#Security

That Time I Became A 76-Year-Old New Yorker

Or, what happens when you send an email to the wrong place. Note, for the time being, I have redacted the names of the company and doctor involved as I am attempting to follow through with a responsible disclosure process for this security issue. I had something very strange happen to me today. It all began with a random email to an address that I don’t use much anymore, but still have in Mail. It’s an email account I’ve had for over 13 years, so it still gets the occasional stray email. The subject read as follows: Welcome To <redacted> Patient Portal Followed in quick succession by another one: Welcome To <redacted> Patient Portal Wait, what?

Securely Signing PHP Phar Files With OpenSSL

PHP’s PHAR archives (PHp ARchives, get it?) are a neat development. They’re a way to distribute an entire PHP application as a single archived file that can be executed directly by the PHP intepreter without unarchving them before execution. They’re broadly equivalent to Java’s JAR files and they’re super useful for writing small utilities in PHP.

Google Chrome, Mac OS X and Self-Signed SSL Certificates

I’ve been using Google Chrome as my primary browser for the last few months. Sorry, Firefox, but with all the stuff I need to work installed, you’re so slow as to be unusable. Up to and including having to force-quit at the end of the day. Chrome starts and stops quickly But that’s not the purpose of this entry. The purpose is how to live with self-signed SSL certificates and Google Chrome. Let’s say you have a server with a self-signed HTTP SSL certificate. Every time you hit a page, you get a nasty error message. You ignore it once and it’s fine for that browsing session. But when you restart, it’s back. Unlike Firefox, there’s no easy way to say “yes, I know what I’m doing, ignore this.” This is an oversight I wish Chromium would correct, but until they do, we have to hack our way around it. Caveat: these instructions are written for Mac OS X. PC instructions will be slightly different at PCs don’t have a keychain, and Google Chrome (unlike Firefox) uses the system keychain. So here’s how to get Google Chrome to play nicely with your self-signed SSL certificate: On your web server, copy the crt file (in my case, server.crt) over to your Macintosh. I scp'd it to my Desktop for ease of work. ** These directions has been updated. Thanks to Josh below for pointing out a slightly easier way.** In the address bar, click the little lock with the X. This will bring up a small information screen. Click the button that says “Certificate Information.” Click and drag the image to your desktop. It looks like a little certificate. Double-click it. This will bring up the Keychain Access utility. Enter your password to unlock it. Be sure you add the certificate to the System keychain, not the login keychain. Click “Always Trust,” even though this doesn’t seem to do anything. After it has been added, double-click it. You may have to authenticate again. Expand the “Trust” section. “When using this certificate,” set to “Always Trust” That’s it! Close Keychain Access and restart Chrome, and your self-signed certificate should be recognized now by the browser. This is one thing I hope Google/Chromium fixes soon as it should not be this difficult. Self-signed SSL certificates are used **a lot **in the business world, and there should be an easier way for someone who knows what they are doing to be able to ignore this error than copying certificates around and manually adding them to the system keychain.

Automatically Expiring Passwords

I do a little bit of work for a friend on the side every now and then. He has a small online store set up with a credit card processor to handle processing payments for his credit cards. Every so often if he hasn’t gotten orders in a few days, he gets a bit antsy and asks me to log in and check to be sure no orders have gotten through without him getting an alert. Dutifully, I do this, as it usually only takes me about 30 seconds to make sure everything is working - as it always is. However, a few months ago I tried to log into his virtual terminal account, I was treated to a ominous warning, informing me that my password had “expired” and asking me to enter my password again, as well as selecting a new password. I had never seen that before, so I checked to make sure I was logging into the right site and had not somehow managed to fall for a phishing attack. Sure enough, my password had “expired.” Hmm. This is lame. Maybe I’ll try to be smart with it and reenter the same password … nope. It’s smart. Can’t get around it. Because I had other things to do and this is already wasting my time, I concede defeat and create a new password for logging onto this site. Then, I do the unthinkable. Something that would make any security researcher and probably the “designer” of this system cringe in horror: I write the password down in a text file. Now anyone who manages to steal my laptop could potentially have access to this (of course, the file is encryped with the original password, though, so there is that). Fast forward a few months. Another e-mail, another log into the virtual merchant terminal to check its status, another “password expired” message. Ah hah! Maybe I can set it back to what it used to be. No dice. It remembers all my old passwords.  Every 45 days, I have to make and learn a new password or this website, which is a monumental pain since I only usually look at it about that often. I make another new password, and update my file. More of my time wasted. After 90 days with this processor, I have now had three passwords. Now, I know how to create an encrypted file. But think about the users. The people using this are not computer experts. They are small businesses. Let’s say Bob at Bob’s Sunglasses has this account. But Bob doesn’t want to spend all day logged into his merchant processor account. Bob has sunglasses to look at! So, he gives the login information to his secretary Susan and tells her to process and fill orders as they come in. After 45 days, Susan gets a warning message one morning about changing her password. After spending an hour on the phone with tech support, she is able to figure out how to change the password. Then, she does exactly what I did: she writes it down. Only she writes it down on a yellow post-it note along with the user name and account number (“just in case,” she says to herself) and sticks it right on the side of the monitor for everyone to see. Automatically expiring passwords, from a security perspective, is an extremely bad idea because it encourages unsafe behavior with passwords. While theoretically it sounds like a great idea, it perversely encourages users to write passwords down - the last thing you want them to be doing - and just makes it all the more difficult for them to use your product. A better approach is to encourage or require users to have secure passwords in the first place, and to foster proper care for passwords.

Security on Shared Hosts

Shared hosts are a reality for many small businesses or businesses that aren’t oriented around moving massive amounts of data. This is a given - we can’t all afford racks full of dedicated servers. With that in mind, I would urge people to be more careful about what they do on shared hosting accounts. You should assume that anything you do is being watched. Take, for example, the /tmp directory. I was doing some work for a friend this weekend whose account is housed on the servers of a certain very large hosting company. While tweaking some of his scripts, I noticed via phpinfo() that sessions were file-based and were being stored in /tmp. This made me curious as to whether any of that session data could possibly be available for public viewing. My first move was to simply try FTP’ing up and CD’ing to /tmp directory. No go - they have the FTP accounts chrooted into a jail, so the obvious door is closed. However, the accounts have PHP installed, so I can do something like this in a PHP script: <?php system("ls -al /tmp"); ?> With this little bit of code, I can look into the tmp directory even if my FTP login is chrooted. Fortunately, sessions on this host are 600, so they’re not publically readable -  this was my primary concern and the reason I took some time to check this out. But people are putting lots of things into the tmp directory with the misguided idea that it is their private temporary file dump, including one idiot who put a month’s worth of PayPal transaction data into tmp and left it 644 so that it was publically viewable. Now, I’m a nice guy and the only thing I’m going to do with this information is laugh at it. But keeping in mind how dirt cheap hosting accounts are, there’s not a high entry barrier for someone with fewer scruples. The key thing to remember is that, if you need temporary file storage on a shared host, do it someplace less obvious, set the permissions so that only you can read/write to it (600), and clean up by deleting files as soon as you possibly can.