Category Archives: Data Security

If you use LastPass, it’s time to change your Master Password

I’ve been encouraging people to use password vault tools like LastPass for years. These browser plugins are great for keeping track of dozens of strong passwords (the hard-to-hack kind that nobody can remember) across all the websites you log in to.

However, LastPass recently announced they had discovered and blocked suspicious activity on their servers; “LastPass account email addresses, password reminders, server per user salts, and authentication hashes were compromised.”

Now, this could be bad, bad news IF users’ master passwords had been accessed in plain text form. However, LastPass uses some pretty robust encryption (that’s what that business about salts and hashes in the quote is about). They don’t keep your master password in plain text anywhere. In other words, even with the information that may have been compromised, thieves would have an awfully hard time using any of the information.

Still, the company is encouraging users to change their master passwords as soon as possible. This will make it impossible for the hackers to log in using the information they took, even if they managed to un-encrypt it (the chances of which are near zero).

I also encourage you to make your master password a strong password. You may have to write it down and keep it somewhere safe, but encrypted or not, a brute-force attack will plow through “password1” in well under a second. A strong master password can be irritating to type in, but it’s worth the trouble.

Anthem Data Breach: Let the scams begin

News of the massive data breach at insurance giant Anthem Inc. isn’t even a week old, and already the phishing scams have begun.

Phone calls and emails are already circulating that claim to represent Anthem and offer free identity theft protection to victims of the breach. These calls and emails are not from Anthem, but scammers attempting to obtain personal and financial information.

Anthem has stated that they will contact customers affected by the breach by mail over the next couple weeks.

That means postal mail, friends. The kind that’s on paper and comes in an envelope, delivered by that person your dog completely freaks out at six time a week. The letters will give you information on identity theft protection, as well as the next steps you should take.

If someone calls you on the telephone, they’re not from Anthem.

If you get an email message, it’s not from Anthem.

If you get a text message, that’s not from Anthem, either.

If some weirdo shows up at your door, they’re not from Anthem.

Okay, I don’t really think that last one is going to happen, but you never know. I’m trying to me preemptive, here.

Watch your mailbox if you’re a former or current Anthem (or Wellpoint) customer. The old-school mailbox. Any other communications that claim to be from Anthem are fraudulent.

You can also get information online here.

Data breach at Anthem, and it’s a bad one

Yesterday, health insurance leviathan Anthem Inc. announced that its databases had been hacked, and “tens of millions” of current and past customers (including Wellpoint customers, Anthem’s predecessor) could be affected.

This one is much worse than any of the major retail breaches you’ve heard about, because this time the hackers took names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth and addresses.  In other words, this means identity theft.

The retail breaches were irritating, sure. Your debit card might suddenly stop working, or you’d notice a fraudulent charge on your statement and you’d have to wait a few days to get that reversed. The stores would sign you up for free identity theft protection, which didn’t really help because it doesn’t block fraud on card transactions anyway. But you’d end up with a new debit or credit card.

The thieves in the Anthem breach didn’t get any credit card, debit card or account numbers, but the information they did take is exactly the information required to create false identities.

This could be much worse than not being able to use one of your cards for a couple weeks.

Anthem says it will notify affected customers by mail if their information was one of the affected accounts. When they offer free identity theft protection, this will be the time to take them up on it.

If you get a letter saying yours was one of the affected accounts, I would also recommend placing an identity theft alert or security freeze with the big three credit bureaus (Experian, Transunion, Equifax).

Maybe it’s time for “security freeze” to be the default setting for everyone, all the time. What happens after the single year of protection Anthem will (most likely) provide runs out? It’s not like the people who will end up buying this stolen data can’t just wait it out until after the protection expires. Maybe Anthem owes all of its customers free lifetime protection. Words like “very sophisticated external cyber attack” imply that the breach was unpreventable, but was it? We don’t know, and we might not ever.

At any rate, if you’re a current or former Anthem (or Wellpoint) customer, watch your mailbox for notification that your information has been compromised.

Sources:

Your card information has been stolen

Okay, so I can’t say for certain that you specifically have had your debit or credit card information stolen in a retail data breach.

But let me ask two questions:

  • Do you have a debit/credit card?
  • Do you ever use it to buy things in a store or restaurant?

