Securing your digital life, the finale: Debunking nugatory “safety” practices

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Enlarge / Take one day by day to maintain Evil Hackerman away!

Info safety and privateness endure from the identical phenomenon we see in preventing COVID-19: “I’ve finished my very own analysis” syndrome. Many safety and privateness practices are issues discovered second- or third-hand, based mostly on historic tomes or stuff we have seen on TV—or they’re the results of studying the fallacious classes from a private expertise.

I name these items “cyber folks medication.” And over the previous few years, I’ve discovered myself making an attempt to undo these habits in mates, household, and random members of the general public. Some cyber folkways are innocent or could even present a small quantity of incidental safety. Others provide you with a false sense of safety whereas actively weakening your privateness and safety. But a few of these beliefs have grow to be so widespread that they’ve truly grow to be firm coverage.

I introduced this query to some mates on InfoSec Twitter: “What is the dumbest safety recommendation you have ever heard?” Most of the replies had been already on my substantial record of mythological countermeasures, however there have been others that I had forgotten or not even thought of. And apparently, some folks (or firms… and even distributors!) have determined these dangerous concepts are canon.

If I am repeating myself from earlier articles, it is solely as a result of I maintain listening to these dangerous items of recommendation. This text will not eradicate these practices, sadly—they’re so embedded in tradition that they are going to proceed to be handed down and practiced religiously till the technological weaknesses that permit them to exist have light into antiquity. However collectively we will at the least attempt to finish the insanity for these in our circles of affect.

Delusion: Thou shalt change thy password each 30 days

Rotate passwords each 30 days

— MrR3b00t | imposing penalties (@UK_Daniel_Card) November 14, 2021

Passwords have been a part of laptop safety since 1960, when Fernando Corbató added passwords for private recordsdata to MIT’s Appropriate Time-Sharing System (CTSS). And nearly instantly, they grew to become, as Corbató himself admitted, “a nightmare.” Since then, all types of dangerous recommendation (and dangerous company coverage) has been disseminated about easy methods to use, handle, and alter passwords.

Expertise limits have up to now been the primary factor dictating password coverage—limits on the quantity and sort of characters, for instance. The low safety of quick passwords led to insurance policies that required that passwords be ceaselessly modified. However fashionable working methods and safety methods have made the entire short-password-versus-frequent-password-change dance out of date, proper?

Apparently not. Not solely have these folkways continued for use to log in to private computer systems at work, however they have been built-in into client companies on the internet—some banking and e-commerce websites have arduous most sizes for passwords. And—doubtless due to poor software program design and worry of cross-site scripting or SQL injection assaults—some companies additionally restrict the kinds of characters that can be utilized in passwords. I assume that is simply in case somebody desires to make use of the password “password’); DROP TABLE customers;–” or one thing.

“We restrict our passwords to 12 characters so you do not neglect them”

— Graham Helton (@GrahamHelton3) November 14, 2021

No matter whether or not we’re speaking a couple of password or a PIN, insurance policies that restrict size or characters weaken complexity and safety. Lengthy passwords with characters akin to areas and punctuation marks are extra memorable than arbitrary numbers or leetspeak morphs of phrases. Microsoft’s definition of a PIN is, basically, a hardware-specific password that controls machine entry and login credentials based mostly on Trusted Platform Module black magic; a four-digit PIN for machine entry just isn’t safer than one based mostly on letters and numbers if somebody has stolen your laptop and is banging away on it at their leisure.

Decide a sufficiently lengthy and sophisticated password for a private or work laptop, and it is best to solely have to alter it if it has been shared with or stolen by another person. Altering passwords each 30 days solely makes passwords more durable to recollect and might trigger folks to develop dangerous password-creation workarounds that lead to weaker passwords—for instance, by incrementing numbers on the finish of them:

  • Pa55w0rd1
  • Pa55w0rd2
  • Pa55w0rd3
  • …you possibly can see the place this insanity leads

So choose one advanced however memorable password on your laptop login or your telephone, like XKCD suggests (although do not use the one within the comedian—perhaps generate one with Diceware!). Do not reuse it wherever else. And do not change it except you must.

Delusion: Don’t write it down!

Many people have seen the worst-case state of affairs in password administration: passwords on Publish-it notes caught to displays in cubicle-land, simply ready to be abused. This behavior has led many a would-be safety mentor to cry out, “Do not write down your passwords!”

Besides you in all probability ought to write them down—simply not on a Publish-it in your cubicle. Many two-factor authentication companies truly promote printing and saving restoration codes within the occasion you lose entry to your second-factor app or machine, for instance. And you may’t save machine passwords in a password supervisor, are you able to?

“Don’t put your password in your pockets.” You’ll actually must kick my ass to get it. Heck of lots stronger than notepad.

— Patrick Kelley (@PKELLEY2600) November 14, 2021

Some folks insist on writing passwords in a pocket book (Hello, Mother!). By no means inform these folks they’re fallacious, however do encourage them to do that solely for passwords that may’t be saved in a password supervisor or could be wanted to get better backups and companies if a tool is broken or misplaced—for instance, if in case you have an Apple ID. You need these high-value passwords to be advanced and memorable, however they’re used occasionally, so they could be extra simply forgotten. Go forward, write them down. After which put the written passwords (and your 2FA restoration codes!) in a nonpublic, secure place you possibly can entry when issues go awry.

There is one thing you shouldn’t do with passwords, nevertheless, and that’s preserving them in a textual content file or different unencrypted format. In a latest intrusion incident I used to be reviewing, one of many first issues the criminals managed to do was discover a file referred to as Password Listing.xlsx. You may think about how issues went from there. And apparently this occurs on the common at some firms:

My firm is doing a giant inner safety audit.

First step? Everybody put the IPs and root passwords of all of your machines into excel templates and add it in order that IT can log in and test your patch stage.

— The Lack Thereof (@LackThere0f) November 5, 2021

Now, if these recordsdata had been password-protected Workplace paperwork, there’d at the least be some hope—since Workplace makes use of AES encryption and does some critical SHA-1 shuffling of passwords to generate the keys in newer variations. In cases when you possibly can’t maintain passwords in a password supervisor however must maintain monitor of them, that is a suitable stage of safety typically.

Delusion: 2FA is 2 scary 4 me

SMS 2FA just isn’t safe. You are higher off not having 2FA in any respect.

— Jerry Aldrich (@jerryaldrichiii) November 14, 2021

I am a significant proponent of two-factor authentication (“2FA”) as a strategy to defend login credentials; it has saved me just a few occasions from having accounts hacked after supplier breaches revealed my passwords. (There was additionally the one time once I misplaced entry to an e-mail account as a result of a domain-name supplier determined to not auto-renew my private area and as a substitute offered it to a rip-off weblog operator. I will depart it to you to guess which registrar did me soiled that manner.) However I ceaselessly see folks deciding to not use 2FA as a result of they noticed someplace that 2FA through textual content message is much less safe, however they did not see the opposite half about utilizing an authenticator app or different technique as a substitute if attainable. After which they erroneously reached the conclusion that foregoing 2FA is safer than 2FA with SMS.

Let me be clear: any 2FA is healthier than no 2FA. And with the standard kinds of brute-force makes an attempt attackers make towards widespread cloud companies, any 2FA will render about 90 p.c of those makes an attempt completely unsuccessful (and the opposite 10 p.c of the time will simply lead to a probably recoverable denial of service). You undoubtedly need some type of 2FA on an Amazon account or something that has any ties to your buying info, it doesn’t matter what sort of 2FA it’s.

However simply having 2FA just isn’t a assure that somebody will not achieve getting what they need. Some phishing assaults at the moment are managing to get round two-factor authentication by utilizing 2FA “passthrough” assaults:

“It’s best to belief push-based 2FA as a result of you realize you’ve simply entered your password.”

“And the way do I do know that an attacker hasn’t entered it on the identical time?”


“How would an attacker know your password?”


— Ankit Pati (@nkitpati) November 14, 2021

In the event you obtain an e-mail with a hyperlink that takes you to a web site requesting your credentials, and also you then get a 2FA alert on your login, that doesn’t essentially imply that the hyperlink was official and that it is best to give the code or faucet the “approve” button. This might be an try to easily have you ever help the attacker. Take a tough have a look at that hyperlink. Then name your safety crew, perhaps. (My present employer’s safety crew makes an attempt to 2FA phish me two or thrice a month today.)

So use 2FA. However be conscious of your login requests, and do not approve bizarre ones.