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Original author: 
Casey Johnston

Few Internet frustrations are so familiar as the password restriction. After creating a few (dozen) logins for all our Web presences, the use of symbols, mixed cases, and numbers seems less like a security measure and more like a torture device when it comes to remembering a complex password on a little-used site. But at least that variety of characters keeps you safe, right? As it turns out, there is some contrary research that supports both how frustrating these restrictions are and suggests it’s possible that the positive effect of complexity rules on security may not be as great as long length requirements.

Let's preface this with a reminder: the conventional wisdom is that complexity trumps length every time, and this notion is overwhelmingly true. Every security expert will tell you that “Supercalifragilistic” is less secure than “gj7B!!!bhrdc.” Few password creation schemes will render any password uncrackable, but in general, length does less to guard against crackability than complexity.

A password is not immune from cracking simply by virtue of being long—44,991 passwords recovered from a dump of LinkedIn hashes last year were 16 characters or more. The research we describe below refers specifically to the effects of restrictions placed by administrators on password construction on their crackability. By no means does it suggest that a long password is, by default, more secure than a complex one.

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Original author: 
Dan Goodin

greyweed

Recently discovered malware targeting Android smartphones exploits previously unknown vulnerabilities in the Google operating system and borrows highly advanced functionality more typical of malicious Windows applications, making it the world's most sophisticated Android Trojan, a security researcher said.

The infection, named Backdoor.AndroidOS.Obad.a, isn't very widespread at the moment. The malware gives an idea of the types of smartphone malware that are possible, however, according to Kaspersky Lab expert Roman Unuchek in a blog post published Thursday. Sharply contrasting with mostly rudimentary Android malware circulating today, the highly stealthy Obad.a exploits previously unknown Android bugs, uses Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections to spread to near-by handsets, and allows attackers to issue malicious commands using standard SMS text messages.

"To conclude this review, we would like to add that Backdoor.AndroidOS.Obad.a looks closer to Windows malware than to other Android trojans, in terms of its complexity and the number of unpublished vulnerabilities it exploits," Unuchek wrote. "This means that the complexity of Android malware programs is growing rapidly alongside their numbers."

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Original author: 
Jon Brodkin

Aurich Lawson / Thinkstock

It's time to ask yourself an uncomfortable question: how many of your passwords are so absurdly weak that they might as well provide no security at all? Those of you using "123456," "abc123," or even just "password" might already know it's time to make some changes. And using pets' names, birth dates, your favorite sports teams, or adding a number or capital letter to a weak password isn't going to be enough.

Don’t worry, we're here to help. We’re going to focus on how to use a password manager, software that can help you go from passwords like "111111" to "6WKBTSkQq8Zn4PtAjmz7" without making you want to pull out all your hair. For good measure, we'll talk about how creating fictitious answers to password reset questions (e.g. mother's maiden name) can make you even more resistant to hacking.

Why you can’t just wing it anymore

A password manager helps you create long, complicated passwords for websites and integrates into your browser, automatically filling in your usernames and passwords. Instead of typing a different password into each site you visit, you only have to remember one master password.

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Original author: 
Megan Geuss


List your passwords alphabetically, so it's easy for you and others to find them!

Give three password crackers a list of 16,000 cryptographically hashed passwords and ask them to come up with the plaintext phrases they correspond to. That's what Ars did this week in Dan Goodin's Anatomy of a hack: How crackers ransack passwords like “qeadzcwrsfxv1331.” Turns out, with just a little skill and some good hardware, three prominent password crackers were able to decode up to 90 percent of the list using common techniques.

The hashes the security experts used were converted using the MD5 cryptographic hash function, something that puzzled our readers a bit. MD5 is seen as a relatively weak hash function compared to hashing functions like bcrypt. flunk wrote, "These articles are interesting but this particular test isn't very relevant. MD5 wasn't considered a secure way to hash passwords 10 years ago, let alone now. Why wasn't this done with bcrypt and salting? That's much more realistic. Giving them a list of passwords that is encrypted in a way that would be considered massively incompetent in today's IT world isn't really a useful test."

To this, Goodin replied that plenty of Web services employ weak security practices: "This exercise was entirely relevant given the huge number of websites that use MD5, SHA1, and other fast functions to hash passwords. Only when MD5 is no longer used will exercises like this be irrelevant." Goodin later went on to cite the recent compromises of "LinkedIn, eHarmony, and LivingSocial," which were all using "fast hashing" techniques similar to MD5.

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Original author: 
Dan Goodin


Thanks to the XKCD comic, every password cracking word list in the world probably has correcthorsebatterystaple in it already.

Aurich Lawson

In March, readers followed along as Nate Anderson, Ars deputy editor and a self-admitted newbie to password cracking, downloaded a list of more than 16,000 cryptographically hashed passcodes. Within a few hours, he deciphered almost half of them. The moral of the story: if a reporter with zero training in the ancient art of password cracking can achieve such results, imagine what more seasoned attackers can do.

Imagine no more. We asked three cracking experts to attack the same list Anderson targeted and recount the results in all their color and technical detail Iron Chef style. The results, to say the least, were eye opening because they show how quickly even long passwords with letters, numbers, and symbols can be discovered.

