The summer conference constellation rises over Las Vegas for about one week every year. The trio of Black Hat, BSidesLV, and DEF CON historically generates loud, often muddled, concerns about personal device security. Sometimes the concern is expressed through hyperbole in order to point out flawed threat models. Sometimes it’s based on ignorance tainted with misapplied knowledge. Either way, perform the rituals and incantations that make you feel better. Enjoy the conferences, have fun, share knowledge, learn new skills.

Hubble Captures View of Mystic Mountain

Whatever precautions you take, ask why they’re necessary for one special week of the year. If the current state of security for devices and web sites can’t handle that week, I find that a failure of infosec and an indictment of appsec’s effectiveness after three decades.

It’s another way of asking why a device’s current “default secure” is insufficient, or asking whether we need multi-page hardening guides vs. a default hardened configuration.

Keep in mind there are people with security concerns all 52 weeks of the year. People who are women. People in minority groups. People in abusive relationships. People without political representation, let alone power. Most often these are people who can’t buy a “burner phone” for one week to support their daily needs. Their typical day isn’t the ambiguous threat of a hostile network. It’s the direct threat from hostile actors – those with physical access to their devices, or knowledge of their passwords, or possibly just knowledge of their existence. In each case they may be dealing with a threat who desires access to their identity, data, and accounts.

There are a few steps anyone can take to improve their baseline security profile. However, these are just a starting point. They can change slightly depending on different security scenarios.

(1) Turn on automatic updates.

(2) Review authentication and authorization for all accounts.

  • Use a password manager to assign a unique password to every account.
  • Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA), aka two-factor authentication (2FA) or two-step verification (2SV), for all accounts that support it.
  • Prioritize enabing MFA for all accounts used for OAuth or social logins (e.g. Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn).
  • Prefer WebAuthn authentication flows. It cryptographically binds credentials between the user device and server. This prevents replay attacks if the traffic is intercepted and reuse attacks if the server’s credential store is compromised.
  • Review third-party app access (usually OAuth grants) and remove any that feel unnecessary or that have more permissions than desired.

(3) Review MFA support (or activation factors as NIST 800-63B calls them)

  • Prefer factors that rely on FIDO2 hardware tokens, biometrics, or authenticator apps.
  • Only use factors based on SMS or email if no better option is available.
  • For authenticator apps, enable backups or multi-device support in order to preserve access in case of a lost device.
  • Record and save recovery codes associated with enabling MFA. Choose a storage mechanism sufficient for your needs, such as printed and placed somewhere safe or in a password-protected keychain.

Talk to someone who isn’t in infosec. Find out what their concerns. Help them translate those concerns into ways of protecting their accounts and data.

Apple recently released Lockdown Mode in iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura. It provides users with increased protection for their system by ensuring a secure default as well as disabling features that typically have security issues. It’s effectively a one-click hardening guide and attack surface reduction. By disabling feeatures prone to abuse, it carries a useability cost. But ultimately it’s an easy way for any user to have more security when they need it.

Not everyone has an iPhone and not everyone has threats limited to account takeover.

One resource with technical recommendations in non-technical jargon is Speak Up & Stay Safe(r).

The EFF has a wide collection of practices and tools in its Surveillance Self-Defense guide. Notably, it lists different security scenarios you might find yourself in and how to adapt practices to each of them.

The expectation for modern devices and modern web sites should be that they’re safe to use, even on the hostile network of an infosec conference. If an industry can’t create a safe environment for itself, why should it be relied on to create a safe environment for anyone else.