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Wanted: Cybersecurity Imagery

Eli Sugarman of the Hewlettt Foundation laments about the sorry state of cybersecurity imagery:

The state of cybersecurity imagery is, in a word, abysmal. A simple Google Image search for the term proves the point: It’s all white men in hoodies hovering menacingly over keyboards, green “Matrix”-style 1s and 0s, glowing locks and server racks, or some random combination of those elements — sometimes the hoodie-clad men even wear burglar masks. Each of these images fails to convey anything about either the importance or the complexity of the topic­ — or the huge stakes for governments, industry and ordinary people alike inherent in topics like encryption, surveillance and cyber conflict.

I agree that this is a problem. It’s not something I noticed until recently. I work in words. I think in words. I don’t use PowerPoint (or anything similar) when I give presentations. I don’t need visuals.

But recently, I started teaching at the Harvard Kennedy School, and I constantly use visuals in my class. I made those same image searches, and I came up with similarly unacceptable results.

But unlike me, Hewlett is doing something about it. You can help: participate in the Cybersecurity Visuals Challenge.

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Bad Consumer Security Advice

There are lots of articles about there telling people how to better secure their computers and online accounts. While I agree with some of it, this article contains some particularly bad advice:

1. Never, ever, ever use public (unsecured) Wi-Fi such as the Wi-Fi in a café, hotel or airport. To remain anonymous and secure on the Internet, invest in a Virtual Private Network account, but remember, the bad guys are very smart, so by the time this column runs, they may have figured out a way to hack into a VPN.

I get that unsecured Wi-Fi is a risk, but does anyone actually follow this advice? I think twice about accessing my online bank account from a pubic Wi-Fi network, and I do use a VPN regularly. But I can’t imagine offering this as advice to the general public.

2. If you or someone you know is 18 or older, you need to create a Social Security online account. Today! Go to www.SSA.gov.

This is actually good advice. Brian Krebs calls it planting a flag, and it’s basically claiming your own identity before some fraudster does it for you. But why limit it to the Social Security Administration? Do it for the IRS and the USPS. And while you’re at it, do it for your mobile phone provider and your Internet service provider.

3. Add multifactor verifications to ALL online accounts offering this additional layer of protection, including mobile and cable accounts. (Note: Have the codes sent to your email, as SIM card “swapping” is becoming a huge, and thus far unstoppable, security problem.)

Yes. Two-factor authentication is important, and I use it on some of my more important online accounts. But I don’t have it installed on everything. And I’m not sure why having the codes sent to your e-mail helps defend against SIM-card swapping; I’m sure you get your e-mail on your phone like everyone else. (Here’s some better advice about that.)

4. Create hard-to-crack 12-character passwords. NOT your mother’s maiden name, not the last four digits of your Social Security number, not your birthday and not your address. Whenever possible, use a “pass-phrase” as your answer to account security questions ­ such as “Youllneverguessmybrotherinlawsmiddlename.”

I’m a big fan of random impossible-to-remember passwords, and nonsense answers to secret questions. It would be great if she suggested a password manager to remember them all.

5. Avoid the temptation to use the same user name and password for every account. Whenever possible, change your passwords every six months.

Yes to the first part. No, no no — a thousand times no — to the second.

6. To prevent “new account fraud” (i.e., someone trying to open an account using your date of birth and Social Security number), place a security freeze on all three national credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). There is no charge for this service.

I am a fan of security freezes.

7. Never plug your devices (mobile phone, tablet and/or laptop) into an electrical outlet in an airport. Doing so will make you more susceptible to being hacked. Instead, travel with an external battery charger to keep your devices charged.

Seriously? Yes, I’ve read the articles about hacked charging stations, but I wouldn’t think twice about using a wall jack at an airport. If you’re really worried, buy a USB condom.

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Measuring the Rationality of Security Decisions

Interesting research: “Dancing Pigs or Externalities? Measuring the Rationality of
Security Decisions
“:

Abstract: Accurately modeling human decision-making in security is critical to thinking about when, why, and how to recommend that users adopt certain secure behaviors. In this work, we conduct behavioral economics experiments to model the rationality of end-user security decision-making in a realistic online experimental system simulating a bank account. We ask participants to make a financially impactful security choice, in the face of transparent risks of account compromise and benefits offered by an optional security behavior (two-factor authentication). We measure the cost and utility of adopting the security behavior via measurements of time spent executing the behavior and estimates of the participant’s wage. We find that more than 50% of our participants made rational (e.g., utility optimal) decisions, and we find that participants are more likely to behave rationally in the face of higher risk. Additionally, we find that users’ decisions can be modeled well as a function of past behavior (anchoring effects), knowledge of costs, and to a lesser extent, users’ awareness of risks and context (R2=0.61). We also find evidence of endowment effects, as seen in other areas of economic and psychological decision-science literature, in our digital-security setting. Finally, using our data, we show theoretically that a “one-size-fits-all” emphasis on security can lead to market losses, but that adoption by a subset of users with higher risks or lower costs can lead to market gains

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The Digital Security Exchange Is Live

Last year I wrote about the Digital Security Exchange. The project is live:

The DSX works to strengthen the digital resilience of U.S. civil society groups by improving their understanding and mitigation of online threats.

We do this by pairing civil society and social sector organizations with credible and trustworthy digital security experts and trainers who can help them keep their data and networks safe from exposure, exploitation, and attack. We are committed to working with community-based organizations, legal and journalistic organizations, civil rights advocates, local and national organizers, and public and high-profile figures who are working to advance social, racial, political, and economic justice in our communities and our world.

If you are either an organization who needs help, or an expert who can provide help, visit their website.

Note: I am on their advisory committee.

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Security Planner

Security Planner is a custom security advice tool from Citizen Lab. Answer a few questions, and it gives you a few simple things you can do to improve your security. It’s not meant to be comprehensive, but instead to give people things they can actually do to immediately improve their security. I don’t see it replacing any of the good security guides out there, but instead augmenting them.

The advice is peer reviewed, and the team behind Security Planner is committed to keeping it up to date.

Note: I am an advisor to this project.

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