The list contained 16,449 passwords converted into hashes using the MD5 cryptographic hash function. Security-conscious websites never store passwords in plaintext. Instead, they work only with these so-called one-way hashes, which are incapable of being mathematically converted back into the letters, numbers, and symbols originally chosen by the user. In the event of a security breach that exposes the password data, an attacker still must painstakingly guess the plaintext for each hash—for instance, they must guess that "5f4dcc3b5aa765d61d8327deb882cf99" and "7c6a180b36896a0a8c02787eeafb0e4c" are the MD5 hashes for "password" and "password1" respectively. (For more details on password hashing, see the earlier Ars feature "Why passwords have never been weaker—and crackers have never been stronger.")

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Original author: 
Dan Goodin

Josh Chin

The Chinese hackers who breached Google's corporate servers 41 months ago gained access to a database containing classified information about suspected spies, agents, and terrorists under surveillance by the US government, according to a published report.

The revelation came in an article published Monday by The Washington Post, and it heightens concerns about the December, 2009 hack. When Google disclosed it a few weeks later, the company said only that the operatives accessed Google "intellectual property"—which most people took to mean software source code—and Gmail accounts of human rights activists.

Citing officials who agreed to speak on the condition that they not be named, Washington Post reporter Ellen Nakashima said the assets compromised in the attack also included a database storing years' worth of information about US surveillance targets. The goal, according to Monday's report, appears to be unearthing the identities of Chinese intelligence operatives in the US who were being tracked by American law enforcement agencies.

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Original author: 
Dan Goodin

A website that accepts payment in exchange for knocking other sites offline is perfectly legal, the proprietor of the DDoS-for-hire service says. Oh, it also contains a backdoor that's actively monitored by the FBI.

Ragebooter.net is one of several sites that openly accepts requests to flood sites with huge amounts of junk traffic, KrebsonSecurity reporter Brian Krebs said in a recent profile of the service. The site, which accepts payment by PayPal, uses so-called DNS reflection attacks to amplify the torrents of junk traffic. The technique requires the attacker to spoof the IP address of lookup requests and bounce them off open domain name system servers. This can generate data floods directed at a target that are 50 times bigger than the original request.

Krebs did some sleuthing and discovered the site was operated by Justin Poland of Memphis, Tennessee. The reporter eventually got an interview and found Poland was unapologetic.

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Original author: 
Jon Brodkin


Prototype of a system for preventing ATM theft.

Reuters

A criminal serving a five-year sentence "for supplying gadgets to an organized crime gang used to conceal ATM skimmers" has invented a device that prevents ATMs from being susceptible to such thefts, Reuters reported today.

Valentin Boanta, who is six months into his sentence in a Romanian prison, developed what he calls the SRS (Secure Revolving System) which changes the way ATM machines read bank cards to prevent the operation of skimming devices that criminals hide inside ATMs.

Boanta's arrest in 2009 spurred him to develop the anti-theft device to make amends. "When I got caught I became happy. This liberation opened the way to working for the good side," Boanta told Reuters. "Crime was like a drug for me. After I was caught, I was happy I escaped from this adrenaline addiction. So that the other part, in which I started to develop security solutions, started to emerge."

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Original author: 
Dan Goodin

Wikipedia

Federal authorities have accused eight men of participating in 21st-Century Bank heists that netted a whopping $45 million by hacking into payment systems and eliminating withdrawal limits placed on prepaid debit cards.

The eight men formed the New York-based cell of an international crime ring that organized and executed the hacks and then used fraudulent payment cards in dozens of countries to withdraw the loot from automated teller machines, federal prosecutors alleged in court papers unsealed Thursday. In a matter of hours on two separate occasions, the eight defendants and their confederates withdrew about $2.8 million from New York City ATMs alone. At the same times, "cashing crews" in cities in at least 26 countries withdrew more than $40 million in a similar fashion.

Prosecutors have labeled this type of heist an "unlimited operation" because it systematically removes the withdrawal limits normally placed on debit card accounts. These restrictions work as a safety mechanism that caps the amount of loss that banks normally face when something goes wrong. The operation removed the limits by hacking into two companies that process online payments for prepaid MasterCard debit card accounts issued by two banks—the National Bank of Ras Al-Khaimah PSC in the United Arab Emirates and the Bank of Muscat in Oman—according to an indictment filed in federal court in the Eastern District of New York. Prosecutors didn't identify the payment processors except to say one was in India and the other in the United States.

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Original author: 
Casey Johnston


Why are there so many password restrictions to navigate? Characters want to be free.

Daremoshiranai

The password creation process on different websites can be a bit like visiting foreign countries with unfamiliar social customs. This one requires eight characters; that one lets you have up to 64. This one allows letters and numbers only; that one allows hyphens. This one allows underscores; that one allows @#$&%, but not ^*()[]!—and heaven forbid you try to put a period in there. Sometimes passwords must have a number and at least one capital letter, but no, don’t start the password with the number—what do you think this is, Lord of the Flies?

You can’t get very far on any site today without making a password-protected account for it. Using the same password for everything is bad practice, so new emphasis has emerged on passwords that are easy to remember. Sentences or phrases of even very simple words have surfaced as a practical approach to this problem. As Thomas Baekdal wrote back in 2007, a password that’s just a series of words can be “both highly secure and user-friendly.” But this scheme, as well as other password design tropes like using symbols for complexity, does not pass muster at many sites that specify an upper limit for password length.

Most sites seem to have their own particular password bugaboos, but it’s rarely, if ever, clear why we can’t create passwords as long or short or as varied or simple as we want. (Well, the argument against short and simple is concrete, but the others are not immediately clear). Regardless of the password generation scheme, there can be a problem with it: a multi-word passphrase is too long and has no symbols; a gibberish password is too short, and what’s the % doing in there?

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