806152_48409889

What is two-factor authentication and why should I care?

806152_48409889The password is a really old way to protect computer systems, yet many systems we use rely solely on them when authenticating users. A simple password might have been a good idea when we used only a handful of systems, but times are changing. Today we need accounts for all the social media we are on, the mail accounts, accounts for on-line shops, the bank, the workplace, you name it… Frankly speaking, I have no idea how many on-line accounts I have. And I can make one confession. I use the same password on some of them, even if the important ones naturally have strong unique passwords.

And here we are at the core problem with passwords. They should be complex enough to withstand brute force and dictionary attacks (that is when hackers systematically try a large number of passwords in hope of finding the right one) and they should be different on all systems you use (to limit the damage if one account is compromised). Many complex passwords and limited brain capacity, that doesn’t work. There are systems to create and remember many complex passwords, but many people aren’t motivated enough to use them. That’s one reason why two-factor authentication is spreading fast.

Another reason to raise the security is that hackers may target a particular system. They may break into it to steal passwords or use phishing techniques to trick you into revealing your password to them. Or plant a keylogger in your system. They may get the password, but still fail to get access to your account if you use two-factor authentication.

But what is two-factor authentication? Let’s start with some theory. An authentication mechanism can use several factors like what you know (a password you remember), what you have (a smartcard or a mechanical key) or what you are (biometrics, retina or fingerprint scans for example). A two-factor or multi-factor authentication system uses at least two of these factors. The best known example is an ATM-card that you have combined with a PIN-code that you know.

The most common way to utilize this for an on-line service is to rely on your mobile phone. You start by entering your user ID and password normally. After that the system sends a unique one-time code to your phone. You type the code and get access to the system. Your phone is the “what you have” -item as the message is directed to that particular device and can’t be read by others. This requires two things; that you have registered your phone number with the service and that you have turned on two-factor authentication. Some services do promote this option actively and ask if you want to use it.

So should I turn it on? Yes, if the service is important to you. You gain a lot of security for a quite small extra effort. You may have noticed several news reports lately about hacked Twitter-accounts. One of the incidents did even impact the stock market. Twitter happens to be one of the major on-line services that doesn’t support two-factor authentication yet. Many of these incidents could have been avoided if they had support for it. Needless to say, if you tweet for a global news agency you really need more security than just a password. But most ordinary people have services that also are important enough to justify this extra security.

Nothing is perfect so what are the downsides with two-factor authentication? The extra effort to type the code after login is of course obvious. But many systems mitigate this by remembering your device and only requiring the code when using a new device. You also must have your phone with you when you log in, which you probably have anyway. Except if you have lost it, which could prevent you from accessing your accounts. Some configuration settings in your browser may also prevent two-factor authentication from working or force you to authenticate every time you log in, even on the same device. Apps that access your account may require some extra attention. They need an extra application specific password that you can create under security settings in the account’s web interface. And last but not least. The service provider must know your phone number, which normally is linked directly to your true identity. This is usually OK, but becomes a problem if you want to be truly anonymous on the site, or have other reasons to not trust them with your number.

And remember that two-factor authentication improves security a lot, but there is no such thing as perfect security. The skimming attacks against ATMs is a classic example. The malware Perkele targets Android devices and works together with desktop malware to defeat on-line banks. Perkele proves that on-line services’ two-factor authentication can be attacked, but this is not a major threat yet.

So the verdict is that two-factor authentication is good. Turn it on if you can. Here’s some examples of where to look for these settings:

Facebook: Security settings / Login approvals.
Google: Accounts / Security / 2-step verification.
MS Hotmail/Live: Micosoft Account / Security info / Two-step verification.
WordPress: Settings / Security / Two Step Authentication.
Twitter: Not supported yet.😦

Safe surfing,
Micke

UPDATE: Twitter got their act together just hours after posting this article. Now they also provide two-factor authentication. Great!🙂

UPDATE2: Seems like Twitter was in a rush to get two-factor authentication out. The implementation is still far from perfect. But it’s a step in the right direction. I’m sure they will get things right, let’s hope it doesn’t take too long.

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Is Search Engine Result Link You’re About to Click on Safe?

Two of the top five sites on the internet are search engines, which makes a lot sense. We depend on them to find everything from the news to toothpaste to a place to eat dinner. According to internetlivestats.com, Google processes over 3.5 billion searches worldwide every day. Its rival Bing is rising to become the second largest search engine, accounting for 33% of all search queries performed. Now here’s the interesting part. Given these billions and billions of queries, can you be sure that all these search results 'harmless'? When you are clicking on a link Google, Bing or Yahoo! gives you, how do you know you are about to visit a site that is safe? You can't That's why you take simple precautions to make sure you don’t unintentionally visit malicious sites. The most convenient way to stay safe while using search engines is by using a free website safety rating service, such as F-Secure Search. F-Secure Search pre-screens the search results returned by a search engine and gives each result a safety rating. Harmful sites that try to violate your privacy or harm your device are clearly marked, so you know which sites are safe and which to avoid, even before you click on a link! Adult content is automatically blocked from search results, so you have peace of mind when your children are using F-Secure Search. Also, all communication between you and F-Secure is encrypted, so there’s no room for snooping. To help you keep both your personal details and your PC protected from malicious sites, simply go to search.f-secure.com and start using it today. You can also use F-Secure Search as the default search engine in your browser. And while we're you're thinking about surfing safely, take a minute to make sure your browsers are up-to-date. With a safe browser and safe results, you'll be surfing safer than ever.

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Facebook Phone Number

Why Does Facebook Want My Phone Number?

Facebook has become the most popular social network in the history of known universe for a pretty simple reason: It appeals to our egos. Our egos love to be connected, recognized and comforted. But those needs are generally tiny compared to our desire to be flattered. And one way Facebook continually flatters us is by asking for our phone number -- continually. Like all the time. But like any stranger seeking your digits, the site may have ulterior motives. Ask Facebook, "Why am I being asked to add my phone number to my account?" and its help page will tell you this: Adding your phone number to your account will help keep your account secure, make it easier for you to connect with friends and family on Facebook and make it easier to regain access to your account if you have trouble logging in. That's true. But are there other reason that it might want this piece of information -- reasons that appeal directly to Facebook's bottom line? Almost certainly. In fact, the business case for getting your phone number may be so strong that it's likely at least part of the reason for the change in terms and conditions for WhatsApp, which is owned by the technology giant. So what does Facebook get when it gets your phone number? Potentially lots and lots of information about you -- possibly even your favorite breakfast cereal. Watch our chief research office Mikko Hypponen break down what the data scientists that help social networks sell ads learn about you from your number. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbF0sVdOjRw?rel=0&start=762&end=&autoplay=0] Even if you don't mind being marketed at with ruthless efficiency, there may be other ways Facebook could use your number that you might want to consider. You might have heard about the therapist who began seeing her patients pop in Facebook's "People You May Know" module. How did this happen? Fusion's Kashmir Hill suggests that "an algorithm analyzing this network of phone contacts might reasonably assume all these people are connected." And in this case the therapist didn't even remember giving her number to the site, but she had. If you're logged in, you can check if Facebook has your number here. This still could be some value to you in handing over your number. Two-factor authentication is generally a smart strategy for any account you want to protect -- and you need to offer your smartphone number to access the SMS messages you'll need to use. But remember: If you make your number available on Facebook, people can find you by searching it. So if you do use Facebook's two-factor authentication, you should consider hiding your phone number for anyone but yourself. To do this, go to your profile page, click "About" under your cover image and then in the left column click on "Contact and Basic Info". Next to your mobile number, click "Edit" and select "Only Me". This will make sure strangers won't find your number through your profile or vice versa. But it won't stop Facebook from knowing what your favorite breakfast cereal is. {Image by HighwaysEngland | Flickr]

