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Fitness Tracker Vulnerabilities and How to Deal with Them

Cybercriminals have successfully hacked Fitbit user accounts. Learn about the vulnerabilities related to fitness trackers as well as what you can do to keep your data secure.

If Fitbit Charge users were wearing their fitness trackers when they heard the news about Fitbit user accounts being hacked, they probably saw their heart rates increase. On January 6, 2016, BuzzFeed News broke the story on how cybercriminals hacked multiple Fitbit user accounts. They changed email addresses and usernames as well as tried to swindle Fitbit out of replacement items under warranty.

The cybercriminals also gained access to Fitbit users’ data, according to BuzzFeed News. The data includes activity-related metrics, such as the number of steps taken and calories burned. It also includes where users are performing those activities and what time they usually go to sleep if their devices have Global Positioning System (GPS) and sleep-tracking functionality.

This cyberattack begs the question: What are the fitness trackers’ vulnerabilities and how can you deal with them? To answer it, you first need to know how they work.

How Fitness Trackers Work

Fitness trackers use various sensors that continuously generate data about the wearer. Because the devices need to be small and lightweight, they do not store or process this data. Instead, they typically use short-range wireless transmissions to send the data to smartphones (or computers) for storage. Apps on these devices analyze the data and display the results. Oftentimes, these apps also send a copy of the data to cloud-based servers hosted by the fitness tracker vendors. Besides storing the data, the vendors sometimes offer additional services, such as more detailed analyses.

Because fitness trackers work this way, there are security vulnerabilities on several fronts:

  • When the data is sent to the smartphone
  • When the data is sent to the vendor’s cloud servers
  • When the data is stored in the cloud

Problems That Can Occur When the Data Is Sent to the Smartphone

Just about every fitness tracker uses a Bluetooth connection to send its data to the user’s smartphone. If fitness trackers do not take the appropriate measures to secure this connection, problems can arise.

To see whether fitness trackers were taking the necessary precautions, AV-TEST researchers tested the Bluetooth connections on nine fitness trackers. They discovered that two of the fitness trackers adequately secured the connections, but the rest fell short. Common problems included no authentication process or an inadequate one between the fitness tracker and smartphone. Another common problem was that the Bluetooth connection was always active and thus visible to other Bluetooth-enabled devices. The worst offender let any Bluetooth-enabled device connect to it. Once the connection was made, it voluntarily handed over the user’s data, which was not encrypted or protected in any way.

While the AV-TEST researchers pointed out common Bluetooth vulnerabilities, other researchers have proved that those vulnerabilities can be exploited:

  • A Kaspersky Lab researcher proved that it is possible to connect to fitness trackers, execute commands, and even extract data when the devices have inadequate authentication methods.
  • A Fortinet researcher developed a way to deliver malware to a fitness tracker through its Bluetooth port. However, only a small amount of malicious code (up to 17 bytes) can be delivered, according to the NewsFactor Network. This limits the types of attacks that could be carried out.
  • Symantec researchers proved that fitness trackers using Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) connections were susceptible to location tracking. When in use, a Bluetooth LE-enabled device broadcasts a signal to advertise itself to nearby devices. The Symantec researchers built Bluetooth scanners to find these signals. They then successfully used the scanners to locate some fitness trackers and track their owners’ whereabouts at a major European running event and in public areas in Dublin, Ireland, and Zurich, Switzerland.

Problems That Can Occur When the Data Is Sent to the Vendor

Just like any other type of application, fitness tracker apps are susceptible to attacks if they are not properly secured. One major area of concern is how the apps send data to the vendor’s servers.

AV-TEST researchers found that all nine of the fitness tracker apps they tested properly secured any data sent through the Internet. Besides using a secure connection, the apps encrypted the fitness data as well as the users’ credentials.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case. When Symantec researchers analyzed some popular smartphone health and fitness apps, they found that 20 percent of them transmitted users’ login credentials in plain text. This gives cybercriminals the opportunity to access users’ account information as well as their health and fitness data. If the app users re-use their login credentials for other online accounts, the cybercriminals could potentially gain access to those accounts as well. Further, transmitting credentials in plain text makes users more susceptible to other types of attacks, such as Denial of Service (DoS). In a DoS attack, cybercriminals try to prevent users from accessing a service by overwhelming it with service requests.

Problems That Can Occur When the Data Is in the Cloud

Fitness tracker vendors commonly store users’ fitness data in their cloud-based servers. This can be problematic in two regards.

First, if the vendors do not properly secure their servers, there could be data breaches. Cybercriminals will likely be interested in this data, particularly if it is collocated with other personal information such as payment card data.

