World’s first in-depth, public test of security services vs. targeted attacks. We pit email security against hackers.
This email security test report is the product of two years of advanced threat research. We have worked with the security companies themselves and with their customers. We have monitored what the bad guys have been doing and identified and replicated real-world email threats that affect everyone generally, and also specific types of businesses.
There is no report like this anywhere in the public domain. We are extremely proud to present the results here.
These reports represent the state-of-the-art in computer security endpoint testing. If you want to see how the very best security products handle a range of threats, from everyday (but nevertheless very harmful) malware to targeted attacks, this is a great place to start.
At SE Labs we spend our time testing things that are supposed to protect you but we also understand that securing your business, or your home network, is never as simple as installing one or more security products.
The risks are many and varied, but the ways to mitigate them are often most successful with a good dose of common sense as well as the appropriate technology. You just need to think things through carefully and make sensible decisions.
Realism is important in testing, otherwise you end up with results that are theoretical and not a useful report that closely represents what is going on in the real world. One issue facing security testing that involves malware is whether or not you connect the test network to the internet.
This new email protection test shows a wide variation in the abilities of the services that we have assessed.
You might see the figures as being disappointing. Surely Microsoft Office 365 can’t be that bad? An eight per cent accuracy rating seems incredible.
Literally not credible. If it misses most threats then organisations relying on it for email security would be hacked to death (not literally).
Email security gateways protection
But our results are subtler than just reflecting detection rates and it’s worth understanding exactly what we’re testing here to get the most value from the data. We’re not testing these services with live streams of real emails, in which massive percentages of messages are legitimate or basic spam. Depending on who you talk to, around 50 per cent of all email is spam. We don’t test anti-spam at all, in fact, but just the small percentage of email that comprises targeted attacks.
In other words, these results show what can happen when attackers apply themselves to specific targets. They do not reflect a “day in the life” of an average user’s email inbox.
We have also included some ‘commodity’ email threats, though – the kind of generic phishing and social engineering attacks that affect everyone. All services ought to stop every one of these. Similarly, we included some clean emails to ensure that the services were not too aggressively configured. All services ought to allow all these through to the inbox.
So when you see results that appear to be surprising, remember that we’re testing some very specific types of attacks that happen in real life, but not in vast numbers comparable to spam or more general threats.
Threats at arm’s length
The way that services handle threats are varied and effective to greater or lesser degrees. To best reflect how useful their responses are, we have a rating system that accounts for their different approaches. Essentially, services that keep threats as far as possible from users will win more points than those who let the message appear in or near the inbox. Conversely, those that allow the most legitimate messages through to the inbox rate higher than those which block them without the possibility of recovery from a junk folder or quarantine.
If you spot a detail in this report that you don’t understand, or would like to discuss, please contact us via our Twitter or Facebook accounts.
SE Labs uses current threat intelligence to make our tests as realistic as possible. To learn more about how we test, how we define ‘threat intelligence’ and how we use it to improve our tests please visit our website and follow us on Twitter.
Hackers have spent well over 20 years stealing users’ passwords from internet companies.
They’ve almost certainly got yours.
The good news is it’s very easy to make your passwords useless to hackers. All you do is switch on Two-Factor Authentication (2FA).
2FA is a second login layer
It works much like the second lock on your front door. If someone’s stolen or copied your Yale key, that double-lock will keep them out.
A digital double-lock is now vital for protecting your online accounts – email, banking, cloud storage, business collaboration and the rest. It’s up there with anti-malware in the league of essential security measures. And it’s much easier to pick a 2FA method than choose the right anti-malware (our Anti-Malware Protection Reports can help you there).
So 2FA is essential, easy, and doesn’t have to cost a thing. It’s a security no-brainer. So how come hardly anyone uses it?
Join the one per cent elite!
Earlier this year, Google revealed that only 10 per cent of their users have ever bothered setting up 2FA. Just a fraction of those – we estimate around one per cent of all internet users – use the most secure type of 2FA, a USB security key.
In this article we’ll show you how to join that elite one per cent for less than £20. If you’d rather watch a step-by-step demo, here’s our YouTube video.
(This blog reflects the views and research of SE Labs, an independent security testing company. We never use affiliate links.)
Why everyone in your business should use 2FA
You’re not the only person who knows your usernames and passwords. Head over to Have I Been Pwned? and type in your email address to find out how many of your accounts have been hit by hacking attacks.
A quick (and scary) web search reveals how many times your passwords have fallen prey to hackers
While you’re digesting those results, here’s a sobering statistic. More than 90 per cent of all login attempts on retail websites aren’t by actual customers, but by hackers using stolen credentials (Shape Security, July 2018).
Nearly everyone has had their passwords stolen. But hardly anyone protects their accounts using 2FA. We’re all leaving our front doors unlocked.
And as hackers plunder more and more big-name services (as well as all those services you’d forgotten you had accounts with), the more chance they have to steal the passwords you use everywhere.
