Image from EFF

Is e-mail OK for secret stuff?

Image by EFF

Image by EFF

Short answer: No. Slightly longer answer: Maybe, but not without additional protection.

E-mail is one of the oldest and most widely used services on Internet. It was developed during an era when we were comfortably unaware of viruses, worms, spam, e-crime and the NSA. And that is clearly visible in the architecture and blatant lack of security features. Without going deep into technical details, one can conclude that the security of plain e-mail is next to non-existing. The mail standards do by themselves not provide any kind of encryption or verification of the communicating parties’ identity. All this can be done with additional protection arrangements. But are you doing it and do you know how to?

Here’s some points to keep in mind.

  • Hackers or intelligence agencies may tap into the traffic between you and the mail server. This is very serious as it could reveal even your user ID and password, enabling others to log in to the server and read your stored mails. The threat can be mitigated by ensuring that the network traffic is encrypted. Most mail client programs offer an option to use SSL- or TLS-encryption for sent and received mail. See the documentation for your mail program or service provider. If you use webmail in your browser, you should make sure the connection is encrypted. See this article for more details. If it turns out that you can’t use encryption with your current service provider, then start looking for another one promptly.
  • Your mails are stored at the mail server. There are three main points that affect how secure they are there. Your own password and how secret you keep it, the service provider’s security policies and the legislation in the country where the service provider operates. Most ordinary service providers offer decent protection against hackers and other low-resource parties, but less protection against authorities in their home country.
  • Learn how to recognize phishing attacks as that is one of the most common reasons for mail accounts to be compromised.
  • There are some mail service providers that focus purely on secrecy and use some kind of encryption to keep messages secret. Hushmail (Canada) and Mega’s (New Zealand) planned service are good examples. Lavabit and Silent Mail used to provide this kind of service too, but they have been closed down under pressure from officials. This recent development shows that services run in the US can’t be safe. US authorities can walk in at any time and request your data or force them to implement backdoors, no matter what security measures the service provider is implementing. And it’s foolish to believe that this is used only against terrorists. It’s enough that a friend of a friend of a friend is targeted for some reason or that there is some business interest that competes with American interests.
  • The safest way to deal with most of the threats is to use end-to-end encryption. For this you need some additional software like Pretty Good Privacy, aka. PGP. It’s a bit of a hassle as both parties need to have compatible encryption programs and exchange encryption keys. But when it’s done you have protection for both stored messages and messages in transit. PGP also provides strong authentication of the message sender in addition to secrecy. This is the way to go if you deal with hot stuff frequently.
  • An easier way to transfer secret stuff is to attach encrypted files. You can for example use WinZip or 7-Zip to create encrypted packages. Select the AES encryption algorithm (if you have a choice) and make sure you use a hard to guess password that is long enough and contains upper and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters. Needless to say, do not send the password to the other party by mail. Agreeing on the password is often the weakest link and you should pay attention to it. Even phone and SMS may be unsafe if an intelligence agency is interested in you.
  • Remember that traffic metadata may reveal a lot even if you have encrypted the content. That is info about who you have communicated with and at what time. The only protection against this is really to use anonymous mail accounts that can’t be linked to you. This article touches on the topic.
  • Remember that there always are at least two parties in communication. And no chain is stronger than its weakest link. It doesn’t matter how well you secure your mail if you send a message to someone with sloppy security.
  • Mails are typically stored in plaintext on your own computer if you use a mail client program. Webmail may also leave mail messages in the browser cache. This means that you need to care about the computer’s security if you deal with sensitive information. Laptops and mobile devices are especially easy to lose or steal, which can lead to data leaks. Data can also leak through malware that has infected your computer.
  • If you work for a company and use mail services provided by them, then the company should have implemented suitable protection. Most large companies run their own internal mail services and route traffic between sites over encrypted connections. You do not have to care yourself in this case, but it may be a good idea to check it. Just ask the IT guy at the coffee table if NSA can read your mails and see how he reacts.

Finally. Sit down and think about what kind of mail secrecy you need. Imagine that all messages you have sent and received were made public. What harm would that cause? Would it be embarrassing to you or your friends? Would it hurt your career or employer? Would it mean legal problems for you or your associates? (No, you do not need to be criminal for this to happen. Signing a NDA may be enough.) Would it damage the security of your country?  Would it risk the life of you or others? And harder to estimate, can any of this stuff cause you harm if it’s stored ten or twenty years and then released in a world that is quite different from today?

