Facebook security

Everyone uses Social Media these days and we’re trusting it with more and more of our personally identifiable information (PII).

Our interests, comments, check-ins, likes and the network of friends and family we build-up all contribute to a context-heavy online identity.

If an attacker gains control of your online identity, they can easily:

  • Steal all your personal information
  • Post content and messages on your behalf to hurt you or your network of friends and family
  • Use implicit trust to gain access to other online services
  • Impersonate you, abusing the trust you have with your network of friends and family to infiltrate their online identities and networks
    etc.

In this guide, I’ll focus on the social media platform Facebook and talk about how to review your security settings.

Review your public profile

It’s important to review exactly what information you’ve entered as part of your Facebook Public Profile – as it’s exactly that: Public.

You may have entered something personal, inappropriate, misleading, regrettable or just incorrect without realising it’s being broadcast to the world. The settings controlling what’s displayed as part of your public profile are separate from Facebook’s general security settings so must be reviewed independently.

To configure your Public Profile, do this:

  1. Browse to https://www.facebook.com and log in
  2. Find your mini profile picture and name in the top of the left navigation bar.
  3. Click on the the 3 vertical dots next to your name
  4. Click on Edit Profile from the pop-up menu
  5. Your Edit profile popup window will appear

Examine all photos and read all text and options in this window from top to bottom. Whatever you see here  is publicly visible to the whole world.

After making a change, remember to click the Save button that appears.

Edit your About Info

IMPORTANT: Make sure you click on the Edit your About Info link at the bottom of the Edit Profile window.

The About Info section can contain a huge amount of personal information you might want to keep private.

Go down the navigation items on the left and examine each panel of information on the right. Examine everything here. If there’s something you’d rather keep private or don’t want the world to see or know about – such as your mobile phone number or your relationship status, change it here.

 

Security and privacy settings

Facebook security settings can be accessed via the Facebook. Accessing the Facebook security settings:

  1. Browse to https://www.facebook.com and log in
  2. Click on the down arrow ▼ in the top right corner
  3. Select Settings from the drop down list

Facebook Security Settings

There are lots of security-related settings here, so to save you time I’ve use the following colour coding:

[QUICK WIN] = You should address these straight away

[EFFORT] = Require a bit more thought and effort but will definitely improve your security posture

[REVIEW] = Items for you to review. These are mainly about privacy but also cover notifications and alerting.

 

Security and login

Where you’re logged in [REVIEW]

This is a list of all devices and locations that are currently logged into your Facebook account.

If you have a home PC, a laptop, a smart phone, a tablet etc. you’ll see multiple entries here. Facebook will try and identify the type of device and where geographically it’s logged in from.

Make sure you click on the See more button to display everything.

Look down the list and if there’s anything there you don’t recognise, click the three dots menu icon on the right and select Not you?. This tells Facebook that you are not responsible for this login and will help Facebook block this connection in the future.

If you’re knowingly using a VPN or routing your traffic via a different country, you’ll see that reflected here.

Seeing anything unexpected here can indicate that your Facebook account has been compromised and someone else is logging into your account without your knowledge. Is this is the case, I would recommend that you immediately do the following:

  1. Change your Facebook password
  2. Go back to the Where you’re logged in list and click Log out of all sessions at the bottom.

This will cause every device on the list to be logged out. If they try and log in again, they’ll be prompted to enter your password which you’ve just changed.

Setting up extra security

Get alerts about unrecognised logins [QUICK WIN]

This works hand-in-hand with the Where you’re logged in list (explained above).

Facebook can send you a notification if it sees a login that’s from a previously unknown device, browser or location. This is really important so you can react quickly if your account is compromised.

If this isn’t already On, click the Edit button and make sure notifications are enabled for all alert types. Remember to click Save Changes.

If you’ve just turned something on, you’ll get an alert saying so.

Use two-factor authentication [EFFORT]

You can learn more about the concept of Two Factor Authentication (2FA) by reading my guide here.

TL;DR; In order for a new device or browser to log into your Facebook account, a person will need to know not just your username and password (which might have been leaked) but also have access to your unlocked mobile device and use its code generator app.

If you enable 2FA in Facebook, it requires a minimum of your mobile phone number and a code generator of some sort.

The Facebook smartphone app will serve as a code generator, but if you’re embracing the concept of 2FA to protect your online identity across multiple online services, you should take the option to set up a third-party app as a code generator.

