Thursday, March 7, 2013

5 Mandatory Steps For Protecting Data From Eavesdroppers

Chris Dougherty
Activist Post

Every day we hear news reports in the mainstream media about social network hacking, malware, malicious account takeovers and protecting data. It doesn’t matter if you are the average Joe Blow or a huge corporation like Burger King, everyone is being targeted these days.

Cyber criminals are searching for everything from your banking and financial info to your email, Facebook and and other social networking passwords. Luckily there are technologies and a few simple practices that can help you stay safer online, as well as offline.

Here are 5 Mandatory Steps that you should follow for protecting data from hacking and eavesdroppers….

1. IMPORTANT: Use Strong Encryption To Protect Your Files

Encryption is the process of encoding a message, or any other data, in such a way that eavesdroppers or hackers cannot read it, but authorized parties can. Today there are many options that provide both software and hardware encryption solutions for protecting your data.

TrueCrypt is a free open source software that provides automatic, real-time (on-the-fly) and transparent data encryption. With TrueCrypt you can encrypt a single partition or an entire storage device such as USB flash drive or hard drive.

The safest way to use TrueCrypt is to encrypt the entire storage device or hard drive. At a bare minimum, the partition or drive where Windows is installed should be encrypted.


For those of you who don’t want to install software, there are also several military-grade storage devices that provide hardware-based encryption for data protection. By doing a simple search on Google I was able to find the following 6 options that provide strong hardware-based encryption:
A couple of weeks ago I was able to personally review the DataLocker DL3 encrypted hard drive and I really liked the fact that it was so incredibly easy to use. It also had a lot of cool features like the touch screen display and self destruct mechanism. As DataLocker put it so eloquently, this encrypted hard drive is “Simply Secure”.

Regardless of which encryption solution you decide to use, it is important to remember that this is a mandatory first step in securing your data from prying eyes.

2. CRITICAL: Create A Bulletproof Password

The next step towards reducing the threat of online identity theft should come in the form of a very secure password. The majority of account hacks reported each day are do to the use of insecure passwords. Hackers often make use of automated software and huge word dictionaries in order to brute force account passwords. Using the 15 tips below, you should create a very strong, unique password for every site that you visit on the Internet.

A strong password:
  • has 15 or more characters
  • has uppercase letters
  • has lowercase letters
  • has numbers
  • has symbols, such as ~ ` ! @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) _ – = + [ ] { } | ; : ‘ ” , . < > \ / ?
  • is not like your previous passwords
  • is not your name
  • is not your government ID number
  • is not your birthday or that of a family member
  • is not your login or user name
  • is not your friend’s name
  • is not your family member’s name
  • is not your pet’s name
  • is not a common name
  • is not a dictionary word
If you have a hard time coming up with a strong password on your own, you can always use a password generator like the iPassword Generator or the free secure password generator found at PasswordsGenerator.net.

Once you have created your password you should store it on an encrypted hard drive to keep it safe. This is the single best way to limit your exposure to online account takeovers and hackers.

Where appropriate, you might consider using a two-factor authentication mechanism like Duo:Security orGoogle’s 2-step validation as an added layer of security.

3. CRUCIAL: Hide Your Password From Prying Eyes

Once you have created a strong password you will need to keep it in a secure place away from prying eyes.

The simplest answer, while managing to achieve at least some acceptable level of security, is to create a password list and store it on an encrypted storage device.

A better answer is to install password management software like LastPass or KeePass on your encrypted drive. Both of these applications are free and they allow you to store all of your passwords in a single encrypted database.

LastPass runs natively on all major platforms including Windows, Mac and Linux. KeePass is geared primarily for Windows users, however the developer’s website claims it has also been tested on Wine. Wine is a compatibility layer that allows you to run Windows applications on Linux, BSD, Solaris and Mac OS X.

The combination of an encrypted hard drive AND password management software provides the best solution for keeping your password list safe from hackers and eavesdroppers.

4. URGENT: Install Security Software on Smartphones, Tablets and Computers

Cyber criminals are now using various strains of malware, spyware and malicious links to steal your information. Any device that is connected to the Internet is a potential attack vector for these types of attacks. In addition, hackers are increasingly using social networks to lead you to websites where they can install malicious software on your devices.

I personally use Lookout Mobile Security software to keep my smartphone safe from malware and other malicious apps. Lookout provides real-time protection for smartphones and tablets running both Android and Apple iOS software (iPhone, iPad, etc). An additional version is also available for the Amazon Kindle Fire HD device.

Facebook is another popular attack vector for hackers. You can use the Eset Social Media Scanner to scan your Facebook account, as well as the timelines of your friends, for malware and links to malicious websites. The Eset Social Media Scanner application also offers an option to scan your local computer for signs of malware. I strongly advise that users run this additional security feature to be certain their computer is safe from threats.

Eset Smart Security 6 is another application worth mentioning for protecting data from hackers. This one software provides all-in-one Internet security and comes with an Anti-Theft feature and the Social Media Scanner. There is also a similar version for Mac users called Eset Cyber Security.

