Preparing for the End of SMS Authentication

Over the last several years, wealth management/asset management firms have been integrating their systems with banking, trading and other financial platforms. One of the largest challenges wealth management firms face, from a technology standpoint, is managing multi-factor authentication when connecting to the accounts of their clients. In the coming year to eighteen months, this is likely to get even more challenging as SMS-based authentication is phased out. 

Today, many financial web sites, applications and phone apps require the use of SMS one-time security verification codes to be sent via text to the user. This usually happens once the user has entered their login and password to the system, after which it triggers the credential to be sent to their mobile phone number on record. The user then inputs this code into a form on the system and it is verified, and if correct, allows the user to proceed to access the application. This is called two factor authentication/multi-factor authentication (“MFA”) and is one of the most common mechanisms for performing this type of user authorization.

The problem with this mechanism for regulating sign ins to applications is that the method of sending the code is insecure. Attackers have a variety of means of intercepting SMS text messages and thus defeating this type of authentication. Just do some quick Google searches and you’ll find plenty of examples of this attack being successful. You’ll also find regulatory guidance about ending SMS authentication from a variety of sources like NIST and various financial regulators around the world. 

The likely successor to SMS text message authentication is the authenticator app on user mobile devices and smartphones. These authenticator apps reside in encrypted storage on the user’s phone and when prompted, provide a one-time password (“OTP”) just like the code sent in the text message. The difference is, through a variety of cryptographic techniques, once the application is setup and  the settings configured, it doesn’t need to communicate with the financial platform, and thus is significantly more difficult for attackers to compromise. Indeed, they must actually have the user’s device, or at the very least, access to the data that resides on it. This greatly reduces the risk of interception and mis-use of the codes in question, and increases the security of the user’s account with the financial institution.

This presents a significant problem, and opportunity, for wealth management firms. Transitioning their business processes from integrating with SMS-based authentication to authenticator apps can be a challenge on the technical level. Updates to the user interaction processes, for those firms that handle it manually, usually by calling the user and asking for the code, are also going to be needed. It is especially important, for these manual interactions, that some passphrase or the like is used, as banks, trading platforms and other financial institutions will be training their users to NEVER provide an authenticator app secret to anyone over the phone. Attackers leveraging social engineering are going to be the most prevalent form of danger to this authentication model, so wealth management firms must create controls to help assure their clients that they are who they say they are and train them to resist attackers pretending to be the wealth management firm. 

Technical and manual implementations of this form of authentication will prove to be an ongoing challenge for wealth management firms. We are already working with a variety of our clients, helping them update their processes, policies and controls for these changes. If your organization has been traditionally using SMS message authentication with your own clients, there is even more impetus to get moving on changes to your own processes. 

Let us know if we can be of service. You can reach out and have a no stress, no hassle discussion with our team by completing this web form. You can also give us a call anytime at 614-351-1237. We’d love to help! 

Getting ROI with ClawBack, our Data Leak Detection Platform

So, by now, you have likely heard about MicroSolved’s ClawBack™ data leakage detection engine. We launched it back in October of 2019, and it has been very successful among many of our clients that have in-house development teams. They are using it heavily to identify leaks of source code that could expose their intellectual property or cause a data breach at the application level.

While source code leaks remain a signficant concern, it is really only the beginning of how to take advantage of ClawBack. I’m going to discuss a few additional ways to get extreme return on investment with ClawBack’s capabilities, even if you don’t have in-house developers.

One of the most valuable solutions that you can create with ClawBack is to identify leaked credentials (user names and passwords). Hackers and cyber-criminals love to use stolen passwords for credential-stuffing attacks. ClawBack can give you a heads up when stolen credentials show up on the common pastebin sites or get leaked inadvertantly through a variety of common ways. Knowing about stolen credentials makes sense and gives you a chance to change them before they can be used against you. 

