Share this with all your friends and make Facebook a better place

he-has-cancerHelp a sick child with cancer. Help us raise funds for this poor boy beaten by his stepfather. Learn how to help yourself if you have a heart attack and nobody is around. Isn’t Facebook a fantastic place, you can learn so much and get involved in things that matter through posts that your friends pass around. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. We have all seen these posts that circulate on Facebook and other communities.

What do you think about them? Do you pass them on? Does this kind of messages play on your emotions? Do you like the feeling of helping a poor child somewhere in the word by clicking share? Have you ever tried to verify if the sad story is true? Or do you want to hold on to the dream that you are helping, and avoid checking the background even if there is a grain of doubt? Or are you one of the skeptics who dislike chain letters and write an angry reply instead?

Chain letter may be an old-fashion term from the snail-mail era. But that is really what we are talking about here. They are also called hoaxes, which refer to the content rather than the spreading mechanism. Our modern communities on the net provide an ideal environment for them. It has never before been so easy to share information with a large number of friends globally, just by a click. The content might be anything, but there are some easy ways to identify them.

  • They play on your emotions, often empathy or fear.
  • They tell you to share it with all your friends.
  • There’s often a shocking picture of a claimed victim. (The same picture is often reused in many different chain letters.)
  • It may claim that the victim gets money for each share. (This is never true.)
  • There’s no or very little details of the claimed victim to make it harder to debunk the story.
  • There’s no reference to news articles or other reliable sources, or the article is fake if there is one.

Here comes a couple of examples from different categories.

Help save baby with cancer is a really classical example. Who can resist a sick child? And that thing on the little boy’s face. OMG! In reality, this story is just made up and the boy doesn’t exist. Or the baby in the picture certainly exists, but he has appeared in many different chain letters and nobody knows where the picture comes from or if that thing is fake or real. The promise of one dollar per share is also just made up, there is no such commitment in reality.

YOU COULD SAVE A LOVED ONES LIFE BY KNOWING THIS SIMPLE INFORMATION!!! First aid and medical advice is another common chain letter category. I have attended a number of first aid courses at different levels, and this example is legit as far as I can tell. The described STR-rule is also well known and used elsewhere too. But how do you know that? If you can assess that, you don’t need the advice. And if you can’t, you have no clue if the advice is reliable and accurate. This one might be legit, but that can’t be said about all the other messages of this kind. They can in the worst case be directly harmful! (I have selected to not share one of those here.)

Facebook is not a good info source for matters of life and death. If you truly care about your loved ones and want to be able to help, then there is no substitute for professional first aid training. Trash all chain letters of this kind and sign up for a course today!

[Insert celebrity of your choice] found dead at Dominican Republic resort. This is really a sick form of humor. There’s a web-based generator that can generate hoaxes like this. It even creates fake news pages that can be passed around with the chain letter. I’m including the link to the generator here. I trust that you use it only to learn how to spot these hoaxes, not to make one yourself.

If you see some shocking news like this and the source isn’t one of the big news networks that you recognize, then turn to Google and get a second opinion before you hit share. Well, sites can be faked so Google is a good idea even if you recognize the news source.

But these chain letters are mostly harmless, you might think. Is it really that bad to pass one on? Well, they don’t harm the reader directly. Messages that trick you into downloading a file or opening a site that can contain malware is a different cup of tea. Phishing scams that trick you into entering secret data at a faked site are also truly harmful. Chain letters and hoaxes are not harmful in this way.

But that’s not the full story. There are still several reasons to avoid them:

  • Your own reputation. You may feel good when “helping a sick child”, but do your friends think the same way? Some of them may think you are gullible and easily fooled.
  • You create unnecessary noise on Facebook, or whatever community you are on. It may already be hard enough to spot the relevant posts from 500+ friends and a load of groups. Your friends do not need more junk to cover the valuable posts.
  • Things seem to replicate, especially problems. If you have a habit of sharing chain letters and hoaxes, you contribute to the culture among your friends. You signal that it is OK to share hoaxes and your habit will spread to some of them.
  • If you forward a message with some advice about first aid, a friend uses it and it tunes out to be bad advice. How would you feel? If you share info like this, you also carry responsibility for it.
  • Passing on jokes about someone killed in an accident is really sick humor, even if you might be in shock and believe it when you press share. Double-check before sharing and spare your friends that unnecessary shock.
  • If your account is compromised and misused to spread truly harmful content, it will blend in better in a stream of chain letters. Your friends are less likely to notice any difference and more likely to click on the malicious link from “you”.  Such post will however stick out if your normal posts are strictly no-nonsense.
  • A historical note. Old-school computer folks dislike chain letters because they were seen as a bad thing in the early days of e-mail. This was based on the limited capacity of the computers and telecommunications at that time. Technical capacity is not a problem anymore, today’s bottleneck is our capacity to process all the messages we get. But as said above, even if the technical capacity is there, it is still a bad idea to circulate chain letters.

And by the way. Why should you support this particular child? Just because you got a picture of him? There are probably thousands of real children with the same disease. You feel emotionally involved, that’s good. Let’s use your emotions for something more productive than just passing hoaxes around. Look up a local charity organization that work with children and make a donation while watching the picture. That really matters!

So, to summarize. Don’t feel bad if you have shared chain letters like this. As said, they do no direct harm. But I hope that as many as possible become aware of the downsides and start ignoring them. Our Facebook experience would be tidier.

So now you know how to spot a chain letter. Just click the share button and make sure all your friends on Facebook also know. Hey, wait… :)

Safe surfing,

Image from About.com Urban legends

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Why Cameron hates WhatsApp so much

It’s a well-known fact that UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron doesn’t care much about peoples’ privacy. Recently he has been driving the so called Snooper’s Charter that would give authorities expanded surveillance powers, which got additional fuel from the Paris attacks. It is said that terrorists want to tear down the Western society and lifestyle. And Cameron definitively puts himself in the same camp with statements like this: “In our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people which we cannot read? No, we must not.” David Cameron Note that he didn’t say terrorists, he said people. Kudos for the honesty. It’s a fact that terrorist blend in with the rest of the population and any attempt to weaken their security affects all of us. And it should be a no-brainer that a nation where the government can listen in on everybody is bad, at least if you have read Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. But why does WhatsApp occur over and over as an example of something that gives the snoops grey hair? It’s a mainstream instant messenger app that wasn’t built for security. There are also similar apps that focus on security and privacy, like Telegram, Signal and Wickr. Why isn’t Cameron raging about them? The answer is both simple and very significant. But it may not be obvious at fist. Internet was by default insecure and you had to use tools to fix that. The pre-Snowden era was the golden age for agencies tapping into the Internet backbone. Everything was open and unencrypted, except the really interesting stuff. Encryption itself became a signal that someone was of interest, and the authorities could use other means to find out what that person was up to. More and more encryption is being built in by default now when we, thanks to Snowden, know the real state of things. A secured connection between client and server is becoming the norm for communication services. And many services are deploying end-to-end encryption. That means that messages are secured and opened by the communicating devices, not by the servers. Stuff stored on the servers are thus also safe from snoops. So yes, people with Cameron’s mindset have a real problem here. Correctly implemented end-to-end encryption can be next to impossible to break. But there’s still one important thing that tapping the wire can reveal. That’s what communication tool you are using, and this is the important point. WhatsApp is a mainstream messenger with security. Telegram, Signal and Wickr are security messengers used by only a small group people with special needs. Traffic from both WhatsApp and Signal, for example, are encrypted. But the fact that you are using Signal is the important point. You stick out, just like encryption-users before. WhatsApp is the prime target of Cameron’s wrath mainly because it is showing us how security will be implemented in the future. We are quickly moving towards a net where security is built in. Everyone will get decent security by default and minding your security will not make you a suspect anymore. And that’s great! We all need protection in a world with escalating cyber criminality. WhatsApp is by no means a perfect security solution. The implementation of end-to-end encryption started in late 2014 and is still far from complete. The handling of metadata about users and communication is not very secure. And there are tricks the wire-snoops can use to map peoples’ network of contacts. So check it out thoroughly before you start using it for really hot stuff. But they seem to be on the path to become something unique. Among the first communication solutions that are easy to use, popular and secure by default. Apple's iMessage is another example. So easy that many are using it without knowing it, when they think they are sending SMS-messages. But iMessage’s security is unfortunately not flawless either.   Safe surfing, Micke   PS. Yes, weakening security IS a bad idea. An excellent example is the TSA luggage locks, that have a master key that *used to be* secret.   Image by Sam Azgor

