The Postmortem Password Problem

Death and passwords: two things we just can’t avoid. With so much of our lives tied up in cloud services nowadays, there’s good reason to worry about what happens to these accounts if we drop dead tomorrow. For many of us, important documents, photos, financial information and other data will be locked behind a login prompt. Your payment methods will also expire shortly after you have, which could lead to data loss if not handled promptly. The most obvious way to address this is to give a trusted party access in case of emergency.

A Bad Solution

Let’s start with the simplest solution: using the same password everywhere.  Great, all you need to do is put this on a Post-it note, stuff it in an envelope, and let someone know where to find it. Unfortunately, using a single password for many services is a terrible idea. Password breaches happen, and if you’re using a single password across the internet, they can be disastrous.

Password breaches are usually the result of an attacker finding a vulnerability that allows reading password data from an application’s database. Odds are high that your information has been leaked in one of these breaches. You can check if your email is on a list of known breaches with Have I Been Pwned. Don’t feel bad if you’ve been pwned, my email shows up on six different breaches, and this service only indexes publicly known breaches!

Depending on the competency of the company that was breached, your password may have been stolen in a few different formats. In the worst case, the passwords were stored as-is (i.e., cleartext), and the breach contains your actual password. Nowadays, storing passwords in cleartext is never considered acceptable. A hash of the password is stored instead. Attackers need to use a tool like hashcat to try to recover the passwords via brute force hash cracking. This is slow for complex passwords, but is always getting faster as GPUs improve.

So we really need to use different passwords everywhere, or our Tumblr account from 2013 could give access to our bank account. Given the large number of services we use and our inability to remember passwords, we’re going to need to use a password manager. Continue reading “The Postmortem Password Problem”

GitHub’s Move Away From Passwords: A Sign Of Things To Come?

Later this month, people who use GitHub may find themselves suddenly getting an error message while trying to authenticate against the GitHub API or perform actions on a GitHub repository with a username and password. The reason for this is the removal of this authentication option by GitHub, with a few ‘brown-out’ periods involving the rejection of passwords to give people warning of this fact.

This change was originally announced by GitHub in November of 2019, had a deprecation timeline assigned in February of 2020 and another blog update in July repeating the information. As noted there, only GitHub Enterprise Server remains unaffected for now. For everyone else, as of November 13th, 2020, in order to use GitHub services, the use of an OAuth token, personal token or SSH key is required.

While this is likely to affect a fair number of people who are using GitHub’s REST API and repositories, perhaps the more interesting question here is whether this is merely the beginning of a larger transformation away from username and password logins in services.

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FIDO2: The Dream Of Password-Free Authentication On The WWW

Of all the things which are annoying about the modern World Wide Web, the need to create and remember countless passwords is on the top of most people’s lists. From dozens of passwords for everything from social media sites to shopping, company, and productivity-related platforms like Github, a large part of our day is spent dealing with passwords.

While one can totally use a password manager to streamline the process, this does not absolve you from having to maintain this list and ensure you never lose access to it, while simultaneously making sure credentials for the password manager are never compromised. The promise of password-less methods of authentication is that of a world where one’s identity is proven without hassle, and cannot ever be stolen, because it relies on biometrics and hardware tokens instead of an easily copied password.

The FIDO2 project promises Web Authentication that means never entering a password into a website again. But like everything, it comes with some strings attached. In this article, we’ll take a look at how FIDO2 plans to work and how that contrasts with the state of security in general.

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The Demise Of The Password

Although we hackers will sometimes deliberately throw away our passwords and then try and hack our own phones / WIFI systems for self amusement, for many people including the actual inventor of the password, Fernardo “Corby” Corbató (1926-2019), passwords have become extremely burdensome and dis-functional.

Sadly, Fernando (according to the internet) died on July 12th, and equally sadly, part of his legacy was the ordeal of his “having a three-page crib sheet to stay on top of his own 150+ passwords”.

