Reasons for Full Disk Encryption

To those who are unfamiliar with the concept of full disk encryption it is very simple, normal your computer or mobile devices will store data on a HDD (Hard Disk Drive) without the requirement for a password or any verification to access it bar maybe a password to log into the machine. And this is all fine and well in a lot of cases, your average user might simply use there laptop for basic web browsing or to use services such as Netflix or Gmail.

But for some users personal or sensitive information might be stored on the computer, meaning that if the devise was to be stolen then all of this information could be accessed and could potently have massive consequences. But by using full disk encryption it makes it almost impossible to gain access to the drive and therefore the information stored on it. The best part is you don’t need to be “tech-savy” or a “computer genius” to achieve this level of protection. And it is also a huge amount easier to achieve than it might sound.

Firstly there are a number off different methods to protect your computer with full disk encryption, this could be in the form of a downloaded application but most operating systems these days also allow the user the ability to use full disk encryptions.

Listed below are a few of the easiest options to secure your PC with full disk encryption

Bit Locker

Bit Locker is Microsoft Windows answer to full disk encryption, and was introduce with Windows Vista, but only on the higher tier packages such as professional and business. This could be a slight restriction to some users who have the home version of Windows.

But much it is a very effective and smooth process to encrypt your disk using Bit Locker, and with it being built it it is also very easy to set up and use. Unlike TrueCrypt this is ran through Microsoft, meaning constant updates and improvements to security and as a result making your data as safe as it can be.

TrueCrypt

Before Bit Locker was around full disk encryption was hard to come by, but there was an open source tool that gave users this ability. And this was TrueCrypt a very easy to use and secure full disk encryption software. That has unfortunately been unsupported since 2014. However your are still able to downloaded it, and even though it states on the website that you should migrate to Bit Locker I personally feel that for your average user that wants a little extra security it will still do an effective job. Largely due to the fact that if your devise was to get stolen, unless the thief was very technically able it would be incredibly challenging for anyone bar an expert to utilize the security vulnerabilities said to be within TrueCrypt.

TrueCrypt Disclaimer
Source – http://truecrypt.sourceforge.net/

 

Ubuntu Home Folder

If you are a Linux user then Ubuntu has you covered on the encrypted folder front, during the install process for Ubuntu you are given the option to password protect your home folder. If you opt to set up a password your home folder will then be encrypted requiring a password to access once logged into the system. It is really nice to see it in the installation stage as it means once your system has been installed everything is set up for you and you will not have to go and set it up after. Although if you use Ubuntu and didn’t do it during the start up, don’t worry about it because you can do it after while usng the system. There are guides to this on the official Ubuntu website.

 

In some cases there are different methods to unlock an encrypted drive, this could be done in a few different ways. One of the more popular is using a UBS drive as a decryption key. Meaning to access the encrypted drive the user will need to have access to the specific USB drive. This is very similar to using a key card to access the encrypted drive. In my opinion it is also a little bit more user friendly as you will not have to keep typing out what should hopefully be a lengthy and complicated password.

And one of my personal favourites is the use of biometrics such as a finger print scanner. These can be purchased online and with a little but of work in some cases, allows the user to have a scanner on the desk, and once a finger print is detected open the encrypted drive.

There are also other methods to be able to add secure sections to your files system, one I have a lot of experience with is use BitDefender. The BitDefender has an option to protect certain folders, Essentially setting up an encrypted location that requires a password to access, although it is not quite full disk encryption its a very easy and manageable way to secure some of your files. It also requires the user to select how much space is going to be need meaning that the area that you secure could be a large as you need.

 

How to Setup an Ethical Hacking Lab

I have recently been setting up a Virtual Lab to use with Kali Linux, to safely practice some pen-testing. And just messing around with some stuff, but the first thing I needed to do before I started was to create a safe environment for myself to practice in. I did this by using VMware

VMware is a virtual machine package allowing you to run virtual machines on your main devices, this can be used for a number of different things. Such as setting up a forensics test environment to discover how some application change the machines as they are used. Or to practice ethical hacking in a safe and secure environment. This can be important because unless you had permission to practice on a real network you would be in breach of a number off different laws depending on the country your in.

This means without having access to a functional lab you’d struggle to either practice away from your studies or to even get started without the worry of getting yourself into trouble. Due to these reasons I went about setting my self up a little lab using VMware. This was very straight forward and simple to-do. And now means I can practice to my hearts content without the risk of breaking any laws.And here is how I did it.

