Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Are Open Source Applications More Secure?

Full Disclosure: I am a long time Firefox user

Recently, there have been serious security advisories for Chrome, Safari, and Internet Explorer:

While a patch is now available for Safari (and perhaps Chrome), the community is still waiting on a fix from Microsoft.

Browsers, and Internet Explorer in particular, are the most commonly used application in the world. Additionally, most web users visit one of the top 500 sites at least once a day. This intersection makes for a very attractive target for criminals. At any given moment, the site you are visiting, even the site you are using to read this post, could be attacking you through your browser and trying to seed your system with malware.

Your first line of defense is a secure browser. I can't prove this easily, but I think an open-source browser like Firefox will always be more secure than a proprietary browser.

My advice:
  1. Keep your browser up to date, note ie8 is not exposed by this current vulnerability
  2. Keep your OS up to date
  3. Run some sort of host-based intrusion protection system, if you have one of the consumer security suites you have this
  4. Run at least a basic network firewall
  5. Businesses should run a network intrusion protection system
For the really advanced users out there:

Make use of virtualization software and run a special purpose virtual machine for your banking and financial applications, run another virtual machine for casual web browsing and entertainment. Never ever browse the web using your host system.

One last piece of advice:

Don't forget to wear some green today!


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Imagine a World where passwords were useless

Recently, in the press:
March 12, The Register – (International) SSD tools crack passwords 100 times
Password-cracking tools optimised to work with SSDs have achieved speeds up to 100 times quicker than previously possible. After optimizing its rainbow tables of password hashes to make use of SSDs Swiss security firm Objectif Securite was able to crack 14-digit WinXP passwords with special characters in just 5.3 seconds. Objectif Securite spokesman told Heise Security that the result was 100 times faster than possible with their old 8GB Rainbow Tables for XP hashes. The exercise illustrated that the speed of hard discs rather than processor speeds was the main bottleneck in password cracking based on password hash lookups. Objectif’s test rig featured an ageing Athlon 64 X2 4400+ with an SSD and optimised tables containing 80GB of password hashes. The system supports a brute force attack of 300 billion passwords per second, and is claimed to be 500 times faster than a password cracker from Russian firm Elcomsoft that takes advantages of the number crunching prowess of a graphics GPU from NVIDIA.
(By the way, SSD stands for Solid-State Drive -- a faster way to store data)

An SSD is much faster than a hard drive but orders of magnitude slower than fast RAM, so if these folks ran the same test with the Rainbow Tables in local RAM they'd be cracking the same passwords in 0.0053 seconds (unless this moved the performance bottleneck to the CPU).

If you want a solution, I recommend something like this.