September 9, 2016
BY 
Father lecturing son in bedroom

F2P can cost parents thousands of Euros – read this to avoid it

This is really an old problem, but it’s in the headlines again. Pokémon Go is yet another example of a “free” game with a business model based on in-app purchases. These games are also known as F2P, standing for free-to-play. You can start playing, and get hooked, for free. But soon you run into a situation where you can’t proceed without buying virtual stuff in the game. The stuff you buy is virtual but the payment is very real money. This is no doubt a profitable model. Pokémon Go went straight to the top and for example Finland-based Supercell, maker of Clash of Clans, has constantly reported nice profits. This can naturally cause trouble for addicted adults, but the real problems arise when kids get hooked. There are numerous public stories about kids making purchases for hundreds or even thousands of Euros, often without even understanding how much they have spent. And the sinister part is that this can go on for a while until you get the credit card bill, and it’s too late. Your chances to get a refund are somewhere between slim and none. But how can this happen? Let’s take a look at the most common scenarios. Your kid has set up the new device and created the needed account with Apple or Google. Everything is fine until he or she needs an app that isn’t free. You enter your credit card on the kid’s device and make the purchase, but you don’t pay any attention to the security settings. This may give your kid carte blanche to buy anything he or she likes, and you pay the bill. You have entered your credit card but set up the kid’s store account so that a password only you know is required for every purchase. But there are some convenient settings that allow purchases without a password within a limited time window after the password has been entered. Kids learn very quickly to utilize this opportunity. Let’s assume the same setup as in the previous point, but with the correct security settings. Now the password is needed for every purchase. But the store account is still owned by the kid and the password can be reset. The password reset link will be sent to the kid’s mail or phone number. It’s carte blanche again with the new password. Ok, you create an account you own for the kids phone. It’s tied to your mail and phone number, so the password reset trick shouldn’t work anymore. You put down your phone and head for the toilet. Your kid has been waiting for the opportunity and initiates the password reset request. Your phone is there on the table wide open, with the reset link in the mail. You can figure out the rest yourself. And of course the simple alternative. You think the store password on your kid’s device is secret. But in reality it is either too easy to guess or someone has been looking over your shoulder. So there’s many things that can go wrong, but what can we do to avoid it? There are many ways to fight this problem, but this is in my opinion the best approach: Let the kid set up the store account on the device and set own passwords. Just like an adult would use a phone, except that there’s no payment method registered. Never enter your credit card number on the kid’s device. On Android, get familiar with Google Play Family. This feature enables you to purchase stuff for your kid on your own device. On iPhone, send apps or money as gifts. There may be applications that bypass the store and handle credit card transactions directly. This can typically be handled with vouchers or other prepaid payment methods instead. The application usually guides the users and list all supported methods. Let’s also take a look at the hard way. Follow these instructions if you for some reasons must have your credit card registered as a payment method on the kid’s device. Make sure the store is protected with a good password that only you know. Make sure the kid isn’t watching too closely when you enter it. Make sure the store is set up to require the password every time a purchase is made. Make sure the store account is attached to an e-mail only you have access to. Make sure the e-mail password is decent and not known to your kid. Make sure your phone’s security settings are decent. Use a PIN or password your kid doesn’t know and make sure it locks automatically quickly enough. Even better, do not have the e-mail of your kids store account on your phone. Access it through web mail when needed. So this is after all a quite complex issue. There are many variations and other ways to deal with the problem. Did I miss some simple and clever way? Write a comment if you think I did. And finally. Yes, there’s also many ways to lock the kids out of the store completely. This does no doubt solve some problems, but I don’t think it’s a good idea. They will after all live their lives in a world where digital devices and services are as natural as breathing. They deserve the opportunity to start practicing for that right now. Let them browse the store and discover all the fun stuff. And be part of the group and use all the same apps as their friends. Let them have fun with the phone and learn, even if they will learn some things the hard way. Don’t ruin it for them.     Safe surfing, Micke  

August 16, 2016
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