Perhaps a more imminent threat is the sale of fitness data. In the United States, there are currently no federal regulations preventing vendors from selling fitness data to marketing firms, employers, health insurers, and other third parties. They can even sell it without the users’ consent or knowledge. One U.S. senator has asked the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to institute regulations that require fitness-tracker and fitness-app vendors to inform users of such sales and give users the chance to opt out. In other words, these vendors would need to post a privacy policy.

When Symantec researchers were researching smartphone health and fitness apps, they found that 48 percent of the app vendors had posted privacy policies. Most of these policies used generic privacy statements with vague promises of keeping user data private.

What You Can Do to Protect Your Fitness Data

Although fitness trackers have security vulnerabilities on several fronts, you can take some precautions to keep your data secure:

  • Do some research on the fitness tracker to see if there are any known problems.
  • Make sure there is an adequate authentication process used in the communications between the fitness tracker and the smartphone.
  • Verify that the fitness tracker sends out a Bluetooth signal only when needed.
  • Confirm that the fitness tracker app uses secure protocols (e.g., HTTPS) when transmitting data over the Internet.
  • Use full encryption if available.
  • Check to see if the fitness tracker vendor has a privacy policy that states it will not sell users’ data to third parties.
  • Make sure that the fitness tracker vendor uses adequate security measures to protects its servers.
  • Use strong passwords for your online accounts.
  • Do not use the same password for different accounts.
  • Install updates for your smartphone’s operating system and fitness tracker app as soon as they are available.
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What You Need to Know about Dorkbot to Keep Your Organization Safe

More than 1 million computers running Microsoft Windows have been infected by the Dorkbot botnet. Here is what you need to know about this threat so that you can keep your company’s online account credentials safe.

The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) — a division within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — issued a security alert about Dorkbot in December 2015. This botnet has infected more than 1 million computers running Microsoft Windows in over 190 countries, according to Microsoft. A botnet consists of a large number of computers and other devices under a cybercriminal’s control. Cybercriminals use botnets for a variety of nefarious reasons. By learning what cybercriminals hope to accomplish with Dorkbot and how Dorkbot infiltrates computers, you can better understand how to protect your computer from this threat.

What Cybercriminals Hope to Accomplish with Dorkbot

Cybercriminals are mainly using Dorkbot to steal online account credentials and other types of private information. This is possible because Dorkbot monitors and intercepts communications between web browsers and various websites.

In an effort to keep the infected computers under their control, cybercriminals sometimes instruct Dorkbot to block access to certain security software websites. That way, the computers will not receive any anti-malware definitions that might rid them of the infection. Some cybercriminals also have Dorkbot install additional malware on victims’ computers.

Cybercriminals even use Dorkbot-infected computers in denial-of-service (DoS) attacks. These attacks prevent people from accessing a service by overwhelming it with service requests.

How Dorkbot Infiltrates Computers

Dorkbot can be spread multiple ways. One method uses phishing emails that try to get the recipients to click a link that will lead to a Dorkbot infection.

Another method uses drive-by downloads, which exploit known vulnerabilities in web browsers, plug-ins, and other components that work within browsers. Cybercriminals create exploit kits that infect computers with Dorkbot through these vulnerabilities. They place the kits on websites they build or legitimate websites they hack into. If computers connecting to these websites have not received the patch that fixes the exploited vulnerability, Dorkbot will be automatically installed on those computers without the users knowing about it.

After Dorkbot infects a computer, it automatically tries to spread to other machines. One way it does this is through social engineering attacks. For example, Dorkbot might send instant messages to the Skype contacts listed in an infected computer. The messages usually try to trick them into clicking a link that will download Dorkbot onto their computers. Similarly, Dorkbot might carry out social engineering attacks through social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

A further way Dorkbot tries to spread to other machines is through removable drives, such as USB drives. If users of Dorkbot-infected computers plug a removable device into their computers, Dorkbot copies itself to the device. When the device is plugged into a different computer, Dorkbot will automatically spread to that computer. Fortunately, this method is not very effective anymore due to changes in how the Autorun feature in Windows works, according to Microsoft.

How to Protect Your Computer from Dorkbot

To help protect your computer from Dorkbot and other malware, follow these recommendations:

  • Use anti-malware software. Anti-malware software providers regularly update their product to protect computers from the most current threats.
  • Install software updates promptly, such as those for Windows and web browsers. If you keep your operating system, web browser, and other software up to date, cybercriminals will not be able to install malware like Dorkbot through known vulnerabilities.
  • Be cautious when you receive instant messages, social media messages, and emails that contain links, even if they are from a trusted source. If possible, verify that your contact actually sent you the link before you click it.
  • Do not download software from websites other than the software developer’s website if possible. The software might have been modified so that it infects your computer with Dorkbot or other malware.

