Book Review: Liars & Outliers: Enabling the Trust That Society Needs to Thrive
Choosing and Protecting Passwords
Basic Fire Escape Planning
By Bruce Schneier
John Wiley & Sons, Indianapolis, 2012, cloth, 336 pages, US$24.95
As security professionals, we mainly consider how we can establish procedures, plans, and policies focused on actions intended to protect people, places, and things. We rarely consider the societal mechanisms fostering the trust that allows us to prioritize our actions even though we recognize that we cannot protect everyone, everything, and every place all the time. Without a broad base of trust, society and all of our institutions cannot function. This is the focus of Bruce Schneier’s newest book, Liars & Outliers: Enabling the Trust That Society Needs to Thrive. Schneier begins by reviewing how society requires trust in order to function. Not blind, unlimited trust, of course. Just the right amount where the overwhelming majority recognizes that the social contract binding us is both important and essentially of benefit to all. There will always be those–“defectors”, he calls them–who won’t play by the rules, but there are means to deal with this. And equally important, not all defectors are harmful or even bad. Societal pressure is important to maintain trust by inducing compliance with group norms, but some defectors help society regain a proper focus when it strays. Schneier notes that, "Security is a type of societal pressure in that it induces cooperation....In many ways, it obviates the need for intimate trust. In another way, it is how we ultimately induce compliance and, by extension, trust." Schneier argues that today’s world is at a “critical juncture” and must evolve societally to adjust to globalization and technological advances. Part of that adjustment requires security professionals to balance protective efforts against the ability to recognize the positive aspects of “defection” as a societal good–as when a Medal of Honor winner is recognized for acts taken against orders. We have considerable security measures to complement trust–some argue too much in some cases. Schneier helps us put security in a societal context that challenges us to make choices which are beneficial instead of rote. Traditional security measures will need to adjust to make these choices.
|Passwords are a common form of authentication and are often the only barrier
between a user and your personal information. There are several programs
attackers can use to help guess or "crack" passwords, but by choosing good
passwords and keeping them confidential, you can make it more difficult for
an unauthorized person to access your information.
Why do you need a password?
Think about the number of personal identification numbers (PINs), passwords,
or passphrases you use every day: getting money from the ATM or using your
debit card in a store, logging on to your computer or email, signing in to
an online bank account or shopping cart...the list seems to just keep
getting longer. Keeping track of all of the number, letter, and word
combinations may be frustrating at times, and maybe you've wondered if all
of the fuss is worth it. After all, what attacker cares about your personal
email account, right? Or why would someone bother with your practically
empty bank account when there are others with much more money? Often, an
attack is not specifically about your account but about using the access to
your information to launch a larger attack. And while having someone gain
access to your personal email might not seem like much more than an
inconvenience and threat to your privacy, think of the implications of an
attacker gaining access to your social security number or your medical
One of the best ways to protect information or physical property is to
ensure that only authorized people have access to it. Verifying that someone
is the person they claim to be is the next step, and this authentication
process is even more important, and more difficult, in the cyber world.
Passwords are the most common means of authentication, but if you don't
choose good passwords or keep them confidential, they're almost as
ineffective as not having any password at all. Many systems and services
have been successfully broken into due to the use of insecure and inadequate
passwords, and some viruses and worms have exploited systems by guessing
How do you choose a good password?
Most people use passwords that are based on personal information and are
easy to remember. However, that also makes it easier for an attacker to
guess or "crack" them. Consider a four-digit PIN number. Is yours a
combination of the month, day, or year of your birthday? Or the last four
digits of your social security number? Or your address or phone number?
Think about how easily it is to find this information out about somebody.
What about your email passwordâ€”is it a word that can be found in the
dictionary? If so, it may be susceptible to "dictionary" attacks, which
attempt to guess passwords based on words in the dictionary.
Although intentionally misspelling a word ("daytt" instead of "date") may
offer some protection against dictionary attacks, an even better method is
to rely on a series of words and use memory techniques, or mnemonics, to
help you remember how to decode it. For example, instead of the password
"hoops," use "IlTpbb" for "[I] [l]ike [T]o [p]lay [b]asket[b]all." Using
both lowercase and capital letters adds another layer of obscurity. Your
best defense, though, is to use a combination of numbers, special
characters, and both lowercase and capital letters. Change the same example
we used above to "Il!2pBb." and see how much more complicated it has become
just by adding numbers and special characters.
Longer passwords are more secure than shorter ones because there are more
characters to guess, so consider using passphrases when you can. For
example, "This passwd is 4 my email!" would be a strong password because it
has many characters and includes lowercase and capital letters, numbers, and
special characters. You may need to try different variations of a
passphraseâ€”many applications limit the length of passwords, and some do not
accept spaces. Avoid common phrases, famous quotations, and song lyrics.
Don't assume that now that you've developed a strong password you should use
it for every system or program you log into. If an attacker does guess it,
he would have access to all of your accounts. You should use these
techniques to develop unique passwords for each of your accounts.
Here is a review of tactics to use when choosing a password:
How can you protect your password?
Now that you've chosen a password that's difficult to guess, you have to make sure not to leave it someplace for people to find. Writing it down and leaving it in your desk, next to your computer, or, worse, taped to your computer, is just making it easy for someone who has physical access to your office. Don't tell anyone your passwords, and watch for attackers trying to trick you through phone calls or email messages requesting that you reveal your passwordsIf your internet service provider (ISP) offers choices of authentication systems, look for ones that use Kerberos, challenge/response, or public key encryption rather than simple passwords (see Understanding ISPs and Supplementing Passwords for more information). Consider challenging service providers that only use passwords to adopt more secure methods. Also, many programs offer the option of "remembering" your password, but these programs have varying degrees of security protecting that information. Some programs, such as email clients, store the information in clear text in a file on your computer. This means that anyone with access to your computer can discover all of your passwords and can gain access to your information. For this reason, always remember to log out when you are using a public computer (at the library, an internet cafe, or even a shared computer at your office). Other programs, such as Apple's Keychain and Palm's Secure Desktop, use strong encryption to protect the information. These types of programs may be viable options for managing your passwords if you find you have too many to remember. There's no guarantee that these techniques will prevent an attacker from learning your password, but they will make it more difficult. _________________________________________________________________ Both the National Cyber Security Alliance and US-CERT have identified this topic as one of the top tips for home users.
_________________________________________________________________ Authors: Mindi McDowell, Jason Rafail, Shawn Hernan
_________________________________________________________________ Courtesy of US-CERT, a government organization.
|Your ability to get out depends on advance warning from smoke alarms and advance planning.
Putting your plan to the test