Friday, September 16, 2016

How Easy is it to crack an iPhone password?

Our smartphones increasingly contain a wealth of information about us. We make phone calls, send emails, visit websites, send texts, take photos, connect with Facebook friends, and share files. They have become mini-computers. Our smartphones go where ever we go, unlike our desktop computer that rests on a table top safely in our home. That means access to the phone is just a moment of physical theft or loss away.

How safe are the contents of your smartphone anyway? Take the iPhone, which has been in the news lately, with FBI wanting Apple's help to access the contents of an iPhone. Apparently, the FBI is having some difficulty getting into that iPhone. Does that mean that the iPhone is impenetrable? Not exactly. The answer is that it depends.

First of all you need to password protect the phone. With iOS 9 Apple has created some impressive security to prevent repeated guesses of the password. After five wrong guesses, the phone's software makes the hacker wait one minute before guessing again. After nine wrong guesses, one will have to wait an hour. And depending on how the phone was set up, it might delete all its data after ten wrong tries. Even if the aforementioned security measures were disabled, Apple has another security feature that makes automated password guessing difficult. When you enter a passcode into your iPhone, the processor makes a calculation to check if your code is correct. What Apple has done is make the math so complicated that it takes about 1/12 of a second for the phone to crunch the numbers. That may not seem like a long time to humans, but to a computer it is an exceedingly long wait. “This means it would take more than 5 ½ years to try all combinations of a six-character alphanumeric passcode with lowercase letters and numbers,” according to Apple security guide.

The iPhone security is impressive, but can be rendered useless if you choose a weak password. Six lowercase letters and numerical digits can be arranged in 2.17 billion combinations. A six digit alpha and numeric password at about 12 attempts a second, will take an encryption cracking tool five and a half years to go through all combinations. Compare this to a six digit, numbers only, password. Six numerical digits can be arranged in only one million ways. Such a simple six-number passcode can be cracked within just 22 hours.

The lesson here is that complexity of a password is essential. Secondly, the longer the password the harder it is to crack. On iPhones with only a four-digit numeric passcode, there are only 10,000 combinations. It would only take 13 minutes for the FBI to try all the different possible passwords. Compare that to a six character passcode where you mixed in capital letters in addition to lowercase letters, and numerical digits. Then there would be 56.8 billion possibilities, instead of 2.1 billion. Instead of 5.5 years, it would now take 144 years to crack such a passcode!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Easiest Way To Avoid Being Hacked

For decades we have been told by security professionals that the best way to stop from being hacked is to be careful when opening e-mail attachments, to install anti-virus software, and use a firewall. That has been the security mantra since the 1990s. If you’ll notice, we are not in the 1990s anymore. Hackers have had over 20 years to poke holes in those defenses, and have largely been successful. It is time for a new approach.

At a recent security conference, Avecto, a security product manufacturer, conducted an analysis of Microsoft Security Bulletins from 2015, focusing only on the security vulnerabilities labeled “Critical”. What they discovered is that 85% of the vulnerabilities exploited to hack a computer, can be mitigated by removing administrator privileges from the current user. In other words, if you use a "standard" user account as opposed to an "administrator" user account, malware could be stopped from being installed on your computer 85% of the time. What is the difference between "standard" and "administrator" user accounts? A "standard" user account cannot install software or make configuration changes to your computer. Only an "administrator" account can do that.

When you create your user account in Windows, you have a choice whether to create a "standard" or "administrator" user. You can also change the account type by going to Control Panel > User Accounts > Change Your Account Type. There has to be at least one “administrator” user on a computer. That means you will need to create two user accounts; one “standard” and one “administrator”. You use the “standard” one for your everyday activities and the “administrator” account just for making changes or installing software.

So, why don't most people use standard user accounts? The answer is convenience. They want the immediate gratification of installing software or making changes on the fly. Most users are not aware that Microsoft has already made it more convenient to user a standard user account. Since, Windows 7 you can now operate in your standard user account and install software by right clicking on the installation file and selecting from the menu "Run as Administrator". You will then be prompted to enter your administrator username and password. That means you can still stay logged in your standard user account, but invoke the administrator account when you need to without logging off and switching accounts.

Working in a standard user account is essential for keeping the hackers from invading your computer. Consider these other findings:

● Of the 251 vulnerabilities in 2015 with a Critical rating, 85% were concluded to be mitigated by removing administrator rights ● 86% of Critical vulnerabilities affecting Windows, can be mitigated by removing administrator rights ● 99.5% of all vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer, can be mitigated by removing administrator rights ● 82% of vulnerabilities affecting Microsoft Office, can be mitigated by removing administrator rights ● 85% of Remote Code Execution vulnerabilities, can be mitigated by removing administrator rights ● 82% Critical vulnerabilities affecting Windows 10, can be mitigated by removing administrator rights ● 63% of all Microsoft vulnerabilities reported in 2015, can be mitigated by removing administrator rights.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Best Privacy Policy Statement Ever

Being a privacy advocate, I am one of the few people who actually read the privacy policy of a website.  Most privacy policies are so convoluted with legalese that the average person can't make any sense of it.  I was pleasantly surprised when I came across a privacy policy statement that was simple, easy to understand, and clearly states the privacy protection principles of the business. The privacy policy statement below belongs to  (Why I was looking for a gong is a whole other story, which may be an entertaining story, yet irrelevant to discussing privacy policies. So, I will do the reader a favor and not digress.) Like all good privacy policies this one states what information the company collects and if they share that information with a third party.  What makes this one stand apart is the personable language that plainly states why they believe in protecting their client's privacy. Admittedly, I also like the emphatic and irreverent tone spiced with just the right amount of humor.  Read it below for yourself....


Everyone at Gongs Unlimited treasures their privacy and we trust that our customers treasure their privacy as well.  If you are anything like the 15 year old daughter of the Head Mallethead here, you really really treasure your privacy.  Because we are just a retail store. You come in and buy a gong. That's all we want to know.

We will never give your email address or any other information you used to purchase a gong to any third party. And not any fourth or fifth parties either.  Screw them! If you wanted Spam, you'd go to Hawaii and order some with eggs!

If you bought a gong at a local mall, you wouldn’t expect to be hounded by salespeople from other stores chasing you to your car, calling you and yelling into your phone, or filling your mailbox with garbage. We believe that you shouldn’t have to experience that in your computer when you buy a Gong either.