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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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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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