This is why you must never using the same password twice. Don’t be tempted to use a pattern to help you remember them, either (‘123amazon’, ‘123google’ and so on). Hackers decode that stuff for breakfast. We’re also not keen on password managers. They’re Target Number One for hackers.
Instead, store your passwords where no-one can find them (not online!) and deadlock your accounts using 2FA. It’s the only way to make them hack-proof.
Why a USB key is the best way to lock your accounts
The ‘memorable information’ you have to enter when logging into your online bank account is a watered-down version of 2FA. Hackers can easily create spoof login pages that fool you into handing over all your info, as demonstrated in our NatWest phishing attack video.
Proper 2FA methods are much tougher to crack. They involve more than one device, so a hacker can’t simply ransack your computer and steal all pertinent data. Without the separate device, your passwords are useless to them.
Use more than one 2FA method if offered. This double-locks your double-locks – and also gives you another way into your account if one method fails. See our 2FA YouTube video for a step-by-step guide to doing this for your Google account.
Here’s a quick run-through of your options, starting with the most basic.
Google prompt How it works: Tap your Android screen to confirm your identity. Pros and cons: Very quick and easy, but only works with Google accounts and Android devices. Useful as a backup option.
SMS code How it works: You’re texted (and/or voice-messaged) a PIN code to enter after your usual login. Pros and cons: Authentication is split between two devices. It works on any mobile phone at no additional cost. But it can be slow, and the code may appear on your lock screen.
Authentication app How it works: A free app, such as Google Authenticator, generates a unique numerical security code that you then enter on your PC. Pros and cons: Faster and more reliable than SMS, and arguably more secure, but you’ll need a smartphone (Android or iOS).
Authenticate your logins with a code that’s sent to your phone (and onlyyour phone)
Backup codes How it works: A set of numerical codes that you download and then print or write down – then keep in a safe place. Each code only works once. Pros and cons: The perfect backup method. No need for a mobile phone. A piece of paper or locally-stored computer file (with disguised filename) is easier to hide from thieves than anything online.
And the most secure 2FA method of all…
USB security key How it works: You ‘unlock’ your accounts by plugging a unique USB stick (such as this YubiKey) into your computer. Pros and cons: A whole list of pros. USB keys are great for business security, because your accounts remain locked even if a hacker breaches your phone. They’re convenient: no need to wait for codes then type them in. And they cost very little considering how useful they are. One key costs from £18, and is all you need to deadlock all your accounts. Buy one for all your employees – and clients!
Give a USB security key to all your employees and clients – their security (and yours) will benefit
Deadlock your Google account: a 2FA walk-through
Google lets you lock down your entire account, including Gmail and Google Drive, using multiple layers of 2FA (which it calls 2-Step Verification). It’s one of the most secure 2FA configurations you’ll find, and it’s easy to set up.
Here are the basic steps. For a more detailed step-by-step guide, see our YouTube video.
Go to Google’s 2-Step Verification page, click Get Started then sign into your account. Choose a backup 2FA method, click Security Key, then plug in your unique USB stick. Google automatically registers it to you.
Choose a second 2FA method such as SMS code, plus a backup method such as a printable code, Google prompt or authenticator app.
That’s it – welcome to the top one per cent!
Double-lock your double-locks by choosing more than one 2FA method – and a backup
Deadlock all your online accounts in minutes
All reputable online services now offer 2FA options. But, as you’ll discover from the searchable database Two Factor Auth, not all services offer the best 2FA options.
For example LinkedIn only offers 2FA via SMS, and doesn’t support authenticator apps or USB security keys – the most secure types of 2FA. Even Microsoft Office 365 doesn’t yet support security keys. We expect better from services aimed at business users.
What’s more, 2FA settings tend to be well buried in account settings. No wonder hardly anyone uses them. Here’s where to click:
Amazon: Go to Your Account, ‘Login & security’, enter your password again, and then click Edit next to Advanced Security settings.
Apple: Go to the My Apple ID page then click Security, Two-Factor Authentication.
Dropbox: Click the Security tab to set up SMS or app authentication. To configure a USB security key, follow Dropbox’s instructions.
Facebook: Go to ‘Security and login’ in Settings and scroll down to ‘Use two-factor authentication’. Click Edit to get set up.
LinkedIn: Go to Account Settings then click Turn On to activate SMS authentication.
Microsoft: Log in, click Security, click the ridiculously small ‘more security options’ link, verify your identity, and then click ‘Set up two-step verification’. Doesn’t yet support USB security keys. Some Microsoft services, such as Xbox 360, still don’t support 2FA at all.
PayPal: Go to My Profile then click My Settings, Security Key and then Get Security Key. Don’t accept the offer to get a new code texted to you every time you log in, because then a hacker can do it too!
TeamViewer: Go to the login page, open the menu under your name, click Edit Profile then click Start Activation under the 2FA option. Supports authenticator apps only, not SMS.
Twitter: Go to ‘Settings and privacy’, Security, then tick ‘Login verification’.
WhatsApp: In the mobile app tap Settings, Account, ‘Two-step verification’.
Is this the dawn of the quantum computer age? Jon Thompson investigates the progress we’ve been making with quantum computers.
