Saturday, September 13, 2014

Give me your e-mail to tell you if you are being hacked!


A lot of accounts from public services have recently been hacked, exploited, publicly listed, etc. With every single account breach there are at least 5 services that tell you “check if your account has been hacked” and ask you for your e-mail or account username. Almost never asking for your password. Here I will try to explain why You, dear user shall avoid using any of these services, even if the operator behind the service seems to be respectful like the “Bundesamt für sicherheit in der Informationstechnik” (or the German Agency for Information Security) which also offer the service “Check if your account exists in the hackers networks that we monitor”.


This year started with a lot of account breaches in different public services (mainly e-mail services). One such news was announced on the very same German Agency for Information Security where they so friendly offer you the free service of checking whether your account is subject to any identity theft. Then it was the eBay accounts breach. Then the iCloud celebrity accounts breach. Then Google account breach.  Probably much more in between. With every massive and hysterical announced account breach come a dozen of sites to tell you

You should immediately change your password!


Hey, gimmie your e-mail, I will tell you if it is hacked!

pretending to

I will not save your e-mail address anywhere, you can trust me!

While the first warning have some sense, none of the others does!

For Your own good and safe Internet browsing, do not ever use any services that pretend to tell you if your account is being hacked or not!

Why? Here is the story of “Why?”

How the attacks work

Without pretending for be a thorough analysis, let me tell you how these attacks (for hacking user accounts) work.

Online user identities are usually composed from three main components:

  • A service (Facebook, Google, Microsoft, eBay, Apple, etc.)
  • A Username / login
  • A Password

In order to “hack” your account, the attacker have to first focus on a Service. This is the easiest part. Just follow for couple of months the security reports from one or more monitoring agencies (like Symantec, SANS Institute,  or any other) and watch out which service comes out most often. Or just pick one.

Ok, the attacker has identified the service to attack. Say this is Facebook. What next? Now he/she has to hack tens of millions of accounts. Using techniques like brute-force attack to identify both login name + password will simply not work. Period. Nobody does this today! The attacker will look for other techniques to obtain, be careful here, your login name! Exactly! Your e-mail address. This very same e-mail address that other “friendly” services ask you to give them to check if your account is being hacked / hijacked!

By giving your login name / E-mail address to a “let me check this for you” service, you simply fill out attackers database with real accounts that can later be used for password hacking!

Now, because, You dear user have left your e-mail address in a similar service, You are already potentially subject to hacker attack! Please, never give your e-mail address or login name to any services of this kind ! Not even to the German Agency for Information security. Even if the service seems to be trustful, using such a service does not do any good for you at all! It only serves its owners for different purposes.

We slowly came to the last component of an Online identity that an attacker has to crack to solve the puzzle – the password. Your precious “123456”. Again, passwords are (almost) never hacked using brute-force attacks. Attackers usually use dictionaries of most widely used password. So called dictionary attack. Simple words, no (or few) special characters, no (or few) capital letters. Analysis report shows that even this recent iCloud security breach was committed using dictionaries. 

Next steps

OK, now what?

First and foremost, never give your account (e-mail address / login name) to a 3rd parties! The worst that could happen – you will be primary target for attacks, if you were safe until now! The least that could happen – you will be entered into a list for further monitoring – SPAM, Hack attacks, etc.! Lists with valid e-mail addresses are being trade (sold for real money!) over the internet ever day!

To make sure you are secure online, never use a dictionary word in your password! Your password shall not consist of a single word! Most of the online services already have mechanisms to prevent you from using weak passwords. Trust these “password strength” indicators and never let your password be in the “weak zone”.

Well, be careful and always think about your own Internet safety! And never ever give your account from one Service (say Google) to another service (say German Agency for Information Security). For your Google account, trust only Google. For your Facebook account, trust only Facebook, etc.

If you see a report for account hack or security breach, never rush for other services, then the very one you use and is responsible for your account. Most of the big players on the market already have forensic tools in place, and make sure you know them and you know how to use them!

Google Account

If you use Google, then navigate to the security section in Your Account. When you are logged-in with your Google account on any of Google’s service, click on the little arrow next to your e-mail and select “Account”:

Then navigate to Security:

This part, has the “Recent activity” section which shows really good and interesting information.

Microsoft Account (former Windows Live ID / Hotmail)

If you use Microsoft services the “Recent activity” information is in similar place. Login with your Microsoft account on any of Microsoft services (Hotmail/Outlook, OneDrive) and click on your name:

Under “Account settings” you will find “Recent Activity”:

Final notes

Again, never leave (enter, give away) your personal account information to anyone on the Internet!