If you answered YES to those, most likely one or more of your cards has been accessed during a data breach at some point.

If it hasn’t happened yet, it will. This is the world we live in right now.

Perhaps raising the stakes for retailers would help—I was not aware until recently that, for the most part, merchants bear none of the financial burden when their security practices lead to a massive data breach that exposes ten of millions of consumers’ card data to bad people. So they continue to allow single-authentication access to their point-of-sale machines, continue to use “password1” and “abc123” as their access codes, continue to just leave things as they are, because there is no reason not to.

So who pays for your replacement card? Who reimburses you for those fraudulent charges? Your bank or credit union do.

And then you pay for them, because this is a hard-and-fast rule of financial institutions: when they lose money, they will try to recover it from another source. So maybe a loan rate creeps up by a twentieth of a point, or a fee that used to be $2 is now $2.50. These may be tiny changes, but they still represent money you could have kept in your pocket.

Of course, financial institutions can be hacked, too. It happens. And those institutions pay for card reissue and reimbursement when it does. But it’s so much easier to mount a point-of-sale hack. Data breaches wouldn’t be such a common problem if it was too difficult—despite the word “hacker,” these criminals are not geniuses. There are too many of them.

The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) has mounted a campaign called “Stop the Data Breaches.” It’s worth a look.

Shouldn’t retailers bear some responsibility for data security, with as much consumer data as they handle every second?

It seems fair.

What can consumers do about data breaches?

Home Depot, come on down. You are the next contestant on The Security Is Not Right!

Okay, so maybe that’s not confirmed just yet, and Home Depot is staying sort of quiet because they don’t want everybody to stop buying things from them, but Krebs has a pretty good hunch, and his hunches usually turn out to be right. Like Dumbledore.

But even if it turns out the breach was from somewhere else, it still leaves a question hanging in the air: what do we, as consumers, do about point-of-sale data breaches?

The first step is to not freak out about identity theft. I’ve always maintained this distinction, and it’s very relevant here: the theft of debit or credit card information is NOT the same thing as identity theft.

With your card credentials, thieves can make fraudulent charges (at least until your card processor realizes what’s going on and blocks transactions). Without your Social Security number and date of birth, they’re not going to be able to open new accounts or any of the other actions associated with identity theft.

[Optional Cynical Rant: This also goes to show something about the corporations hit by these data breaches: when they so-magnanimously promise they’re going to give all their customers “twelve months of FREE identity theft protection” against any identity theft that results from the data breach, they already know they won’t have to deliver anything, because nobody is going to have their identity stolen with just a card number, expiration date, security code and their name. You can’t commit identity theft with only those details.]

Okay, so you’re not freaking out about identity theft, but you’re still freaking out about the possibility of fraudulent charges. You have my permission to do so. Fraudulent charges are, at best, still a major irritant that can cause you to be late paying bills and other hassles. You don’t want them to happen at all if you can help it.

You could stop paying with cards altogether, sure. Start carrying cash for every single transaction. Like grampaw done. But remember that cash has its own set of disadvantages. If you lose it, it’s gone. If someone steals it, it’s gone. You can’t buy anything online with it. You can’t buy anything on credit with it. Heck, it’s dirty.

So if that’s not your favorite option, what’s left?

Being vigilant.

(Like I’ve been saying for years.)

First, don’t give your information to someone just because they ask, whether in person, by telephone, email, text message, instant message, semaphore, telegraph or cave painting. That’s RULE ONE for the prevention of all forms of fraud.

Second, for every card you have, credit or debit, have online access and check it regularly. Your debit cards are issued by your credit union or bank—they will be happy to set you with online banking. Use a good password, follow RULE ONE, and check your accounts regularly. Sometimes they will catch fraud first, sometimes you will.

If you’ve shopped at a store that has its customers’ data compromised, look through your account history online and make note of when you used your card at that retailer, and be extra-watchful.

Third, be prepared if you’ve used a card at a retailer that was compromised. Have another form of payment handy, because if your card issuer detects possible fraud, they will probably deactivate the affected card immediately. If they don’t have a chance to notify you, and you’re already trying to make a purchase with that card, your transaction could be declined. And if you were trying to buy something important (like, I dunno….GAS) you could end up stranded (or at least white-knuckling it while you drive home on fumes…I’m not going to confirm whether I speak from harrowing personal experience or not).

