Tag Archives: need coffee

How I fought off a Facebook hacker -and how to avoid getting hacked yourself

Last night I helped a close friend: I successfully fought off a Facebook account takeover. It wasn’t easy. I sweated for a couple of hours until I got it done. And I even had to face a rather unsophisticated, or maybe just lazy, enemy. Here I’ll recap what happened and give some easy but effective advice that you can easily use .

What happened?

As it happens with many IT professionals, I’m the go-to person for any computer related problems for family and friends.

My friend called me, frantically trying to explain that someone, using his Facebook account, was using Messenger to send personal messages to all his contacts. The message was in casual language, like you would talk to a friend, claiming that he had lost his wallet and asking if the friend has an account in a certain bank (obviously the bank had nothing to do with this). Most importantly, the message didn’t look obviously fake.

“Good evening.. how are you?!! I’m here and there. I lost my wallet 😦 Can I ask you something.. do you maybe have an account in Piraeus Bank? I need a big favor, I lost the bank card as well :(“

The response

Mitigation: informing people

To avoid people actually sending money, I logged into Messenger with my friend’s credentials and started sending messages to people that were replying, concerned about what had might have happened to their friend. I opted for something short, clear and alarming: “I’VE BEEN HACKED PLEASE IGNORE IT’S A VIRUS” (yes, I know that technically speaking that’s not especially accurate)

But the enemy was active and chatting with 2-3 of the contacts. In these cases, I saw my message being deleted.

I noticed that all his messages were more or less the same; he had some kind of playbook and was copy-pasting text, maybe slightly changing the text to fit the conversation.

And in one case he came close to being victorious: before I could sent the “please ignore” message, one of the contacts sent him some bank details -not sure what exactly as the message was deleted by the enemy, presumably after copying it. The contact then saw my message and replied alarmed “I sent him, what do I do now???” to which I replied “Call your bank NOW and lock your account and credit card”. I hope that helped; I’ll definitely follow up on that.

Taking back control of the account

The enemy hadn’t changed any password, so I was able to log in. Remember that Messenger accounts are controlled in Facebook (unless you have a Messenger-only account, which was not the case here). So the first thing I checked was the active sessions in Facebook (Settings > Security and Login Settings > Where You’re Logged In). That was what I got:

Unfortunately I didn’t know at the time that you can hover over the session with the mouse and get more info, like the session’s IP address. Had I done that, we could have a chance to retaliate -like going to the police.

My friend uses an Ubuntu laptop (which I set up for him), a Windows PC at work and a Samsung mobile where he uses Facebook and Messenger through the apps. So the first 3 sessions were almost certainly the enemy. I immediately disconnected him. Then I changed the password.

But we were not out of the woods yet.

The Empire Strikes Back

After changing the password and believing that I had locked him out for good, I continuing notifying people in Messenger. But after a few minutes, I suddenly saw a fresh batch of the same message being sent. My friend has around 500 contacts (“friends”) and I suppose there’s some limitation from Messenger so the enemy wasn’t able to send his message to everyone at once.

How was this possible? I had changed the password and disconnected his sessions. I glanced at Facebook Settings (“Where You’re Logged In”) and, sure enough, new sessions of the Huawei Mate 8 were there. He couldn’t have guessed the new 18-character completely random password I had set. I tried logging into Facebook from a private browser window and I got “Wrong password”. Hmmm… the options I had from Facebook for changing a forgotten password was 1) SMS 2) email 3) recognize people in pictures. Until that point, I had used SMS. So how did he do that?

I called my friend:

Me: please tell me that you don’t have the same password in your email as in Facebook
(note: his password was something like “oldman53#”)
Friend: no I don’t
Me: so what’s your email password?
Friend: The same but without the # at the end

NICE. Well that’s really damn secure I thought to myself, though I didn’t say anything -didn’t want to castigate my beleaguered friend, I’m saving that for the weekend 🙂

So first thing, as people were already replying in Messenger and there was real danger of someone sending money, I had to stop him getting in. So I went to Facebook settings to change the email.