VMWare Downlaod Page
First thing you will need to do is go to the VMware website, and download the VMware Workstation Player (And don’t worry its free for personal use)
VMware Welcome Screen
Once you have downloaded and installed VMware, you will be greeted by this window. From here we are going to select “Create a New Virtual Machine”
Create VM 1
Once you have selected to create a new virtual machine, you will have to select the ISO you wish to install (I will leave a list of Linux ISO below)
Create VM 3
Once you have selected your operating system you will be asked to enter information about the user
Create VM 4
The next step is to decided where you want to save your VM files and to name the VM if you have multiple VM’s of the same operating system this is usefulto manage and keep track of them.
Create VM 5
You will then be asked to select how much storage you want the virtual machine to have, I usually leave it around the 20GB mark but you can do what ever best suites your needs. As I only use mine for testing purpose and never store any data on them.
Create VM 6
This is the final stage before powering on your VM, and is also the stage you are give the option to assign how much hardware the VM will receive.
Create VM 7
Once you have decided how many cores and how much ram your VM is going to require you need to go down to the networking option and select Host-Only. This means that you will only be able to communicate with machines on the same virtual network as yourself.
Create VM 8
And finally you should be able to power on your virtual machine and install the operating system. Once this machine boots up you will be in your own virtual network and can practice your hacking in a safe and secure environment.

 

So if you follow all of the steps above you will be able to repeat this step to install OS such as Kali Linux, this is my go to operating system for practicing ethical hacking as it has all the tools you could need and is used within industry meaning you will have access to tools that are used by professionals.

I found it useful to play around with some older operating systems to practice on first, this tended to be Windows XP or an older version of Ubuntu. This is due to the security features on Windows 10 for example and more advance making it more of a struggle to practice. I also found the easiest way to get a Windows XP key was to have a look around the house and try and find an old laptop that ran windows XP and use the serial off that. But if you don’t have any laying round the house you can buy them on eBay for about £30.

 

Linux ISO Downloads

What is WannaCry

Recently you might have read that a computer virus by the name of WannaCry has been extorting money from people and organizations all over the world. But what is WannaCry and should you be worried?

WannaCry  (or WannaCrypt, WanaCrypt0r 2.0, Wanna Decryptor) is a computer worm that has been effecting Windows computers over the past week. It is rumored to have been enabled and aided by some of the recent Vault 7 vulnerabilitys including EternalBlue that the NSA (National Security Agency) had been collecting and storing over the past few years. This has lead to one of the most widespread and effective ransomware’s that has been seen to date. Not just targeting your average user but also going after large corporations and organization such as the NHS (National Health Services)

wannacry_05_1024x774-0
The WannaCry GUI that users have been met with

But what does it all mean, this ransomware could have sat dormant for month (It very likely has) just trying to spread the infection to as many vulnerable machines as possible. Until it is then activated by either the creator or by s spesific time and date. Once the infection is triggered the malicious package then encrypts the users PC and demands the user to pay the “Ransom” in this case the amount was $300 or £231.59. This is a rather large amount of money and on the scale of the attack would have made it a very profitable venture if all of the effected users pay the money to gain access back to there device.

In the case of WannaCry effecting the NHS it could have potentially cost human lives as well, because it was effecting hospitals and GP surgery’s. Without having access to the patient information the medical practitioner might have been unable to proceed with a user treatment or potential be unable to access the patients personal information.  But WannaCry made a few fatal error is the design and execution of the virus. Firstly the ransom payment was required in bitcoins (Bit coins are a digital currency with no central regulation making it hard to track) but because there what only 4 addresses to pay the bit coins too and because they where hard-coded into application it means that the possibility of tracking them is a whole lot easier. And then there is the built in “Kill Switch” that was again hard coded into the application. This meant that to deactivate the ransomware, a website address needed reached. Meaning that researchers were able to find the target URL and register it meaning they then had the ability to deactivate the program.

For such an effective and wide spread virus it looks as if corners where cut, for example if the URL that was required for the “Kill Switch” had been coded to be random it would have made the pressure of finding the target URL much greater as there would not have been a clear target. And the next blunder was in the form of having only used 4 Bitcoin payment addresses, because of this it will make the authority’s job of tracking the Bitcoins slightly easier as they will just have to monitor bitcoins public transaction ledger know as the blockchain. It has also been found by Cisco researchers that the “Check payment” button did not actually do anything other than display one of 4 possible out come, meaning that the decryption of the devices was most likely done manually. But there is also speculation that the creator may just have send out a random handful of decryption keys to make it appear as if the payment has gained the user access to there machine again. If that is the cases then this virus should not really be called ransomware at all, as there is a strong possibility that even after the ransom has been paid the user will not just be given access back to their files, making this more Theftware.

