Posts Tagged ‘business’

Is our entire password strategy flawed?

2014-06-19 by roryalsop. 8 comments

paj28 posed a question that really fits better here as a blog post:

Security Stack Exchange gets a lot of questions about password strength, password best practices, attacks on passwords, and there’s quite a lot for both users and sites to do, to stay in line with “best practice”.

Web sites need a password strength policy, account lockout policy, and secure password storage with a slow, salted hash. Some of these requirements have usability impacts, denial of service risks, and other drawbacks. And it’s generally not possible for users to tell whether a site actually does all this (hence

Users are supposed to pick a strong password that is unique to every site, change it regularly, and never write it down. And carefully verify the identity of the site every time you enter your password. I don’t think anyone actually follows this, but it is the supposed “best practice”.

In enterprise environments there’s usually a pretty comprehensive single sign-on system, which helps massively, as users only need one good work password. And with just one authentication to protect, using multi-factor is more practical. But on the web we do not have single sign-on; every attempt from Passport, through SAML, OpenID and OAuth has failed to gain a critical mass.

But there is a technology that presents to users just like single sign-on, and that is a password manager with browser integration. Most of these can be told to generate a unique, strong password for every site, and rotate it periodically. This keeps you safe even in the event that a particular web site is not following best practice. And the browser integration ties a password to a particular domain, making phishing all but impossible To be fair, there are risks with password managers “putting all your eggs in one basket” and they are particularly vulnerable to malware, which is the greatest threat at present.

But if we look at the technology available to us, it’s pretty clear that the current advice is barking up the wrong tree. We should be telling users to use a password manager, not remember loads of complex passwords. And sites could simply store an unsalted fast hash of the password, forget password strength rules and account lockouts.

A problem we have though is that banks tell customers never to write down passwords, and some explicitly include ‘storage on PC’ in this. Banking websites tend to disallow pasting into password fields, which also doesn’t help.

So what’s the solution? Do we go down the ‘all my eggs are in a nice secure basket’ route and use password managers?

I, like all the techies I know, use a password manager for everything. Of the 126 passwords I have in mine, I probably use 8 frequently. Another 20 monthly-ish. Some of the rest of them have been used only once or twice – and despite having a good memory for letters and numbers, I’m not going to be able to remember them so this password manager is essential for me.

I want to be able to easily open my password manager, copy the password and paste it directly into the password field.

I definitely don’t want this password manager to be part of the browser, however, as in the event of browser compromise I don’t wish all my passwords to be vacuumed up, so while functional interaction like copy and paste is essential, I’d like separation of executables.

What do you think – please comment below.

QotW #35: Dealing with excessive “Carding” attempts

2012-09-14 by scottpack. 0 comments

Community moderator Jeff Ferland nominated this week’s question: Dealing with excessive “Carding” attempts.

I found this to be an interesting question for two reasons,

  1. It turned the classic password brute force on its head by applying it to credit cards
  2. It attracted the attention from a large number of relatively new users

Jeff Ferland postulated that the website was too helpful with its error codes and recommended returning the same “Transaction Failed” message no matter the error.

User w.c suggested using some kind of additional verification like a CAPTCHA. Also mentioned was the notion of instituting time delays for multiple successive CAPTCHA or transaction failures.

A slightly different tack was discussed by GdD. Instead of suggesting specific mitigations, GdD pointed out the inevitability of the attackers adapting to whatever protections are put in place. The recommendation was to make sure that you keep adapting in turn and force the attackers into your cat and mouse game.

Ajacian81 felt that the attacker’s purpose may not be finding valid numbers at all and instead be performing a payment processing denial of service. The suggested fix was to randomize the name of the input fields in an effort to prevent scripting the site.

John Deters described a company that had previously had the same problem. They completely transferred the problem to their processor by having them automatically decline all charges below a certain threshold. He also pointed out that the FBI may be interested in the situation and should be notified. This, of course, depends on USA jurisdiction.

Both ddyer and Winston Ewert suggested different ways of instituting artificial delays into the processing. Winston discussed outright delaying all transactions while ddyer discussed automated detection of “suspicious” transactions and blocking further transactions from that host for some time period.

Liked this question of the week? Interested in reading it or adding an answer? See the question in full. Have questions of a security nature of your own? Security expert and want to help others? Come and join us at

QotW #16: When businesses don’t protect your data…

2012-01-27 by roryalsop. 0 comments

This week’s blog post was inspired by camokatu‘s question on what to do when a Utility company doesn’t hash passwords in their database.

It seems the utility company couldn’t understand the benefit of hashing the passwords. Wizzard0 listed some reasons why they might not want to implement protection – added complexity, implementation and test costs, changes in procedures etc. and this is often the key battle. If a company doesn’t see this as a risk they want to remediate, nothing will get done. And to be fair, this is the way business risk should be managed, however here it appears that the company just hasn’t understood the risks or isn’t aware of them.

Obviously the consequences of this can range from minimal to disastrous, so most of the answers concentrate on consequences which could negatively impact the customer, and the main one of these is where the database includes financial information such as accounts, banking details or credit card details.

The key point, raised by Iszi, is that if personally identifiable information is held, it must be protected in most jurisdictions (under data protection acts), and if credit card details are held, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) requires it to be protected. (For further background information check out the answers to this question on industry best practices). These regulations tend to be enforced by fining companies, and the PCI can remove a company’s ability to use credit card payments if they fail to meet PCI-DSS.

Does the company realise they can be fined or lose credit card payments? Maybe they do but have decided that is an acceptable risk, but I’d be tempted to say in this case that they just don’t appear to get it.

So when they don’t get it, don’t care, or won’t respond in a way that protects you, the customer, what are your next steps?

from tdammers – responsible disclosure :

Contact the company, offer to keep the vulnerability quiet for a limited amount of time, giving them an opportunity to fix it.

In the meantime, make sure you’re not using the compromised password anywhere else, make sure you don’t have any valuable information stored on their systems, and if you can afford to, cancel your account.

from userunknown

contact their marketing team and explain what a PR disaster it would be if the media learnt about it (no, I’m not suggesting blackmail…:-)

from drjimbob – 3 excellent suggestions:

Submit it to plaintext offenders?

Switch to another utility company?

Lobby your local politicians to pass legislation that companies that do not use secure hashes (e.g., bcrypt or at very least salted hash) on their password data are liable for identity theft damages from any compromise of their systems?

But in addition to those thoughts, which at best will still require time before the company does anything, follow this guidance repeated in almost every question on password security and listed here by Iszi

Use long and complex passwords for all websites & applications, and do not re-use passwords across any websites & applications. Additionally, limit the information you give these websites & applications to only that which is absolutely necessary for them to serve their purpose