Don’t freak out, follow RULE ONE, be vigilant and be prepared. That’s what you can do about data breaches as a consumer.

Further reading/sources:

Aaaaaand it’s time to change every password in the universe again…

Have you ever experienced déjà vu?

Have you ever experienced déjà vu?

Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

ANYWAY, doesn’t it seem like not too long ago that I told you to go ahead and change all your passwords, because data breaches (like the ones that hit Target Sally Beauty Experian) will be a common thing for quite some time?

Oh yeah. It was.

So now we have the Heartbleed bug, which affects websites running certain versions of OpenSSL on their servers. I won’t get into the technical details, mostly because I don’t know one thing about OpenSSL, but the effect for you, the Internet user and person-who-logs-into-websites, is this: about two-thirds of the entire Internet is/was affected by this vulnerability, and your login/password information could have been stolen over the past couple years or so.

Yes, this is very, very big.

So whattaya do about it? You change passwords after sites patch its OpenSSL software. Most sites are moving pretty quickly to install the patch, but some haven’t been as forthcoming when it comes to telling their users to change their passwords. Right now, this moment, go change the following passwords, if you have accounts there:

  • Facebook
  • Google/Gmail/YouTube
  • Yahoo!
  • OKCupid

Those are the big ones that were definitely using the vulnerable version of OpenSSL, and have now been patched. Change ’em now!

Amazon, Twitter, and some other big sites, however, are safe. They were never running the vulnerable software.

Of course, there are also countless other websites that were, so you need to check those out as well. You can enter a web address at https://lastpass.com/heartbleed and find out if it a site is affected. If you get anything but a “No” on the result page, you need to change your password, but try to find out if the site has been patched first. If you change it before they patch it, your account could still be vulnerable (and, if the site forces a password change later, you’ll just have to do it all over again).

And use strong passwords, too. I don’t have to tell you that, though, do I?

Just change all your passwords this weekend, okay?

The place I am typing this from is predicted to get yet another pile of snow and ice dumped on it this weekend, and I’m guessing most of the people who read this site are in the same situation.

There are some things to do right now to prepare for the impending Snow Event: make sure you’ve got some salt for the driveway, buy seven dozen eggs and a 55-gallon drum of milk (because, you know, you might not be able to leave the house for a whole 30 hours), and get your snowbound entertainments all lined up (The Shining is fun if you’re brave, or you could splurge on kind-of-expensive board games—Settlers of Catan is awesome if you’ve got three or four players available; I’ve heard there’s a football game on Sunday that a few people are interested in, too).

There are some things you can do while you’re stuck indoors, too, and this weekend, make changing every password you’ve got one of them.

See, there’s been another data breach, from Yahoo! this time. They say an “unspecified” number of accounts have been compromised, which probably will end up meaning all of them. Remember how the Target thing went from 40 million to 110 million? So you need to change your Yahoo! passwords, but there will be more major security breakdowns in the near future. There always are. So even if you’re not going to be stuck inside due to inclement weather this weekend, even if you don’t have a single Yahoo! account, it’s time to just change all your passwords.

Make all your passwords long, very random, don’t use real words, use numbers, upper- and lowercase letters, special characters, and do not use the same password for more than one account. Here’s a quick primer that should teach you everything you need to know about choosing a good password:

Bad Password: 123456
Bad Password: password
Bad Password: trustno1
Good Password: 6ZUNFPtjaWZPk$eAafBt8YhP
Good Password: KjV7$y!92#MqKS&YYSaW3MjtRmSPxR

Now, it’s going to be impossible to remember twenty different passwords (or even one) that look like those last two, so you’re going to have to find a way to record them, whether by carefully writing them in a notebook (that you keep in a different room than your computer), or by using a password manager like LastPass or Keeper (both of which will generate those stupid-long passwords for you). It doesn’t matter what method you use, just do it.

It’s a good idea to change passwords regularly, too. I’m even pretty bad about remembering to do it, but it’s a good idea to at least do it a few times a year. Even a super-strong password that would take a brute-force password guessing script a quadrillion years to guess might as well be “123456” as soon as some goofy company decides to keep its entire database of usernames and passwords in plain-text, unencrypted form, and somebody breaks in and gains access to it. This has happened in the past.

Stay vigilant. And warm.