We’ve also talked a lot about sensitive data contained in device configurations. Many potentially sensitive details are often in configuration files that end up getting posted in support forums, as parts of resumes or even in GITHub repositories. A variety of identifiable information is often found in these files and evidence suggests that attackers, hackers and cybercriminals have developed several techniques for exploiting them. Our data leak detection platform specializes in hunting down these leaks, which are often missed by most traditional data loss prevention/data leakage prevention (DLP)/data protection tools. With ClawBack watching for configurations exposures, you’ve got a great return on investment.

But, what about other types of data theft? Many clients have gotten clever with adding watermarks, unique identity theft controls, specific security measures and honing in on techniques to watch for leaked API keys (especially by customers and business partners). These techniques have had high payoffs in finding compromised data and other exposures, often in near real time. Clients use this information to declare security incidents, issue take down orders for data leaks and prevent social engineering attackers from making use of leaked data. It often becomes a key part of their intrusion detection and threat intelligence processes, and can be a key differentiator in being able to track down and avoid suspicious activity.

ClawBack is a powerful SaaS Platform to help organizations reduce data leaks, minimize reputational risk, discover unusual and often unintentional insider threats and help prevent unauthorized access stemming from exposed data. To learn more about it, check out https://microsolved.com/clawback today.

All About Credit Union Credential Stuffing Attacks

Credential stuffing attacks continue to be a grave concern for all organizations worldwide. However, for many Credit Unions and other financial institutions, they represent one of the most significant threats. They are a common cause of data breaches and are involved in some 76% of all security incidents. On average, our honey nets pretending to be Credit Union and other financial services experience targeted credential stuffing attacks several times per week. 

What Is Credential Stuffing?

“Credential stuffing occurs when hackers use stolen information, such as usernames and passwords from database breaches or phishing software from one account, and attempt to gain access to another. The hackers prey on people’s habit of using the same usernames and passwords for multiple sites. Using automated tools, they run large amounts of stolen information across multiple sites looking to find the same usernames and passwords being used elsewhere. Once they find a match, they can monetize the personal and financial information they gather.” (ardentcu.org)

How Common is Credential Stuffing?

Beyond our honey nets, which are completely fake environments used to study attackers, credential stuffing and the damage it causes is quite starteling. Here are some quick facts:

  • It is estimated that automated credential-stuffing attempts makes up 90% of enterprise login traffic in the US. (securityboulevard.com)
  • It’s estimated that credential stuffing costs companies more than $5 billion a year and creates havoc with consumers. (ardentcu.org)

  • According to Akamai’s latest State of the Internet report on credential stuffing, its customers alone were deluged by 30 billion malicious login attempts between November 2017 and June this year, an average of 3.75 billion per month. (theregister.com)

  • Significant credential stuffing attacks are a favorite of professional hacking groups from Russia, India, Asia and Africa. They often gather extensive lists of stolen and leaked credentials through advanced Google hacking techniques, by combing social media for password dumps (so called “credential spills”) and by purchasing lists of exposed credentials from other criminals on the dark web. Lists of member information from compromised online banking, online retailers and business association sites are common. This information often includes names, addresses, bank account numbers/credit card numbers, social security numbers, phone numbers and other sensitive data – enabling credential stuffing and social engineering attacks against victims around the world.

What Can Credit Unions Do About Credential Stuffing?

The key to handling this threat is to be able to prevent, or at the very least, identify illicit login attempts and automate actions in response to failed logins. Cybercriminals use a variety of tools, rented botnets (including specifically built credential stuffing bots) and brute force attacks to pick off less than strong passwords all around the Internet. Then, as we discussed above, they use that stolen information to probe your credit union for the same login credentials. 

The first, and easiest step, in reducing these cybercriminals’ success rate is to teach all of your legitimate users not to use the same password across multiple systems, and NEVER use passwords from public sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter for example, as account credentials at work or on other important sites. Instead, suggest that they use a password manager application to make it simple to have different passwords for every site. Not only does this help make their passwords stronger, but it can even reduce support costs by reducing password reset requests. Ongoing security awareness is the key to helping them understand this issue and the significance their password choices have on the security of their own personal information and that of the company.

