Time to Beef Up Your Password Security (The Easy Way)

The administration of usernames and passwords is time consuming business, although there is some good news for system administrators. Both Yahoo and Google have now produced alternatives. Google’s Authenticator and the On-Demand passwords from Yahoo look like they could well be viable solutions, but at the present moment in time, they are not universal. It is probable in the short to medium term that passwords will be required as the last line of defense against cyberattacks. It is essential that the last line holds strong, so two-step verification must be implemented.

Since you are going to have to carry on using passwords for the immediate future, it is a good idea to make some changes that will make administration tasks a lot easier, more straightforward and less time-consuming. Furthermore, we recommend making some changes to ensure your last line of defense is particularly strong. It may be tested.

Improve the strength of your passwords

You can use a Single Sign On (SSO) session to gain access to everything. Many people do. Even cybercriminals. SSO makes life easier because you can access everything you need to with the one password. Unfortunately, a hacker or cyber-criminal only needs to compromise one password in order to gain access to everything as well.

If you decide to use an SSO approach, you had better be sure your password is secure. We advise you to use different passwords for each system and to make sure that each of those is secure. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Regardless of whether you opt for multiple passwords or go for the SSO approach, you need to make it as hard as possible for your password to be guessed. This applies to all network users not just IT staff.

Password controls should be used: Minimum character limits should be implemented, along with other controls to ensure only strong passwords are created.

Furthermore, you should help employees create stronger passwords. Research conducted by Carnegie Mellon University’s CUPS (CyLab Usable Privacy and Security) Laboratory has shown that the addition of numbers to passwords can help improve security, but they determined it is far easier to guess passwords when these are added to the end of a password. This is where many people add them. They use their normal password with the characters and numbers added to the end. It is easy to remember that way, it is accepted by the password controls.

Even when passwords do not contain numbers or symbols they can be more secure than short passwords containing numbers and symbols. “AGoodExampleOfASecurePassword” is easy to remember and doesn’t need to be written down. Write it down and there is a chance it will be found. It is actually much better than using “E&”F*$G” for example. That would be very hard to remember, especially if you have more than one password like that to commit to memory and you need to change it every month. You would need to write it down, which is a major risk.

Additionally, a long password is more secure than using any 6-digit code. That said, make sure at least one capital letter is used (preferably more) and a number and a symbol, and that they are not just added to the end.

Avoid using structural passwords

It is tempting to keep using structural passwords. Many companies use a password such as the individual’s initial and the first four digits of their surname plus four digits at the end. The problem is that if the structure is determined, it makes it easier to work out the passwords for the entire organization, including individuals with full system privileges. If they are simply too practical to give up, only use them for individuals with low-level privileges.

Enforce password changes regularly

The longer a password is used; the more opportunities an attacker has to crack it. If you enforce a change every month or two, this is much more secure than keeping the same password for a year. Since new passwords are difficult to remember, why not take advantage of one of the many password managers that exist, such as Dashlane or LastPass. They are also good at helping with password creation, especially for creating longer passwords (and remembering highly complex ones). For greater security use an offline password generator.

It is also worthwhile checking the strength of your password. Take advantage of the Password Assistant if you use a Mac. CUPS found that password strength meters are effective at ensuring secure passwords are created.

Be careful about your use of social media

Could your password be guessed by anyone with access to your Facebook account? Have you used your pet’s name and published that name on Facebook? Your password strength meter will not know if you have used your dog’s name as your password with an exclamation mark at the end. It will not know what you have published via social media.

Assume your social media accounts may be compromised, and never choose a password using your name, a pet’s name, house name, date of birth, or any other information that is accessible through your social media accounts.

Make your passwords ultra-secure and do your bit to protect your organization

If you use the above controls to ensure your passwords are secure, your organization will be better protected. If a security breach occurs, make sure that it is not your account that a hacker uses to gain access to your system.

Prevent Cyberattacks with Effective Password Management

Passwords are used to prevent unauthorized individuals from accessing accounts, services and software. They keep data and networks secure, they prevent bank accounts from being plundered and ensure only one person can access sensitive information. If passwords are obtained by a criminal, this excellent security measure is worth absolutely nothing.

The daily news is full of stories about companies that have had their security perimeter breached and usernames and passwords stolen. Keyloggers are installed that obtain passwords, and accounts are bombarded by robots trying combination after combination until the right sequence of numbers and letters is found. Dark net marketplaces list passwords for sale by the thousand, and username and password combos can be purchased for just a couple of dollars a set.

How do passwords actually get stolen?

There are many techniques that are used and a myriad of ways that passwords can be obtained. Some of the most common methods are details below:

Keyloggers – Installed on users’ computers via malicious websites and infected email attachments. They record keystrokes and transmit the information to a hacker’s command and control server

Phishing – Users give passwords away by responding to phishing campaigns

Hacking – Security vulnerabilities in websites are exploited and the Active Directory or LDAP database is stolen

Social Engineering – People give their login credentials to bogus callers, fake customer service personnel, or via IT support scams

Is it so easy for hackers to steal passwords?

Sometimes it can be, but oftentimes security controls prevent a username and a password from being obtained. Passwords are often hashed to prevent this. A login name is obtained, and the number of characters in a password, but not the actual password itself as it is often encoded. The hacker must decode the passwords before they can be used.

What is Password Encoding?

There is a big difference between encoding and encrypting. If data are encrypted, they cannot be unlocked without a security key. This is why ransomware is so effective. Once encrypted, data is inaccessible unless a security key is entered. Security keys cannot be guessed.

