My Ultra-Private iPod Phone 2

Welcome back to Part 2 of my attempt to create a private and secure iPod phone!  When I started this series I thought it would consist of three parts: procurement, setup, and use.  Setup took far more time than I expected, however, so I am going to cover this stage of the process somewhat more slowly.  One of the reasons I wanted to do this experiment was to see what roadblocks I might run into.  True to form, I ran into a couple of problems right off the bat.  This post will cover setting up the iPod phone intially, and modifying basic settings for privacy and security.

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My Ultra-Private iPod Phone 1

Some time ago I read an amazingly good article on using an iPod Touch as a secure/private phone.  I love the idea, and I have thought about it for quite a while.  An iPod Touch is remarkably similar to an iPhone, but potentially far more private and secure.  Recently I decided to try it for myself and see how easy (or hard) it would be to set up.  I also had unanswered questions about its actual use.  Part 1 of this article will cover device procurement and the lengths I went to for anonymity’s sake.  Part 2, 3, and 4 will cover setup, and Part 5 will cover actually using my new, ultra-secure and private iPod phone. Continue reading “My Ultra-Private iPod Phone 1”

How to Verify HTTPS Certificates

Hypertext Transport Protocol/Secure (HTTPS) is the backbone of internet security.  It is a ubiquitious encryption that secures connections automatically.  Users do not have to enable it, and the security it provides is strong.  The cases of Lenovo, Dell, and GoGo Inflight Wi-Fi are all well-documented instances of HTTPS tampering. Most users blindly trust the green padlock in their address bar.  You should always verify your connection is actually secure before inputting authentication credentials or financial information.  When using tools like the Tor Browser this is especially relevant.  It is also very important when using public Wi-Fi or other insecure wireless networks.  This post details how to verify HTTPS certificates to ensure your connection is secure.

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How-To: Tor Browser Bundle

My last post covered threat modeling the Tor Network.  While I have a very nuanced opinion of Tor, I do think it is ideal for certain use cases.  Unless contraindicated .  Using Tor is not difficult, but there are some potential pitfalls to be aware of.  This post will cover how to use the Tor Browser Bundle.

Download and Install the Tor Browser

The first step is to download the Tor Browser from https://torproject.org.  Before you install it you should verify the integrity of the file. The Tor Project has an excellent tutorial on how to do this here.  Additionally, I will begin to post checksums for the Tor Browser this month.  After you have verified the file, install it.  If you use a Mac, double-click the .dmg and drag the icon into your applications folder.  A few more steps are required if you use Windows, but setup is not difficult.  Instructions are available here.

Tor Browser Bundle

Begin Browsing with Tor

You are now ready to begin browsing.  Double-click the Tor icon.  Tor will as you to choose between “Connect” and “Configure”.  For the vast majority of use-cases connecting directly is your best option.  The “configure” option gives you the ability to use a bridge or proxy.  Using a bridge or proxy may be necessary if you are in a country or on a network that blocks Tor traffic.  Configuring a bridge or proxy is fairly intuitive, should you need to do so.

Tor Browser Bundle

When you connect to the Tor network, your request is first routed to a directory server.  This server will create your custom “circuit”, the network of three nodes through which your traffic will be routed.  When your connection is established, the Tor browser will open automatically.  You are now ready to browse through the Tor network.  The Tor Browser is a modified version of Firefox.  Browsing with Tor is superficially no different than browsing with Firefox with one or two exceptions.

Using Tor-Specific Features

Clicking the Onion button opens some options not available in Firefox.  It also displays your Tor circuit and allows you to change the following options:

  • New Identity:  This closes all open tabs and discards any browsing data, like cookies.  A new, clean instance of the browser is then opened.  I do not recommend this
  • New Tor Circuit for this Site:  This feature builds a new circuit for the tab that is currently open.
  • Privacy and Security Settings:  See below.
  • Tor Network Settings:  Allows you to configure bridges and/or proxies if needed.
  • Check Tor Browser for Updates:  Always keep your browser up-to-date.  I recommend checking each time you open Tor because updates are frequently released.

Tor Browser BundlePrivacy and Security Settings:  Click this to open an additional dialogue.  The privacy portion has four radio buttons.  Leave all of these checked.  The security dialogue contains a slider and allows you to choose a desired level of security (low, medium-low, medium-high, high). These settings correlate roughly to threat models.  The higher your threat model, the higher a level of security you should choose.  I believe you should always use “high”.  It is less convenient and requires a working knowledge of NoScript, but if you are going to use Tor you should use it to its full potential.  On the other hand, ease-of-use may convince more people to use it overall.