After you’ve read my guide to 2FA, adding Facebook’s QR code to your code generator app will be a breeze.

Choose 3 to 5 friends to contact if you are locked out [REVIEW]

Your Facebook account can be locked-out if someone is trying to brute-force your login credentials or someone has reported your account behaving maliciously – usually after it’s been compromised.

You can choose a few trusted Facebook contacts to help you out if your account becomes locked-out. They will be contacted by Facebook to help your identity to prove you are who you say you are.

Privacy

Your activity

Who can see your future posts [QUICK WIN]

Unless you are a public figure and want everyone to know exactly what you had for lunch or where you went last night and with whom, I would strongly recommend making sure only your Friends can see your future posts.

This setting usually defaults to Friends, but can switch if you’ve recently changed the visibility of a post to Public.

If this is set to anything other than Friends, click the Edit button, change to Friends then click Close. This setting doesn’t have a Save Changes button and takes effect immediately.

Limit the audience of old posts on your timeline [QUICK WIN]

If you’ve posted stuff in the past that you might have thought was a good idea to make Public, or may have accidentally made Public, you can fix this and set everything you’ve done back to Friends.

Click Limit Past Posts then click the Limit Past Posts button that appears below, then click the Limit Past Posts button in the window that appears, then click Close. The change will take effect immediately.

How people can find and contact you

Who can see your friends list? [REVIEW]

If you want to stop people you don’t know seeing a list of your Facebook Friends, you can change that here.

Click Edit, then change the visibility button to Friends. The change takes effect immediately.

If you’re happy for people you don’t know to see your list of Facebook friends, leave it as Public.

Who can look you up using the email address you provided? [REVIEW]

If you want to prevent people you don’t know from finding your Facebook Profile via your email address, you can change that here.

Click Edit, then change the visibility button to either Friends or Friends of friends. The change takes effect immediately.

If you’re happy for people you don’t know to find you by your email address, leave it as Everyone.

Who can look you up using the phone number you provided? [REVIEW]

If you want to prevent people you don’t know from finding your Facebook Profile via your mobile phone number, you can change that here.

Click Edit, then change the visibility button to either Friends or Friends of friends. The change takes effect immediately.

If you’re happy for people you don’t know to find you by your mobile phone number, leave it as Everyone.

Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your Profile? [REVIEW]

You can stop your Facebook Profile page from appearing in search engine results by changing this option.

Click the Edit button and either tick or un-tick Allow search engines outside of Facebook to link to your Profile, then click Close.

It can take days or weeks for your profile to disappear from search engine results, so don’t expect an immediate effect. If you’re still seeing your profile coming up in search engine results, you’ll need to contact the search engine company directly and request your profile to be removed.

Timeline and tagging

Timeline

Who can post on your timeline? [QUICK WIN]

TO DO

Who can see what others post on your timeline? [REVIEW]

TO DO

Tagging

Who can see posts that you’re tagged in on your timeline? [REVIEW]

TO DO

When you’re tagged in a post, who do you want to add to the audience of the post if they can’t already see it? [REVIEW]

TO DO

 

Review

Review posts that you’re tagged in before the posts appear on your timeline? [REVIEW]

TO DO

Review what other people see on your timeline [REVIEW]

TO DO

Review tags that people add to your posts before the tags appear on Facebook? [REVIEW]

TO DO

Public posts

Who Can Follow Me [REVIEW]

TO DO

Public Post Comments [REVIEW]

TO DO

Public Post Notifications [REVIEW]

TO DO

Public Profile Info [REVIEW]

TO DO

Apps

TO DO

Apps, Websites and Plug-ins [QUICK WIN]

TO DO

Game and app notifications [REVIEW]

TO DO

Logged in with Facebook [QUICK WIN]

TO DO

Payments

TO DO

 

 

Setting up and using Multi Factor Authentication (2FA/MFA)

What’s wrong with my username and password?

Typical online authentication requires a username and a password – this is something a user has to know.

These can be (and are frequently) written down, shared with other people or leaked to the world via hackers.

Users will often setup the same username and password with multiple online services. This is super-convenient because they only have to remember one set of credentials, but if those credentials get leaked, hackers will have access to all services where that set of credentials have been used.