One other important piece of security software that I thought I should recommend is called Prey. The Prey Project was developed as an open source anti-theft solution for laptops, phones & tablets and is used by people all around the world. According to the Prey Project website, “Prey lets you keep track of your laptop, phone and tablet whenever stolen or missing — easily and all in one place. It’s lightweight, open source software that gives you full and remote control, 24/7.”

I personally use Prey on all of my electronic devices and love it. I know a friend-of-a-friend, who has Prey installed, that actually was able to recover his laptop after it was stolen while he was living in Costa Rica.

5. ESSENTIAL: Use A Locked-Down Environment For Online Shopping, Banking and Filing Taxes

The best way to stay safe while shopping online and performing financial transactions is to create a secure operating environment. You can build a custom environment yourself by installing various software on an encrypted drive or you can use a solution that provides out-of-the-box protection.

Either way, the goal is to open a new window on your desktop that instantly provides a secure environment for browsing the web and reading web-based email.

Building A Custom Environment:

In order to build a custom environment on an encrypted drive I would suggest installing the latest version of Portable VirtualBox and then downloading your favorite Live CD operating system image to the drive. I had a DataLocker DL3 encrypted hard drive laying around so I decided to create my environment on that.

Portable VirtualBox is a software program that allows you to run Virtual Machines (VMs) on any USB storage device or hard drive. A Live CD is an operating system that runs entirely from memory and typically never writes files to your local hard drive. Each time the Live CD is restarted, it erases all traces and starts up with a fresh environment.

Once Portable VirtualBox is installed and running on the encrypted drive, you can create a new virtual machine with a virtual CD-ROM device attached to the Live CD image file. I personally like to use the latest version of Ubuntu for the Live CD, but you can use your favorite.

Once you have created your virtual machine in Portable VirtualBox you can simply start the machine, wait for it to boot up, and then open a browser to surf the web. Once you are finished browsing the web or checking your email, you can simply close the virtual machine to erase all tracks.

Any malware that you accidentally downloaded during your browsing session would be automatically erased once the virtual machine was shut down or restarted. It is important to note however that any files, bookmarks or configuration changes made while working in the virtual machine will also be lost when the machine is shut down.

Out-of-the-Box Solutions:

There are several ready-made solutions that provide a secure browsing environment while shopping, banking and reading email online. Two alternatives that I found were the Encrypt Stick 3-in-1 Digital Privacy Software and the Kanguru Defender DualTrust security device.

Encrypt Stick runs on any USB flash drive, installs in seconds, and turns your flash drive into your own Digital Privacy Manager (DPM). The Encrypt Stick developers claim that the software protects your web browsing experience, your passwords and your private files. The software comes with both free and paid options and includes versions that run on Windows and Mac computers.

The Kanguru Defender DualTrust is an all-in-one software and hardware solution that provides encrypted storage as well as secure web browsing. If you are concerned about malware, viruses or spyware on your PC, then this is a great solution for you.

According to the Kanguru website, “The Kanguru Defender DualTrust™ provides complete confidence to pay online bills, do your banking, make purchases and browse online in a safe and secure environment. It opens up a secure, protected browser session, isolating itself from vulnerabilities that could potentially “trace your steps“ in an ordinary browser window. ”


Simply plug in the Defender DualTrust, create a secure password and the device will boot to a secure web browsing environment. Once you unplug the device, the Defender DualTrust leaves no trace of your session behind.

I think I will try the Kanguru Defender DualTrust this year when filing my taxes online. Maybe you should too.

In Summary:

Whether you are an average Internet user who simply uses the web to check email and shop online, or you are a corporate or government user accessing sensitive information, you need to take a few extra security measures in order to protect data from hackers and eavesdroppers.

The 5 steps listed above should be put in place right away in order to get you started on the right path to achieving the highest level of data security while online.

Chris Dougherty is a grey hat hacker and online security expert. Please visit his blog, www.VirtualThreat.com, for more excellent news and information about protecting yourself in cyberspace.


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6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Chris;

You haven't mentioned 'TOR.'

Would you say a few words?

Thanks,

Anonymous said...

Ubuntu is good but the have a specific distro for anonymity. It's based on Debian and extremely secure.

http://distrowatch.com/table.php?distribution=tails

Anonymous said...

One note about KeePass-- There is a KeePassX version of the application for Linux, and it is also available on Android.

Chris Dougherty - VirtualThreat said...

Tor is a great program to use for anonymity, Tails is a Live CD type of distro that is based on Tor. Both are great solutions for remaining anonymous and encrypting data however the data is always unencrypted after the last hop, before it reached the final destination server. This unfortunately allows the possibility of eavesdropping by the entity running the Tor exit node.

Anonymous said...

You need to do a bit of research on Google itself....and who owns and controls it....and you may just change your mind about all those encryption services you listed.....come on these people own and control much more than people realize....wake up and get real!

Computer Repair said...

On August 3rd, 2012, a tech writer for Wired’s “Gadget Lab,” Mat Honan, was the victim of identity theft. His iPhone, iPad and MacBook were remotely wiped, his Twitter account hijacked and his Gmail deleted. He lost irreplaceable photos from the first year of his daughter’s life, hundreds of emails, and his ability to ever again feel secure online. So it's not just about the best password, but overall "identity protections."

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