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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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How we use phones to avoid human contact

A recent study by Kaspersky Lab has found that 75% of people pick up their connected device to avoid conversing with another human being.

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Connected devices are becoming essential to keeping people in contact with each other, but for many they are also a much-needed comfort blanket in a variety of social situations when they do not want to interact with others. A recent survey from Kaspersky Lab has confirmed this trend in behaviour after three-quarters of people (75%) admitted they use a device to pretend to be busy when they don’t want to talk to someone else, showing the importance of keeping connected devices protected under all circumstances. 

Imagine you’ve arrived at a bar and you’re waiting for your date. The bar is busy, and people are chatting all around you. What do you do now? Strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know? Grab your phone from your pocket or handbag until your date arrives to keep yourself busy? Why talk to humans or even make eye-contact with someone else when you can stare at your connected device instead?

The truth is, our use of devices is making it much easier to avoid small talk or even be polite to those around us, and new Kaspersky Lab research has found that 72% of people use one when they do not know what to do in a social situation. They are also the ‘go-to’ distraction for people even when they aren’t trying to look busy or avoid someone’s eye. 46% of people admit to using a device just to kill time every day and 44% use it as a daily distraction.

In addition to just being a distraction, devices are also a lifeline to those who would rather not talk directly to another person in day-to-day situations, to complete essential tasks. In fact, nearly a third (31%) of people would prefer to carry out tasks such as ordering a taxi or finding directions to where they need to go via a website and an app, because they find it an easier experience than speaking with another person.

Whether they are helping us avoid direct contact or filling a void in our daily lives, our constant reliance on devices has become a cause for panic when they become unusable. A third (34%) of people worry that they will not be able to entertain themselves if they cannot access a connected device. 12% are even concerned that they won’t be able to pretend to be busy if their device is out of action.

Dmitry Aleshin, VP for Product Marketing, Kaspersky Lab said, “The reliance on connected devices is impacting us in more ways than we could have ever expected. There is no doubt that being connected gives us the freedom to make modern life easier, but devices are also vital to help people get through different and difficult social situations. No matter what your ‘connection crutch’ is, it is essential to make sure your device is online and available when you need it most.”

To ensure your device lifeline is always there and in top health – no matter what the reason or situation – Kaspersky Security Cloud keeps your connection safe and secure:

·         I want to use my device while waiting for a friend – is it secure to access the bar’s Wi-Fi?

With Kaspersky Security Cloud, devices are protected against network threats, even if the user needs to use insecure public Wi-Fi hotspots. This is done through transferring data via an encrypted channel to ensure personal data safety, so users’ devices are protected on any connection.

·         Oh no! I’m bored but my phone’s battery is getting low – what am I going to do?

Users can track their battery level thanks to a countdown of how many minutes are left until their device shuts down in the Kaspersky Security Cloud interface. There is also a wide-range of portable power supplies available to keep device batteries charged while on-the-go.

·         I’ve lost my phone! How will I keep myself entertained now?

Should the unthinkable happen and you lose or have your phone stolen, Kaspersky Security Cloud can track and protect your device from data breaches, for complete peace of mind. Remote lock and locate features ensure your device remains secure until you are reunited.

 

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Five key biometric facts

Due to their uniqueness, fingerprints are being used more and more to quickly identify and ensure the security of customers. CLAUDE LANGLEY, Regional Sales Manager, for Africa at HID Global Biometrics, outlines five facts about the technology.

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How many times in a day are you expected to identify yourself? From when you arrive at work you are required to sign in, visiting your bank, receiving healthcare services… The list is endless. When a system knows who you are, you are able to do any number common, everyday activities. Your identity is unique and precious. It is also easily stolen and the target of many hackers across the globe. Technology is constantly evolving alongside the criminal element, always looking for ways to protect data and identity. One such solution happens to be biometrics and it is rapidly gaining traction in our increasingly complex modern world.

Reliable, secure and fundamentally YOU, unique biometric traits such as fingerprints are being used by banks, enterprises and consumers to verify identity. Biometric solutions offer significant identity protection because they use unique biological details to ensure an account is only accessed by the account holder, a door only opened by the owner. Here are five things that are little known about this technology…

  • The uncut identity. Your fingerprint is unique to you. Nobody can use a copy of it to impersonate you. Good technology is capable of scanning down into the layers of the fingertip to differentiate unique elements of a person’s fingerprint, this data is then encrypted and used as a key to unlocking whichever physical or virtual door that the biometric system protects.
  • The living proof. No, there is nothing to the stories of fingerprints being used without their owner’s knowledge or permission. Biometric solutions can use specific variables to determine if the finger used to access the system is that of a present, living person.  A copy or a fake cannot be used to access a cutting-edge biometric solution.
  • Easy and convenient. Queues and documents and paperwork may well be a thing of the past should biometrics take a firmer grip of government and banking systems. The process of registering is easy, and access to identity documents and records is yours alone.
  • Security blanket. A thousand passwords and a hundred post-it notes stuck on walls and drawers.  An excel file with a list of sites and applications and their corresponding passwords, all a thing of the past.  Nobody needs to remember their password with biometrics, they only need to show up.
  • Anywhere is cool. Schools, airports, networks, offices, homes, toilets, banks, libraries, governments, border controls, immigration services, call centres, hospitals and even clubs and pubs – knowing “who” matters and biometrics can quickly and conveniently confirm your identity where needed.

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