This could be your mailbox, your social media accounts, online shops, dating sites (!) etc. and once an attacker has access to your mailbox, they can use the “forgot password” function of any website to reset your password and control your account.

To remedy all this, you can add an additional layer of security called Two Factor Authentication (2FA), sometimes called Multi Factor Authentication (MFA).

What is Multi Factor Authentication?

This is so-called because it adds an additional factor to the authentication process – specifically it relies on something a user has in addition to something they know.

MFA is typically implemented on a physical device such as a security fob or smartphone. The device generates a 6 to 8 digit number every 30 seconds which is unique to the owner of the device and the online service that provided the code.

To log into an online service protected by MFA, you now need to provide your username and password (something you know) and the number displayed by your code generator (something you have). The online service knows the number your code generator will produce and checks all three items before logging you in.

to be continued…

Weak passwords and how to choose a strong complex memorable password

LoginA weak password is one that can be easily guessed or broken.

This might be because it’s made up of public information associated with you. For example:

  • You or your family’s dates of birth
  • Names of your family members
  • Your pet’s names
  • Your nickname
  • your car
  • your favourite football team
    etc.

Your password might be a known default password.

Many items of computer hardware which connect to the Internet have factory default usernames and passwords. These are often variations of the words admin and password.

Recently installed, but unconfigured software or content management systems will often use a default password which is publicly known and published in online manuals.

So far these are examples of public information being used as passwords.

For passwords made up of secret information, brute-force methods can be used to guess a password.

Common passwords

You might think your password is so easy to remember and type but so obscure, that no-one else would have ever thought of it, but you’re probably wrong.

Here are the top 20 most popular passwords that crop up on the leaked lists:

  • 123456
  • password
  • 12345678
  • qwerty
  • 12345
  • 123456789
  • letmein
  • 1234567
  • football
  • iloveyou
  • admin
  • welcome
  • monkey
  • login
  • abc123
  • starwars
  • 123123
  • dragon
  • passw0rd
  • master’s degree

In 2017, it was estimated that almost 10% of people used at least one of the 100 most popular passwords and almost 3% of people have used 123456 as their password.

These lists are regularly used for brute-forcing passwords, so anything on this this list should be avoided.

You can check whether your password is on one of the leaked lists using this website: https://haveibeenpwned.com/Passwords

Password complexity

The more complex a password is, the more difficult it will be for brute-force methods to succeed.

Password complexity can be improved by doing one or more (or all) of the following:

  • Avoid using a single word from a dictionary as your password. This will be found straight away when a list of dictionary words are tried one after another.
  • Increase the number of characters in the password. A four character password is much weaker than an eight character password for example.
  • Include upper and lower case characters in the password. Don’t just use a single uppercase letter followed by all lowercase letters.
  • Include numbers and symbols in the password.

It used to be popular to replace letters with numbers that look like their alphabetic counterparts. For example, replace O (oh) with 0 (zero), L with 1 (one), A with 4, S with 5 etc. to created words like:

  • Baseball = b455b411
  • password = pa55w0rd
  • secret = s3cr3t

However, the brute-force algorithms have long been wise to this, so this sort of character replacement is one of the first things they try.

The most secure passwords

The most secure form of password is a long string of random uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols like this:

zKa4zD#5    (8 chars)

$f4qX6rxBU&B    (12 chars)

1!^B5qUA$t0iU7l%    (16 chars)

The disadvantage of these un-guessable context-free, complex passwords, is that they’re almost impossible to remember and as a result are then written-down – which completely defeats their purpose.

Passwords are often found written on Post-it notes and stuck under keyboards, in front or back covers of notebooks or on computer monitors.

Hawaii Emergency Broadcast System now broadcasting their passwords

Using a Password Manager

I would always recommend the use of long strong complex passwords in conjunction with a Password Manager. A password manager will generate, remember and enter long strong complex passwords for you, so you don’t need to write them down.

Read my guide about setting up and using a password manager.

Of course, you’ll still need at least one strong complex memorable password to protect your password manager, so read-on.

Choosing a strong complex memorable password

  1. Think of 3 or 4 random words. Look around you and get some inspiration. Don’t choose words that can be guessed by someone else or could be associated with you.
  2. Imagine a silly or weird situation in your mind that can be described using those words. This image is the key to memorising your password.