hacking

But there has been further speculation from other security researches that this attack might have been made to look as if it was ransomware. This could mean that the creators had alternate motives. This could have been for a number of things, but when you consider the sort of things that where effected and completely parallelized (Hospital equipment, Trains and ATM’s) could it be possible that the ransomware side of this attack was merely a cover up? And when you consider that researchers at Kaspersky Lab have been finding evidence linking WannaCry to North Korea. This was in the form of similar code that had been used in a previous attack this year. A number of other big names in cyber security have also backed up these claims as they too have noticed drastic similarity within the code that has been used in both attacks. And when you look at the raising tensions between the USA and North Korea and acknowledge the fact that “cyber space” is the new battle field this could have just been a test run for bigger things to come, but of course this is all merely speculation.

But what do you do if your computer if effected by Ransomware and are there any procotions that you can take to make it less damaging.

Precautions to take


  • Always keep regular backups of any documentation and files that you need or do not wish to lose. You could back them up to an external devices such as a USB stick or an external HDD. The other option would be to back up your files and documents to one of the many cloud services such as GoogleDrive or Microsoft’s OneDrive.

 

  • Make sure you download and install regular updates on your operating system, this should hopeful help to prevent the vulnerability being present on your computer.

 

  • If you machine does get infected by ransomware the first thing you should do is disconnect your devices from the internet, this could possibility prevent the virus from encrypting all of your data.

 

 

 

 

Paid vs Free: Anti-Virus Software

Recently I have encountered a few viruses on my PC in the form of constant pop ups to malicious websites every time I try to access any web page. This lead to to me running a number of deep Scans using my Paid and trusted Bitdefender. And I thought after ruining a couple of scans everything would be grand. But as it turns out the scans found no issues with my PC.

But it was apparent there was an infection, and with the recent WannaCry attack being so prominent I felt further action had to be taken to avoid any more issues causing further harm to my Computer and potentially my personal file. So the next step was to turn Bitdefender on to Paranoia mode, this essentially locks down your PC requesting permission before websites and application can connect to the web. But again the pop ups to malicious websites continued. This was rather annoying as in my opinion Bitdefender was on of the better paid Anti-Virus software on the market with a nice UI (User Interface). But it just was not finding these malicious files causing trouble on my computer.

Bitdefender UI

So after a while I decided it would be a good idea to have a second set of eyes look over it so to speak and that’s when I decide to download Malwarebytes because I had used it in the past, in its free and portable form. The download is simple and it installed right along side Bitdefender, so I decided to do my first scan, and it turned out there were a whole lot of potentially unwanted files that Bitdefender had seemingly ignored.

Now if Bitdefender was only a free package I could have understood somewhat that it was not finding everything but after 3 full system scans (bearing in mind i have about 6TB for it to scan so it took a while) But considering this application cost per year I was bitterly disappointed. And for Bitdefender to scan my system in about 5 minuets and to find a number of unwanted applications and file it was a bit of a blow to moral.

But I was genuinely impress with Malwarebytes, not only is the free application very effective and quick. But it also removed or placed into quarantine the files that where reeking havoc on my PC. It has also  lead me to think about dropping Bitdefender as my Anti-Virus software of choices and pay for the premium Malwarebytes.malwarebytes

One thing that might deter you from taking Malwarebytes as your go to Anti-Virus however could be the cost, for 1 machine for a year it will set you back about £29.99 and for a second machine the cost is £44.99. For me this is a large sum of money when it will only cover 1 machine for £29.99.

In comparison Bitdefender is only £34.99 for 5 machines for a year, it also throws in some other features that I found to be quite a nice little addition. Such as the devices tracking ability, this is accessed by a very sleek and well built web application letting you log in and not only track all of your devices but also add new devices or remove them from the account. It also offers features such as file shredding meaning that once a file is “Shredded” there should be next to no trace of it left on your machine, Bitdefender will also allow you to encrypt parts of your hard drive to securely and easily store files. And the built in password manager is just a bit of a bonus as well.

So all in all I was genuinely impress with how effectively and smoothly Malwarebytes was able to remove the harmful files that Bitdefender was missing. But will I be moving from Bitdefender? There is a strong possibility but money is one of the things keeping me drawn to it, as I currently have my Bitdefender deployed over 3 different devices, this would mean spending £74.98 to protect all of my devices and that not a little bit of money to just throw around. If anything I will get Malwarebytes for my main machine and have it run along side Bitdefender to try and maximize the protection my system has.