Thursday, October 27, 2016

A $17 Social Engineering Lesson From a Blind Man


Today I fell for a scam.

I often walk around the Texas Capitol complex during lunch, or when I need to mull over something. Today as I was walking, a blind man stopped me and asked if I could direct him to Lamar Street. I stopped to talk with him for a moment, and he explained he was trying to get to the Texas School for the Blind. 

Texas School for the Blind is a solid 4 miles from downtown, so I offered to get my car and give him a lift. He appeared grateful - and then said he wanted to call ahead and make sure it wouldn't be a wasted trip. See, he was living in a halfway house and his rent was due; if he couldn't come up with seventeen dollars to make rent, he would be out on the street tonight. He thought Texas School for the Blind offered emergency assistance.

I let him borrow my phone to make a call. From his side of the supposed conversation, it was obvious he did not get the answer he was hoping for. I gladly gave him what I had in my wallet, shook his hand, and wished him well.

Being the skeptical soul that my profession makes me though, when I got back to my office I redialed the number he had called. Surprise, surprise - the number was not in service.

Working downtown I frequently encounter people asking for a handout. I have my own ideas that influence my decisions to give or not to give, but it is not my intent to turn this into a philosophical or political discussion. What makes this event stand out in my mind though is how his pitch was so polished, rehearsed - and phish-like.

It was a veritable lesson in social engineering.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Amazon joins the password merry-go-round

Like many companies, Amazon.com regularly looks for evidence that its customers' usernames and passwords have been exposed. The company apparently discovered a trove of usernames and passwords recently, and is resetting some passwords as a precaution.

The company has not said how many accounts are affected, nor where they found the user details; the only thing they have said is that the list was not Amazon-related. This could mean it was a list of usernames and passwords from a completely unrelated site, but for individuals that reused the same passwords at Amazon.

The details are almost identical to reports about 6 months ago of a similar incident: Amazon reset some users' passwords after a list of names and passwords was found online. the list was not for Amazon accounts, but the account owners used the same passwords for their Amazon accounts. Go back a year, and the same scenario played out yet again.


What should you do?


First, don't panic. There is no indication that Amazon.com has been hacked. Rather, Amazon does an excellent job of searching for breaches elsewhere, and identifying customers that used the same password at Amazon.

  1. There is no harm whatsoever in changing your Amazon.com password just to be safe, even if you have not received a notice from the company.
     
  2. More important, make sure your Amazon (and every other account) password is long, and is not reused anywhere else. If the same password is used everywhere, a stolen password can give an attacker access to all of your accounts. A stolen password is far less damaging if it only unlocks that single account.
     
  3. If you do receive an email that appears to be from Amazon, don't click the password reset link in the email! While I haven't seen any examples specific to Amazon, fraudsters love to imitate a well-known service and claim your account is in jeopardy. In this example from last year, scammers sent a phishing email pretending that your Apple ID was amiss. When you click the link and "verify your information" though, you instead are giving the hacker your information so they can login as you.

    What to do instead?

    Go directly to Amazon.com, and change your password there.

If you received a phishing email imitating Amazon, I'd love to have an example to add to this story. I'll gladly credit you, or keep you anonymous, as you wish!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Basic cyber advice

What better time than National Cyber Security Awareness Month for a refresher on cyber safety? Start the new school year off with some healthy habits.

For the second year in row, Security For Real People is proud to be a National Cyber Security Awareness Month Champion. NCSAM is a month of cooperative efforts involving government, private businesses, and individuals working together to promote online safety and digital privacy. It began as a joint effort government and industry program between the National Cyber Security Alliance and the Department of Homeland Safety. It now includes over 700 corporations, small and medium businesses, educational institutions, and individuals, all with the shared goal of making the digital world just a bit safer for us all.

The news is full of stories about extraordinary threats: Baby monitors hacked to spy on you. A billion Yahoo email accounts exposed. Sophisticated spies taking over iPhones. Movie plot-worthy heists draining millions of dollars from thousands of ATMs at once.


Elite hackers exist, and they do elite things - but they are generally not the greatest threat to most people. Consumers are undone by far more pedestrian problems. Passwords. Outdated software. Phishing. Improperly configured networks. Routine malware. Malicious advertising. Unwittingly trading privacy for "free" services.


Whois David?

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I have spent the better part of two decades in information technology and security, with roots in application developer support, system administration, and network security. My specialty is cyber threat intelligence - software vulnerabilities and patching, malware, social networking risks, etc. In particular, I strive to write about complex cyber topics in a way that can be understood by those outside the infosec industry.

Why do I do this? A common comment I get from friends and family is that complex security topics give them headaches. They want to know in simple terms how to stay safe in a connected world. Folks like me and my peers have chosen to make a profession out of hacking and defending. I've been doing this for the better part of two decades, and so have a high degree of knowledge in the field. Others have chosen different paths - paths where I would be lost. This is my effort to share my knowledge with those that are experts in something else.

When not in front of a digital screen, I spend my time raising five rambunctious teens and pre-teens - including two sets of twins. Our family enjoys archery, raising show and meat rabbits, and simply enjoying life in the Texas hill country.

For a decade I served as either Commander or a division leader for the Awana Club in Dripping Springs, Texas; while I have retired from that role I continue to have a passion for children's ministry. At the moment I teach 1st through 3rd grade Sunday School. Follow FBC Dripping Springs Kids to see what is going on in our children's ministries.