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Bill Bennett

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Tag: security

Technology has never been riskier. There are holes everywhere and ratbags only too keen to exploit them. Keeping informed about threats and issues is the key to staying safe online.

Understanding Multi-Factor Authentication

I’ve written a backgrounder on multi-factor authentication at the Network for Learning blog. It’s written for teachers and people working in the educational sector, which means it’s accessible for non-technical readers.

Understanding Multi-Factor Authentication | N4L

You’ll see 2FA when you use popular online sites and services. Google’s G Suite for Education uses it. You’ll see it when you use Gmail, Apple or Microsoft cloud services.

There are a couple of points the N4L blog post doesn’t make, mainly in the interest of keeping things simple and not taking sides.

The first is that multi-factor or two-factor Authentication is much easier if you live in Apple’s world. When you get a txt confirmation during the sign-in process on your iPhone, your Mac or iPad will automatically insert this. Apple calls this feature ‘continuity‘.

There is no racing to copy the code down, no risk of mistyping those codes.

There’s no direct comparison for this if you choose Windows and Android devices although some geekier types do have workarounds.

This level of integration and convenience is often overlooked by Apple’s critics, but it saves time and keeps you safer.

Likewise, biometric log-ins are dependent on your hardware choices. In this case it is far wider than Apple. Not every brand of phone or computer deals well with fingerprint or face recognition. There are workarounds, but it is worth checking on these options before you buy a laptop or a phone.

Download 2.0 – Enable move sees Christchurch join 300mbps party

Enable Christchurch

More New Zealanders will get a fast fibre upgrade as Enable joins Chorus in moving base speeds to 300mbps. 

Christchurch users to get fibre speed bump

Enable, the fibre company serving Christchurch, is following Chorus and upgrading customers to 300mbps. The company says the upgrades could start on December 1 although that depends on retail service providers.

The upgrade could affect up to 90,000 homes in the Enable fibre area. That’s the number that are currently on 100 or 200mbps plans.

Customers on upgraded plans will be able to upload data at 100mbps.

Enable Chief Executive, Johnathan Eele says his company’s customers use around 500GB of data each month. That’s a rise of 33 percent from a year ago.

In August Chorus announced it would replace 100mbps lines with 300mbps lines at no additional cost to customers. The company is still working through the process with retail service providers but expects some upgrades to happen before Christmas.

The move will help shore-up fibre’s competitive position against fixed wireless broadband and low earth orbit satellite services in areas where the technologies compete.

Fewer telco complaints in early 2021

A report from the Telecommunications Dispute Resolution service says it received fewer customer complaints and enquiries in the first half of 2021 compared with a year earlier.

The number of complaints was down 24 percent to 935. Almost all these cases (98 percent) were resolved or closed directly after initial assistance from the TDR. The remainder either went to facilitation and mediation or required the organisation to make a decision.

Pace, sophistication of cyber attacks increasing

The National Cyber Security Centre’s annual Cyber Threat Report says the number of serious online attacks continues to grow. At the same time the NCSC reports the attacks are growing in frequency and sophistication.

It says there were 404 incidents affecting nationally significant organisations in the last year. That’s a 15 percent increase year-on-year.

NCSC points out its focus is on New Zealand’s larger organisations. This means its numbers represent a small fraction of the total number of incidents.

The growth is in line with overseas trends.

NCSC Director Lisa Fong says: “It is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between state and criminal actors, particularly in cases where we are able to intervene early, but also because the line between state and criminal is becoming increasingly indistinct.

“State actors sometimes work alongside or provide havens for criminal groups, and we are increasingly seeing criminal groups now using capabilities once only used by sophisticated state actors.”

Worldwide cloud revenue surging thanks to pandemic

Gartner reports worldwide cloud revenue will reach US$474 billion in 2022 up from $408 billion this year.

The company says the Covid pandemic and booming digital services put the cloud at the centre of digital experiences.

Milind Govekar, a Gartner vice-president says:“The adoption and interest in public cloud continues unabated as organisations pursue a cloud first policy for onboarding new workloads.

