Security Awareness and Tools

This is an appendix to the Axelerant Security Policy containing details that can and should be updated regularly as new technologies or patterns of use develop, to provide team members the best tools to maintain the security of company confidential and personal information.

This is currently - and probably always will be - a work in progress. 

Securing your Laptop

The operating system and software applications on your laptop - and all computers, phones, tablets, etc., in your house - should be kept up to date with new versions and security patches that ensure it presents a minimal attack surface to potential adversaries. 

Additionally, your laptop should lock (require a password to resume) on-screen close and after 15 minutes idle time.

Password Management Tools

A password manager will enable you to have unique, strong passwords for every service you log into. Good password managers will generate new passwords for you, auto-fill web forms, allow extra protection for high-security accounts (like banking), and more. Please choose a password manager that encrypts locally (in your browser, so you don't have to trust the provider to keep their data safe) and that has iPhone and Android apps that will auto-sync with the manager. At Axelerant, we currently recommend LastPass as it is the most full-featured, but we keep a close eye on the FOSS KeePass and Password Safe solutions.

LastPass

  • The LastPass password generator can easily create and maintain hundreds of different passwords. And LastPass has free iPhone and Android apps.

    • We recommend a minimum of 16 character passwords using all character types. (Some old systems will need you to lessen this level of security, but those are few.)

    • Once you have all your passwords in LastPass, take the "Security Challenge" - your score should be 80% or higher.

  • LastPass is required for all members of the Axelerant Team.

  • Set up Two Factor Authentication on your LastPass Account (see below). LastPass will be storing all your passwords, so make it secure.

  • It is fine (and perhaps preferable because your browser can only use one LastPass account at a time) to use a personal email address to create your LastPass account.

  • Axelerant also requires that you have a backup 2-factor authenticator for your LastPass account.

Disable Browser Password Autofill

LastPass provides secure password management, especially when unlocked via Two Factor Authentication. Storing new passwords created in LastPass in your browser completely defeats this security, enabling anyone to access your browser access to all your sites. If asked by your browser, "Do you want to save this password in your browser?" answer "No" Then disable this insecure action altogether:

  • In Chrome, go to chrome://settings/ and uncheck "Offer to save your web passwords."

  • In Firefox, go to about:preferences#security and uncheck "Remember logins for sites."

  • In Safari, go to Preferences >> Passwords and uncheck "AutoFill user names and passwords."

Use Two Factor (or 2-Step) Authentication (TFA, 2FA)

Two-Factor Authentication includes something you know (e.g., your memorized password) and something you have (e.g., your smartphone or a Yubikey) and can greatly increase your security systems. Axelerant recommends you use Two-Factor Authentication for services that support it.

For example, as your password manager grows to have more passwords in it - not only Axelerant's systems and clients but also your personal bank accounts, credit cards, school records, etc. - it becomes increasingly important to have it protected by more than just a password.

Axelerant requires that its employees and contractors give access to the Axelerant Google Apps - that include Gmail, Hangouts, and Google Docs access - use Two-Factor Authentication on their Axelerant Google Account.

Two-Factor Authenticators

There are many hardware and software tools for creating secure "one-time passwords" (OTP). Two that we frequently use internally are described below.

Please do not rely on SMS text messages for general two-factor authentication as it is less secure than others listed here. However, at the time of this writing, setting up Two-Factor Authentication on your Google account initially requires SMS verification. This is OK and also serves as a "TFA Backup" mechanism (be sure to see the essential section below on Two-Factor Redundancy and TFA Backup Codes).

Google Authenticator

Partial List of TFA Services

Two-Factor Redundancy and TFA Backup Codes

As a final, crucially important step, you must have a backup second factor for all your TFA accounts. Imagine that you use Google Authenticator from your phone to unlock LastPass, and you lose your phone. Without a backup second factor, access to your accounts would be prevented. So you need a backup.

SMS can often be an easy backup, say for Google Authenticator. Services that provide TFA generally enable multiple two-factor options and also provide a downloadable set of single-use "backup codes" that you can download or print and keep in a safe place. If you lost your primary second factor, you could use your secondary one or a printer backup code stored in your file cabinet. Hint: you can store backup codes in LastPass in the Notes section.

Advanced: Connecting to TFA-enabled Sevices/Apps

Some applications and services may need to connect to your Axelerant google account, but they might not handle TFA. An example of this would be a personal Gmail account trying to send e-mails through your Axelerant's account. For this purpose, Google has created something called App PasswordsApp Passwords allows you to create a unique password for each of your services/apps. If this password is used while authenticating your service/app to access your Axelerant's account, it will bypass TFA.

There are some instructions at https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/185833?hl=en on how to use App Passwords with Google. Several other TFA-enabled services also support app passwords -- see their respective documentation.

IT: Sharing Service Accounts

  • If a service allows individual accounts, use only individual accounts and not share credentials.

  • Prefer services that allow individual accounts, services that allow TFA, and secure password policies.

