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When passwords are not enough

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An identity theft epidemic looms in South Africa and passwords will not be enough to protect you. But there is a solution, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

South Africans have to brace themselves for an identity theft epidemic, after a website exposed 60-million South African identity numbers, along with extensive personal details (see http://bit.ly/SAbreach).

Suddenly, it is not enough to choose complicated, hard-to-guess passwords for online services like Internet banking, email, backup sites and cellphone services. In many cases, one merely has to confirm a range of personal details – exactly like those exposed in the breach – to change a password and gain access to a website containing financially sensitive information.

It is for this very reason that information security experts have for many years recommended something called two-factor authentication (2FA). It means that, to access a site or service, one needs a physical form of authentication as well as digital verification like user names and passwords.

The typical solution is to use one’s smartphone, usually via a one-time password e-mailed or sent by SMS. While this meets the technical definition of two-factor authentication, it is useless if identity theft has been used to have a new SIM card issued with your number.

Enter U2F, or Universal Second Factor. Jointly developed in 2012 by Google and a company called Yubico, it was adopted a year later by an industry body, the FIDO (“Fast IDentity Online”) Alliance, as a standard for two-factor authentication.

According to Yubico, it “enables Internet users to securely access any number of online services, with one single device, instantly and with no drivers, or client software needed”. You still need separate passwords for each site, but a separate device validates them.

The main problem with the solution in South Africa has been the absence of suitable U2F devices. That, in turn, has largely been a factor of service providers like banks not embracing the standard.

But now, the game has changed, First, a growing number of major international organisations have built it into their security options, with Google, Facebook and Dropbox, among other, all having it as an option.

Secondly, and most important, a South African company has built the first home-grown U2F-compliant solution.

It’s called SOLID wekKey, and it looks like a small USB flash drive. It  secures several hundred passwords with a single overarching password. A small, downloadable password manager application allows the user to transform all these passwords into strong passwords that are almost impossible to guess or crack.

It was developed by Ansys, a South African company based in Centurion. Ansys has made a name for itself manufacturing custom security products for clients, ranging from small businesses to large enterprises, across the defence, aerospace, industrial and telecommunications sectors. With webKey, it is venturing into designing and marketing its own products for the consumer market.

“The general public struggles with basic account security,” says Ansys CEO Teddy Daka. “Year after year, we see that easy to crack passwords such as ‘123456’ or ‘password’ are still in common use, and individuals rely on just one or two memorable passwords or passphrases to protect all their online accounts.”

Teddy Daka, CEO of Ansys

Teddy Daka, CEO of Ansys

He reminds the public that, while security experts recommend the use of long passwords made up of uncommon phrases, and that every account must be protected with a unique password, people tend to use the same simple credentials all the time. As this writer has pointed out many times, when a user name and password is stolen from one site, it can often be used across multiple services.

The real issue is that people tend to compromise security for the sake of simplicity. The more secure a solution, usually, the more complex, and therefore the less popular. However, we have entered an era when hackers are going after the big fish and the small alike. When it is as easy to break into a million small accounts as one big one, no one remains safe. That means the simple solutions are no longer secure enough.

“People use easy to remember passwords because they choose convenience over security,” says Daka. “This shouldn’t come as a surprise. We shouldn’t expect people to remember passwords that are made up of 25 random characters for an account they need to access every day.”

However, products like SOLID webKey do the remembering for the user. Yes, you can build complex pass phrases into a password locker on your smartphone, but the locker is as vulnerable as the phone itself. Keep the password on a separate device, and one extra barrier has been placed between the hacker and your peace of mind.

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How does it work?

SOLID webKey uses a combination of physical password vault, contained on a USB device, and a small industry-standard software application called KeePass.

The full name of the application, KeePass Password Safe, sums up its role perfectly: it is the equivalent of placing your valuables in an industrial-strength safe. Of course, as Hollywood teaches us, no safe is completely foolproof, but this kind of solution gives the user a chance against both random hackers and the professionals looking for easy targets.

Typically, hackers would use malware, or infected software, delivered via cunning “phishing” email and other attacks, to steal passwords. The SOLID webKey guards against this by requiring a physical tap of the USB device before passwords can be accessed. Because the password is never typed in, but delivered via a hardware “token”, it can’t easily be intercepted.

This is the basis of  both two-factor authentication (2FA) and the Universal Two-Factor (U2F) standard promoted by the FIDO Alliance.

The main obstacle to the wider uptake of U2F is the fact that it remains a mystery to most consumers, and even services like Gmail and Facebook – which come under regular, sustained attack – do not make a special effort to highlight the option. However, as the cyber war intensifies, U2F is expected to move to the front and centre of such sites’ efforts to protect their users.

“Two-factor authentication is rapidly becoming the norm, and is a proven way to secure accounts,” says Daka. “Through SOLID webKey, we hope to make it easier to use and therefore more popular with South Africans who want the best in online security.”

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Smash hits the
Nintendo Switch

Super Smash Bros. delivers what the fans wanted in the latest “Ultimate” instalment, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the latest addition to the popular Nintendo Smash series, has landed on the Nintendo Switch with a bang, selling 5-million copies in the first week of its release. The game has been long-anticipated since the console’s release, as many fans consider iy to be a Nintendo staple. And the wait was well worth it.

It features 74 playable fighters, 108 stages, almost 1300 Spirit characters to collect while playing, and a single-player Adventure mode that took about three days (or 28 hours) of gameplay to complete. The game offers far more gameplay than its predecessors, making it the Smash game that gives its players the best bang for their buck.

For those new to the game, the goal is to fight opponents and build up their damage score (draining their health) to knock them off the stage eventually. This makes the game seem chaotic, as many players jump around the platforms as if they were on quicksand, in order to avoid being hit by the other players.

It also services two kinds of players: the competitive and the casual.

Competitive players can be matched on the online service by skill ranking to enjoy playing with similarly high-skilled opponents. This is especially important in e-sports training for the game, and for players wanting to master combos against other human players. The casual gamer is also catered for, with eight-player chaos and button-mashing to see who comes out luckiest. This segment is also important for those wanting to learn how to play.

Training mode is also a place to go for those learning to play. It offers “CPU” players that are graded by intensity to train as a single player to learn a character’s moves, combos and general fighting style. More challenging CPU players can also be used by competitive players to train when there isn’t a Wi-Fi connection available.

Direct Play features in this game, allowing two players with two Switch consoles to play against each other over a direct connection – no Wi-Fi needed. This is especially useful to those who want to have a social gaming element on the go, similar to that of the cable connector of the Gameboy.

Click here to read Bryan Turner review of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

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Win Funko Fortnite in Vinyl

Gadget and Gammatek have nine Funko Fortnite figurines to give away.

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A Funko Pop figurine based on a character set is indicative of reaching the heights of pop culture. It is no surprise, then, that the world’s biggest online game, Fortnite, has its own line of Funko Pop figurines. The Funkos are modeled on the characters in game, including Drift, Ragnarok, Dark Vanguard, Volar, Tracera Ops, and Sparkle Specialist.

Now, local Funko distributor Gammatek has released the Fortnite figurines in South Africa. To celebrate, Gadget and Gammatek are giving away a set of three Funko Fortnite figurines to each of three readers (9 figurines in total). To enter, first click on your favourite Funko Pop on the next page and post the Tweet that appears. Then, follow Gadget on Twitter.

You can put the tweet in your own words, but entries must have the competition’s hashtag (#FunkoFortnite) and mention @GadgetZA to be considered valid.

Click here to select the Funko Fortnite character you want to tweet.

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