At this point you can go back to the list above and decide if you need to do something to improve your mail security.

Safe surfing,
Micke

More posts from this topic

Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 9.12.30 AM

GameOver ZeuS: The Kind of Game You Don’t Want On Your Computer

Unlike Team Fortress 2 or Doom, two of the most popular PC games of all time, GameOver ZeuS is not a game you can buy online or would willingly download on to your computer. What is GameOver ZeuS? While we’ve talked about banking Trojans before, none have been as detrimental to users as the GameOver ZeuS or GOZ Trojan, which initially began infecting users in 2012. Gameover ZeuS is designed to capture banking credentials from infected computers, and make wire transfers to criminal accounts overseas. It was allegedly authored by Russian hacker Evgeniy Bogachev, who then implanted it on computers all around the world; building a network of infected machines - or bots - that his crime syndicate could control from anywhere. It’s predominately spread through spam e-mail or phishing messages. So far, it’s been estimated to scam people out of hundreds of millions of dollars and it’s only getting worse. It doesn’t stop there; Gameover ZeuS can also be modified by hackers to load different kinds of Trojans on to it. One such Trojan is a ransomware called CryptoLocker, which is a devastating malware that locks a user’s most precious files by encrypting all the files until he or she pays the hacker a ransom. In June 2014, the FBI, Europol, and the UK’s National Crime Agency announced they had been working closely with various security firms and academic researchers around the world and took action under a program dubbed “Operation Trovar.” This initiative temporarily disrupted the system that was spreading the Trojan and infecting computers, allowing a temporary pause in additional computers from being infected. However, computers that were already infected remained at risk, as they were still compromised. What’s next? The disruption of the GameOver ZeuS botnet was a great success in many ways, but it’s not over. Our security advisor, Sean Sullivan, worries that this temporary disruption was actually more dangerous than completely taking it down. “Without arresting Bogachev, Gameover ZeuS is still a huge threat and likely to evolve to become more dangerous. The hackers can just as easily program a future version of the Trojan to initiate a “self-destruct” order (like destroy every file on a computer) if the ransom isn’t paid, or if authorities try to intervene.” What can we do to protect our digital freedom? Beware of malicious spam and phishing attempts — don’t open any attachments within emails unless you are specifically expecting something. Check email attachments carefully, and make sure you don’t open any files that automatically launch, which frequently end in .exe Have an Internet security solution in place and keep it up to date Keep your Windows operating system and your Internet browser plugins updated Back up all of your personal files regularly Also, check your machines to be sure you do not carry the Gameover ZeuS Trojan. For more information on how this powerful Trojan works and how it is spread, check out this this video. [protected-iframe id="888198d18fd45eae52e6400a39fb4437-10874323-9129869" info="//www.youtube-nocookie.com/v/JhiPDbTIsqw?hl=en_US&version=3&rel=0" width="640" height="360"] Have more questions? Ask us here on the blog.  

Sep 20, 2014
screen-shot-2014-09-18-at-10-35-00-am

Freedome now provides one-button VPN protection for iOS 8 — and Asia

This has been a huge week for Freedome. First we added virtual locations in Hong Kong and Singapore. Then the app became available across Asia. Now we're fully iOS 8-compatible on day one. You could use Freedome to protect your private data and choose from 12 different virtual locations on iOS 7. But it could be a hassle, requiring you to switch profiles or possibly lose connection. On iOS 8, your Freedome VPN connects and stays connected. That's it. How does it work? This video walks you through the process of pressing one button and getting on with your life. This simplicity is now available to a huge percentage of the world's population that hasn't had a chance to try out Freedome for free. “As hundreds of millions of users in Asia are hopping online through their broadband wireless and hundreds of Wi-Fi hotspots covering cafes to airports, mobile users are seeking ways to provide more privacy to their online surfing habits, Freedome will be the answer to this," our Security Advisor Su Gim Goh said. Beyond protecting your data when you're connecting on unsecured networks, Freedome offers anti-tracking protection that cloaks your data from the sites you choose to use. “Users in Asia today demand their rights to keeping their data private," he said. "Most important of all, with F-Secure’s Freedome, you're not leaving digital footprints on websites like online stores and social media sites, making them more untrackable to the aggressive advertising and profiling services on the Internet in this region."

