If It is Too Good To Be True, It Probably Is – Cross Post

(Originally Posted on Information Security Buzz on 15 January 2014)

There are plenty of tips on the internet that give great advice on how to avoid phishing scams, and there will be other authors on this site that will be giving very similar advice. For me though, it always comes down to the following three thoughts that I keep in mind whenever I see an email that could possible lead to a scam.

1. Is it too good to be true?

Infosecurity-Buzz-January-2014.002.jpg.001-300x168If the email in question is offering me something for nothing, especially if there is money, or a monetary value involved, this type of email falls into the “too good to be true” category. I have yet to come across an example of when someone really was giving away iPad’s, cash or holidays without some kind of quid pro quo involved. If your answer to the above question even looks like it might be a “yes”, the email and its contents can probably be ignored.

2. Don’t Click it!

Infosecurity-Buzz-January-2014.002.jpg.002-300x168I have borrowed this particular phrase from Jaded Security who coined it a few years ago, and I like it because to be honest it is simple and memorable advice. There are nuances to this of course, but unless you are experienced just don’t click links in your email (see number three). As you get used to looking out for this kind of email there will of course be other telltales that will help you know if an email is genuine or not. For instance, is the email from a close friend, but they haven’t addressed you by your nickname, and seem to be oddly formal, or have more spelling mistakes (or even not enough) in their message? It could be that they have been compromised and you are in their address book and therefore being targeted.

Some people regularly send links in emails, others almost never; if that’s the case, ask yourself why they have suddenly started today seining you a link to a sneezing panda clip.

Finally, if your bank sends you a link to change your password because of system upgrades, don’t click the link they send, but go to your usual bookmark for them. Your bank should never do this anyway, but clicking on a link in an email like this is almost guaranteed to not send you to your bank, but a very convincing fake site set up to harvest your usernames and passwords. Just don’t click it.

3. Fail Safe

Infosecurity-Buzz-January-2014.002.jpg.003-300x168It is always better to mistake a genuine email for a scam rather than the other way around. The consequences of clicking something are very serious whereas the consequences of not clicking on the attached link are rarely, if ever, serious. Additionally, if it is a genuine request, the sender is likely to send a reminder or contact you through another medium such as SMS, letter or telephone. Of course there are plenty of scams through these mediums too (another topic perhaps?), but you will have the balance of probabilities on your side, and the knowledge you haven’t done anything stupid.

Really Silly Attitude? Ropey Sales Approach?

cashRSA has had a tough few years; the subject of a high profile phishing attack in March 2011 resulting in the loss of information related to their SecureID product. They denied it was an issue until three months later when information gained from that attack was used against other companies, including Lockheed Martin, and had to subsequently replace a large number of the tokens.

In September this year they recommended that customers of their BSafe product should stop using the built in, default, encryption algorithm because it contained a weakness that the NSA could exploit using a backdoor and therefore would be vulnerable to interception and reading. How very open and forthright of RSA I thought at the time. Despite the potential damage they may be doing to their brand by giving this information freely out, they are doing so in their customers interests and at the same time offering secure alternatives. It reminded me of the early nineties and the pushback against the Clipper chip, with RSA at the forefront protecting client interests and pushing back against the spooks of the three letter agencies of the USA. Here is what D. James Bidzos said at the time:

“We have the system that they’re most afraid of,” Bidzos says. “If the U.S. adopted RSA as a standard, you would have a truly international, interoperable, unbreakable, easy-to-use encryption technology. And all those things together are so synergistically theatening to the N.S.A.’s interests that it’s driving them into a frenzy.

Powerful stuff. The newly formed Electronic Frontiers Foundation would have been proud.

 Now this is where it gets interesting and has raised the shackles of many in the Twittersphere and internet echo chambers. A few days ago it was revealed that the real reason for RSA to have used a flawed products for so many years was because the NSA paid them to. It wasn’t a huge amount of money although it possibly helped save the division that runs BSafe in RSA that was struggling at the time.

Businesses change. Leadership changes. Market forces steer a company in different direction to one a degree or another. To my mind though, to deliberately weaken your own product for financial gain is extraordinarily unwise. By taking the money, RSA have declared that profit is above patriotism, whatever your view of patriotism is. If they took no money at all, there would be a good defence that the decision was taken in the national interest and to work harmoniously with the governmental agencies that protect the USA from danger. Unfortunately organisations that have relied on RSA’s products to secure their data have been let down simply to make a fast buck,

In October this year Art Coviello spoke about “Anonymity being the enemy of Security” at his Keynote at RSA Europe. That statement takes on a very different viewpoint now.

The response has been fairly unanimous, but here is one that got me thinking about my relationship with RSA:

Mikko RSA

I personally wouldn’t go this far as I go to network with friends, peers and colleagues, as well as listen to folks from the industry talk and present; I don’t necessarily go to listen to RSA as such. However this kind of reaction is going to have an impact on RSA that is likely to be felt for a number of years to come. Most security people I know are somewhat distrusting in the first place (hence why they are in security very often!). To have these revelations is going to have an impact both in their mainstream business as well as their conference business, so often seen as the gold standard of conferences globally.

If the last few years were tough for RSA, what is the next few years going to be like for a giant in our industry?