Next, the Credit Union should have a complete inventory of every remote login service, across their Internet presence. Every web application, email service, VPN or remote access portal and every single place that a cybercriminal could try or use their stolen credentials to gain an account takeover. Once, the Credit Union knows where login credentials can be used, they should go about preventing abuse and cyberattacks against those attack surfaces. 

The key to prevention should start with eliminating any Internet login capability that is not required. It should then progress to reducing the scope of each login surface by restricting the source IP addresses that can access that service, if possible. Often Credit Unions are able to restrict this access down to specific countries or geographic areas. While this is not an absolute defense, it does help to reduce the impacts of brute force attacks and botnet scans on the login surfaces. 

The single best control for any authentication mechanism, however, is multi factor authentication (MFA) (basically a form of secure access code provided to the user). Wheverever possible, this control should be used. While multi factor authentication can be difficult to implement on some services, it is widely available and a variety of products exist to support nearly every application and platform. Financial services should already be aware of MFA, since it has been widely regulated by FFIEC, NCUA and FDIC guidance for some time.

More and more, however, credential stuffing is being used against web mail, Office 365 and other email systems. This has become so common, that a subset of data breaches called Business Email Compromise now exists and is tracked separately by law enforcement. This form of unauthorized access has been wildly popular across the world and especially against the financial services of the United States. Compromised email addresses and the resulting wire transfer fraud and ACH fraud that stems from this form of credential theft/identity theft are among some of the highest financial impacts today. Additionally, they commonly lead to malware spread and ransomware infections, if the attacker can’t find a way to steal money or has already managed to do so.

No matter what login mechanism is being abused, even when MFA is in place, logging of both legitimate access and unauthorized access attempts is needed. In the event that a security breach does occur, this data is nearly invaluable to the forensics and investigation processes. Do keep in mind, that many default configurations of web services and cloud-based environments (like Office 365) have much of this logging disabled by default. 

While Credit Unions remain prime targets, having good prevention and detection are a key part of strong risk management against credential stuffing. Practicing incident response skills and business recovery via tabletop exercises and the like also go a long way to stengthening your security team’s capabilities.

How Can MicroSolved Help?

Our team (the oldest security firm in the midwest) has extensive experience with a variety of risk management and security controls, including helping Credit Unions inventory their attack surfaces, identify the best multi factor authentication system for their environment, create policies and processes for ensuring safe operations and performing assessments, configuration audits of devices/applications/cloud environments. 

We also scope and run custom tabletop exercises and help Credit Unions build better information security programs. Our team has extensive experience with business email compromise, wire/ACH/credit card fraud prevention, cybercriminal tactics and incident response, in the event that you discover that credential theft has occurred. 

Lastly, our ClawBack data leak detection platform, can help you watch for leaked credentials, find source code and scripts that might contain reuseable account credentials and even hunt down device configurations that can expose the entire network to easy compromise. 

You can learn more about all of our services, and our 28 years of information security thought leadership here.

Lastly, just reach out to us and get in touch here. We’d love to talk with your Credit Union and help you with any and all of these controls for protecting against credential stuffing attacks or any other cybersecurity issue.

I’m running out of Post-Its to write down my passwords

We all know to use non-dictionary, complex passwords for our email or online banking or online shopping accounts; whether we put that into practice is another issue. Even less in practice is, using a different password for each of our accounts; that is, never use the same password twice.

Why? The online gaming site that you logon to crush candy may not be as prudent in its security as the financial advisor site that is managing your 401K. The gaming site may store your password in cleartext in their database, or use a weak encryption algorithm. They may not be subject to regulations and policies that require them to have a regular vulnerability assessment. Using the same password for both sites will place either of your accounts vulnerable and at risk.

If a breach occurs and a site’s user data and passwords are unscrambled – as with 3.3 million users of a popular gaming site (article here) – then the hacker can try the discovered password on the user’s other accounts – email, bank, company site logon. And if the user uses the same password across the board, bingo.

You might think unlikely, improbable – how will the hacker know which website to try the discovered credentials? If the email harvested from the gaming site is myemailaddress@gmail.com, they could try the credentials to log into gmail. If the email is @mycompany.com, the hacker would look for a login portal into mycompany.com. The attacker could look for social media accounts registered with that email address. Or any other website that may have an account registered with that email address. The last estimate in 2017 is that there are over 300 million Amazon.com users. The attacker could try the discovered credentials on this popular site; if your favorite password is your birthdate – 12250000 – and you use it for all your logons, the attacker would be on an Amazon shopping spree as you read this blog.

This cross-site password use is not a security issue only through an online data breach; you may have misplaced your trust and shared your password, or entered your credentials on someone else’s computer that had a key logger or you accidentally saved your logon, or browsed the internet using an open wireless hotspot where someone was sniffing the traffic, or through any other instance that your password finds its way to the wrong eyes.

OK, so I need a different password for each different account that I have. I’m gonna need a bigger keyboard to stick all the Post-It notes with the passwords to every account I have underneath it. Or, maybe I could use a password manager.

A password manager is a database program that you can use to store information for each of your online accounts, website, username, password, security questions, etc. They are encrypted, requiring one master password to unlock its contents, all your saved passwords; “Ash nazg durbatulûk” – one ring to rule them all.

Remembering one long, strong, complex, impossible-to-brute-force-or-guess password, you can then gain access to all your other impossible to guess passwords. Almost all password managers also have a feature to generate random, complex passwords that you can use for each of your accounts.

There are many password managers out there, some commercial paid-for programs, some free open-source, with varying features. Some store your data in the cloud, some fill-in the login form automatically in the browser with your account credentials, some you can copy and paste the credentials from the program and the data in the clipboard is erased after a specified time period… You should choose a password manager that is both secure and usable.

Secure in that the encryption used to store the saved credentials and data is impossible to crack. Research what level of encryption your organization requires data to be stored with. When using the password manager, is the data self contained or is it exposed or available for use to other programs, and how. Does the password manager program run in secure memory space or written to a pagefile or swap memory that can be dumped by an attacker.

The password manager should be usable so that the user will be more likely to use it on a daily basis. If it slows down the user too much, it will be ignored and old habits die hard, the user will revert to poor password use behaviors.

An example real-world use of a password manager: Desktop and mobile versions of an open-source password manager can be installed on the Mac, Windows, Linux, Android and iOS operating systems with the one database file containing the credentials data saved in a cloud service. The user can access, view and edit the credentials from any of the devices with the installed program.

Password managers can be an an essential tool in securing your credentials. Do your research; research specifications, read reviews, compare functionality and usability. Also look up which managers have had bugs or vulnerabilities, how quick were the patches released, how was the vendor’s response to the flaws.

Using the same password for even only 2 websites should be a no-no. And forget trying to remember unique passwords to over 20 online accounts (recent research found the average US user has 130 online accounts). Plus, many sites force you to change passwords (rightfully so) on a regular basis. What is my current password to xyz.com that I last logged on 18 months ago?

Password managers can help you use a unique, strong password for each account. A data breach at one website (which seems to be reported on a weekly basis now) should not force you to change your password for any other websites. But protect that ONE master password. It is the one ring that rules them all.

Resources:
https://expandedramblings.com/index.php/amazon-statistics/
https://blog.dashlane.com/infographic-online-overload-its-worse-than-you-thought/

Password Breach Mining is a Major Threat on the Horizon

Just a quick note today to get you thinking about a very big issue that is just over the security horizon.

As machine learning capabilities grow rapidly and mass storage pricing drops to close to zero, we will see a collision that will easily benefit common criminals. That is, they will begin to apply machine learning correlation and prediction capabilities to breach data – particularly passwords, in my opinion.