Sep 18, 2014
BY Jason
Unbenannt-1

16 ways SAFE protects your devices, your family and you

In the early twenty-first century, when hackers were mostly pranksters, having security software on your PC was mostly about saving you some trouble. In 2014, international crime syndicates regularly co-opt millions of computers in order to systematically steal banking information, take identities and hold files for ransom, security isn't about convenience. It's about giving our families the freedom to live our lives online with out the threat of strangers invading our lives, hijacking our time and money. An anti-virus on one PC is a good step. But who just uses one PC now? Many of us three different devices before breakfast. That's why we created F-Secure SAFE -- it's built to protect all the devices and all of the people in your family. The latest update of SAFE is designed to make it easier to install on infected computers for a smoother overall experience. It also gives your tools to keep your devices and family safe wherever they go. Since SAFE is such a dramatic expansion of what our traditional F-Secure Internet Security does we wanted to cover 16 ways it protects you, your family and your devices. And to celebrate the new SAFE launch, we're giving away one SAFE hoodie and a free year of SAFE on our Facebook page every day for 16 days beginning on September 16. Please read the rules and enter now. Here's how SAFE protects you, your devices and your family: PCs and laptops 1. Protection against ransomware Thanks to browsing protection, F-Secure SAFE protects you against malicious software that impersonates authorities, such as Interpol or the FBI, and may block your computer, demanding ransom for unblocking it and preventing you from accessing your files until you pay. Thanks to F-Secure SAFE, all known versions of this insidious type of malware can't get on your computer. 2. Protect your home computer in the same way your office computer is protected Your office computer is protected by software that safeguards it against viruses and protects corporate data against theft by criminals. SAFE gives you the same options on your home computer. 3. Limit the time your children spend on the Internet. If you think that your children may spend too much time browsing the internet or playing online games, SAFE will let you decide for how many hours they are allowed to do it every day. You can easily define in which hours exactly they connect to the Internet. If they try to go online during unapproved times, the computer will not connect to the Internet. 4. Online banking protection your bank knows you need Do you know that most banks recommend in terms of security is using paid anti-virus software when banking online? SAFE ensures you meet these recommendations. 5. Safeguard your memories  F-Secure Safe protects the photos and videos of your children or grandchildren against falling into the wrong hands. The built-in anti-virus application and protection against as-yet-unknown threats ensure that all of the memories collected on your computer are fully protected. Your files will never be destroyed, encoded to demand payment for decoding them, or intercepted in order to be published or to gain profit from distributing them. 6. Protect your children against adult content Define which sort of content can be accessed by your children, whether you're monitoring them or not. 7. Shop online without worry Thanks to protection against spyware and browsing protection, your credit card number is invisible to criminals. Now you can relax when shopping online, booking hotels or buying air tickets. Tablets 1. Control which apps your kids can install Keep games that involve virtual violence, sex or gambling off your child's device with a simple setting. 2. Decide which sites your child can visit  Even if they use tablets in their rooms, you can be sure that they visit no websites inappropriate for their age. 3. Protect your device against malware with browsing protection. Protect yourself from phishing scams, ransomware and malicious apps that could be triggered by visiting the wrong site. 4. Keep login data and online banking passwords secure SAFE protects your tablet against spyware that steals your bank login data. Smartphones 1. Find your missing phone. Locate your lost phone and make sure no one can access your data should your device be stolen. 2. Find your child Check the location of your child’s phone from our simple web portal. 3. Avoid surprising charges Are you concerned that your children may install games than require additional payments? F-Secure Safe lets you control which software is installed on their phones. 4. Block calls and text messages from unwanted numbers Start your own "Do not call" list with this feature that allows you decide who has access to you through your phone. 5. Keep your phone malware free More than 99 percent of all mobile malware targets Android, which is the second most targeted platform in the world behind Windows. With SAFE, you have protection from increasingly complex ransomware and trojans designed to get inside your phone then your wallet. You can try F-Secure SAFE for free now. Cheers, Sandra

Sep 15, 2014