On Meeting the Prime Minister…and Online Security

A few weeks ago my husband, son and I were strolling through our local shopping mall when we happened to see the prime minister of our country of residence. He was standing in the common area shaking hands and posing for photos with passersby.

We stopped and I took a photo of my husband and son with him. That done, we proceeded along to the supermarket to do our Saturday grocery shopping.

Some minutes later it hit me. We had just met the prime minister, the most powerful man in Finland. I should have shaken his hand. And why hadn’t I gotten in the photo too? The significance of meeting this dignitary had been completely lost on me!

Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen campaigning

The thing was, it was so low key. There was no big fuss about it. People were mostly going about their business. There was no heavy security detail, no men in black suits and sunglasses. And the prime minister himself, Jyrki Katainen, had looked so ordinary. Casually dressed, he could have been any other shopper that day.

But he wasn’t any other shopper. He was the head of the Republic of Finland, out campaigning for his party (municipal elections were the following day).

It was a completely different experience from the other time I saw a head of government. In 1996 President Clinton came through my hometown on his re-election campaign. I remember the excitement. Thousands of people stood thronged around the stage. It took quite a while for my cousins and I to weave our way to the front of the crowd, where a rope separated the mass of people from the president. My cousin, who was bolder than I, stretched out far enough to shake his hand. And you can bet there was security.

The laid-back encounter with Prime Minister Katainen got me thinking about security in the real world versus the online world. In the real world, the need for security varies depending on the population, economics, social problems, et cetera, of where you are. It’s apparently pretty easy for Katainen to get around in this quiet northern country of 5.4 million people. But in many countries with higher populations and less egalitarianism than Finland, top government officials must travel with an elaborate entourage.

In the online world however, threats are not bound by geography. Hackers use the information superhighway to get them anywhere in the world they want to go, in milliseconds. They can, for example, steal personal data, spread viruses, infiltrate bank accounts, and turn computers into robots that do their bidding, all from the comfort of their own home. So hackers in Wherever-ia aren’t just that country’s problem – they’re everyone’s problem.

Comprehensive Internet security is a must, whether you’re in a small, relatively safe country like Finland, a populous nation like the USA, or whether you use a Mac or a PC. And wherever, whoever you are, there’s protection for you.

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Apple

Which operating system is the most secure? Four points to remember.

No, you are almost certainly wrong if you tried to guess. A recent study shows that products from Apple actually are at the top when counting vulnerabilities, and that means at the bottom security-wise. Just counting vulnerabilities is not a very scientific way to measure security, and there is a debate over how to interpret the figures. But this is anyway a welcome eye-opener that helps kill old myths. Apple did for a long time stubbornly deny security problems and their marketing succeeded in building an image of security. Meanwhile Windows was the biggest and most malware-targeted system. Microsoft rolled up the sleeves and fought at the frontline against viruses and vulnerabilities. Their reputation suffered but Microsoft gradually improved in security and built an efficient process for patching security holes. Microsoft had what is most important in security, the right attitude. Apple didn’t and the recent vulnerability study shows the result. Here’s four points for people who want to select a secure operating system. Forget reputation when thinking security. Windows used to be bad and nobody really cared to attack Apple’s computers before they became popular. The old belief that Windows is unsafe and Apple is safe is just a myth nowadays. There is malware on almost all commonly used platforms. Windows Phone is the only exception with practically zero risk. Windows and Android are the most common systems and malware authors are targeting them most. So the need for an anti-malware product is naturally bigger on these systems. But the so called antivirus products of today are actually broad security suites. They protect against spam and harmful web sites too, just to mention some examples. So changes are that you want a security product anyway even if your system isn’t one of the main malware targets. So which system is most secure? It’s the one that is patched regularly. All the major systems, Windows, OS X and Linux have sufficient security for a normal private user. But they will also all become unsafe if the security updates are neglected. So security is not really a selection criteria for ordinary people. Mobile devices, phones and tablets, generally have a more modern systems architecture and a safer software distribution process. Do you have to use a desktop or laptop, or can you switch to a tablet? Dumping the big old-school devices is a way to improve security. Could it work for you? So all this really boils down to the fact that you can select any operating system you like and still be reasonable safe. There are some differences though, but it is more about old-school versus new-school devices. Not about Apple versus Microsoft versus Linux. Also remember that your own behavior affects security more than your choice of device, and that you never are 100% safe no matter what you do.   Safe surfing, Micke  