The thing is, with the password already changed and unknown to me, I had to reset the password first. And Facebook wouldn’t send an SMS anymore, after having used it a few times already.

Return of the Jedi

So I had to resort to face recognition. The process presented me with 3 photos at a time, for a total of 10 or so people, and a list of possible names from the friends list. There was the option “I don’t know”, but you could use it only twice -then you were out.

Obviously these people were unknown to me, so I had to send them through What’s App to my friend. It took us around 10 precious minutes but at the end it worked. I immediately changed the email to one that I own (and has a decent, unique password and multi-factor authentication!).

After that, I disconnected his sessions and that was the end of it, I didn’t see him again. I quickly headed over to outlook.com, where his email is hosted, changed the password there and added two factor authentication by SMS.

I anxiously kept monitoring Facebook’s sessions in case he somehow came back on one window and at the same time continued to notify the hundreds of people he had sent his message to. At the same time I tested, with a private browser window, that I even knowing the password I couldn’t login to Facebook or outlook.com without an SMS to my friend’s phone.

After around half an hour had passed, I felt the worst were behind us. I called my friend and told him to log in to Messenger and continue talking to people.

Some conclusions

To be clear, the reason this happened was because my friend, like many, many people, had bad password hygiene. He was using relatively easy (for a machine) to guess passwords but most importantly, he was reusing passwords between web sites. And web sites get passwords stolen. A lot.

What can you do to avoid this happening to you? Start from the low-hanging fruit. You get very decent security with very little effort.

So here’s a small TODO list:

  • Use random long (18 character or more) passwords. If it’s really random (e.g zGasd6t7a6tgQaERys6Ld5AoVF567) you don’t even need symbols. Don’t create them by hand, use a password generator (like this).
  • Use unique passwords. Every site or service you use needs to have its own. It will get stolen, eventually, but the damage will be contained to this site only. And no, oldman53 and oldman53# are NOT really different.
  • The two points above are basically impossible for a human to do. So you need to use a password manager. I use LastPass and I’m very happy with it. It costs around EUR 35 a year. If you want a free alternative use either Bitwarden or Firefox Lockwise.
  • When available, two-factor authentication (2FA for short) is an absolute must. 2FA is when, in order to login to a service, you need a username, a password plus something more. Usually it’s an SMS, and that’s fine, but even better you can use an authenticator app. LastPass has its own, and its backed up in your LastPass account, but if you want a free alternative get either Authy or the one from Microsoft which is backed up in your Microsoft account. Obviously your authenticator backup needs to be well protected, so use two-factor for this as well -but a different one in case you lose access to it, so here SMS is better.
How much effort is this?

I did this with my friend so I got a taste. Note that I’m in Switzerland and he’s in Greece, so he did the whole process with me giving instructions on the phone -which slowed us down considerably. But on the other hand I knew what had to be done, while less experienced users might be not so comfortable when doing this for the first time. We used Bitwarden + Authy.

  • It took us around 90 min to set up Bitwarden and Authy, and then add all his passwords there. We set it up on his laptop and two mobile phones.
  • It took another hour to change the password for the most important services (Gmail, Outlook.com, Paypal and Facebook) and to set up two-factor authentication.
  • Add to that another 45 minutes of training, for him to learn to use a password generator, the password manager and 2FA. Basically how to use really long and random passwords when signing up to web sites, how to save the passwords in Bitwarden, how to log in from the laptop or phone without having to type the password and how to add 2FA (where available) in Authy.

So that was, what, almost three and a half hours in total. It’s not trivial. But trust me, if you find yourself in his shoes you’ll wish you had done it already. It’s time well spent 🙂

Σκεψεις για την “Τελευταια Μπλοφα”

Είμαι σε διακοπές, και όπου βρεθώ μια αγαπημένη συνήθεια είναι η επίσκεψη στο τοπικό βιβλιοπωλείο. Πάνω πάνω στα ευπώλητα ήταν το “Η τελευταία μπλόφα” της Ε. Βαρβιτσιώτη και Β. Δενδρινού. Το ειχα δει και τρέντινγκ στα σόσιαλ, ε το πήρα.