Use strong passwords. It is not that important to change the password often! It is important to use strong password and regularly check the account activity section. Change your password only if you see suspicious action in the recent activity! Or if you receive a legitimate message from your service provider that you have to change your password. Like the e-mail all eBay users received in May 2014:

When you receive such an e-mail, first check its authenticity – check the sender and reply-to addresses in message properties. Check for official information on senders (in that case eBay) public internet site. Never click on any link directly from the e-mail. Just navigate to the service as usual and change your password.

When you enter your account information (login and password) always check if you do it on the providers sign-in page by verifying web page’s SSL Certificate! All the Big players pay for Extended Validation Certificate which makes the address bar / Certificate path green and displays their name (EV stands for Extended Validation):

While others just save couple of hundred dollars and not pay for Extended Validation. Still providing a Trusted and encrypted connection with the site:

NEVER ENTER YOUR CREDENTIALS, if the SSL Connection is not verified or not trusted:

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Azure PowerShell IaaS bulk add Endpoints

There are scenarios when your VMs on Azure cloud will need a lot of EndPoints. Of course you have to always be aware of the limits that come with each Azure service. But you also don’t want to add 20 endpoints (or 50) via the management portal. It will be too painful.

Luckily you can extremely easy add as many endpoints as you will using the following simple PowerShell script:

Select-AzureSubscription -SubscriptionName "Your_Subscription_Name"
$vm = Get-AzureVM -ServiceName "CloudServiceName" -Name "VM_Name"
for ($i=6100; $i -le 6120; $i++)
$EndpointName = "FtpEndpoint_"
$EndpointName += $i
Add-AzureEndpoint -Name $EndpointName -Protocol "tcp" -PublicPort $i -LocalPort $i -VM $vm
$vm | Update-AzureVM

You can also find the whole script as a Gist.

Of course, you can use this script, with combination of Non-Interactive OrgID Login Azure PowerShell to fully automate your process.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Azure PowerShell non-interactive login

An interesting topic and very important for automation scenarios is how to authenticate a PowerShell script by providing credentials non-interactively.

Luckily a recent version of Azure PowerShell (0.8.6) you can provide additional –credential parameter to the Add-AzureAccount command (hopefully documentation will be updated soon to reflect this additional parameter). This is very helpful and the key point to enable non-interactive PowerShell Automations with organizational accounts (non-interactive management with PowerShell has always been possible with a Management Certificate).

In order to provide proper credentials to the Add-AzureAccount we need to properly protect our password and store it in a file, that can later be used. For this we can use the following simple PowerShell commands:

read-host -assecurestring | convertfrom-securestring | out-file d:\tmp\securestring.txt

Next we have to use the previously saved password to construct the credentials needed for Add-AzureAccount:

# use the saved password 
$password = cat d:\tmp\securestring.txt | convertto-securestring
# currently (August, the 13nd, 2014) only organizational accounts are supported (also with custom domain).
# Microsoft Accounts (Live ID) are not supported
$username = "" # or if '' is registered with AAD
$mycred = new-object -typename System.Management.Automation.PSCredential -argumentlist $username,$password
Add-AzureAccount -credential $mycred

The whole PowerShell can also be found under the following Gist.

Credits go to Jamie Thomson and fellow MVP Mike Wood from their contribution on StackOverflow.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Windows Azure – secrets of a Web Site

Windows Azure Web Sites are, I would say, the highest form of Platform-as-a-Service. As per documentation “The fastest way to build for the cloud”. It really is. You can start easy and fast – in a minutes will have your Web Site running in the cloud in a high-density shared environment. And within minutes you can go to 10 Large instances reserved only for you! And this is huge – this is 40 CPU cores with total of 70GB of RAM! Just for your web site. I would say you will need to reengineer your site, before going that big. So what are the secrets?

Project KUDU

What very few know or realize, that Windows Azure Websites runs Project KUDU, which is publicly available on GitHub. Yes, that’s right, Microsoft has released Project KUDU as open source project so we can all peek inside, learn, even submit patches if we find something is wrong.

Deployment Credentials

There are multiple ways to deploy your site to Windows Azure Web Sites. Starting from plain old FTP, going through Microsoft’s Web Deploy and stopping at automated deployment from popular source code repositories like GitHub, Visual Studio Online (former TFS Online), DropBox, BitBucket, Local Git repo and even External provider that supports GIT or MERCURIAL source control systems. And this all thanks to the KUDU project. As we know, Windows Azure Management portal is protected by (very recently) Windows Azure Active Directory, and most of us use their Microsoft Accounts to log-in (formerly known as Windows Live ID). Well, GitHub, FTP, Web Deploy, etc., they know nothing about Live ID. So, in order to deploy a site, we actually need a deployment credentials. There are two sets of Deployment Credentials. User Level deployment credentials are bout to our personal Live ID, we set user name and password, and these are valid for all web sites and subscription the Live ID has access to. Site Level deployment credentials are auto generated and are bound to a particular site. You can learn more about Deployment credentials on the WIKI page.

