Because One Thing Leads to Another: Data Breach and Password Re-Use

Dropping Your Breaches…

After the data breach of LinkedIn two weeks ago (6.5 million passwords leaked, a five million dollar lawsuit on the way), I have asked a simple question of some of my clients that I know are LinkedIn users: “Have you changed ALL your passwords yet?”.

The question has been met with confusion (“What data breach?”) and, in most cases, with indifference (“I don’t see what benefit having access to MY LinkedIN would provide a hacker.”). When I mention the phrase “password re-use”, I receive an almost universal response of “huh?”.

Single Point of Failure

Password re-use is seemingly an ingrained response to the presence of a password: You have hundreds of password protected resources, so it is natural that you would re-use the same password across multiple (or all) of those resources. This is the problem.

From the point of view of a hacker the world looks a little wider:

1- Breach LinkedIN passwords

2- Now leverage the email addresses, username conventions, etc. to test the password on:

Workplace accounts – Obvious information on LinkedIN. This could include work email systems, vpn access, extranets, etc.

Gmail and other webmail accounts – Possibly contains password/access information to online banking, work, other accounts

Mobileme and other “Cloud” services – Dropbox, anyone?

Online Banking – A pretty obvious target.

You can see how the seemingly “insignificant” breach can lead to much bigger issues.

In the case of the LinkedIN breach, the information obtained was posted for download by anyone that wanted to take a whack at them. Consider the scenario of an opposing party downloading your breached information and leveraging it for further access.

We know that information security is a balance between usability of information and systems, and security of those same areas. So how does one maintain separate use passwords but still easily access needed resources?

So Now What?

Fortunately there are some solutions. I have listed the top ones below:

Password Safe  (also known as PWSafe) – Windows, iPad, iPhone, Mac, Linux: This is actually my favorite. Syncing among the devices is supported by iCloud (of course then you need to make sure that Apple iCloud isn’t breached) so that a change on one device is rolled out to all the others. Password Safe is free for Linux and Windows (it’s always a nice thing to do to donate to the open-source team that keeps it going and evolving, though). The PWSafe version is $3.99 for Mac and $1.99 for iPad/iPhone.

LastPass  – Windows, Linux, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android, PocketPC:  LastPass is perhaps the most “feature rich” password management systems out there, and even offers password management for common web-based forms. There is a free and premium version. The premium version runs $1 per month.

KeePass  – Windows, Mac, Linux, iPhone, PocketPC, Android: KeePass uses very strong encryption (SHA-256). It interested me for a couple reasons: Multiple user support and it keeps the password encrypted even in RAM memory. The only reason I don’t use this one is that I don’t find synching to be as transparent, and I was already in the habit of using Password Safe (since it’s creation by Bruce Schneier). KeePass is free for the desktop versions (I recommend donations to the open-source team that keeps it running).

So the question becomes: “How would you and your firm like to be at the center of a multi-million dollar lawsuit that could have been prevented by a series of easy to use software that costs nothing to use?”.

Coming next week: Information security breaches for law firms are on the rise. How vulnerable are you, and what easy steps can you and your firm take to defend yourself?

2 Responses to Because One Thing Leads to Another: Data Breach and Password Re-Use

  1. […] 3) Be aware of “password re-use”:  This flaw has existed for 2 years, and has only now come to light.  Some companies have gone back to review logs, and have found active attacks against this flaw from before March.  If you use the same password in multiple locations, then it is time to change all your passwords.  Recommended reading:   Because One Thing Leads to Another: Data Breach and Password Re-Use […]

  2. […] flaw.  If you use these sites, it is a good time to review and change passwords.  Also, read the Inforensics Blog post on Password […]

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