Cyber “Hoot” Wednesday: Passwords, Passphrases, and Password Managers

Cyber "Hoot" Wednesday: Passwords, Passphrases, and Password Managers

Welcome to Cyber “Hoot” Wednesday. On Wed. Cyber Al will be publishing a series of cybersecurity articles outlining the most important concepts you need to understand and skills you need to learn to protect yourself personally and professionally. Grab a cup of coffee, sit back, relax, and read on! We’re glad you’re here.

How secure are your Passwords?

According to the 2018 Verizon Data Breach Incident Report (aka: DBIR), nearly 3 out of 4 consumers use duplicate passwords, many of which have not been changed in five years or more. Unsurprisingly, about 40 percent of those surveyed say they had “a security incident” in the past year, meaning they had an account hacked, password stolen, or were given notice that their personal information had been compromised”.

It’s no secret that passwords are a pain. Using them safely and effectively is even harder. Read on to learn about the best practices you may not know you didn’t know.

Have my Passwords been Breached?

Unless you’ve invested the time to learn a password manager, then you’re probably like most people and are re-using passwords everywhere you go online. More than 8 Billion passwords have been publicly reported breached. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg as many more passwords and credentials have been breached but not publicly reported! As a result you may be surprised to learn that your favorite passwords are likely to have already been breached! You can check here to find out where, when, and what was breached: https://haveIbeenpwned.com

Cyber "Hoot" Wednesday: Passwords, Passphrases, and Password Managers
July 2019: 8+ Billion breached passwords publicly disclosed.

Are you using a Password Manager?

Password Managers are purpose built applications that are installed on your phone and inside your browser as a “plugin” and they encrypt your critical passwords, passphrases and other data such as credit cards and even drivers licenses for easy but secure reference. When it comes time to log into a website, they will fill your username and password into that website if they find a match in your database of stored accounts based upon the domain name or website name you are visiting. I find them to be the single best productivity solution I’ve learned in the last 20 years. However, Password Managers must be protected with a 16-20 character passphrase that you carefully create and practice so that you never, ever, EVER, forget it! Don’t write your Password Manager Passphrase down. Learn it and practice typing it 10 times before you commit to using it. If you lose or forget your Master Passphrase, your data will be lost!

Pro TIP: Password Managers can sometimes save you from being compromised by a phishing attack. They simply won’t provide your credentials to log into a bogus website. Let’s say your being phished and you click a link to log into GMAIL, but the website you actually visit is GMA1l.com (the i is a 1). If you’re using a password manager, it will remain mute and not give up your password because it cannot be fooled by the incorrect domain name. If you are a professional Password Manager user, you won’t even know your password to the site to type it in manually, because pro users leverage the Random Password generator for each of their logins providing even more protection. Cool right?!

Password Security

Even with Password Managers, passwords just aren’t going away any time soon. Consequently, you need to know how to create a strong password (or better yet a strong passphrase)to protect yourself. The remainder of this article will show you easy ways to create super-strong passphrases and why learning how to use a Password Manager is the best way to protect your critical information, accounts, and identity!

How to create a super-strong passphrases

1. Think of a multi-word phrase: you can use your favorite song lyrics, poem, book phrase, or your imagination to create idea statements (passphrases) that will be memorable to you but hard to guess by hackers.

Here are some examples to get you thinking:

  • People like 2 phish!
  • Ham windows smell.
  • Tiger fins R not real.

The above are considered super-strong passphrases. They are much harder for hackers to breach than even a randomly generated “9-character” password like this: x&3h10_!E.  This is due to the enormous gains in entropy that come with the length of each phrase.  The longer the passphrase, the stronger and more difficult it is to hack. With today’s computer hardware advances, a sub-$2000 machine can crack your randomly generated 9-character password in less than 5 days via brute force attack. Here’s a free password strength meter to see what I mean and to test your own passwords with.

Password TIPS:

1. Make sure you use 15-20 (or more) characters in your passphrase.

2. Use a Passphrase to unlock your Password Manager.

3. Let your Password Manager generate, fill and store randomly generated passwords for the rest of your online accounts.

4. Don’t write passwords down or store them in a spreadsheet or electronic document unless you encrypt it with 256 bit AES encryption.

5. Use unique passphrases to unlock your computer desktop or laptop.

6. Convince your IT Director to migrate to 14+ character non-complex, non-expiring passphrases at your workplace and stop changing them every 90 days.  Adopt these NEW NIST password standards. You’ll be happy you did; especially if you also learned how to use a Password Manager.

