The number one issue in the past weeks is the LivingSocial hack, where attackers reportedly have stolen massive amounts of personal data, including names, eMail addresses, birthdates, and encrypted passwords. LivingSocial has confirmed an attack, but not the reported number of 50 million stolen data sets – which would be the vast majority of all LivingSocial users.

However, there still is relatively little information about the details. It is still unclear whether all non-Asian accounts are actually affected. (LivingSocial holds the Asian accounts on another server.) It is not publicly known how the passwords have been encrypted and thus it remains unclear to what extent the attackers might use them for subsequent attacks on other websites. Fortunately, it appears that the credit card information of the LivingSocial users is held in separate databases and is not affected by the attack.

Given that this sort of attack against large sites happens regularly, the question becomes what lessons are learned and what defenses should be taken. The lessons for the companies running such sites clearly are to invest in security, for both protection and monitoring. However, successful attacks will happen and, in contrast to some former incidents at other sites, LivingSocial at least encrypted the passwords and used a separate database for credit card information.

For the users, the answer is also straightforward: raise the bar for authentication. Reconsider using sites and services if they do not provide options for stronger authentication such as (good) 2FA approaches. Clearly using different hard-to-guess passwords is an option, but that is fairly inconvenient – my colleague Craig Burton once stated that you do not have such thing as a password muscle you can simply strengthen by training.

FIDO Alliance and Google

Another interesting bit of news is the uptake of the FIDO Alliance. Google now is also a member of this alliance and there is some chance that the FIDO Alliance might gain sufficient momentum to become a success. I will cover this in a separate upcoming blog post.

Reported number of attacks

During the past few weeks, several companies such as Symantec, IBM (X-Force Report), or Akamai have published their security reports talking about the observed number of attacks. I found two actually interesting aspects in these numbers. One is that the numbers are highly inconsistent. Some companies report massive increases in attacks, others some decrease at least for certain types of attacks.

The other interesting finding is one in the Symantec Internet Security and Threat Report 2013. The report says that the number of targeted attacks increased by 42 percent. This number stands for a shift towards industrial espionage, with small business being affected in 31 percent of those attacks. Direct attacks differ from the large-scale phishing attacks in that the attackers are looking for specific data or to cause concrete harm against specific targets, instead of just trying to phish as much data from their rather anonymous victims.

Data Broker Acxiom to sell data back to real owners?

You may not have heard of Acxiom, a company that describes itself as an “enterprise data, analytics and software as a service company” that is “known worldwide for our marketing database and consumer data”. There was a report that Acxoim plans to introduce a service that allows individuals to reveal the information Acxiom knows about them. In Germany, such services are mandated by law. For instance Schufa, a company that provides information about the financial credibility, offers such service. This is considered a part of your fundamental rights, in that case the “right for informational self-determination”.

Making a business out of this is a somewhat strange thing from a European perspective. In fact what Acxiom is said to plan is that people have to pay to learn about their data. The fundamental difference here obviously is whether “data about you” is “your data” per se or not.