

This is not a vision of the future. It is a sample of Singapore today. But it is also an inkling of the world we may all experience in the future.

Singapore was the venue, last week, of the World Cities Summit, where engineers, politicians, investors and visionaries rubbed shoulders as they talked about the strategies and policies that would enhance urban living in the future.

As part of the Summit, global payment technologies leader Mastercard hosted a small media briefing by one of Singapore’s leading thinkers about the future, Dr Damian Tan, managing director of Vickers Venture Partners. The company’s slogan “We invest in the extraordinary,” offers a small clue to Tan’s perspective.

“We look as far forward as 2099 because, as a venture capital firm, we invest in the long term,” he tells a group of journalists from Africa and the Middle East. “Companies explode in growth because there is value in the future. If there is no growth, they won’t explode.”

The big question that the Smart Cities Summit and Mastercard are trying to help answer is, what will cities look like in the year 2099? Tan can’t give an exact answer, but he offers a framework that helps one approach the question.

“If you want to look at 81 years into the future, and understand the change that will come, you need to double that amount and look into the past. That takes us to 1856. The difference between then and now is the difference you can expect between now and 2099.”

Click here or on the page link below to read on: Page 2: Soldiers and Health in 2099.

  •    Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

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Street art goes electric

Kaspersky Lab and British street artist D*Face have unveiled the first-ever “art helmet” design at the Formula E finale for electric cars in New York.

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The ‘Save The World’ helmets will be raced by DS Virgin Racing’s drivers, Sam Bird and Alex Lynn, as they traverse the New York street circuit during the final races of the Formula E season.

The announcement signals the first art helmet by a Formula E team, continuing the heritage of art in motorsport and the cybersecurity brand’s commitment to contemporary art, creativity and innovation. D*Face took inspiration from Kaspersky Lab’s tagline, “A Company To Save The World”, and hopes that his colourful work will inspire people to take positive action.

D*Face will announce his first-ever art car design with a custom-made livery for the DS Virgin Racing Team. Its design will be released at the “Art Goes Green” event after Saturday’s race. The helmets and art car are the latest installations in the “Save the World” collection, following a major permanent public mural that was installed in Brooklyn, New York, in May.

D*Face, whose real name is Dean Stockton, said: “It is exciting to work with Kaspersky Lab on this project and create art with a real message of hope for a better future. After all, this is our world and we need to look after it. It will take every one of us to make a real lasting, impactful change. I love the mentality of the DS Virgin Racing Team and that of Formula E by showcasing sport in a way that doesn’t harm the environment, but is still just as exhilarating and fun.

“It is time for us all to stand together and make a change… be that stopping data steals, climate change, plastic waste or using damaging fuels. I want everyone to make a pledge to do one thing that will help make a change.”

As a sponsor of DS Virgin Racing Team, Kaspersky Lab is responsible for protecting the team’s devices against cyber threats. The company sees the technical environment in the global sport of Formula E as the next frontier in furthering its research and development of new technologies to keep vehicles secure in the digital world.

Sylvain Filippi, Managing Director at DS Virgin Racing, said: “The whole team fully supports this great initiative and our thanks got to Kaspersky and D*Face for their collaboration. It’s an honour to have such an innovative artist bring his talents to bear in our team ahead of the season-finale; the car, drivers’ crash helmets and mural all look amazing.”

Aldo Fucelli Pessot del Bo, Head of Global Partnerships and Sponsorships at Kaspersky Lab added: “There is a need for innovation on a global scale, both in contemporary art and in the fast-growing sport of Formula E. Now, for the first time ever, Kaspersky Lab is proudly bringing together the two sectors in an effort to Save the World and unleash creativity, encourage freedom of expression and further innovation.”

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