The Mac & Malware

Like many Mac users, I’m not too concerned about malware. Traditionally, the vast majority of these were directed at Microsoft OS platforms. But recent headlines prompted me to consider two pieces of Mac software: Avast Mac Security and Malwarebytes for Mac.

Malwarebytes seems particularily useful if you download software from questionable sources. I’m still not certain AV software is really needed.

Self-defence in Jail

In July 2016, Ontario Superior court Judge Edward Morgan wrote an astounding judgement in favour of self-defence in R. vs. Michael Short.

Short shivved an assailant in a provincial jail. While Short is a violent gang member, the Judge understood that he had the right to defend himself with a weapon, even in a jail. This Judge understood the poorly managed jails offered no protection to inmates facing unprovoked attacks.

Let’s hope more judges exhibit this level of understanding when faced with prosecutions of ordinary citizens who are forced to defend themselves.

Apple or Bust

My Linux experience seems to match that of Darryl Daugherty (@DarrylDaugherty) who is an IT start-up survivor turned commercial investigator and OSINT operator in Bangkok, Thailand. Like Darryl, with Linux, I spent too much time configuring and patching while never knowing what will break. The Apple is easier to live with–set it up once, harden it, and get to work.

I have been learning how to use the Apple computers for IIR. Thanks to many friends like Darryl who have used them for years, I feel like I am in good hands.

To avoid expensive errors while learning, I’m starting with a refurbished Mini made after 2010. These older models will upgrade to current versions of OS X (El Capitan) and they continue to enjoy Apple Software Updates.

You may ask, why a refurbished machine? The answer is simple, if I buy from Apple, then I get a full warranty on the machine. If I make a horrendous mistake in some security settings and modifications and permanently lock myself out of the machine (like not having the recovery key in FileVault2), then it won’t cost so much to start over.

Escaping Windows–Mac OS X

As you can see, I no longer trust MS Windows to keep my data private.

One alternative is OS X, which is a series of Unix-based graphical interface operating systems (OS) developed by Apple Inc. It is designed to run on Macintosh computers. It has been pre-installed on all Macs since 2002. This is a proven and reliable performer. Unfortunately, the switch to Apple can be expensive as it really does require Apple hardware for optimum performance.

The advantage of OS X is that it runs MS Office and that keeps the natives calm, even if they have to hunt and peck through the GUI to find things. The open source LibreOffice and Open Office are different enough from Word (and Excel) to drive the writers in your organisation, me included, absolutely mad. There really is a steep learning curve for a new word processor and spreadsheet software. Keeping MS Office also allows you to keep your templates intact. However, even on OS X, MS Office creates its own threat surface.

If you must harden MS Office by eliminating all macro’s, portable templates, and most of it’s network and workgroup features, then that is the point where LibreOffice or Open Office becomes a better option.

There is little risk of a serious malware infection of OS X itself, especially if you use Little Snitch.  OS X is easier to configure for online security as most of the work has been done for you. This isn’t the case with most versions of Linux.

Hunchly & Casefile

As I move away from Windows due to privacy and security issues, I have been looking for new software for Investigative Internet Research (IIR). Taking Casefile from one OS to another has not created any problems.

I have been watching the development of Hunchly and have tried it on Windows, Mac, and the recent Linux release with success and it works well with Casefile. Browser-based tool Hunchly  creates local copies of every page visited during a session, and organises them into a searchable database for future reference. Hunchly is a Google Chrome extension. I have some privacy and security concerns about using Chrome, but the IIR world isn’t a perfect place.

Hunchly permits the use of “selectors,” such as a name or phone number that save you from manually searching each page for the terms. In my opinion, this feature alone is worth the purchase price. The other useful features include:

  • being able to add notes to what you find
  • you can download notes as a Word document
  • all collected data is stored, tracked and accessed on your local machine–no security or privacy concerns about cloud use
  • you can export Hunchly data to a Casefile or Maltego graph.