Encoding is different. The single data field is encoded using an algorithm that hashes the password. When a password is entered, the hashing algorithm checks the text against the stored hashed version of the password. If the two match, access to an application is granted.

So how are passwords guessed?

In UNIX, a hashed password is stored in an LDAP system, but the type of algorithm that was used to encode the password is also stored. The hacker can work out the password if they have a dictionary of hashed values corresponding to the algorithm used.

The dictionary can be searched to find out if there is a match. These dictionary attacks will not reveal every password, but they can identify some of the most common words used for passwords.

A dictionary can be created by running common words through the algorithm. If you run the word “password” through an MD5 encoding algorithm, the hash it produces will be the same as any other system that uses MD5 encoding. This is how passwords are often guessed. It is not a hacker sitting at a computer entering in different combinations one after another in the hope he or she gets lucky. They can quickly run hashed passwords through their dictionary. Many will be revealed.

This is why it is essential that common passwords are always avoided. “Password”, “123456”, “bigguy”, “administrator” etc. It is also why it is important to use more than a few characters. How long would it take a hacker to compile a list of hashed two digit passwords? By the time you get up to 6 or 8 digits, the possible combinations are too numerous to compute. Since hashing allows up to 255 characters, it is not realistic for a super dictionary to be created. However, since many people use common words, and most use 5 or 8 digit passwords, a surprising number can be very rapidly guessed.

If you also use a common word you are asking for trouble, and if you also share passwords across multiple accounts, everything will be compromised if one is guessed.

Facebook Hacks Compromise 145 Million Accounts

Facebook hacking is rife and, if it happens to you, you are not alone. Unfortunately, there is no one to blame other than yourself. Facebook hacking is caused, in the vast majority of cases, by poor security practices and a lack of security awareness.

Facebook accounts get hacked because:

  • Passwords are stolen in phishing attacks
  • Two-factor account authentication is not used
  • Passwords are shared across multiple sites
  • Keyloggers have been installed on a computer used to access Facebook

If a hacker manages to obtain one password, chances are that same password is used on other sites. Criminals sell passwords online, and there are plenty of would be purchasers. Hackers even buy them on exchanges. Sharing passwords across sites is therefore very bad news, especially on sites that have poor security practices.

Fortunately, on Facebook at least, if you are hacked you can report it easily and should be able to recover your account.

A blocked Facebook account does not necessarily mean you have been hacked!

Facebook does frequently block user accounts. It does this as a security precaution, which is good for all users and offers some peace of mind. How often are accounts blocked? About 600,000 times a day, according to TechCrunch!

That is an awful lot of compromised accounts, yet do bear in mind that Facebook has over a billion users. So 600,000 represents just 0.06% of the total. Which is 6/10,000 if you prefer fractions to percentages.

When Facebook blocks an account is because the account has potentially been compromised. According to Facebook, this occurs when “we are not absolutely confident that the account’s true owner is accessing the account and we either pre-emptively or retroactively block access.”

This means that there is suspicious activity, Facebook often errs on the side of caution and blocks access. That could indicate an account has been hacked, or that action is being taken to prevent the account from being hacked. The good news is that when this happens, only the real owner can get the account unblocked. In theory at least.

When the figures of the number of blocked accounts emerged, the story was widely misreported in the media. Facebook was accused of a “shocking lack of security,” but the compromised account definition had not been read by many Facebook users, and even some reporters. Also bear in mind, that those 600,000 blocked accounts will include many false positives.

Determining exactly how many Facebook accounts have been hacked is rather difficult, unless you work for Facebook and have access to that data. It is possible however to come up with a fairly reasonable estimate, based on research conducted by security and market research firms. Their data can be used to get a reasonable estimate.

Take Statista’s figures for example. It conducted surveys on individuals who had been hacked, and 66% said they had had their Facebook accounts compromised. Then combine that with study data from Pew Research. The company determined that the volume of “internet users have had an email or social networking account compromised or taken over by someone else without permission” was 22%.

Using a simple calculation an estimate can be obtained: There are 1 billion Facebook users. 22% of individuals claim to have had an account hacked, and Statista says 66% of those were Facebook accounts. That works out at 145 million users, which should be a fairly reasonable estimate.

Fortunately, Facebook security is robust. A mobile phone is required as part of the account recovery process, so you would need to have lost that as well in order for your challenge question to be used to login. SSL certificates prevent network snooping, and the brute force approach will be prevented by Facebook’s security controls. But phishing scams are likely to leave your account open.

Fortunately, there are ways that you can protect yourself, and your Facebook account.

It can be difficult to avoid phishing scams, and all too easy to fall for one. One of the best defenses is to use Antispam software. SpamTitan’s software will prevent phishing campaigns from being delivered to your inbox. Parental controls at home, and web filtering controls at the office are excellent ways of blocking malicious links.

Unfortunately, not all access points have the above controls, so you will have to rely on common sense and become more security aware. For example:

  • Never click on a link that appears to take you to an unfamiliar site.
  • Never open email attachments sent from unfamiliar senders.
  • Use different passwords – don’t share them between websites
  • Use complex passwords, containing characters, capitals, and numbers
  • Don’t share everything about your life on social media
  • Change passwords regularly, certainly every 6 months
  • Don’t reuse passwords
  • Keep your anti-spam software, virusguard, and anti-malware programs updated, and scan regularly
  • Set your account recovery options and security questions as if they were passwords

And remember, just because you have friends and family on Facebook, don’t let it create a false sense of security. You can never be sure how security conscious they are! Complacency is likely to leave you vulnerable to hackers.

If your Facebook account has been hacked, let us know. We want to hear your stories!