is it safe?

Today’s title comes from the movie Marathon Man with Dustin Hoffman as the lead. I must admit that I haven’t seen it. The concept sounds scary enough, though: someone is expected to know information which they simply don’t possess. Somewhere in the movie the lead character is mistaken for a spy, perhaps and finds himself in a dentist chair where he is asked repeatedly this question.

Believe it or not, we have a very big security problem at the moment and few people are focusing much attention on it. Let me explain…

IPv6

IPV4

For a long time, we’ve all enjoyed the Internet. Packets of information are sent here and there. The underlying mechanism is usually called TCP/IP and that last “IP” part is described as version 4 or simply IPV4. Within all these specifications, there’s the concept of the sending computer’s address and the recipient’s. These “IP addresses” are critical to delivering content. A popular IP address is 8.8.8.8 which is Google’s primary DNS server. There are four numbers in each case, separated by periods.

Zipcodes

A good analogy here is the zipcode system in place at the United States Postal Service, for example. Some five-digit combination of codes like 90210 points to a specific post office. If you were fortunate enough to have a P.O. box there, 90210 plus that box number would allow you to receive your copy of Beverly Hills Magazine or similar.

Often, though, cities grow bigger and the USPS needs to break up zipcodes (re-issuing new ones) or other clever methods to accommodate more and more people. They decided to extend the five-digit system to add four more digits to the end. An example might be 90210-1234.

IPV6

In a similar fashion, the Internet got more popular and something needed to be done. We ran out of IP addresses a long time ago, to be honest. There’s only so many individual computers which may be addressed using those four numbers from the IPV4 section above.

For decades, they’ve been putting off doing anything serious about this problem because of some reasonably-good workarounds. The best of these is to have everyone inside their own homes, businesses and even colleges use what is essentially, an unusable set of IP addresses. The technical term is a private IP address range. Buy a Netgear router for your home, plug it in and I could reasonably guess that your new home router now has the IP address of 192.168.0.1 just like other consumers. In one way, it’s not really a valid, routable address but things just work because of some trickery involved.

So, making those four-number styles of IP addresses longer in theory might make everything better, right? For two decades now, various people have been pushing hard to add those extra numbers to everyone’s computers, to every router, to all routing software, to all computer operating systems, to all software development kits.

Imagine thousands and thousands of ants silently working hard to build something that most of us cannot see, don’t understand and then one day twenty years later we find out that some huge anthill has taken over. The work happened so slowly that we didn’t take much notice.

IPV6 is here and we didn’t even know it. In fact, few know anything about it at all.

Rest Inertia

Unfortunately, the current system is what everyone understands. If you ask the average computer geek to “issue an IPV6 address” you will be met by a blank stare, shortly followed by hostility in many cases. Nobody wants to deal with these new addresses. Nobody wants to test their computers with these new addresses. Nobody wants to test their software or their websites with these new addresses.

I will go further to suggest that nobody knows how to do any of these things.

Too Long, Didn’t Read

Here’s an excerpt from the Wikipedia page on IPV6. Part of the problem is that these technical descriptions are written by people who don’t understand that end-users ultimately must understand what’s being talked about.

The 128 bits of an IPv6 address are represented in 8 groups of 16 bits each. Each group is written as four hexadecimal digits (sometimes called hextets) and the groups are separated by colons (:). An example of this representation is 2001:0db8:0000:0000:0000:ff00:0042:8329.

For convenience, an IPv6 address may be abbreviated to shorter notations by application of the following rules.

  • One or more leading zeroes from any groups of hexadecimal digits are removed; this is usually done to either all or none of the leading zeroes. For example, the group 0042 is converted to 42.
  • Consecutive sections of zeroes are replaced with a double colon (::). The double colon may only be used once in an address, as multiple use would render the address indeterminate. RFC5952 recommends that a double colon not be used to denote an omitted single section of zeroes.

An example of application of these rules:

Initial address: 2001:0db8:0000:0000:0000:ff00:0042:8329
After removing all leading zeroes in each group: 2001:db8:0:0:0:ff00:42:8329
After omitting consecutive sections of zeroes: 2001:db8::ff00:42:8329

The loopback address, 0000:0000:0000:0000:0000:0000:0000:0001, may be abbreviated to ::1 by using both rules.

As an IPv6 address may have more than one representation, the IETF has issued a proposed standard for representing them in text.

For most computer professionals, avoidance has been their interaction with this feature.

Security

The problem, then, is our network security globally. Silently, people are adding a routing feature into everything-that-is. Usually, when something like that happens, all computer professionals then are trained about how this new feature works. That definitely has not happened. We are in for such trouble on this one.

Update Fatigue

Another contributing factor to all this is the recent trend to push updates to end-users relentlessly, daily, (too often). For many people, toggling on some auto-update feature lowers their own sense of being nagged into daily updates. The “magic” just seems to happen and the users assume that literally hundreds of people have tested the safety of everything before it’s put out there for an upgrade. The dirty little secret is that it isn’t tested at all in areas like IPV6.