7. Many Password Managers are free for personal use. Learning to use a password manager is like learning to type. Difficult at first, but once you get the basics down you’re way more productive and in this case, much better more protected personally and professionally.

8. For really critical accounts (Banking, Email, remote access to your company on a Virtual Private Network) you must enable two-factor authentication. Most often this is a text message to your cell phone that you pair with your username and password creating two things that you must provide to authenticate. Thus it is called two-factor authentication. Two-factor (aka Multi-Factor) authentication will be the subject of next weeks CyberHoot Wed. article so come back next Wed. for another installment of Cyber Al’s Wed. Cyber Hoots!

Please take a moment to like us on Facebook and Follow us on our Linked In page. It will ensure we’re here supporting Small to Medium-sized businesses for the long run. Thanks!

Craig, Co-Founder – CyberHoot

How to Recover a Hacked Email Account

How to Recover a Hacked Email Account

It’s Friday before a long weekend and hackers are up to their old tricks! Hackers just love to hack into our email accounts before a long weekend to give themselves an extra day or two of trolling your network, your email, and your data for juicy information.

This article outlines steps to take
(do them now!) if your email account has been compromised.

Step #1: Change your password
(
immediately!)

The very first thing you should do is keep the hacker from getting back into your email account by changing your password to a strong password or better yet, a pass phrase (see below). Make sure it’s not related to your prior password; if your last password was SpotBeagle2, don’t pick SpotBeagle3 —and if your dog Spot is a Beagle, you shouldn’t have been using your dog’s name and breed as your password in the first place. Better yet, read the suggestions below and choose to use the strongest password mechanism you can stomach!

Level 1 Passwords (strong): Try using a meaningful sentence as the basis of your new password. For example, “I go swimming twice a day in my pool” turns into “Igs2AdimP” using the first letter of each word in the sentence, mixing uppercase and lowercase letters and replacing the word “twice” with “2.” 

Weakness: length; 9 characters can be cracked by any modern computer in about 5 days.

Level 2 Passwords (stronger): Use a full sentence or a set of words without abbreviating them to create a Pass-phrase. “Jelly is yum!” is nonsensical, memorable, arguably easy to type, but certainly easy to remember and difficult to hack using brute force at 13 characters in length. Hackers absolutely hate you when you do this! Even Edward Snowden agrees in this post. 

Weakness: your ability to memorize one of these for each and every account you own.

Level 3 Passwords (strongest): Level 3 is not for the faint of heart. It involves beginning the journey into adopting, learning, practicing, and using a Password Manager. I recommend LastPass as a great commercial grade password manager that integrates well with personal users at businesses. Other options include DashLane and 1Password. Password Managers allow you to move to 15-30 character random passwords without sweating it. I no longer know any of my passwords except my Master Pass Phrase that unlocks my password manager. All Password Managers can generate random passwords for you like these: $4tV$mrWcVqj2X8oY3p or uQ2d@L9xRglLIcn*ZY0 or 4#4r8FFzz6Bi7@i0BR7. 

Weakness: your master password must be super strong – I recommend using a Level 2 pass-phase of at least 16 – 20 characters in length. But do NOT forget this or write it down. Practice it many times before committing to it. Make sure you can type it well. If you lose this Master Pass Phrase, you lose everything in your password manager!

Whichever method you choose, you need to do this step quickly to boot the hacker out of your account before they do other damage such as resetting your accounts elsewhere online (remember the Password Recovery links go to your personal email account which has just been compromised). Time is of the essence!

Step #2: Recover access to
your email account

If you’re lucky, the hacker only logged into your account to send a mass email to all your contacts. If you’re not so lucky, the hacker changed your password too, locking you out of your account. If that’s the case, you’ll need to reclaim your account, which is usually a matter of using the “forgot your password” link and answering your security questions, using your backup email address, or receiving a text message to your phone. Hopefully the hacker did not change your password recovery questions as well.

Check out the specific recommendations for reclaiming possession of your account for GmailOutlook.com and Hotmail, and AOL.

Step #3: Enable two-factor
authentication

One of the best methods to prevent your email account from being taken over again (and hackers who were in once, often try hard to return), is to set your email account to require a second form of authentication in addition to your password whenever you log into your email account from a new device. When you log in, you’ll also need to enter a special one-time use code the site will text to your phone or generated via an app.