Hunchly isn’t a replacement for Maltego, but it is a good tool for smaller IIR tasks that might later require the use of Maltego. The ability to export to Casefile or Maltego can help with further research and reporting the linkages within the collected data.

The Politics of Prohibition & the AR-15

All the unreasoned hoopla about the AR-15 brought on by the Orlando shooting is driven by treacherous pantywaists, commies, and crooks of all stripes. Their primary tool for gaining a prohibition of owning this rifle is the ignorance of urban voters. For the most part, these voters know nothing about existing gun laws, firearms, self-defence, hunting, or military service.

Partisan politics plays a large role in this. Gay and Muslim voters form a significant constituency for the left of centre political parties. This demands that these parties cannot acknowledge that religion or culture forms the foundation for many such atrocities. Therefore, the politicians cannot blame Muslim culture for creating this mass murderer. Certainly, they cannot blame the gay victims for not being manly enough to fight for their lives.

The Orlando shooter was a state licenced armed security guard and a poster child for gun control. He underwent two extensive background checks and a medical exam that determined that he had no condition that precluded preforming armed duties. He was fingerprinted and all his identity papers were examined. He completed 60 hours of firearms training. He was required to renew his armed guard licence each year. The FBI investigated the shooter on two occasions and, it appears, actually removed him from the terror watch list. They cannot blame the FBI, Florida state bureaucrats, or the shooters employer, a government contractor, for lax or inept enforcement of laws or company policy.

Nor can politicians blame the police for not following the lessons learned from other mass shootings like the ecole polytechnique shooting in Montreal. They can’t blame the tragically delayed and disorganised police response that caused more deaths. That only leaves one whipping boy, the AR-15—never mind that the Orlando shooter didn’t use an AR-15 but an Sig Sauer MCX.

What else could have been done–ban guns outright? When another terrorist attacks what then—ban homosexuality so the terrorists won’t hate us so much? The simple truth is, we can’t ban our way to safety, however, we can overreact and turn our society as dangerously totalitarian as anything ISIS can imagine.

Windows Telemetry

In August 2015, Microsoft delivered some ‘optional’ updates to Windows 7 and Windows 8 users (KB3075249, KB3080149 and KB3068708) that would provide the same telemetry data.

To disable this in Win 7 & 8, go to Start and type in services in the search box. Then click on Services. Go down the list in the left-hand pane and select Diagnostics Tracking Service and right click Properties. In Properties change Startup type to Disabled.

Windows 10 comes with the telemetry feature enabled by default and this collects user activity and sends it to Microsoft. Once installed, it looks like there is no way to disable it completely using the Settings app for Home and Pro editions of Windows 10. Only Enterprise users can turn it off by editing the registry. The best practice is to install Win 10 using the Microsoft’s Media Creation tool (see Windows 10 as Spyware) and then confirm that the telemetry is shut-off in the registry.

Due to complaints about Microsoft’s practices, the updates that scrape data from your computer now appear as telemetary updates or as security updates to IE. As more people object, expect these updates to appear in a different guise.

Disabling the WIN 10 Upgrade Nagging

In June 2016, this nagging became much more intrusive. MS began squatting on your machine with the Win 10 install files. They then began installing Win 10 without warning on unsuspecting users.

Given the privacy and security concerns with Win 10, you may not  want to be nagged to update, here’s how to stop the Windows 10 upgrade notifications and run Windows 7 or 8 forever.

There are a few methods which worked in the past but no longer stop the nagging and surreptitious install of Win 10. Never10 is the current tool that most easily disables the upgrade.

Windows 10 as Spyware

Current users of Windows 7 or 8 have been offered free upgrades to Windows 10. This would be tempting except for the liability that this may create. As we all know, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Many experts deem lots of the new so-called features to be spyware. It is one thing to find an application misbehaving; it is entirely different to use an OS designed to allow Microsoft (MS) to monetize your data and squat on your computer hard drive. Built into the Windows 10 OS are spying and data-mining features that deliver data to MS which MS then uses to generate profits.

