Security and your online accounts

joel degan
Sep 6, 2018 · 10 min read

Originally from: FINomad-Security and your online accounts I feel strongly about this topic and it deeply concerns crypto assets.

Every FI/FIRE investor, every real estate investor, and all digital nomads have their money, accounts and financial future sitting online literally behind basic passwords and maybe a single two-factor text message. Meanwhile, hackers have databases of account breaches and most every persons password(s) are somewhere in plaintext online paired with their email. That fact alone should be enough to cause concern and get you to consider upgrading your security. This article aims to be a full introduction into securing your online presence and utilizing a mix of 2FA, Biometric and U2F security. I’ll walk you through the tools, websites and practices so you will be sleeping better at night knowing your finacial future is not being looted.

What is wrong with passwords and text messages?

If you google “IMSI catcher” you are going to be shocked at what you find out. In the cities and even smaller towns unscrupulous villians can, and are currently, intercepting your cell phone traffic and are able to do an attack call a Man in the middle attack which simply means, they sit in the middle and pretend they are a website and are able to hijack your session and pretend they are you. Much of this has been stymied by ubiquitous HTTPS across sites thanks to Google and Facebook, however newer attacks are now cloning your phone (that was picked up with an IMSI) and this has been an issue since before 2016 with serious imlpications.

Google recently published a two year study called “Security Keys: Practical Cryptographic Second Factors for the Modern Web” in which they report on the findings of a rollout of U2F keys to 50,000 employees where they effectievly eliminated phishing attacks.

That is a really BIG deal.

Lets see if we can do this for ourselves.

note: I use Android phones and Macbook Pro laptops so most links below will be for those, iOS and Windows typically have the same apps but in their respective app stores.

Online security 101

We need to start with some terms/abbreviations, don’t worry too much about these this is more for reference.

Before starting we should really consider what we are protecting ourselves from. If you are concerned with law enforcement agencies in the United States then biometric locking your data is not a good option as it is not protected and you should use passwords because you cannot be forced to give up a password thanks to the 5th Amendment. However, most of us here (I assume) are not spies or doing illegal stuff so we are simply concerned with protecting ourselves from hackers and from phishing scams online, both wide-net and targeted. We are trying to protect our online digital presence, our credit ratings, our bank accounts and our investment and retirement accounts.

Our goal is to stop phishing and other types of attacks in their tracks. The primary online account for most people right now is a Google account. Your Google account has your email, logins for other sites via OAuth and even payment forms, if you have an android phone then most likely all pictures you take are backed up in the cloud. If someone got into your Google account they could reset all your banking passwords, view any images you have, see what docs you have online and so forth.

Other accounts like twitter can also be used as OAuth general logins so we need to make sure all of them buttoned up as well and of course we need to set maximum security preferences for all our online banking.

Let’s get started.

Step 1 — basic security

First lets secure our chrome browser: do a reset and a fresh install to verify we don’t have anything bad running. Then install the following three extensions.

With these extension we won’t get infected with spyware or have any potential tracking and hijacking code get run in our browser.

Now you should reset your android phone (iOS) if you have any doubts, and then set up fingerprint login and an OTP auth app on your phone (see “Apps” below or use this) and then set up 2FA on every account that you have that you can think of.

Most banks don’t currently support U2F yet so you are going to have to max out the security offerings they do have. This means apps they have you download to your phone to work as 2FA and biometrics, some will even send you OTP devices for free. Bank of America supports fingerprint login, so do several other banks.

Going through all your accounts is a big job… I know

You might be considering stopping here, don’t, if you are then read OTP vs. U2F: Strong To Stronger

NOTE: You may also want to go through online accounts that could have your bank account added, make sure to remove that access, so for instance if you used to use Betterment and then decided to move that money to Fundrise, then by all means disconnect Betterment from your bank because if they got hacked you had just left that there for the hackers.