Check out two-step authentication setup instructions for Gmail, Microsoft’s Outlook.com and Hotmail, and AOL. And for a full list, check out twofactorauth.org

Step #4: Check your email
settings

Sometimes hackers change your email settings to forward a copy of every email you receive to themselves so that they can watch for any emails containing login information for other sites. Check your mail forwarding settings (including RSS Feeds!) to ensure no unexpected email addresses have been added.

Next, check your email signature to
see if the hacker added a signature that will continue to advertise their
malware even after they’ve been locked out.

Next, check your “reply to” email
address. Sometimes hackers will change your “reply to” email address to one
they’ve created that looks similar to yours. When someone replies to your
email, it goes to the hacker’s account, not yours.

Lastly, check to make sure the hackers haven’t turned on an auto-responder, turning your out-of-office notification into a spam machine.

Step #5: Scan your computer
for malware

Run a full scan with your anti-malware program. You do have an anti-malware program on your computer, right? If not, download the free version of Malwarebytes and run a full scan with it. I recommend running Malwarebytes even if you already have another anti-malware program; if the problem is malware, your original program obviously didn’t stop it, and Malwarebytes has resolved problems for me that other anti-malware software wasn’t able to resolve. Scan other computers you log in from, such as your work computer, as well.

If any of your scans detect malware, fix it and then go back and change your email password again (because when you changed it in step #1, the malware was still on your computer).

Tip: if you have restore points on your computer, can you restore your computer to a previous restore point before the infection began? This is an effective way to eliminate the virus. Just be sure to remove any infected downloads by Shift-Deleting them (Delete the file while holding the Shift Key to skip the recycle bin).

Step #6: Find out what else
has been compromised

Some computer users have been known to store usernames and passwords for accounts in obvious places inside their email. One user I’ve seen had a folder called “Sign-ups” while another simply called it “Passwords”. Considering the hacker was inside your email, what could they easily discovered about your other logins? 

Tip: search for the word “password” in your mailbox to determine what other accounts might have become compromised. Change these passwords immediately; if they include critical accounts such as a bank or credit card account, check your statements to make sure there are no suspicious transactions.

It’s also a good idea to change any
other accounts that use the same username and password as your compromised
email. Spammers are savvy enough to know that many people reuse passwords for
multiple accounts, so they may try your login info in other email applications
and on PayPal and other common sites.

Step #7: Humbly beg for
forgiveness from your friends

Let your contacts know that your email was hacked and that they should not open any suspicious emails or click on any links in any email(s) they recently received from you. Many people will realize that the 0365, Gmail, Yahoo, or Hotmail login page your email directed them to was hosted at a very suspicious looking URL that has nothing to do with those sites, but there might have been someone who clicked and entered their credentials to the hacker.

Tip: If your compromised email account was a work email, the hackers may be plotting a Domino Attack against the vendors and clients in your email archive. Would your clients and vendors click on a link or open an invoice from you if all they saw was your name in an email from a Look-Alike domain? Read my Blog on the Domino Attack here to learn about this nastiness!

If the hacker was lazy, they may have
left your sent messages alone and you can see all the SPAM messages your
account sent out in your sent items folder. Alternatively, you could check
your deleted or trash folder. However, most average-skilled hackers know
to delete sent and trash history to avoid detection for as long as possible.

Step #8: Prevent it from
happening again

While large-scale breaches are one way your login information could be stolen, many cases are due to careless creation or protection of login information. Setting up two-factor authentication (aka: 2FA) is your best protection from this type of hacking. I use 2FA on all my critical accounts. If your email account provider doesn’t support 2FA, change providers (as painful as that sounds). Also, remember it is vitally important to use a different password for each account, or, at the very least, use a unique password for your email account, your bank account and any other critical accounts. If you’re concerned about keeping track of your passwords, find a password management program to do the work for you.

Password management programs have some interesting advantages you might not be aware of. One advantage is when you accidentally land on a malicious website that is going to stealing your username and password (perhaps it was made to look exactly like O365, Linked In, or DropBox), your Password Manager is wicked smart and will refuse to enter your credentials into that bogus website because Password Managers monitor what website you’re on. Phishing sites that look like another login portal will have a bogus domain name and your Password managers will not be fooled! This saved me one-time when I thought I was logging into Linked In and my password Manager refused to input my credentials. When I checked the domain, it was a website in Italy! Even security professionals are sometimes duped!

Craig, Co-Founder – CyberHoot

Below is a link to our blog on Domino Breaches, an issue that goes hand in hand with email account hacks.