November 26, 2015
Secure Wordpress site, mobile blogging, tablet by the bay

This is why you need to protect your WordPress username and password

If you run a Wordpress site, you know that criminals around the world would love to use it to spread malware. Last month, F-Secure Labs spike in "Flash redirectors" that automatically redirect the visitor to a site with the goal of infecting them with malware, in this case the Angler exploit kit. The source was compromised websites -- specifically Wordpress sites. This isn't a new find for the Labs but what is unique is one of the tactics of the attack -- seeking out Wordpress usernames. Why? "After obtaining the username, the only thing that the attacker would need to figure out is the password," Patricia from The Labs explains. "The tool used by the attacker attempted around 1200 passwords before it was able to successfully login." If you happen to have one of those passwords, bam. You site is serving up malware, which is not only harmful to your visitors, it can cost you tons of traffic as Google delists you. Keeping your server and plugins up to date is essential for avoiding most attacks. Beyond that, this attack points to the need to both protect your Wordpress username AND always use a unique, strong password. "Furthermore, in order to defend against this kind of WordPress attack, you should not use a WordPress admin account for publishing anything," Patricia notes. You can also protect your server from enumeration attacks that discover the usernames of your bloggers. To see how to do that, visit our News from the Labs blog. It's pretty amazing what people can figure out about you with just your login and password. But when you're running a website, which can be part or all of your livelihood, the only way to keep from handing criminals the key to your front door is to make sure your password can't be figured out by anyone but you. And turn on two-step authentication if you haven't already. Cheers, Jason

November 26, 2015

POLL – Is it OK for security products to collect data from your device?

We have a dilemma, and maybe you want to help us. I have written a lot about privacy and the trust relationship between users and software vendors. Users must trust the vendor to not misuse data that the software handles, but they have very poor abilities to base that trust on any facts. The vendor’s reputation is usually the most tangible thing available. Vendors can be split into two camps based on their business model. The providers of “free” services, like Facebook and Google, must collect comprehensive data about the users to be able to run targeted marketing. The other camp, where we at F-Secure are, sells products that you pay money for. This camp does not have the need to profile users, so the privacy-threats should be smaller. But is that the whole picture? No, not really. Vendors of paid products do not have the need to profile users for marketing. But there is still a lot of data on customers’ devices that may be relevant. The devices’ technical configuration is of course relevant when prioritizing maintenance. And knowing what features actually are used helps plan future releases. And we in the security field have additional interests. The prevalence of both clean and malicious files is important, as well as patterns related to malicious attacks. Just to name a few things. One of our primary goals is to guard your privacy. But we could on the other hand benefit from data on your device. Or to be precise, you could benefit from letting us use that data as it contributes to better protection overall. So that’s our dilemma. How to utilize this data in a way that won’t put your privacy in jeopardy? And how to maintain trust? How to convince you that data we collect really is used to improve your protection? Our policy for this is outlined here, and the anti-malware product’s data transfer is documented in detail in this document. In short, we only upload data necessary to produce the service, we focus on technical data and won’t take personal data, we use hashing of the data when feasible and we anonymize data so we can’t tell whom it came from. The trend is clearly towards lighter devices that rely more on cloud services. Our answer to that is Security Cloud. It enables devices to off-load tasks to the cloud and benefit from data collected from the whole community. But to keep up with the threats we must develop Security Cloud constantly. And that also means that we will need more info about what happens on your device. That’s why I would like to check what your opinion about data upload is. How do you feel about Security Cloud using data from your device to improve the overall security for all users? Do you trust us when we say that we apply strict rules to the data upload to guard your privacy?   [polldaddy poll=9196371]   Safe surfing, Micke   Image by balticservers.com  

November 24, 2015