Millions of passwords are often breached at a time these days. Compiling these stolen password is quite easy, and with each added set, the idea of tracking and tracing individual users and their password selection patterns becomes trivial. Learning systems could be used to turn that raw data into insights about particular user patterns. For example, if a user continually creates passwords based on a season and a number (ex: Summer16) and several breaches show that same pattern as being associated with that particular user (ex: Summer16 on one site, Autumn12 on another and so on…) then the criminals can use prediction algorithms to create a custom dictionary to target that user. The dictionary set will be concise and is likely to be highly effective.

Hopefully, we have been teaching users not to use the same password in multiple locations – but a quick review of breach data sets show that these patterns are common. I believe they may well become the next evolution of bad password choices.

Now might be the time to add this to your awareness programs. Talk to users about password randomization, password vaults and the impacts that machine learning and AI are likely to have on crime. If we can change user behavior today, we may be able to prevent the breaches of tomorrow!

Telnet Passwords Used In Brute Force Attacks

Just a quick post today, but I wanted to give you some insight into the Telnet scans we have been seeing lately. Here are the passwords that have been used to target logins on port 23 on one of our HITME sensors in the United States. This particular system emulates a login, and the probes appear to be automated. We saw no evidence of any manual probes on this sensor in the last month that targeted telnet.

The passwords used in brute force attacks on telnet (used against the usual root/admin/etc users…): 

default
1234
220
428
436
Admin
D-Link
admin
cobr4
dreambox
echo
enable
home-modem
l
password
private
public
root
sh
user

Keep a careful eye on any systems with Telnet exposed to the Internet. They are a common attraction point to attackers.

Oracle CSO Online Interview

My interview with CSO Online became available over the weekend. It discusses vendor trust and information security implications of the issues with password security in the Oracle database. You can read more about it here. Thanks to CSO Online for thinking of us and including us in the article.

Hooray! An Open-Source Password Analyzer Tool!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m one of the resident “Password Hawks” in our office. Our techs consistently tell people to create stronger passwords because it is still one of the most common ways a hacker is able to infiltrate a network.

However, we live in an age where it’s not just hackers who are trying to steal an organization’s data. There are also a variety of malcontents who simply want to hack into someone’s account in order to embarrass them, confirm something negative about them, or be a nuisance by sending spam.

This is why it is important to create a strong password; one that will not be easily cracked.

Enter password analyzer tools. Sophos’ “Naked Security” blog posted a great article today about the often misleading security policies of popular online social sites. Developer Cameron Morris discovered that if he followed one social site’s policy, he actually created a more easily “crackable” password than the one they deemed weak.

About three years ago, developer Cameron Morris had a personal epiphany about passwords, he recently told ZDNet’s John Fontana: The time it takes to crack a password is the only true measure of its worth.

Read the rest of the article here.

There is a free analyzer you can use and I strongly suggest you test the strength of your passwords with it.

Passfault Analyzer

Also, Morris created a tool for administrators that would allow them to configure a password policy based on the time to crack, the possible technology that an attacker might be using (from an everyday computer on up to a $180,000 password attacker), and the password protection technology in use (from Microsoft Windows System security on up to 100,000 rounds of the cryptographic hash function SHA-1/).

OWASP Password Creation Slide-Tool

This is one of the best articles I’ve read on password security, plus it has tools for both the end-user and the administrator. Test them out yourself to see if you have a password that can resist a hacker! 

As for me, I think I need to do a little more strengthening…

Have a great Memorial Day weekend (for our U.S. readers) and stay safe out there!

Twitter Hack! 5 Ways to Avoid Being the Victim of a Phishing Attack

Twitter is downplaying a security breach that exposed tens of thousands of user emails and passwords.

The leaked information, comprising 58,978 username and password combinations, appeared Monday on Pastebin. While Twitter said that it’s investigating the breach, it’s also downplayed the supposed size and severity of the data dump.

“We are currently looking into the situation,” said spokeswoman Rachel Bremer via email. “It’s worth noting that, so far, we’ve discovered that the list of alleged accounts and passwords found on Pastebin consists of more than 20,000 duplicates, many spam accounts that have already been suspended, and many login credentials that do not appear to be linked (that is, the password and username are not actually associated with each other).”