The long-winded Microsoft Services Agreement runs to 40,000 words of impenetrable legalese and you must agree to everything in it to get your new OS. Unfortunately, or is it predictably, the agreement appears to grant Microsoft the right to read, save, and share anything stored on or accessed using any computer running MS Windows as well as any computer using MS products or services. By default, all of this snooping is turned on and I have serious concerns that it may be impossible to entirely prevent this snooping.

Portions of Microsoft’s privacy policy, which is part of the services agreement, indicates that the MS may use a keylogger to collect users’ data. This means, if you open a file and type, MS has access to what you type, and the file containing the what you type. This may also apply to voice information from speech processing software. Of course, MS offers a way to shut-off all this logging, but you have to believe that it actually works and stays off.

If you are careful in planning your upgrade to Windows 10, and if you have the technical knowledge, then you can probably upgrade the OS while preserving your professional obligation to protect client confidentiality and privacy, at least initially.

To maintain privacy and confidentiality you should use Microsoft’s Media Creation tool. This gives you a copy of the OS installation files. You’ll need at least a 6 GB USB drive. You can use it on multiple PCs. During an upgrade, the installation will look to see if you already have a product key. To do a clean install you may need to have your Windows 7 or 8 product key. You should tape it on your PC. Keep the USB since there’s no other way to get back to Windows 10 if anything unexpected happens. Doing the installation otherwise may allow MS to scrape data from your computer.

By clicking on “Express Settings” during installation you give away your contacts, calendar details, text and touch input, location data, and a whole lot more. It is clear that MS wants to monetize the confidential information on your computer. This creates a serious liability for Canadian private investigators who maintain personal identifiers and other confidential information on Windows 10 machines. Under Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PEPIDA), by accepting the terms of the Microsoft Services Agreement you have chosen to share this information and in most cases that may be illegal. Accepting this agreement may also put private investigators in contravention of their licencing statutes.

If you click on the small “Customise settings” button at installation, you must toggle many settings on two pages to ‘off’. Don’t forget to include Wi-Fi Sense. Using the Privacy App to turn-off the data stream to MS for those who have already installed the OS using “Express Settings” will be even more confusing to the average user. After doing all the above, Windows 10 continues to send confidential data to MS unless you dig into the registry and group policy editor. Stopping the snooping will disable many features like the digital assistant Cortana that MS is marketing as a reason to upgrade to Windows 10. However, what I am describing here only describes what we can see. Without conducting packet-level analysis, we you don’t really know what data is being sent back to Microsoft, and by which service.

You will also need to go into Windows Firewall and turn-off the rules that allowed a whole slew of Microsoft applications to transmit information.

Windows 10 Home comes with full-disk BitLocker encryption. To enable it, you must use a Microsoft account and the recovery key needed to decrypt your drive resides on Microsoft’s servers. Doing this violates your professional obligations. However, Windows 10 Pro doesn’t have this restriction: you can use BitLocker with a local account and keep your key out of the cloud. Most investigators would use Windows 10 Home and theoretically, a third party could decrypt their drives remotely.

The data stream from your PC to MS is bad enough, but somebody will learn to intercept this data stream and this will leave you open to a targeted attack. If the hacker releases the stolen data and it is tracked back to you or your computer, then your career is likely over. You can expect some form of action under PEPIDA and/or prosecution under your licencing statute. This data breach will almost certainly result in a civil suit and adverse publicity. Who would hire a PI or researcher like that?

Another concern is how updates are delivered. Like Bittorrent, Win 10 updates will be distributed from other Win 10 PCs  This presents an extreme risk, as you don’t know where the update is really coming from. You have to know enough to choose how your updates are delivered.

Privacy & the PI

Let’s address this situation realistically from the perspective of the PI or researcher determined to use Windows 10.

