Grass Roots Security will be presenting on 4-29-2010

Anthony Gartner will be doing a presentation on Thursday April 29, on the topic of “What is Cyber Security?”  It is part of a local meet up group for technology.

The presentation will be done at:

575 Lynnhaven Pkwy #101
Virginia Beach, VA 23452
757-971-2876

Topics that will be discussed include:

  • Using Care when reading and opening email attachments
  • Making backups of important files and folders
  • Using strong passwords
  • Using and installing and hardware firewall
  • Things you need to know before connecting to that “FREE” WiFi
  • When to hire an IT professional

Have questions on piracy, intrusion, identity theft, virus, spam, worm, Trojan horse, malware, spyware, etc…We will discuss and help answer these questions to avoid cyber crimes and security risks.

More information can be found at the meetup site.

So please come out and look for me on Thursday Night!!!!

Simple ideas to avoid being compromised!!!

I have been spending a little bit of time on some message boards.  These are areas where you basically follow conversations that happen on a specific topics.  While perusing these boards I have seen an increase in people saying to ignore links that have been sent by a person or that the accounts they have had were compromised, and to ignore what might have been sent by the person.

This is a very common problem that people deal with.  What i find funny is how some simple adjustments to their behavior would have prevented this from happening.  The question this invites is “How to I keep from becoming a Victim?”

There are some common sense techniques that will help here.

- Email Links: Do not click a link in an email and expect it to be legitimate.  Bad guys do a GREAT job of duplicating a legitimate web sites look and feel. Especially for bank sites

- Passwords: I know I have gone into passwords before but it is worth repeating.  Change your passwords if nothing else when you reset your clocks for Daylight Savings Times.  Do not use forms of your passwords on sites.  This means you have given someone who manages to get your password a very great advantage to learning more.

- Limited User: Windows computers since Windows 2000 have had a concept of Administrator Users and Limited Users.  If you set up a second account on your computer as a Limited User, you will be expected to put a password in to allow your computer to function for many things like installing software.  This is a minor inconvenience, but a major life saver in the event you have a program trying to install that you did not know about.  It means you have to give it permission to work, and if you did not want it installed the installation will stop when you hit cancel.

Image of the Standard User Selection

Choose Standard User

- Updates: Update your Windows Operating System, your Anti-virus, Spy-ware, Mal-ware, and Programs in general.  Many times patches and updates are released because of a security or program flaw.

These are simple ideas that add up to a fairly robust prevention scheme.  There is nothing that is rocket science on these ideas and nothing difficult to implement.

Fixing the problem, “after the fact” is always more difficult than a few minutes of prevention.

Happy Surfing (and hopefully safer too)!!!

Hear all about it!!! – Anthony Gartner from Grass Roots Security is interviewed by Joe Garcia of Cybercrime101

The other day, I was asked to come on to a friend’s podcast.  This was a treat because, I was asked to specifically talk about this blog.  It was a good question an answer session between me and Joe Garcia.  Joe does the Cybercrime101 Podcast.  It is a podcast about Staying safe as well.  I would encourage you to take a look at it.  It is a great cast to listen to for higher tech and for those that are not.

We talked on a variety of topics, including what I have done with the blog so far, as well as upcoming topics.  Guess you will have to go listen to it to see what the next set of topics will be.

I have set it up so that you can listen to the show at the bottom of this post, or you can go to Itunes to listen to it, or even go to Joe’s site to listen or download the show.  I think it will be informative and give you a chance to hear me speak on the topic of my passion.

Thank you for looking at this new endeavor

Anthony Gartner

Routers – Hardware Firewalls Vs Software Firewalls Part 2 Hardware

Hardware Firewall

A firewall is a part of a computer system or network that is designed to block unauthorized access while permitting authorized communications. It is a device or set of devices which is configured to permit or deny computer based application upon a set of rules and other criteria.

Firewalls can be implemented in either hardware or software, or a combination of both. Firewalls are frequently used to prevent unauthorized Internet users from accessing private networks connected to the Internet, especially intranets. All messages entering or leaving the intranet pass through the firewall, which examines each message and blocks those that do not meet the specified security criteria.

The first two paragraphs are kind of a definition of what a hardware firewall is.  I got this directly from the Wikipedia article.   This reference is a great start to understanding some of the concepts that are beyond this blog post.

Typical Firewall Setup

In the above picture we see a hardware device that sits between your computer and your internet. The normal flow of data is represented below.  This is a from your computer out to the internet and back again.

Normal Traffic

In the case of a hardware router, your computer should in normal circumstances never see things from the internet that were not asked for by the computer.  In the case of a hardware device like a router, the data sent to your computer from the outside is discarded.  It is discarded simply because it did not start with your computer.  This is where the power of the hardware firewall is invaluable.

Evil Bad Guy Traffic

The hardware firewall effectively gives your computer a line of defense that is difficult to bypass (Not Impossible).  This hardware device places your computer in a “non route-able IP range.”  This is why the packets are discarded.  The computer does not know about anything on the internet except for your router.  The router is your guide to the internet, it protects you on your journey and keeps you from falling into places in the dark.