Information Week Security article

Whenever you read about such breaches, it is always a good idea to change your password, especially if you’ve not changed it for some time.

The compromised Twitter accounts could have been the result of phishing attacks. A phishing attack is when an attacker acquires personal information by duping the user into revealing it through manipulating their emotions.

Remember how one of your wiser friends told you it’s never a good idea to make a big decision while you’re overly-emotional? The same stands true for avoiding phishing attacks.

Here are some ways to stay safe:

  1. Do not give out your financial information ever through an email appeal. I hope we all know now that you haven’t won the Nigerian lottery or that some prince or princess is willing to give you part of their inheritance if only you’ll keep their money in your bank account. Emails of this nature prey upon people who would love to “win” money or worse, may lose money in their account unless they give out their account information. Never give out your personal information. Instead, call your bank to verify that they need the information. You could also have some fun with the hackers like I did.
  2. Don’t call any phone number or visit a website that is linked in the email. There’s a good chance it will connect you directly to the attacker. Look at the URL associated with the link. Does it contain words, letters, or numbers that seem odd? It’s likely an attempt to masquerade as an organization’s true website address, so don’t click it. You can see the URL by hovering over it or highlighting it with your mouse. Again, if you think it may be a legitimate request for information, verify it by contacting your financial institution directly.
  3. Never fill out forms in an email that asks for personal information. Most organizations like PayPal notify their customers but do not ask for personal information to be placed into forms. Again, verify, verify, verify.
  4. Regularly check your online banking accounts. Don’t allow months to go by before checking in. By frequently monitoring your account, you’ll be able to immediately see suspicious activity.
  5. Patch it! When that annoying “Software Updates Available Now” window pops up, don’t ignore it. (I’m talking mainly to myself, now.) Click to install. Patches fix vulnerabilities and many attackers will jump on the opportunity to hit an un-patched machine. If you’re in doubt about whether your browser system is up-to-date, check by clicking your browser’s info link or your system’s and click “Software Update” or “Check for updates.” (In Firefox, it’s in the “Tools” section.)

Finally, you can report phishing attacks to the following organizations:

  • The Federal Trade Commission at spam@uce.gov.
  • Forward the email to the “abuse” email address to the company that is being spoofed (i.e. “abuse@XYZcompany.com” or “spam@XYZcompany.com”). Make sure to forward the complete email message with the original email header.
  • Notify the Internet Fraud Complaint Center of the FBI by filing a complaint on their website: http://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx There is an excellent selection of tips on the FBI site to help you avoid fraud, so make sure to check it out.

The key to avoid becoming a victim is to stay alert, stay suspicious, and stay on top of changing your passwords.

Stay safe!

Disagreement on Password Vault Software Findings

Recently, some researchers have been working on comparing password vault software products and have justifiably found some issues. However, many of the vendors are quickly moving to remediate the identified issues, many of which were simply improper use of proprietary cryptography schemes.

I agree that proprietary crypto is a bad thing, but I find fault with articles such as this one where the researchers suggest that using the built in iOS functions are safer than using a password vault tool.

Regardless of OS, platform or device, I fail to see how depending on simple OS embedded tools versus OS embedded tools, plus the additional layers of whatever mechanisms a password vault adds, reduces risk to the user. It would seem that the additional layers of control (regardless of their specific vulnerability to nuanced attacks against each control surface), would still add overall security for the user and complexity for the attacker to manage in a compromise.
 
I would love to see a model on this scenario where the additional controls reduce the overall security of the data. I could be wrong (it happens), but in the models I have run, they all point to the idea that even a flawed password vault wrapped in the OS controls are stronger and safer than the bare OS controls alone.
 
In the meantime, while the vendors work on patching their password vaults and embracing common crypto mechanisms, I’ll continue to use my password vault as is, wrapped in the additional layers of OS controls and added detection mechanisms my systems enjoy. I would suggest you and your organization’s users continue to do the same.