  • If a service only allows a single account, have a shared LastPass master account that ideally only 2-3 trusted people have access to. From there, share passwords out on an "as needed" basis only, including individual day-to-day Lastpass accounts for the 2-3 trusted people.

  • If the LastPass master account is paid, it also allows sharing credentials in a way that makes the password harder for the person who you shared it to recover/view/share (but still allows them to log in with it).

  • Shared account passwords should rotate to ensure that only those users needing access continue to have access, revoking individual accounts, particularly when people leave.

Phishing and Social Engineering

Social engineering is the most common attack vector used to compromise computer systems. Social engineering relies heavily on human interaction and often involves tricking people into breaking normal security procedures. The following is a brief reminder of some of the methods used but is in no way complete.

  • Phishing

    • Don't click on links; hover and check the URLs

    • Don't open attachments (unless you really trust the sender)

    • If in doubt, ask an IT member (e.g., via Slack)

    • More on Phishing avoidance (from EFF)

  • Windows Technical Support

    • "Windows Technical Support has noticed that you have viruses or other malware on your computer..."

  • Baiting

    • Seemingly innocent (or interesting) abandoned USB, CD, DVD media with autorun

  • Public WiFi (e.g., coffee shop, airport, library, ...)

    • Turn off sharing

    • Don't automatically connect to unknown WiFi hotspots.

    • Confirm the network name - know the name of your hotspot!

    • Turn on your local firewall.

    • As usual, never enter your name or password information:

      • when on an insecure (non-HTTPS or SSL encrypted) connection, or

      • to a site that you have not verified is correct (by examining at the URL)

    • More on public WiFi network safety (from LifeHacker)

Keep Your Systems Up-to-date

One of the best ways to protect yourself from being hacked (other than via a social engineering pathway) is to keep your software on your computers and phones up-to-date. Sometimes you may reasonably want to wait for a .1 or .2 release before updating after a new major release, but don't get far behind. Also, if you have a Windows machine, you must maintain an up-to-date anti-virus package on it.

Disk Encryption and Storage Management

Most modern disks (and SSDs) have self-encrypting drive (SED) technology built-in. Axelerant highly recommends SSDs for their increased speed and the hardware-based encryption (self-encrypting drive or "SED" technology) to protect the drive when the machine is off. This is particularly important for laptops that can be easily stolen. When you buy a new disk or configure a new laptop, turn on the disk encryption. Some of Axelerant's clients will demand it. (Contact your product manager to see if you are eligible for a hard disk rebate.)

Software Disk Encryption

If you haven't set up your hard drive with hardware encryption, you can use software alternatives until you get yourself a new drive. These methods incur a small performance penalty concerning hardware encryption, but they are relatively quick and easy to set up.

Mac OSX: FileVault 2

Open System Preferences, click on the Security & Privacy icon and switch to the FileVault tab. If you see a button that says "Turn Off FileVault..." then congratulations, your disk is already encrypted. Otherwise, click the lock icon in the bottom left so you can make changes, and click "Turn On FileVault...". Google "Filevault" for more information.

Much more technical detail on securing your Mac: macOS-Security-and-Privacy-GuideThis is useful but well beyond what is required by Axelerant.

Windows: BitLocker or DiskCryptor

To see if BitLocker is supported on your version of Windows, open up Windows Explorer, right-click on C drive, and see if you have a "Turn on BitLocker" option (if you see a "Manage BitLocker" option, then congratulations, your disk is already encrypted.) If you don't have BitLocker available, google the open-source DiskCryptor.

GNU/Linux: use the hardware

Unlike Mac and Windows, you can only encrypt your drive during system installation; you might as well buy a new SSD...

Backups

With more work captured in the cloud by Slack, Gmail, Google Drive, GitHub, etc., there is less that needs to be backed up. But you won't know what you'll miss until your system doesn't boot up because of an unrecoverable hard drive (or SSD) error. At the least, back up your security keys and personal preferences directories, such as (examples in GNU/Linux):

  • ~/.ssh/

  • ~/.gnupg/

  • ~/.config

Consider committing your personalization files (like ~/.bashrc) into a Git repository. Just make sure that you do not commit any files that may contain private keys or passwords.

While it's preferable that you not backup any company or client-sensitive files or data, such data must be completely deleted from your machine(s) when you stop working for that client.

If you use any backup mechanism more complicated than simply copying the files to another medium, ensure that you know how to restore the files, too, as backups are worthless if you can't retrieve them.

Finally, there is no good reason not to be making backups: a one terabyte external USB drive costs less than $60 on Amazon.

Securely Delete Files and Wipe Disks

When you delete a file, it doesn't actually go away. Usually, all that occurs is the file name, and a pointer to its bits is removed from a directory listing. With the proper tools, deleted files can be recovered. For this reason, old disks must be securely wiped before being given or thrown away. Some pointers are given below:

GNU/Linux:

Mac OS X:

Erasing an entire disk:

Protecting Your Privacy

Axelerant believes that your privacy is a right and that private communications can be beneficial to the business. Here are some tips on how FOSS can help: