Tag Archives: cyber-crime

Passwords

Recently, cyber-security firm 4iq.com discovered on a community forum deep within the ‘dark web’, the largest aggregated database of emails / passwords found to date.  The searchable database contained 1.4 billion user login credentials hoovered up from a wide range of hacks, security breaches, data dumps etc.  These are in ‘clear text’ meaning they are not encrypted or scrambled in any way, they can be read by anyone.  Yes anyone.

Anyone who is active on the dark web, that finds the database can access it and start trying to log into other people’s accounts.  Quite possibly yours and mine.

Alarming

4i have begun extensive analysis of the data and what was immediately alarming in the database was the extent to which people were either…

  • Reusing the same password across multiple services or sites (often multiple times)
  • Using incredibly weak and obvious passwords (and in some case they were reusing the same weak passwords, which is probably the cyber equivalent of leaving your car unlocked with the key in the ignition and the engine running)!

An example of the most common (and weakest) passwords is shown in the table below…

Astonishingly, the password ‘123456’ occurred over 9 million times in the leaked and stolen data.  That’s 9 million people who are making it unbelievably straightforward for someone to break into their account.

So What?

Whilst much of the data in the database will be old, some of it is not (14% of the credentials recovered have never been seen before in any other data breach or leak).  The latest data was added in late November 2017.  This stuff is current and could easily include your information.

4i have checked with a number of users to verify if the information in the database is correct.  Almost all of the users contacted have verified that the data was true.  Frequently their reactions were…

but that’s an old password…

commonly followed by…

Oh crap! I still use that password on <this> site…

You can check whether your information appears within the database by sending an email to verification@4iq.com with subject line: Password Exposure Check  4i will respond with the truncated list of found passwords for that email.  Of course they will only report the passwords related to the specific email from which you write to them.  If you want to verify different email addresses you will have to send an email from each of them.

Take Action Now

  Stop reusing the same password in different places

  Use long (more than 12 characters and ideally 15 characters plus) passwords

  Consider using a password manager such as KeePass or LastPass to hold these rather than trying to remember them all

  Consider using two factor authentication in as many places as possible.  Whilst it may be slightly inconvenient to do so, it increases your security enormously.

  Make your email account passwords particularly complex and long.  After all, this is where any password reset notifications will be sent. If a hacker has your email password they can reset it and then beaver away on all of your other accounts.

Please, please share or pass this onto anyone that you think might benefit from it. And, above all, stay safe out there.

Can I Trust HTTPS?

Can I automatically trust a site that uses HTTPS?

 

Recently, BBC Watchdog ran a story on bogus fundraising accounts being opened shortly after the horrific Grenfell Tower fire in London.  I thought I had ceased to be surprised by the depths to which some criminals would stoop but this one sickened me.  Not only is it deceiving the well-meaning folk who think they are donating to charity, it deprives those who really need support of the funds to help get them back on their feet.  Furthermore, once the scam is revealed, it  is likely to make everyone more wary of giving to any online charity.

A spokesman from Action Fraud said that you should look for the sign of security – HTTPS – in the URL of the website along the associated green padlock symbol somewhere in your browser.

https as a sign of security

So, should you trust a site simply because it uses HTTPS? 

In a word, NO!

HTTPS stands for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure and signifies that the connection between a browser and the server hosting the website is secure and uses an encrypted protocol to transmit data between the visitor and the website.  This is a good thing as it means that your communication cannot be eavesdropped by a third party; particularly important when you are sending highly sensitive information such as your credit card details through a shopping cart at checkout time.  If you are running an eCommerce site, this is clearly essential.

Until fairly recently, acquiring the SSL certificate to facilitate HTTPS was a costly business. However, with Google’s drive to secure the web the cost of certificates has dropped and with the Lets Encrypt project now well established, it is possible to acquire a certificate for nothing.

Whilst the cost of a certificate was certainly a barrier to potential scammers in the past, the price drop means they are available to all.  And with countless tutorials available online, even the most inept of cyber criminals are able to find out how to install a certificate and set up an HTTPS site.

But surely, HTTPS means it is secure, I can trust a site that is secure can’t I?

The certificate that underpins HTTPS refers simply and only to the transmission of data.  It does not certify the site, its content, the identity of the site owner or the activity conducted on that site.  Any assumption that using HTTPS indicates a more trustworthy site is therefore clearly unwarranted.

So what should you look out for?

  • Use a familiar and trustworthy website.
  • Don’t rely upon a link to a site in an email or in social media, even if it is a site you have used before; type the address into your browser address bar. It is easy to make a link look like it goes to a safe site where in fact it goes somewhere else.
  • When you arrive at a site check the address bar. Is the URL (web address) correct?  Look out for tricks such as…
    1. a different domain ending, so rather than justgiving.com it is justgiving.global
    2. deliberate spelling mistakes in the URL e.g. justgivimg.com, that you might not spot if you only looked quickly.   Before you question whether I’m calling Just Giving  out on this, I’m not but as one of the largest fundraising websites they are likely to be a big target for on line fraudsters.
    3. subdomains e,g. justgiving.official.com. This is nothing to do with the JustGiving website but a subdomain of a website called official.com.  Scammers are ingenious in how they mask the identity of the site you are going to, scrutinise everything to assure yourself that you are where you expect to be.
  • Requests for you to use bank transfers rather than credit card or PayPal type legitimate payment gateways transactions should have alarm bells ringing loudly. No legitimate fundraising site would ask for payment to be made this way.
  • If using PayPal, when you get to the stage of confirming the transaction, check to see who the payee will be, if it is not who you expect, and you may be able to confirm this by referring to a previous credit card statement, then something is wrong. Stop and only proceed with caution.