“Cloud has enabled new digital experiences such as mobile payment systems where banks have invested in startups, energy companies using cloud to improve their customers’ retail experiences or car companies launching new personalisation services for customer’s safety and infotainment.”

UFB uptake hits two-thirds milestone

In its latest quarterly broadband update Crown Infrastructure Partners reports UFB uptake is now 66 percent. The fibre network now covers 327 towns and cities. The average speed of UFB services is now 277mbps.

CIP says the UFB programme is now 98 percent complete with 85 percent of New Zealanders now able to connect to fibre.

In other news

The Commerce Commission has given Eroad’s acquisition of Coretex the green light. Both companies sell software for fleet managers to know more about vehicles and meet statutory requirements.

A Reseller News story from Rob O’Neill says the partnership between Spark and Auckland based managed services company IT360 has helped the smaller company extend its reach beyond the North Shore and Waitakere areas.

Catalyst Cloud has appointed Doug Dixon as its new CEO. Dixon joins Catalyst Cloud from the ANZ where he was practice lead for services and integration. He has previously worked in technology roles for Kordia and ACC.


 

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National Cyber Security Centre reports growing online crime

Lisa Fong (National Cyber Security Centre)
Lisa Fong (National Cyber Security Centre)

Criminal cyber attacks targeting Aotearoa New Zealand skyrocketed in numbers over the last year and continued to grow in sophistication.

At Reseller News Rob O’Neill writes: National Cyber Security Centre reports a surge in criminal cyber attacks.

While the proportion of state-linked malicious cyber activity was down slightly from last year’s 30 per cent, this was because of the greater proportion of criminal incidents recorded.

The report showed there were 404 incidents affecting nationally significant organisations in the 2020/21 year, a 15 per cent increase on last year.

These numbers reflect the NCSC’s focus is on incidents affecting New Zealand’s nationally significant organisations, and on incidents likely to have a national impact, which means the numbers represent just a small proportion of the total incidents affecting New Zealand

This squares with anecdotal evidence from New Zealand businesses that they are now constantly under attack.

When it comes to government and large scale business systems, it is likely the attackers are already inside the systems waiting for an opportunity.

Everyday crime rates are dropping in most rich countries like New Zealand. There’s a clear switch from activities such risking your life with weapons to rob a a physical bank and getting online to steal money. Computer fraud is on the rise everywhere.

Technology doesn’t help. Bitcoin, a cryptocurrency, may not have been invented to smooth the way for criminals, but it is used by the underworld to move money around. Drug gangs are carrying fewer suitcases full of banknotes and dealing with more crypto transactions. Encrypted messaging services are used to communicate.

While these tools have legitimate uses, criminals have embraced them and depend more on them.

Ransomware remains the biggest threat. Criminals lock up data or disrupt systems until victims pay them, almost always the transaction is in Bitcoin.

At first ransomware gangs targeted small business. It turns out that was all about learning their trade. Today they target government departments, a DHB in New Zealand, police departments overseas.

They operate on an industrial scale and there are well established digital underworld supply chains.

We know most of the gangs are based in a small number of countries. Officials don’t like to talk about this because of diplomatic niceties. As a journalist I can tell you that Russia, other parts of eastern Europe and China are the main sources. We also know some states turn a blind eye to the activity so long as the gangs focus on foreigners. There’s evidence criminal gangs and state hackers co-operate.

Governments have been slow to focus on fighting cybercrime. We can expect that change, but don’t expect a let up from the gangs.

Your home printer could be a security risk

Overpriced home printer ink is annoying. On its own it doesn’t pose a security risk.

We can’t say the same about the technology printer makers use to keep paying too much for their overpriced ink.

There are home office printer models that stop working if they are not connected to the printer maker.

Connection risk

That’s risky on two fronts.

First, it means you can’t print if you lose the connection.

There are many ways the link can fail. It could be your local wi-fi network, your internet connection or the submarine cable connecting your country to the printer maker’s servers.

All these need to work for you to print a page on your home printer.

To be fair, connections don’t fail often. But the failure rate is not zero.

Dependence

Another way you might lose the connection is if the printer maker’s servers stop working.