Because your device is electronic, it is more difficult to bypass using software.  The isolation that is provided by the device is the very condition we are looking for.  The very nature of the hardware is why my preference is to use hardware over software as a firewall choice.

In a prior article I recommended that a software firewall could be compromised and allow a person to gain access to your computer.  This is not a simple process but it is not impossible.  That is why when ever possible I recommend the use of both types of firewall be up and functioning.  A hardware firewall will protect you from the people around the world, but if there is a computer with a virus or a Trojan on it, then the threat is already inside with you.  That is why it is important to run the software firewall as well.

Travel Concerns

When I travel I will also carry a hardware firewall with me.  Many of the new devices have portable versions that are much more compact than the home based version.  I realize that you can’t always travel with one but if you have the room to pack it, it will give you a much improved level of security.  Hotel WiFi and Ethernet connections are a dangerous place.  If you have the ability to put your router between you and the rest of the hotel you are in a much safer condition.  There are times the hotel will not even have a hookup or that you have to log in to the connection then put your router up, but the additional safety is worth the little bit of hassle.

Summary

It is my personal opinion that a hardware firewall is a necessary choice.  With the cost of a wireless router starting in the $40 range, it is not difficult to justify the expenditure.  That being said, the hardware combined with the software firewall built in on a computer is the best way of staying protected.  The world is an unsafe place, do you want to be there without your best armor on?

Happy Surfing (and hopefully safer too)!!!

Routers – Hardware Firewalls Vs Software Firewalls Part 1 Software

I am starting with the software version. Examples of this include: Mcafee, Norton, Panda, Computer Associates (CA), Trend Micro, and Black Ice.

The above examples may be included in a bundled package but not always. They may be bundled with Anti-Spyware, Spam Controls, Parental Controls, and other types of programs. The theory is you are getting a LOT of protection for a single price and as a single program to work with. Ironically, I myself have yet to find a 3rd party packages on a clients machine that did not either slow the machine down significantly or out right cause it problems. Many of the third party applications can be problematic to configure, update and run in a way that does not cause further problems.

A software firewall sometimes is the only thing that may be standing between you and the entire world. There is a saying on the internet that you and all your friends and enemy’s are only a couple milliseconds away from each other. That is a scary thought!!!

Software firewalls have a very difficult job! They are expected to let all the good traffic from your computer out, and then deny all the bad stuff from causing a problem on your computer. This theory is great, most software packages tend to fall very short in their application. In my opinion, many actually fail miserably. The implementations I have witnessed so far, have shown the firewalls to be too restrictive. I have many times had to remove the entire package and install separate programs to replace the “bundles”.

Did you know that every version of Windows since Windows XP (Service Pack 2) comes with its own firewall? Right out of the box, the firewall is turned on. Is this the most extreme firewall, not by any means but in most cases it works extremely well and will seldom cause you problems with programs that run. The version of the firewall that comes with XP, Vista, Windows 7, and the Mac is actually fairly good. It is also a LOT better than not having any firewall turned on at all. So please ensure your firewall is turned on.

At the start of this post I stated that I am not a fan of the software firewalls. OK, so if I am not a fan why would I actually recommend the use of one. Well like every other rule in the world there are exceptions to rules. If I am at home and I am using my known secure router, then I can relax the rules for needing my software firewall turned on. Reality, I seldom spend the amount of time that I desire at home, and instead spend it in hostile networks. I am on clients networks, work networks, servers, and OPEN WIFI. With this in mind, I keep the software firewall I have on my mac at full strength. I know you are saying that I am contradicting myself, but hear me out. The software firewall is up and working because of the hostile open nature of the networks I am on. I trust my machine as I am personally cautious of what i download and run. What is don’t trust is the rest of the world!

On an open wireless connection you are connected to everyone else in that may be in the shop as well as many who may be outside you don’t know. On an open wifi, there is normally a hardware routers / firewall, and it will protect you some from the people outside on the internet. The juicy inside of the open wifi is where you are wide open to everyone else in the area. Wireless is a omnidirectional signal. This means that not only is the signal 360 degrees around the wireless device, it is also top and bottom. This means you can have someone a couple floors up seeing what signals are being sent out and the person on the internet will never know they even exist. At the moment I will not go into secure wireless vice non secure wireless. On the open wifi you can be seen without your firewall turned on. You can test your firewall and if it is working by going to https://www.grc.com/x/ne.dll?bh0bkyd2

If you travel with your laptop, you should have a firewall turned on. If you have a laptop and take it to friends or coffee shops to work or play, you should have your firewall turned on. If you have kids on computers and the computers may be infected with what ever, you should have a firewall turned on.

Summary:
If you are not 100% positive of where your network is or who is on it, turn your firewall on!!!