Το ρούφηξα σε λιγότερο από 24 ώρες. Και δεν είναι τόσο καλό όσο λένε, είναι ακόμη καλύτερο.

Παρότι ήξερα την ιστορία, σε ικανοποιητικό βαθμό, ως οικονομική και πολιτική, το βιβλίο την εξιστορεί από την προσωπική ματιά των πρωταγωνιστών. Αποτυπώνονται στιγμές που, για προφανείς λόγους, δεν είδαν το φως της δημοσιότητας όπως σύμβουλοι να απελπίζονται, πρωθυπουργοί να κοιμούνται σε καναπέδες, ο Ρέντσι να βάζει τις φωνές στη Μέρκελ και ο Ολάντ να πηδάει μπαλκόνια (!)

Αλλά δεν είναι κουτσομπολίστικο βιβλίο. Ίσα ίσα που δίνει την πίεση που είχαν όλοι -ή σχεδόν όλοι- να βρουν μια λύση σε μια κατάσταση που χάρη στην καταστροφική ανωριμότητα της τότε ελληνικής κυβέρνησης πήγε από το κακό στο χειρότερο σε χρόνο μηδέν.

Καταγραφω 2-3 σκέψεις, ιδέες και απορίες που έχω, τόσο για την ιστορία όσο και για το βιβλίο:

Η πρώτη και σίγουρα η σημαντικότερη: φαίνεται στο βιβλίο, αλλα ήταν και προφανές σε όσους παρακολουθήσαμε(*) αυτή την ιστορία, από τις αρχές μέχρι το φθινόπωρο του 2015, ότι η συμπεριφορά των εταίρων της Ελλάδας (χώρες ΕΕ, ΕΚΤ, ΔΝΤ κλπ.) ήταν πολύ ελαστικότερη προς την νέα τότε κυβέρνηση (ΣΥΡΙΖΑ-ΑΝΕΛ) παρά προς τις προηγούμενες (ΠΑΣΟΚ & ΝΔ-ΠΑΣΟΚ-ΔΗΜΑΡ). Κι αυτό όχι μόνο στην αρχή αλλά ακόμα και αργότερα, όταν είχε ήδη φανεί καθαρά ότι οι περισσότεροι άνθρωποι της νέας κυβέρνησης ήταν ιδεοληπτικοί, ανίκανοι για οποιαδήποτε σοβαρή εργασία τέτοιου μεγέθους και πολυπλοκότητας.

Γιατί;

Το βιβλίο δεν δίνει κάποια απάντηση. Σε κάποια σημεία μόνο διαφαίνεται, αν το ερμηνεύω σωστά, ότι με τις προηγούμενες κυβερνήσεις οι εταίροι είχαν αφενός μπουχτίσει με την απροθυμία τους να κάνουν τις επώδυνες αλλά αναγκαίες μεταρρυθμίσεις και αφετέρου τις θεωρούσαν -σωστά- υπεύθυνες για το χάλι της χώρας. Αν ισχύει αυτό, είναι στην ουσία παρόμοια λογική με το “τους είδαμε τους παλιούς, ας δοκιμάσουμε κάτι καινούριο” που έλεγαν αρκετοί πολίτες πριν τις εκλογές του 2015(**).

Η δεύτερη είναι οτι πρέπει να θυμόμαστε, όσοι δεν ασχολούμαστε ενεργά με την πολιτική, ότι η πολιτική κρίνεται από τα αποτελέσματά, όχι από τα λόγια. Είναι χαρακτηριστική η εικόνα της Μέρκελ που επισκέπτεται την Ελλάδα προ των εκλογών του 2015, βλέπει τα συνθήματα (“go back” κλπ) και, μετά τις εκλογές, δεν έχει κανένα πρόβλημα να συνεργαστεί με τους ίδιους που την καθύβριζαν.