Feb 26, 2015
BY 
NSA, GCHQ, listening, mobile calls, privacy

Is the NSA listening to your mobile calls? Maybe. Here’s what you can do about it.​

The newest leak from Edward Snowden may be coming at a terrible time for the Obama White House but it's not particularly shocking news to security experts. The Intercept's report about the "Great SIM Heist" reveals American and British spies stole the keys that are "used to protect the privacy of cellphone communications across the globe" from Gemalto, the world's largest manufacturer of SIM cards. It goes on to report that "With these stolen encryption keys, intelligence agencies can monitor mobile communications without seeking or receiving approval from telecom companies and foreign governments," which sidesteps the needs for legal warrants that should be the foundation of ethical law enforcement. While this is certainly troubling and speaks to the agencies wanton regard for privacy and some amateurish procedures being used to transport keys, it likely won't alter the security landscape much. "The best summary is that an already unreliable communication method became even more unreliable," F-Secure Labs Senior Researcher Jarno Niemela, the holder of 20 security-related patents, explained. "Nobody in their right minds would assume GSM  [Global System for Mobile Communications --the digital cellular network used by mobile phones] to be private in the first place," he said. "Phone networks have never been really designed with privacy in mind." Mobile operators are much more concerned with being able to prevent their customers from avoiding billing. While a scope of such a breach does seem huge, Jarno points we're not sure how many of the billions of cards manufactured by Gemalto may be affected. Keys sent to and from operators via without encryption in email or via FTP servers that were not properly secured are almost certainly compromised. But according to The Intercept, GCHQ also penetrated “authentication servers,” which allow it to "decrypt data and voice communications between a targeted individual’s phone and his or her telecom provider’s network" regardless who made the cards. With the cracked keys, users' calls would be vulnerable but likely only in a limited manner. "I am told that these keys only expose the encryption and authentication between the mobile device and the local cell tower," F-Secure Security Advisor David Perry explained. "This means that the NSA or (whoever else) would have to be locally located within radio range of your phone." So could the NSA or GCHQ be listening to your calls without a warrant? Maybe. Here's what you can do about it. Add a layer of encryption of your own to any device you use to communicate. A VPN like our Freedome will protect your data traffic. This would not, however, protect your voice calls. "Maybe it’s time to stop making 'traditional' mobile phones calls," F-Secure Labs Senior Researcher Timo Hirvonen suggests. "Install Freedome, and start making your calls with apps like Signal." [Image by Julian Carvajal | Flickr]

Feb 23, 2015
BY 
Best Protection 4 Years in a Row, AV Test, F-Secure

MMMMMMMMM! The sweet taste of history

What smells so good? Could it be history? On Tuesday, F-Secure's corporate security team traveled to Dresden to pick up its fourth straight Best Protection award from AV-Test.org. We are now the only vendor in the history of the award to win the honor four years in a row. “Since 2011, F-Secure's security product has been a guarantee of high protection in corporate environments,” says Andreas Marx, CEO of AV-TEST. That's four years straight of the industry's best protection in a solution that provides the technology that's the basis for all of our security solutions. Success like this doesn't just mean we're good once in a while. It means we're the best every day, as the award goes to the solution that provides the most consistent protection throughout the year. We blocked 955 out of 958 real-world threats -- a 99.67 percent blocking rate --  and 112,059 out of 112,090 wide-spread malware with an astounding 99.97 percent blocking rate. That means we're about 2.67 - 2.97 percent above the industry standard. All this means if you don't use F-Secure, you could be exposing your business to thousands of more possible infections every month. You can compare these results to our competitors here. How do we do it? It's kind of like building the perfect sandwich. F-Secure Client Security layers antivirus on top of firewall on top of antispyware on top of rootkit scanning. We slather on the browsing protection to block dangerous websites. But it's not enough to block the threats we know about. That's where the secret sauce comes in. Our DeepGuard engine provides protection that reads criminals minds. As AV-Test's Andreas Marx said, “F-Secure is secure, innovative, and straightforward.” Excuse us. This is making me very hungry. We need to take a bite. Cheers, Sandra      

Feb 19, 2015