KUDU console

I’m sure very few of you knew about the live streaming logs feature and the development console in Windows Azure Web Sites. And yet it is there. For every site we create, we got a domain name like

And behind each site, there is automatically created one additional mapping:

Which currently looks like this:

Key and very important fact – this console runs under HTTPS and is protected by your deployment credentials! This is KUDU! Now you see, there are couple of menu items like Environment, Debug Console, Diagnostics Dump, Log Stream. The titles are pretty much self explanatory. I highly recommend that you jump on and play around, you will be amazed! Here for example is a screenshot of Debug Console:

Nice! This is a command prompt that runs on your Web Site. It has the security context of your web site – so pretty restricted. But, it also has PowerShell! Yes, it does. But in its alpha version, you can only execute commands which do not require user input. Still something!

Log Stream

The last item in the menu of your KUDU magic is Streaming Logs:

Here you can watch in real time, all the logging of your web site. OK, not all. But everything you’ve sent to System.Diagnostics.Trace.WriteLine(string message) will come here. Not the IIS logs, your application’s logs.

Web Site Extensions

This big thing, which I described in my previous post, is all developed using KUDU Site Extensions – it is an Extension! And, if you played around with, you might already have noticed that it actually runs under

So what are web site Extensions? In short – these are small (web) apps you can write and you can install them as part of your deployment. They will run under separate restricted area of your web site and will be protected by deployment credentials behind HTTPS encrypted traffic. you can learn more by visiting the Web Site Extensions WIKI page on the KUDU project. This is also interesting part of KUDU where I suggest you go, investigate, play around!

Happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Reduce the trail-deploy-test time with Windows Azure Web Sites and Visual Studio Online

Visual Studio Online

Not long ago Visual Studio Online went GA. What is not so widely mentioned is the hidden gem – preview version of the actual Visual Studio IDE! Yes, this thing that we use to develop code has now gone online as preview (check the Preview Features page on the Windows Azure Portal).

- What can we do now?
- Live, real-time changes to a Windows Azure Web Site!
- Really !? How?

First you need to create new VSO account, if you don’t already have one (please waste no time but get yours here!). Then you need to link it to your Azure subscription! Unfortunately (or should I use “ironically”?) account linking (and creating from within the Azure management portal) is not available for an MSDN benefit account, as per FAQ here.

Link an existing VSO account

Once you get (or if you already have) a VSO account, you can link it to your Azure subscription. Just sign-in to the Azure Management portal with the same Microsoft Account (Live ID) used to create VSO account. There you shall be able to see the Visual Studio Online in left hand navigation bar. Click on it. A page will appear asking you to create new or link existing VSO account. Pick up the name of your VSO account and link it!


Enable VSO for an Azure Web Site

You have to enable VSO for each Azure Web Site you want to edit. This can be achieved by navigating to the target Azure Web Site inside the Azure Management Portal. Then go to Configure. Scroll down and find “Edit Site in Visual Studio Online” and switch this setting to ON. Wait for the operation to complete!

Edit the Web Site in VSO

Once the Edit in VSO is enabled for you web site, navigate to the dashboard for this Web Site in Windows Azure Management Portal. A new link will appear in the right hand set of links “Edit this Web Site”:

The VSO IDE is protected with your deployment credentials (if you don’t know what is your deployment credentials, please take a few minutes to read through this article).

And there you go – your Web Site, your IDE, your Browser! What? You said that I forgot to deploy my site first? Well. Visual Studio Online is Visual Studio Online. So you can do “File –> New” and it works! Oh, yes it works:

Every change you make here is immediately (in real-time) reflected to the site! This is ultimate, the fastest way to troubleshoot issues with your JavaScript / CSS / HTML (Views). And, if you were doing PHP/Node.js – just edit your files on the fly and see changes in real-time! No need to re-deploy, re-package. No need to even have IDE installed on your machine – just a modern Browser! You can edit your site even from your tablet!

Where is the catch?

Oh, catch? What do you mean by “Where is the catch”? The source control? There is integrated GIT support! You can either link your web-site to a Git (GitHub / VSO project with GIT-based Source Control), or just do work with local GIT repository. The choice is really yours! And now you have fully integrated source control over your changes!