Και η τρίτη, για το βιβλίο: θα ήταν χρήσιμο, σε κάποια επανέκδοση ίσως, να μπει ένα timeline, μια χρονική γραμμή που να δείχνει την αλληλουχία των γεγονότων. Ίσως ακόμα και δυο: μια από το 2009 ως το τέλος του 2015, που να δείχνει τα μείζονα γεγονότα (εκλογές 2009, Καστελόριζο, μνημόνιο 1, κυβέρνηση Παπαδήμου κλπ) και μια να κάνει ζουμ από την αρχή του 2015 ως το φθινόπωρο, με τα πάμπολλα Eurogroup, τα capital controls κλπ.

(*) την ελληνική κρίση την έζησα “άμεσα”, ζούσα και εργαζόμουν δηλαδή στην Ελλάδα, μέχρι την άνοιξη του 2012. Ήδη στα τέλη του 2011 είχα αποφασίσει ότι το ρίσκο για μένα, είτε λόγω grexit είτε πολύ απλά ότι μπορεί να έμενα άνεργος λόγω ύφεσης, ήταν πολύ υψηλό. Έτσι τον Φεβρουάριο του 2012 ξεκίνησα να ψάχνω για δουλειά στο εξωτερικό, και τέλη Απρίλη έμπαινα σε μια γκαρσονιέρα της Ζυρίχης. Από το φθινόπωρο 2012 και πέρα, παρότι φυσικά παρακολουθούσα τα πάντα με λεπτομέρεια, οι εξελίξεις δεν είχαν πάνω μου τις άμεσες συνέπειες που είχαν για τους φίλους μου -όσους δεν είχαν ήδη βγαλει εισητήριο χωρίς επιστροφή.

(**) το κυριότερο επιχείρημα όλων όσων τους έλεγα ότι οι ισχυρισμοί ΣΥΡΙΖΑ ήταν ανεδαφικοί (“θα καταργήσω τα μνημόνια μ’ένα νόμο κι ένα άρθρο” και άλλα ανεκδιήγητα), παρότι το καταλάβαιναν και το δεχόταν, ήταν “έστω και τα μισά από αυτά που υπόσχεται να κάνει, πάλι καλά θα είναι”. Αυτό… όπως είδαμε όλοι, δεν πήγε και πολύ καλά.

Signs that you need coffee, #4

You go at the office machine and put an espresso cup in place, which can hold about 60 ml max.

You slide in an espresso capsule.

You press the “Large” button which, spoiler, produces around 110 ml coffee.

You stand in front of the machine in amazement while the coffee overflows the cup, wondering what went wrong.

You thank your good fortune that spared you the embarrassment as no colleague was in the company canteen at that time 🙂

I’m a translator for Skeptical Science

Short version: I’m honoured to be accepted as a volunteer translator for the Debunking Handbook and skepticalscience.com.

Hoaxes, myths, fake news. Unless you’ve been living under a rock (which is mildly unlikely given you’re reading a blog right now) you’ve encountered at least one, probably many. Is fluoridated water a plan to impose a communist government in the US? (no). Do airplanes spray us with chemicals to make us obedient? (no). Are the members of the UK Royal Family lizards? (no). Do vaccines cause autism? (hell no).

THEY are watching YOU (?)

Over the years, the issue has gotten me both fascinated and to the brink of despair. I’m genuinely fascinated in the way people think –or, as is unfortunately often the case, don’t. And I frequently despair when witnessing how easy it is for people, even ones that I think very highly of, to fall victims to the stupidest of conspiracy theories.

Hard as I try, I’m not immune to this myself –why would I? As a recent example, when reading that “people who curse are smarter” (yes I’m painfully aware of the irony) I immediately fell for it. It was only later that I found out that this is an existing but brutally misrepresented piece of research [link, in Greek].

Many times, when discussing with friends or family, I’ve heard yet another hoax, myth or conspiracy theory. I have then tried, and completely failed, to make my friend or relative aware of the misinformation or fallacy; and not for a lack of well-founded arguments. So I started looking for a way to effectively communicate science and, ultimately, truth.

That’s how I found the Debunking Handbook and skepticalscience.com. Upon reading it, in English, I immediately knew that that’s what I was looking for. The decision to help this effort by translating the handbook in Greek was almost a no-brainer.