Tor Browser Bundle 4

Potential Problems with Tor

Tor is imperfect for everyday use.  There are reasons it is not incredibly common.  Among them: the Tor Network is slow.  Traffic is routed through multiple servers, usually in multiple countries.  This inevitably slows your traffic.  Additionally, your traffic is slowed at least to the speed of the slowest server in your circuit.  You will also be forced to solve captchas to visit or log in to some websites, and encounter other minor inconveniences. You will also encounter security issues when using the Tor Browser.  I addressed some of these in my last post.  My next post will address one of them specifically: exit node security through HTTPS.

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Tor Threat Models

The Tor Browser Bundle is a terrific security tool.  Tor is a decentralized, anonymization network. To use it you need a specific internet browser, and it allows you to be as close to anonymous as one can be on the internet.  It also strongly encrypts your traffic, and best of all, it is free.  Readers have asked my opinion on Tor, and why I have not written about it.  There are some potential downsides to using Tor.  As a result, I have very mixed, very nuanced feelings about using it.  Before jumping into and using this tool you should take some time to consider these Tor threat models.  Though I typically analyze variations of the tool itself, my Tor threat models are in relation to use cases and user profiles rather than the tool.

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Social Engineer Podcast Interview

My co-author, Michael Bazzell and I were recently interviewed on the Social Engineer podcast. Michael and I discussed topics from our recently released book, The Complete Privacy and Security Desk Reference, and how these techniques could help defeat social engineers. The podcast was a lot of fun, and it was pretty awesome to be invited as guest.  If you don’t listen to the SE podcast, you should check it out. The podcast deals with human security and covers a broad range of “human” security topics.

You can find our episode at http://www.social-engineer.org/podcast/ep-082-hide-seek-michael-justin/.  If you listen, be sure to let me know what you liked – or didn’t like.

Thanks!

Justin

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Usernames as a Security Measure

I was recently a guest alongside my co-author, Michael Bazzell on the Social-Engineer podcast (the episode will be be available tomorrow).  We discussed social engineering for security and privacy reasons.  Since being on the show I have thought more about social engineering than at any time since I attended Chris Hadnagy’s SE course back in 2013. One realization I’ve had is that social engineering attacks commonly begin with a starting point.  An email address to which the attacker can send phishing emails.  A phone number she can use to hack your cell account.  A username she can use to call customer service and request access.  Along this line of thought, it has also occured to me that it is never a bad time to restress the importance of usernames as a security measure. Continue reading “Usernames as a Security Measure”

Knox-Box Key Box Explained

I’m willing to bet most of you regularly encounter a lock box like the ones in the photos – even if you haven’t noticed it.  They are typically mounted on the exterior of a public building, usually near a door.  If you want to see one, keep your eye out at your local shopping mall, library, hotel, or apartment complex.  You’ll probably run across one, or several.  They may protrude from the wall, or they may be mounted flush with it.  The purposes of the Knox-Box key box may be something of a mystery to most. Few people understand why these things exist. Continue reading “Knox-Box Key Box Explained”

IronKey Secure Flash Drive Review

I have always been a bit skeptical of the IronKey secure flash drive.  While boasting some sexy features, the cost seemed probitive and unjustified to me.  After several reader questions I decided it was finally time to get one of these devices and try it for myself.  The result: I’m convinced that this is the ultimate in secure, portable data.  Due to its extreme cost I am still not converting over fully to IronKey, but I would if I could afford to.  There are several features of this device that make it desirable to both enterprise users and the privacy-minded.  Continue reading “IronKey Secure Flash Drive Review”

Cloud Storage Threat Models

It is likely that readers of this blog know where I stand on cloud storage.  I have been fairly outspoken against the practice of storing personal data in the cloud.  Unfortunately, I realize this may be an untenable solution for many who desire – or even require – the ability to use and access cloud storage.  Even I had a personal experience recently that made me re-think the utility of cloud storage.  Cloud storage does offer the benefit of being a strong hedge against data loss.  Losing data can be crippling for an individual, and even more so to a small business.  With these factors in mind (and at the request of a reader) I have taken a look at some cloud providers and developed some cloud storage threat models.

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