We’re all used to being badgered by websites to use complex passwords with a minimum length and a minimum number of upper case characters, lower case characters, numerical digits and non alphanumeric characters AND being told at the workplace to use different passwords than at other places AND to being told to change our passwords regularly. The fact that somebody like Fernando had 150 passwords is not surprising.

However, there is some hope, as according to Alex Weinert of Microsoft, in his recent synopsis, “When it comes to composition and length, your password (mostly) doesn’t matter”. This may well sound counter-intuitive but Microsofts’s own research suggests that inter-webs gurus should focus more on “multi-factor authentication (MFA), or great threat detection” rather than badgering the user.

The research goes into quite a bit of detail about passwords and concludes that the biggest threat to password security is when criminals obtain data from insecure ‘breached’ sites, in which case it would not matter if your word was written in hieroglyphics, it would be of no consequence at all. Another interesting conclusion was that by making passwords so intractable this encouraged people such as Fernando himself to write them all down, only for someone to rummage through their office desk (technically known as ‘dumpster diving’) and copy them.

Maybe the end of the password will now swiftly be upon us as technology enables biometrics such as ocular based identifications to be more widely used, but then again we’ve all watched those films where the protagonist scoops the eyeball out of a person’s skull to gain entry to a secure area.

It’s easy to get carried away about passwords and security hype, but it should not be forgotten that Fernardo Corbató was an eminent computer scientist who pioneered ‘Time sharing’ on computers, as detailed in this Hackaday article: Retrotectacular: Time Sharing.

Hash And Roll Your Way To Secure Passwords

In the electronic battlefield that is 2019, the realm of password security is fraught with dangers. Websites from companies big and small leak like sieves, storing user data in completely unsecure ways. Just about the worst thing you can do is use the same password across several services, meaning that an attack on one gives entry to multiple accounts. The challenge is to generate a unique and secure password for each and every application, and [Ilia]’s way of doing that is called HashDice.

No, it’s not a password manager, or an app – it’s a simple method that can be readily applied by anyone with the right tools. A simple dice is used to create random numbers, which are used to select words from a list to form the basic secret phrase. This is then combined with the name of the service or application to be accessed, the date, and a salt, before hashing using the SHA256 algorithm. The final hash is then truncated to create the password. You can do it all on a device that’s airgapped from the world, ensuring your core secret is never exposed, thus maintaining security.

There are some pitfalls to this method, of course. Many websites make things harder by requiring special characters or enforcing length limits on passwords. [Ilia] helpfully suggests several workarounds for this, but admits that no system is perfect in the face of these obstacles.

If you’re now wondering if your current password is safe, there are ways to investigate that, too.

 

IoT Security Is Hard: Here’s What You Need To Know

Security for anything you connect to the internet is important. Think of these devices as doorways. They either allow access to services or provides services for someone else. Doorways need to be secure — you wouldn’t leave your door unlocked if you lived in the bad part of a busy city, would you? Every internet connection is the bad part of a busy city. The thing is, building hardware that is connected to the internet is the new hotness these days. So let’s walk through the basics you need to know to start thinking security with your projects.

If you have ever run a server and checked your logs you have probably noticed that there is a lot of automated traffic trying to gain access to your server on a nearly constant basis. An insecure device on a network doesn’t just compromise itself, it presents a risk to all other networked devices too.

The easiest way to secure a device is to turn it off, but lets presume you want it on. There are many things you can do to protect your IoT device. It may seem daunting to begin with but as you start becoming more security conscious things begin to click together a bit like a jigsaw and it becomes a lot easier.

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Cerebrum: Mobile Passwords Lifted Acoustically With NASB

 

There are innumerable password hacking methods but recent advances in acoustic and accelerometer sensing have opened up the door to side-channel attacks, where passwords or other sensitive data can be extracted from the acoustic properties of the electronics and human interface to the device. A recent and dramatic example includes the hacking of RSA encryption  simply by listening to the frequencies of sound a processor puts out when crunching the numbers.

Now there is a new long-distance hack on the scene. The Cerebrum system represents a recent innovation in side-channel password attacks leveraging acoustic signatures of mobile and other electronic devices to extract password data at stand-off distances.

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