Domino Breaches: Get Ahead of this Breach ASAP to stop the Falling Dominos

Domino Breaches: Get Ahead of this Breach ASAP to stop the Falling Dominos

This article attempts to articulate the steps to take immediately when you’re under attack from this form of attack… something I’ve nicknamed the “Domino Attack”.  This attack has distinct phases which the hackers exploit in sequence.  Interrupt the sequence as early as possible with evasive action and good training by employees using tools like CyberHoot to help them spot phishing attacks, and to help them protect their passwords religiously! If you’re interested in training your employees visit the CyberHoot.com training website and we’ll connect you to one of our resellers.

Phase 1 of the ‘Domino Breach’:

A client, Finance@IronCladCookware.com received an email from a vendor they regularly deal with that asked them to review a password protected invoice in Google Docs, Drop Box, or other online location.  While unusual, the vendor was an important one we deal with regularly so we dutifully complied.  Come to find out the vendor’s email domain was off by just one letter (for example: Twirlstool.com email may come from Twrlstool.com – missing an i).  The website that we logged into stole one of our employee’s username and password credentials.  The hackers now scanned for every unique email address in every folder of that compromised mailbox at our company.

Phase 2: The second Domino to Fall (a look-alike Domain Name is Registered)

In the screen shot below, hackers today registered a look-alike domain name to use in Phase 3.  This domain looks very similar to the targeted company’s domain and will be used as home base for these attacks.

Phase 3: The third Domino – Exploiting Trust Relationships

The hacker then constructs a variety of innocuous but effective emails designed to exploit the trust relationship you have with your vendors, clients, family, and friends by sending it from the imposter email account.  In my fictional example: Finance@IroncldCookware.com is used instead of Finance@IroncladCookware.com to email credential stealing attacks to email addresses found within the original compromised email account at IroncladCookware.com. The effectiveness of this attack is found in the fact that the name of the sender is more than likely recognized and accepted by the recipient as a legitimate user.  The payload of the attack has a higher likelihood of success because of this implied trust.

Phase 4: Multiple Dominoes begin to Fall across your Contacts

The hackers won’t stop there.  Let the email account breaches begin…most people will quickly click on a look-alike email from someone they recognize without a second thought.  Fewer will provide credentials to look at an invoice, or outstanding balance or any other plausible financial transaction… leading to ever more companies being breached and ever more companies being targeted.  This is known as the Domino Breach effect.

How to Prevent this within Your Company (various Levels of Protection):

Here is some practical advice on how to protect yourself and how to get in front of the domino’s when your company is part of one of these events!

Step #1: Draw up a quick response email and send to all contacts immediately informing them of the bogus domain and the targeted attacks.

Step #2: Research the ISP of the newly registered domain name and send an abuse complaint about a phishing attack from a look-alike domain name and ask that it be taken down immediately.

Time is of the essence.  In the real world, the moment a Look-Alike domain is registered and ready to go, the attack emails begin flowing to all your vendors, clients, friends and family.  The domino’s begin to fall as the people who trust you and your name click on the bogus invoice or login request and find themselves compromised.

Sending that warning note to everyone you can think of is a critical and time-sensitive first step.

The rest of these steps need to be taken in increasing order of protection (and sometimes cost).

Basic Protection:

  • Train your users to be vigilant in looking at the sender name of emails.
  • Test your users with phishing emails randomly and regularly.
  • Govern your users with policies that outline requirements for training, information handling, mobile device management and more.

Enhanced Protection:

  • Establish financial safeguard policies and processes that require verbal confirmation of all ACH and Wire Transfer instructions over the phone.  Changed instructions can never be accepted via email.
  • Make sure you’re leveraging a purpose built SPAM filter that can examine emails and block SPAM like this when it is designed to breach credentials.

Advanced Protection:

  • If possible, enable the following email filters (SPAM provider dependent):
    • Look-alike domain blocks (hold emails from domain names with 3 or fewer letter differences from your domain name);
    • Reject Email from Domains less than N days old: where N is typically less than 2 weeks or 14 days but could be as much as 30 to 45 days.
    • Reject Email sent from foreign countries: if your business only deals with North American vendors and clients block email from anywhere else in the world.

Call to Action:

The basic protection is something all companies need to have in place.  Contact CyberHoot today to be connected to a reseller to put your employees through the necessary training to hold the Domino Attack at bay.  An ounce of protection is worth a pound of cure. To learn how to protect against similar threats via an email hack, click here

Craig, Co-Founder – CyberHoot