How to make an espresso / cappuccino freddo

So you went for vacations in Greece or Cyprus or southern Italy and liked the cold coffee they serve there? Or maybe you have a Greek colleague who’s busting your balls non stop about how great cold coffee is, and just want him to shut up? You’re at the right place!

Now you’re talking’

These recipe is for both espresso freddo and cappuccino freddo which are exactly the same thing; you just add cold foam milk on top of the espresso freddo to make the cappuccino version.

Over the years I’ve tried to simplify the recipe a bit. It’s not barista-level good, but anyone who’s tried it tells me it’s pretty decent.

You can see the video here:

To begin with, here’s the equipment you need:

  • A strong coffee mixer. This is an absolute must, you can’t do without it. Outside of Greece they are called “drink mixers” (you can find them in amazon.de for example). They look like this:
mixer
  • One or more suitable tall glasses. You need them to be around 200-250 ml for espresso freddo and 300-350 ml for cappuccino freddo. The ones from IKEA are fine.
Trinkglas
  • Two cocktail shakers, one for the milk and one for the coffee. It’s ok if you don’t have shakers though, you can just use normal glasses. But you can also buy them from amazon.de.
shaker

Now let’s see the stuff you need to prepare every time before you make cold coffee.

  • I’m sure you’ll be surprised to learn that you need coffee! Basically you need a double espresso, around 100ml. What I usually do is use the Lungo capsules for my Dolce Gusto machine, and set it to 3 lines instead of 4.
  • You also need straws, medium or thin ones. Don’t get the thick ones, they’re good for smoothies but not cold coffee.
  • You need ice cubes. For every coffee, you need 5-6.
  • If you’re going to make cappuccino (not espresso) freddo, you need milk, and you need it cold. Let me say that again, because it’s really really important: COLD. Ideally it should be 2 degrees. That means that you need to put it at the back of the fridge, not at the door where it’s a bit warmer. I usually put it in the refrigerator about 10min before I start. Keep it in the fridge until the moment you actually need it.

    You also need to experiment a bit with the kind of milk you’ll use. I’ve found that the best one -at least from the ones you find in a regular supermarket- is full fat UHT milk, 3.5%. The one you get at the fridge of the supermarket isn’t as good –no idea why. If you find a “barista milk” get it; they have more proteins so they froth better.

  • One of the shakers, the one to use for milk, has to be really, really cold. Put it in the refrigerator for at least an hour before making the coffee.

The basic idea is that, in order to make the foam milk, the milk has to be cold and stay cold. That’s why you need its container to also be frozen.

Now that we’ve prepared everything, let’s get to work.

  • The first thing you need to do is prepare the coffee. If you also want sugar, you need to add it immediately afterwards, while the coffee is still hot, and stir it a bit with the mixer; that way it will melt nicely and you won’t get the awful crunchy feeling of unmelted sugar.
  • Now we need to get our coffee ice cold. Put 5 or 6 ice cubes in the shaker or glass. Pour the coffee swiftly over the ice cubes. Stir it a bit with the mixer, but too much, you don’t want it to turn into foam. 5-6 seconds should be enough. Then pour everything (coffee+ice cubes) in the glass. 
  • If you want an espresso freddo, you can add a straw and stop here, you’re done. Otherwise you have one more step to prepare the cold foam milk. 
  • Get the milk and the 2nd shaker (or glass) out of the fridge. Fill the shaker just below half full. Stir it with the mixer for some time (at least 30 sec, can be more) until the surface is smooth and free of bubbles. This part is exactly why the shaker has to be cold. If it’s not, it will warm up the milk and it will be impossible to turn into foam.

Pro (well, sort of) tip: when holding the shaker with the milk and stirring, try to grab it from the top, not the middle or the bottom. That way the heat from your hand will affect the milk as little as possible.

The result should, ideally, look like this:

Αποτέλεσμα εικόνας για καπουτσινο φρεντο

The water -always with ice cubes!- is mandatory. The beach isn’t, but it’s a very nice addition 😉