Scientists are creating quantum computers capable of cracking the most fiendish encryption in the blink of an eye. Potentially hostile foreign powers are building a secure quantum internet that automatically defeats all eavesdropping attempts.
Single computers far exceeding the power of a hundred supercomputers are within humanity’s grasp.
Are these stories true, as headlines regularly claim? The answer is increasingly yes, and it’s to China we must look for much current progress.
The quantum internet
Let’s begin with the uncrackable “quantum internet”. Sending messages using the properties of the subatomic world has been possible for years; the security world considers it the “gold standard” of secure communications. Chinese scientists recently set a new distance record for sending information using quantum techniques. They transmitted data 1,200Km to a special satellite. What’s more, China is implementing a quantum networking infrastructure.
QuantumCTek recently announced it is to deploy a network for government and military employees in the Chinese city of Jinan. This will be secured using quantum key distribution. Users will send messages encrypted by traditional means, with a second “quantum” channel distributing the associated decryption keys. Reading the keys destroys the delicate state of the photons that carry them. As such, it can only be done once by the recipient. Otherwise the message cannot be decrypted and the presence of an eavesdropper is instantly apparent.
The geopolitical implications of networks no foreign power can secretly tap are potentially immense. What’s scarier is quantum computers cracking current encryption in seconds. What’s the truth here?
Quantum computers threaten encryption
Popular asymmetric encryption schemes, such as RSA, elliptic curve and SSL, are under threat from quantum computing. In fact, after mandating elliptic curve encryption for many years, the NSA recently declared it potentially obsolete due to the coming quantum computing revolution.
Asymmetric encryption algorithms use prime factors of massive numbers as the basis for their security. It takes a supercomputer far too long to find the right factors to be useful. However, experts believe a quantum algorithm called Shor’s Algorithm will find it easy.
For today’s strong symmetric encryption the news is currently a little better. Initially, quantum computers will have a harder time cracking systems like AES and Blowfish. These use the same key to encrypt and decrypt. Quantum computers will only really halve the time required. So, if you’re using AES with a 256-bit key, in future it’ll be as secure as a 128-bit key.
A quantum leap
How far are we from quantum computers making the leap from flaky lab experiments to full production? The answer depends on the problem you want to solve, because not all quantum computers are the same. In fact, according to IBM, they fall into three classes.
The least powerful are quantum annealers. These are available now in the form of machines from Canada’s D-Wave. They have roughly the same power as a traditional computer but are especially good at solving optimisation problems in exquisite detail. Airbus is already using this ability to increase the efficiency of wing aerodynamics.
More powerful are analogue quantum computers. These are much more difficult to build, and IBM thinks they’re about five years away. They will be the first class of quantum computers to exceed the power of conventional machines. Again, they won’t run programs as we think of them, but instead will simulate incredibly complex interactions, such as those found in life sciences, chemistry and materials science.
The most powerful machines to come are universal quantum computers, which is what most people think of when discussing quantum computers. These could be a decade or more away, but they’re coming. And when they arrive they will be exponentially more powerful than today’s fastest supercomputers. They will run programs as we understand them, including Shor’s Algorithm, and will be capable of cracking encryption with ease. Scientists are developing these computers and the software programs they’ll run. The current list stands at about 50 specialised but immensely powerful algorithms. Luckily, there are extremely complex engineering problems to overcome before this class of hardware becomes a reality.
More news on quantum computers
Meanwhile, quantum computer announcements are coming thick and fast.
IBM has announced the existence of a very simple device it claims is the first step on the path to a universal quantum computer. Called IBM Q, there’s a web portal for anyone to access and program it, though learning how and what you can do with such a device could take years.
Google is pursuing the quantum annealing approach. The company says it plans to demonstrate a reliable quantum chip before the end of 2017, and in doing so will assert something called “quantum supremacy“, meaning that it can reliably complete specialised tasks faster than a conventional computer. Microsoft is also in on the action. Its approach is called StationQ, and the company been quietly researching quantum technologies for over a decade.
Our Universal Future
While there’s still a long way to go, the presence of industry giants means there’s no doubt that quantum computers are entering the mainstream. It’ll probably be the fruits of their computational power that we see first in everyday life, rather than the hardware itself. We’ll start to see solutions to currently difficult problems and improvements in the efficiency of everything. Expect good things including improved data transmission and better batteries for electric cars.
Life will really change when universal quantum computers finally become a reality. Be in no doubt that conventional encryption will one day be a thing of the past. Luckily, researchers are already working on so-called post-quantum encryption algorithms that these machines will find difficult to crack.
As well as understandable fears over privacy, and even the rise of quantum artificial intelligence, the future also holds miracles in medicine and other areas that are currently far from humanity’s grasp. The tasks to which we put these strange machines remains entirely our own choice. Let’s hope we choose wisely.
SE Labs Ltd is a private, independently-owned and run testing company that assesses security products and services. The main laboratory is located in Wimbledon, South London. It has excellent local and international travel connections. The lab is open for prearranged client visits.