Conclusion

In short, turn off IPV6 support from every computer, router, device and smartphone in your life. Do it as soon as you learn how to do so.

Turn off IPV6 support on everything you own and everything you can control within your life. It’s a ticking time bomb from the standpoint of Internet security.

There will be a time when this new technology is safe. I’m guessing that this will be at least one decade in the future.

For more information, search for “turn off ipv6” in your favorite search engine.

Advertisements

the white stuff, part 2

Looks like the Daily Stormer (neo-Nazi white supremacists and KKK website) was booted by their hosting provider GoDaddy on Sunday for violating its terms of service after an article regarding Heather Heyer was published on the site.  The former then transferred their content to Google Domains (Monday)… after which Google booted them as well for the same reason around midnight of that same day.

After a day or two of being offline, the site appears to have surfaced again in the “dark web” of the Tor anonymity network.  (In Harry Potter terms, they lost their lease on Diagon Alley and were forced to move to Nockturn Alley which seems to suit them better.)

The Dark Web

As if the Internet itself weren’t scary enough in the light of day sometimes, we now have an even darker, hidden version of it which is only accessible with specialized software.

Dark web: that portion of the web which cannot be easily reached from the public Internet, and usually requires specialized software to access. Examples of the dark web are the Tor network and hidden services, the I2P network and its eepsites, and the RetroShare network.

Almost sounds like a stroll in the woods when you say it like that.  Only this would be the Black Forest or the Forbidden Forest or the Suicide Forest maybe.

Onion Routing

But how does one attempt to navigate in such a place?  It looks like communications are wrapped in layers and layers of encryption much in the same way that onions have layers.  Each network node in this communication either adds another layer or peels one away, depending upon its direction.

Oddly enough, this method was developed by the Navy to protect U.S. intelligence communications online back in the ’90s.  I suppose it’s sad when your own tax dollars eventually provided the means by which child pornography, for example, enjoys its anonymity on the dark web at this time.

give a man a phish…

There’s an old quote, of course…

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.  Teach him to fish and you’ve fed him for life.

Today’s topic is about phishing, the activity in which a con artist sends a fake email to others and convinces them into giving up their credentials, credit card details, etc.

What They’re After

It’s almost always about money. They want the login details for your checking account or your credit card. If they can get your email account’s credentials then they’ll search your emails for links to your checking account or credit card. If they get your social media account’s credentials then they’ll know the people who trust you and they’ll send them email as if they’re you, conning your friends into clicking these sorts of links.

041017-Phishing-Activity-minTrust

If a stranger on the sidewalk asked you to put your wallet into a magic hat, you probably wouldn’t. You don’t trust him. So when a stranger on the Internet sends you an email, then you are probably smart enough not to click any links in it.

But now, what happens when an email arrives and it has the correct logo and content from Microsoft?  You trust them.  They wrote the software that’s on your computer, possibly.  They’re telling you that you are about to lose something or in other cases, that you could get something for free.

But of course, that email could seemingly arrive from UPS, FedEx, the U.S. Postal Service, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Chase, Logitech, Intel, Apple, Google, Intuit, Adobe, Samsung, HP, Facebook, Twitter, Verizon, AT&T, Starbucks, Staples, Yahoo, Bing, MSN, Firefox, Chrome, WordPress…  Literally any name brand or product name you trust can be used to fool you.

Urgency

If someone told you that you had thirty years left in your lifetime, you’d probably be interested but it wouldn’t necessarily change what you do today as a result.  You’d have time to get a second opinion from another doctor, say.

We’re programmed, though, to panic when we have a limited amount of time to make a decision.  If the doctor told you that you needed to get your affairs in order because you have 24 hours left, then you probably wouldn’t calmly make an appointment with that second doctor.  You’d very likely go on a shopping spree or make some other not-so-mature decision in the spur of the moment.  In other words, the rational/analytical part of your brain wouldn’t be in charge.  Your would-be scammer knows this.  So all these attempts have some sort of expiration date/time attached to them.

Free… Isn’t

I’m not sure why people are such suckers for the word “free”.  It seems to be another method of short-circuiting the brain.  Combine free with an expiration date of some kind plus a spoofed pedigree and most people will stupidly click that link.

Antivirus Isn’t “Anti-Stupid Protection”

Unfortunately, your antivirus program can’t protect you from doing something, well… stupid, in this case.  It would be stupid to enter your credentials for anything prompted by any email.

But, what if this is legitimate?  Okay, so what if I have received an email from Geico and they’re trying to tell me that my policy is about to expire?  (Let’s assume for a moment that I have Geico insurance.)  Do I actually need to click their link to find out the status of my policy?  No.  It is infinitely safer for me to open my browser, type in Geico.com in the location field, verify that I haven’t mis-typed the domain name and then to enter my credentials on their website.  In doing so, I’ve completely removed all the dangers of phishing.

Digital Extortion

According to statistics, 64% of Americans are willing to pay a ransom to get their data back (or say control of their computer) and the average bounty demanded is $1,077 per victim. Only 34% of people globally are willing to pay money in these circumstances. Unfortunately, that makes the U.S. a prime focus for these people.