Scammers and cyber criminals are becoming increasingly competent at building websites that aim to steal either your money or your personal information.  Whilst HTTPS is a good sign that the connection between you and the website is secure, it does not mean the website itself should automatically be trusted.  Before giving a website any information or donating money, verify for yourself that the site is legitimate and that you are not being taken for a ride.

Shopping Safely Online

According to the Centre for Retail Research in the run up to Christmas 2014, on line shopping in the UK comprised very nearly 25% of all sales made.  This was up a whopping 19% on the year before.  We spent over £17bn on-line in the six weeks before Christmas 2014.

As the BBC reported Scammers, hackers, thieves and crooks of all persuasions are gearing up to take advantage of our increasing adoption of online purchasing and are planning even more cunning ways to part us from our money.

Here are 10 ways to shop safely on line….

  1. Visit familiar websites that you know and trust; if you find a site offering incredible deals way down on page eight of a Google search , there is likely to be something awry.  If the deal was that good, it should have appeared on the first page or two.
  2. Be aware of ‘look-alike’ sites that either use a misspelling of a real business name (e.g. johmlewis.com) or a different ending to an existing web address (for example .net rather than .com or .com.uk instead of .co.uk).The ‘look-alikes’ are sometimes all but identical to the real sites since the crooks have simply cloned the site they are pretending to be.  Always check in the address bar of your browser to make sure you really are where you think you are.
  3. Look for the lock icon.When sending details of your credit card always look to see if Secure Socket Layer encryption has been enable.  This is shown by the web address changing from http://www.. to https://www.. (the all important ‘s’ indicating that it is a secure connection).Depending on your browser you should also have visible confirmation that a secure connection is now in use.  A padlock is added either in the status bar or right next to the site address in Chrome.  If you are being asked for your card details and there is no padlock the absence of the lock icon should have alarm bells ringing immediately.You wouldn’t stand in the middle of the street shouting out the details of your credit card, so why do the equivalent on line!
  4. Keep your browser and computer operating systems up to date.  Same goes for your anti-virus and other security programs.  Hackers in particular, attempt to exploit known weaknesses in programs.  Omitting to update key software is like leaving a window open in your house.  You are making it easy for the crooks to gain entry.
  5. Consider using a browser with the Safe Browsing function installed.  Browsers that incorporate Safe Browsing include Google Chrome, Firefox & Safari.Safe Browsing warns the user when they are about to access a site that may have potential threats.  More than 5 million warnings per day for all sorts of malicious sites and unwanted software are provided by Safe Browsing.
  6. Credit rather than debit.  The payment protection afforded by using a credit card rather than a debit card is usually greater.  Whilst no one ever wants anything to go wrong, at least this might offer a little more peace of mind.  Even better than that, try switching to a payment service such as PayPal.
    These services never reveal your credit card to the online merchant meaning that if you do inadvertently fall foul of a look-alike site, then at least your card details are still secure.
  7. Exercise caution when downloading new apps.  Only download apps from trusted sources such as Google Play (for Android) or the Apple App Store (for Apple devices).  Cyber-thieves have deliberately made similar looking apps to existing ones that can harvest sensitive information.If in doubt, thoroughly read the reviews of the app before installing it to see what other users have to say about that app.
  8. If something seems to be “too good to be true”, it probably is.  Unsolicited email containing details of incredible bargains are almost always bait to get you to access a site that cyber-crooks will use to steal data, information or money from you.A common ploy to encourage people to click a link in an email is to make the offer time sensitive, “Hurry, only available for 24 hours“, or saying it is for the “first 200 customers only“.   Even if the mail comes from a friend you should still exercise great caution; it is easy to ‘spoof’ an email message so that it appears to come from someone other than the true sender.
  9. This is a good time to check that you are using strong, unique passwords for all of the sites where you have set up an account. Using weak, easily guessed passwords or using the same password across multiple sites is simply making it easy for the cyber-thieves should your details fall into their hands. If you are not sure what makes a good password, here are some great password tips from Google.
  10. Finally, once you have those strong secure and unique passwords in place, you don’t want to forget them (which let’s face it, is easily done when you have tens of sites where you have an account). Password vaults such as Keepass or LastPass are an excellent way of managing numerous passwords.
    Keepass Lastpass

Shopping on line is convenient and brings a world of choice and convenience to your front room.  Done with a reasonable amount of caution, it is no less risky than shopping on the high street.  Done with less awareness and a degree of carelessness or naivety, and you face a chance of getting scammed, fooled or sadly robbed.

Take care and above all, stay safe.