Another thing to do while doing this is to modify your password recovery answers and fill them in with junk, while keeping a spreadsheet of those in Google sheets (using Google advanced protection) or on a service like Lastpass. It’s fairly easy to look up your information like your mothers maiden name or what your high school mascot was. These were never a good solution in the first place and besides its fun to make up crazy school mascots.

Step 2 — getting U2F ready

Are all of your accounts 2FA? Okay, good…

Now we get into U2F and device specific protection. If you want to dip your toe in before spending money, then I would highly suggest trying out Krypton which turns your phone into a U2F device. If you dig around with Krypton there is a wealth of great security that you can do with their command line tools, however for most users the app and Chrome extension are a fast solution to see how U2F works and it will also work with Google Advanced Protection. It might be a good idea to use the fingerprint scanner on your phone to lock it if you use Krypton. Krypton only supports a limited amount of websites right now. I personally use Krypton in conjunction with three U2F hardware keys and it’s great. To add other keys you need to turn this extension on and off, so keep that in mind if you install it.

There is a full list of sites that support (or should support) U2F and it’s a sparse list, if they don’t support it then there are links to post to social media to nag them about not supporting it.

Our goal here is to get Google Advanced Protection turned on and then secure as many of our accounts with U2F as possible.

U2F is a passwordless ‘presence check’ that proves that you are sitting there and initiated some action with a physical device. Lets look at a couple U2F login models to see how this works, the top one shows a biometric login flow and lower one shows a USB key login flow.

Note that you can have the option to remember a computer/phone/tablet when you do this so any subsequent logins do not require the key. This means your computer is now trusted and most all U2F supporting sites have lists of your trusted devices that you can manage.

There are a few types of U2F keys available that we can use to do Google advanced protection and the following list includes all the ones that can do NFC so you can use google on your phones and tablets. Without NFC or bluetooth your phone is not going to be happy so make sure at least one of your keys supports it.

You will need at least two keys, one as your primary and one as a backup.

If you have money in Vanguard be aware that they ONLY support certain Yubikeys (Yubikey Security Key, Yubikey NEO, Yubikey 4 NANO, Yubikey 4). You will want two Yubikeys if you want to properly secure Vangaurd.

Step 3 — Lock it down.

So, you have two keys and at least one of them is a NFC or Bluetooth capable key for you phone and/or tablet. It’s now time to go to Google Advanced Protection and start the process. If you have previously added any U2F keys to Google they will be wiped out. So have two keys ready to go and follow the directions. Once you have added your keys all places you have logged into Google will be logged out, you will have log back in everywhere so get ready. Once you log back in you can add any other keys you may want to try.

Okay, so Google is locked down tight, that is the motherlode account and the one you absolutely have to keep safe. Your Google account is now secure, so be happy there. Now, lets move on and lock down our other accounts.

At the time of writing the only investment site to support U2F is Vanguard.

Secure up your social media, here are instructions for each.

Secure your identity providers

Step 4 — additional security

We can do a few more things here with our security.

Apps and online tools

Password managers

I am very wary of password managers, they are natural magents for someone wanting full access to your life and they have proven they are not 100% secure thanks to several high profile issues so I would say go ahead and use them, but make sure to only use them in conjunction with other things mentioned here. My work also has a ‘no password manager’ rule so I don’t use them.

For the techs

This is some good stuff here.

Cool future tech I am watching

General security considerations

Final thoughts

Security changes fast and with the FIDO alliance of tech giants pushing to get rid of passwords we are definitely entering a new world of personal security online. The information above is what I consider a fairly solid security plan to secure your life online and I feel it is well worth investing the time particularly if not doing something so simple could endanger your financial future.

In my case, I work for a high profile tech company, I maintain opensource cryptocurrency projects, I run multiple websites and I have been working online since the 90’s. All of these things put together means I am a juicy target and my email/pass data has shown up in multiple major hacks that have been posted online.

I hope this helps you.

joel degan

Written by

I write tutorials that I wish I found, instead of having to write. I like puzzles, games, beer and travel and any combinations of those.