If you want to make sure that your computer is not infected with Dorkbot, ensure your anti-malware software is active and up-to-date. If your computer was infected, be sure to change your online account passwords immediately, as they might have been compromised.

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Before getting rid of an old computer, you need to make sure that all the personal and sensitive data on the hard drive is irretrievable. If personal or sensitive data falls into the wrong hands, your business could incur staggering direct and indirect expenses. The average total cost of a data breach in 2015 was $3.8 million, according to the Ponemon Institute’s report, “2015 Cost of Data Breach Study: Global Analysis”.

An organization does not even need to experience a data breach to incur expenses due to the improper disposal of data on hard drives. In 2014, Visionworks failed to secure the personal information of more than 72,000 Maryland residents after it misplaced two old unsecured servers. They might have been accidentally taken to landfills. Both servers contained encrypted credit card data. They also contained customers’ names, addresses, birthdays, and purchase histories.

Even though there was no evidence that any of the data had been compromised, the Consumer Protection Division of Maryland’s Office of the Attorney General sued Visionworks. The company agreed to pay Maryland $100,000. It also agreed to provide identity theft insurance and an additional year of credit monitoring to Maryland customers requesting these coverages. Visionworks had already offered all affected customers a year of free credit monitoring immediately after the incident.

How to Make Sure the Data on an Old Hard Drive Is Irretrievable

When getting rid of an old computer, you might be tempted to simply reformat the hard drive. However, formatting a hard drive does not destroy the files on the drive. It only destroys the information that the operating system uses to find those files. Anyone can easily retrieve the files using a data recovery tool.

There are several proper ways to make sure the data on a hard drive is irretrievable. Common methods include:

  • Overwriting: You can use data destruction software to overwrite a hard drive’s data with a pattern of meaningless characters. You may need to run the software multiple times to fully overwrite a drive’s data.
  • Degaussing: You can erase data using a magnetic field. There are different types of degaussers, so you need to make sure you pick the right one for the job. The National Security Agency/Central Security Service (NSA/CSS) discusses the different types of degaussers in its Degausser Evaluated Products List. This document also lists the degaussers that meet the NSA/CSS requirements for erasing magnetic storage devices containing classified or sensitive data.
  • Crushing: You can use a hard drive crusher to pierce, bend, and mangle hard drives beyond physical repair. The data on the crushed hard drive is still intact, but it is difficult to retrieve.
  • Shredding: Similar to paper shredders, hard drive shredders cut hard drives into randomly sized strips. The data is still intact, but it is even more difficult to retrieve than the data on crushed drives.
  • Disintegrating: Disintegrators cut hard drives into smaller and smaller pieces until they are unrecognizable and not reconstructible. Disintegrating is usually done after shredding.

For even better protection, you can use more than one method. You might first degauss or overwrite the data. Afterward, you can crush, shred, or disintegrate the hard drive.

New Technologies – SSD

Newer technologies such as Solid State Drives (SSDs) pose new challenges to destruction since many of the old “wiping” approaches simply do not apply. Shredding or disintegrating of SSD drives are the most advisable approaches.

Factors to Consider When Deciding on a Method

There are several factors to consider when deciding how to make sure the data on your old hard drives is irretrievable. Two important considerations are cost and how many hard drives you need to get rid of.

Data destruction software is cheap. Some programs are even free. However, using this software can be time-consuming because you need to run the program several times to be effective. It is not uncommon for a single pass to take eight hours. So, if you have many drives to get rid of, this might not be the best option.

You can get the job done much quicker with a machine that degausses, crushes, shreds, or disintegrates hard drives. These machines, though, can be expensive. If you do not want to buy one, there are firms that offer hard drive destruction services. Some firms will transport a client’s hard drives to their facilities, where the drives are destroyed. Other firms will destroy a client’s hard drives at the client’s site.

Another important consideration is whether your organization falls under any industry or government regulations. Some laws call for the proper disposal of protected health information, such as names, addresses, social security numbers, and medical histories. Depending on the regulation, you may or may not be able to select who will dispose of the data — your employees or a hard drive destruction firm. If done in-house, the employees tasked with this job must receive training on the proper way to dispose of the data. Their supervisors must also receive this same training. If you hire a firm, you need to enter into a contract that requires the firm to safeguard the data during its disposal.

Other industry and government regulations may require you to properly dispose of data on old hard drives. Each regulation has its own requirements.

Qualified IT professionals at InfoStructures can help you determine the best way to meet all applicable requirements.