Turning on a Software Firewall on a Mac Prep Step

This post is here to provide information on how to turn on a software firewall.  It is done in preparation for my series Routers – Hardware Firewalls Vs Software Firewalls.

Software Firewall

I would like to start by saying please check the status of your firewall.   If you are on a Mac I have included screen captures for you to check with.  Yes on a mac you should have your firewall turned on as well.  Unlike current Windows, the Macs software firewall is NOT turned on by default.

Mac

Turning on a Software Firewall in Windows XP Prep Step

This post is here to provide information on how to turn on a software firewall.  It is done in preparation for my series Routers – Hardware Firewalls Vs Software Firewalls.

Software Firewall

I would like to start by saying please check the status of your firewall.  I have included a video in order to see how to do it on Vista and Windows 7, and two pictures to show you how to do so on Windows XP.  If you are on a Mac I have included screen captures for that as well.  Yes on a mac you should have your firewall turned on as well.  Unlike current Windows, the Macs software firewall is NOT turned on by default.

XP

Turning on a Software Firewall in Vista / Windows7 Prep Step

This post is here to provide information on how to turn on a software firewall.  It is done in preparation for my series Routers – Hardware Firewalls Vs Software Firewalls.

Software Firewall

I would like to start by saying please check the status of your firewall.  I have included a video in order to see how to do it on Vista and Windows 7, and two pictures to show you how to do so on Windows XP.  If you are on a Mac I have included screen captures for that as well.  Yes on a mac you should have your firewall turned on as well.  Unlike current Windows, the Macs software firewall is NOT turned on by default.

Windows Vista / Windows 7

Password Security – Time to rethink about passwords

How many passwords do you have?
Does someone have your password?
How do you protect yourself from this?

Passwords are a big deal!!!  They control access to everything in our lives.  This means we should be as secure about our passwords as possible.  Most people have a tendency to have a low medium and high security password.  This is a great theory, but a very misguided thought process.  Computers have a lot of horsepower now and the time to break a password is trivial.  Add to this that Google will tend to have a LOT of information about you, makes passwords easy to guess.

Example: a Child’s name password
Low – ben
Med – Ben72
High – @Ben1972!

All of these passwords are valid.  The question is where did you use these passwords at?  If you use them on a network that is not secure, or a service such as POP email, then you may not be the only person that has these passwords.

Human nature is to keep passwords simple, but in the world of computers simple passwords don’t help.  The other trait of people is to have password we can remember, if it is too hard to remember we simply write it down and leave it on our desk.  Well people will look at your desk and see your password taped to the monitor and now have access to your data.

There are several ways to fix this
1) Never reuse your passwords (there are programs that will make every combination of passwords available from you lowest level password)
2) Keep passwords in a secure location
3) A recommended method of the above solutions is to use something like lastpass.com ‘s password manager from http://lastpass.com The free or premium both work well.  Another great product is Keepass from http://keepass.com/ and if you are on a Mac 1pasword from agile web is the way to go.

The advantage of these products is they will give you a random password and the ability to both store your password as well as simplify the login process by putting in your login and password and you only need to remember 1 password.  Which you wont’ give out!!!

Happy and Safe Surfing!!!!

Paranoia Refresher – Laptop Theft

The weekend of the 7th of February I was at a security professionals conference. (Shmoocon) Yes it is a hacker convention, but it is a great place to learn about higher level security issues that affect people. It also refreshed my mind on some basic ideas of security. Many times the security talks that are presented are simply not useful for the average person. That being said it did raise the level of paranoia I have about computer security in general.

Another reminder that added to this was the theft of two different laptops. The laptop was left unattended for what ever reason and sprouted legs and walked away. The other reminder was from a parked car with a laptop in the back seat. A brick though the window and the laptop disappears.

I won’t go into the data security on this blog post but suffice it to say these were crimes of opportunity. It is extremely easy to have a laptop walk away in a crowded restaurant. So on to the security of laptops

If you have a laptop in your car, in a crowded parking lot, put the laptop in your trunk. As simple as that. If a thief can’t see the laptop it is harder to steal. In a restaurant, if you make your laptop even remotely difficult to steal it will be pushed to the bottom of the list to be stolen. In a crowded environment where you might get up to get coffee or use the restroom lock your laptop to the table. This does require a slight investment of anywhere from $8 (US) on up depending on how secure you want it (I will not go into the exceptionally simple methods shown in the lock pick village to defeat a lock). In the case of the person’s laptop being stolen in a restaurant, even the cheapest lock would have prevented this theft.

When a laptop is sitting on a table, no one will think twice about someone walking buy and grabbing it. If a bolt cutters, or even lock picks is brought out to cut a cable lock that will bring attention. A thief will avoid attention at all costs. There is a very important element to this scenario, LOCK the laptop don’t just make it look like it is.

I personally have not ever seen a laptop that does not have a locking port on the side of the laptop. So please use it!!

Summary:

Lock your physical laptop when leaving it in public

Do not leave your laptop in plain site in your car