Given that the cloud giants all experience downtime, it’s possible your printer maker might be offline when you need to print something in a hurry.

The outages may not be long, but it is ridiculous that your ability to print at home depends on the conditions in a remote server on another continent.

To big to fail

In a similar vein, your printing days could be over if the printer manufacturer goes out of business.

Admittedly that’s not a huge risk, but, again, it is not a zero risk.

Add all the risks together and you realise you have to put a lot of faith in things you have little control over just to get a page out of your printer.

Security alert

A bigger, more worrying, risk is your security.

An internet connection going to your printer potentially punches another hole in your cyber defences.

Connecting printers to the internet isn’t new. It’s been possible to remote print on your home inkjet from anywhere in the world for years.

Modern devices can have embedded servers. They are, in effect, computers in their own right. Again, this is not new.

They perform tasks like installing new drivers and telling printer makers you are using third party ink.

Vulnerable all the time

The difference now is today’s printer servers have to be on all the time. If you block the connections you can’t print.

Chances are the server on your home printer is one of the weakest links in your security chain.

These servers are rarely protected with more than a password. Sometimes not even that.

Patching

You may be careful when it comes to updating your computer, phone and apps. Keeping a printer patched is harder work.

Apart from anything else, it can require manual intervention. Automatic software update options are rare.

The controls can have minimal, hard to understand interfaces. There are plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong.

In the past there have been attacks where printers are used to remotely print messages. That’s not serious, but it illustrates the vulnerability.

Compromised

The main problem is that a compromised printer can open the door to everything on your home network. It can be taken over and used to snoop for data or mount external attacks elsewhere. Your printer could become part of a botnet.

Until now printer-to-internet connections have been, up to a point, optional. You could almost always print out pages without needing a live internet link.

Looking at the bigger picture, adding an extra connection back to an account with the printer maker is a small additional security risk. But we live at a time when the idea is to eliminate security risks, not add fresh ones where there is no benefit.

It’s yet another reason to keep the printer turned off and to work on weaning ourselves off printing.

Footnote: Matt East points out that turning the printer off isn’t a great idea. He is right, but that’s where the printer makers have taken us: to a point where you have to make tradeoffs that should not be necessary. 

SafeStack Academy raises $2.3m to export security know how

Laura Bell has raised $2.2m to expand her online security training platform SafeStack Academy, with Jelix Ventures leading a raft of local investors in the round.

 

Australia’s AFR reports the news: NAB among backers as ‘moral hacker’ gets $2.2m to teach techies her tricks.

Natasha Gillezeau writes:

SafeStack Academy was born of a pandemic pivot after Ms Bell’s consultancy, SafeStack, suffered a 94 percent drop in revenue as many of her small business and start-up customers halted their spending on security because of economic uncertainty.

On SafeStack Academy, software developers and regular employees can learn how to build good security culture and measures into their products, software and processes.

That’s good to hear. Bell’s consultancy had an interesting, enlightened take on cyber security.

Upending the fear driven security pitch

Security companies often work hard to scare customers into parting with money for services or products that only go part way to making them safe.

They may share raw information about threats, but often in ways that limit the transfer of useful knowledge to customers.

Fear may work as a sales pitch. But savvy customers want more from a security partner.

Educate, inform and protect

Safestack took the opposite approach. Bell and her team worked to educate the people and businesses who are most vulnerable to attack. That’s usually small businesses and organisations. She makes an effort to take fear out of the conversation and replace that with the knowledge people need to be confident about dealing with threats in a sensible way.

Bell clearly loves her speciality.

When I spoke to her earlier this year she said: “Security is really exciting once you get past the doom and gloom. It has some of the fastest paced technology challenges you can find.

“…I wanted to support all of these tiny companies who, from New Zealand want to build their own little digital cathedrals and they want to do securely without breaking the bank.

“I get to look at their legacies and think; yeah, I did a little towards making things better for New Zealand or better for those people, or in the case of helping charities and non-profits, better for that group of people who would never be able to afford security normally.”

Along the way Bell has been responsible for hundreds of New Zealanders choosing cyber security as a career. The Safestack Academy will take that leadership role further and help spread a more intelligent security mind set.