If you’re forced to use special characters by someone’s password policy:

  1. Choose where to put your capital letters. Don’t use a capital letter as the first character. Maybe the start of the 2nd and/or 3rd words?
  2. Can one of your words be a number? Change it to its numeric version.
  3. Pick one or more symbol characters and put them somewhere in the middle of the password. Don’t use them as the 1st or last characters.

Here’s a fun cartoon from xkcd.com

xkcd Password Strength

This is a really popular cartoon, so please don’t use correcthorsebatterystaple as your password as I’m certain its now on every password cracking dictionary  🙂

Setting up and using a Password Manager

What is a Password Manager

A Password Manager (PM) is a service or app that generates, stores and manages usernames and passwords for online services.

The core concept is that you have a single strong but memorable Master Password that secures access to the PM. The PM will generate un-guessable passwords for you, store them securely and type them in automatically when you need to log in to somewhere online. It does this by providing an extension or plugin to your browser.

Why should I use one?

Read my post titled Stop using the same password everywhere!

Getting started

There are a few password managers out there and at time of writing, two popular ones are LastPass and 1Password. Both offer their basic features as a free service. They both also offer a paid-for service for more advanced users.

I’ve been using LastPass for many years and this guide continues assuming you’re using the free service offered by LastPass.

Disclaimer

I have personally paid for the more advanced services provided by LastPass and have not received any incentives or payments from either of the two PMs mentioned in this post.

Do this straight away

Choose a strong un-guessable password for your Master Password.

Read my guide here about weak passwords.

content to follow

Mid to Long term use

content to follow

 

Stop using the same password everywhere!

Why is this a bad thing?

Using the same password everywhere makes everyone’s life easier. It means you can log into your bank, your online shopping, your mailbox and social media without having to remember dozens of passwords.

However, using the same password on multiple online services is like using the same key to unlock your front door, your car, your suitcase and your safety deposit box.

If someone sees your key and makes a copy of it, they can now unlock everything. They can not only steal whatever you’re protecting with that key (money, personal information etc), but they can also impersonate you to steal your friends and family’s money and personal information buy abusing their trust in you.

My password is secret, so no-one will ever know it

You might think your password is secure because you’ve not told anyone about it.

You might be guilty of writing it down somewhere, but you’ve kept that private too. So there’s no problem right?

Wrong.

Every time you use a password, it gets sent over the internet. If it’s correct, you get logged in.

In order for an online service to validate your login, it has to know your password – or at least enough about it to ensure what you’ve provided is a match.

If an online service contains security vulnerabilities, it won’t be long before all the usernames and passwords of all its customers will be stolen and end end up online for all to see. Hackers do this for fun and commercial gain.

Can I find out if my credentials have been leaked?

Have I Been Pwned?Yes you can. Check out the website of Troy Hunt: https://haveibeenpwned.com

Troy is a reputable and professional Information Security advisor. He’s been collecting published usernames and password lists over the last few years and has built a free service where anyone can check to see if their email address or username has been leaked.

At time of writing, Troy’s database has over four billion unique username and passwords.

His site also allows you to check whether your password has been publicised. It doesn’t give anything away other than saying that it’s known and that it should never be changed immediately.

What should I do?

The first step is to make a conscious decision to never ever use the same password for any online service ever again. This means having a unique password for every one.

You can do this by enlisting the help of a Password Manager and being tidy and disciplined.

Set up and use a Password Manager

Here’s my guide for setting up and using a Password Manager.

 

Be tidy

Your password manager is the only place you should store your passwords.

To avoid storing (potentially different) passwords in different places, you should:

  • Stop your browser from remembering passwords – you will be using your Password Manager for this. Here’s how.
  • When you’ve got everything in your password manager, clear down all passwords stored in your browser. Here’s how.

Be disciplined

  • Always use your password manager and never store your passwords in a browser on any device.
  • Whenever you sign up for an online service, use your password manager to generate and store a unique password.
  • If you can’t use the password generation feature of your password manager, for example on your Smart TV, never use a weak password. Here’s a guide.

Add an extra layer of security

More and more online services also give you the option to add an extra layer of security called Two Factor Authentication (2FA) – sometimes called Multi Factor Authentication (MFA).

It sounds complicated, but is actually very straightforward and relatively friction-free.

Here’s my guide to setting up and using Multi Factor Authentication (MFA)