Let’s assume that you are a trusting individual. You trust MS government officials, litigants, lawyers, and everybody else to not understand or care that you accepted the Microsoft Service agreement that grants MS access to all your confidential data and the right to save and share it. You must also trust that your own technical expertise is up to the task of properly installing Windows 10 to circumvent all the efforts of MS to access your data.

At the outset, you pay extra for the Pro version to set-up disk encryption with a local account because you are security conscious.

First, you try to install the OS without it being connected to the Internet to ensure it doesn’t scrape data from your PC. This doesn’t work, as it needs connectivity to complete the installation. You discover that you must use the clean install method (using Microsoft’s Media Creation tool) described above to isolate your PC from the Internet to ensure that MS doesn’t scrape data from you computer during the installation. There are reports of Win 10 install files being placed on your computer on Patch Tuesday to use your PC to further distribute the OS installation files. You must learn how to get your patches from only a trusted source and to prevent MS from using your PC to distribute the OS.

Second, upon ensuring that it will not scrape data from your PC during installation, you toggle two pages of settings to ‘off’ and lose many of the new features.

Third, you edit registry and group policies to staunch the continuing flow of data to MS. Doesn’t everybody know how to do this without damaging the usability of the OS?

Fourth, in Windows Firewall, you turn-off the rules that allow MS applications to transmit information to MS.

Fifth, you then choose how your updates are delivered to prevent updates from untrusted sites. You ensure that updates come from trusted computers in your own network.

Sixth, you conduct packet-level analysis and shut-off any service that continues to send data to MS. Doesn’t everybody know how to do this and have the time to do it?

Finally, with every update and patch, you do a packet-level analysis to make sure your privacy and security is intact.

Of course, sending all this private and confidential data to MS is not necessary to have a functioning OS and applications. It is only necessary for MS profits and probably some government snooping.

Next, how to stop the Win 10 install nagging.

JonDo

For anonymous web surfing, at a minimum, two components are required: a proxy and a browser that doesn’t identify you. At the office, I have both and much more to protect my privacy and provide anonymity. If I have to use a Windows computer at a client’s offices, then temporary measures have to be undertaken.

The simplest solution for this, without using an anonymous VPN, is the JonDo Proxy program that will hide your IP address (Java application) and JonDoFox, a Firefox profile optimized for anonymous and secure web surfing. Using the USB doesn’t leave any traces on the computer for some snoop at the client’s office to uncover. This need Windows as the OS.

For more privacy and anonymity, you can use JonDo/Tor-Secure-Live-DVD, a secure, pre-configured environment for anonymous surfing and more. This has its own OS based on the Debian GNU/Linux OS. The live system contains proxy clients for JonDonym, Tor Onion Router and Mixmaster remailer and much more.

The advantage of the live system is that it is on a DVD, which prevents any other system from writing something dangerous to the DVD.

Using these do not make it impossible to uncover individual users, as there is no such thing as a 100% security, but for most users, this will be adequate for most situations. If you are concerned about this, I suggest you read the surveillance reports on the law enforcement page.

Operational Security Part 5: Online Personas

In this 6 part series of articles for Canadian Security Magazine, part 1 explained the nature of security intelligence (SI) and its OPSEC challenges. Part 2 explained the OPSEC challenges facing security intelligence in an iconic commercial enterprise or location. Part 3 explained the important aspects of document control. Part 4 explained the best way to protect the computer network used for security intelligence.

This, the 5th part, explains that privacy and anonymity are different things entirely and how to manage the use of online personas to gather intelligence.

Indexing PDFs

ORPALIS PDF OCR Free is a Windows tool which converts PDF files into fully searchable documents. It scans a PDF file and recognises all its text–even within images–and then exports a new PDF file that now has all its text searchable. This is useful with scanned documents, as it allows you to use the regular Search tool, rather than reading every page of the document.

ORPALIS offers a lot of useful tools for managing your documents. For example, the professional version converts over 90 document formats whereas the free edition supports only PDF as input. It also recognizes over 60 languages and uses multithreading to process multiple documents at the same time.