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October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month in the US, and European Cyber Security Month in Europe. Basically, institutions in these two countries have decided that it’s time for people to get serious about cybersecurity. And they’re right to do it – according to F-Secure’s Business Security Insider blog, there was 81 cyberattacks every minute in 2014. So hacking is a serious business for these attackers. And one security measure that experts would like to see used more widely is two-factor authentication. [polldaddy poll=9124837] Two-factor (or multi-factor) authentication refers to using more than one piece of information to safeguard access to accounts. Many popular services, such as Facebook and Twitter, offer it to users. However, very few services require it. It’s really more of an option for people interested in having a little bit of extra security for their accounts. A recent survey from Google points out that 89 percent of security experts use two-factor authentication for at least one of their online accounts. But it’s less popular amongst non-experts. Only 62 percent of non-expert respondents to Google’s survey used two-factor authentication. Other studies indicate that two-factor authentication may be even less popular, with one recent consumer survey finding that 56 percent of respondents were unfamiliar with two-factor authentication. Although two-factor authentication has been around for ages, it’s starting to become offered by many online services. Passwords are currently the standard in account security, but adding in two-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security. It basically means anyone that gets access to your password will essentially only have “half a key” to your account. So why don’t more people use it? After all, nearly 80 percent of people are open to alternatives to traditional passwords. One reason might be that it’s too difficult or inconvenient. But the widespread use of mobile devices is making this much easier. Email and SMS messages seem to be easiest and the most popular, with one study finding almost 90 percent of participants using two-factor authentication did so by receiving a code through SMS or email, which they could then enter into a website to confirm their identity. Another reason could be availability. It’s up to companies and organizations providing online accounts to offer two-factor authentication to customers. This website provides a pretty good list of different online services offering two-factor authentication, so it’s a pretty handy resource. You can also use the site to send tweets to companies not offering two-factor authentication (so don’t hesitate to send a message if you want someone providing you with a service to improve their account security features). If you crunch the numbers provided by the site, you can get an idea about how common two-factor authentication is for different kinds of services: Cryptocurrencies: 96% Identity Management: 93% Cloud Computing: 77% Gaming: 69% Hosting/VPS: 69% Email: 65% Domains: 65% Developers: 63% Communication: 62% Backup and Sync Services: 60% Investing: 38% Banking and Financial Services: 35% Health: 30% Finance: 28% Education: 25% Entertainment: 7% So two-factor authentication is definitely more prominent in some industries than others. F-Secure Security Advisor Sean Sullivan says that it’s definitely worth choosing services offering two-factor authentication, especially for important accounts that you use daily, or contain really sensitive information. “You should figure out what accounts are critical and focus on securing those by using strong, unique passwords and two-factor authentication,” he says. “Lots of companies will offer a monthly or periodic two-factor authentication check, which requires you to enter a code you receive via SMS into a pre-defined phone or computer. It’s really worth having a primary email account with one of these services, as you can centralize information there instead of spreading it around, which makes it easier to stay in control of your accounts.” Next time you’re thinking about setting up an online account somewhere, you may want to circle back to whether or not they offer two-factor authentication. With the number of devices expected to explode as the Internet of Things becomes more and more popular, it only makes sense to consider whether you’re information is as secure as you’d like. [ Image by momentcaptured1 | Flickr ]
This week's ruling by the European Court of Justice striking down the 2000 "Safe harbor" agreement between the European Union and and the United States was celebrated as vindication by privacy activists, who saw the decision as a first major international consequence of the Snowden revelations detailing the extraordinary extent of mass surveillance being conducted by the U.S. and its allies. "The safe harbor agreement allowed U.S. companies to self-certify they abided by EU-strength data protection standards," Politico's David Meyer reported. "This gave them a relatively simple mechanism to start legally handling Europeans’ personal data." That simple mechanism did not abide by the Commissions own privacy standards, the Court decided. "The court, by declaring invalid the safe harbor which currently permits a sizeable amount of the commercial movement of personal data between the EU and the U.S., has signaled that PRISM and other government surveillance undermine the privacy rights that regulates such movements under European law," the EFF's Danny O'Brien wrote. A new Safe Harbor agreement is currently being negotiated and the Court's ruling seems designed to speed that up. But for now many companies -- especially smaller companies -- and users are now in a sort of a legal limbo. And that legal limbo may not be great news for your privacy, according to F-Secure Security Advisor Sean Sullivan, as it creates legal uncertainty that could easily be exploited by government spy agencies and law enforcement. "Uncertainty is their bread and butter," he told me. To Sean, this ruling and the urge to break the old agreement without a new one yet in place represent an "old world" view of the Internet where geography was key. The U.S. government has suggested that it doesn't need to respect borders when it comes to companies like Microsoft, Facebook and Google, which are headquartered in the U.S. but do business around the world. Last month, the Department of Justice said it could demand Microsoft turn over Hotmail data of any user, regardless where s/he lives. "The cloud doesn’t have any borders," Sean said. "Where stuff is located geographically is kind of quaint." You can test this out by using an app like Citizen Ex that tests your "Algorithmic Citizenship." Sean, an American who lives in Finland, is identified as an American online -- as much of the world would be. What Europe gave up in privacy with Safe Harbor was, to some, made up for in creating a cohesive marketplace that made it easier for businesses to prosper. Facebook and Google warned that the U.S.'s aggressive surveillance risked "breaking the Internet." This ruling could be the first crack in that break. Avoiding a larger crackup requires a "new world" view of the Internet that respects privacy regardless of geography, according to Sean. He's hopeful that reform comes quickly and democratically in a way that doesn't require courts to force politicians' hands. The U.S. showed some willingness to reform is surveillance state when it passed the USA FREEDOM Act -- the first new limitations on intelligence gathering since 9/11. But more needs to be done, says the EFF. The digital rights organization is calling for "reforming Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act, and re-formulating Executive Order 12333." Without these reforms, it's possible that any new agreement that's reached between the U.S. and Europe might not reach the standards now reaffirmed by the European Court of Justice.
This email was one of five phishing scams found in the 6,400 pages of Hillary Clinton's emails released on Wednesday. While there's no confirmation that former First Lady fell for the scam, her political opponents are using it to attack her for the security risks of the unconventional private server she used while in office -- even though a recent report found that 1 of 7 emails received on official U.S. Defense Department servers were either spam, phishing or other malware attacks. Receiving such attacks is inevitable. Cyber criminals have long known that one the best ways to hack into something is to simply ask you for the password. This technique has long relied on the fact that most of are used to entering our credentials so if a site looks trustworthy enough, we'll just type our credentials. From there, the bad guys can use these keys to unlock our digital life. As we've become more savvy in recognizing untrustworthy emails like the one above, criminals have taken advantage of our growing desire to share information about ourselves online to pioneer a more advanced technique called "spear phishing," which usually arrives in the form of a personalized email from an person or business you have a relationship with. This sort of attack was pioneered to hack high-value targets like Clinton. The Russian-backed Dukes group used this method in its 7-year campaign against western interests and others. In our Business Insider blog, Eija offers an inside look at how the CEO of a Finnish startup was the victim of an attempted spear phishing. "However, anyone can be a target..." Eija explains. And if you work in the U.S. government your chances of being hit with a very personalized attack have greatly increased as a result of the recent hack of the Office of Personnel Management. “Every bit of my personal information is in an attacker’s hands right now,"Paul Beckman, the Department of Homeland security’s chief information security officer, said at the Billington Cybersecurity Summit in September. "They could probably craft my email that even I would be susceptible to, because they know everything about me virtually.” Beckman said he regularly sends fake phishing emails to his staff to see if they fall for them, and “you’d be surprised at how often I catch these guys.”' Getting caught results in mandatory security training. But even after two or three rounds of instruction, the same people still fall for similar scams. “Someone who fails every single phishing campaign in the world should not be holding a [top secret clearance] with the federal government,” he said. “You have clearly demonstrated that you are not responsible enough to responsibly handle that information.” Beckman said he has proposed that those who prove they cannot detect a scam be stripped of their clearance, which could limit their career possibilities or even cost them a job. If you're the CEO of a startup, you recognize that security of your business is essential to your success. But if you're just an employee, your incentives for protecting intellectual property are nowhere as strong. Criminals only need one victim to make one mistake to succeed. So what are employers to do when education just isn't good enough? How about positive reinforcement for those who successfully avoid a scam? The truth is we're all only as secure as our training and focus. Organizations need to work on the best methods for developing both. Whether it's at work or at home or in the U.S. State Department, you're likely to be faced with a phishing attempt before long. Here's basic guidance from Eija on how to avoid being hooked: Be vigilant when entering your password anywhere Enable two-factor authentication Use Google’s built-in Security Checkup and Privacy Checkup tools Periodically review forwarding and mail filter settings, Connected apps & sites, Devices and Activities, shared files Disable POP and IMAP access if you don’t need them for a desktop or mobile client Cheers, Sandra