Paranoid Penguin - Brutally Practical Linux Desktop Security

Navigate hostile networks with impunity!
Care about SSL Certificates

When using any public, hostile or otherwise untrusted network, you must pay careful attention to your browser's padlock icon. If there is any problem with any certificate being presented by an SSL-protected site you've had no issues connecting to in the past, you should assume that somebody is attempting a man-in-the-middle, proxy or imposter Web site attack.

Be Careful with Webmail and On-line Banking

Gmail, Yahoo, Windows Live (Hotmail) and on-line banking sites are all particularly likely for someone to attempt to proxy or spoof. If you must visit such a site from a hostile LAN, again, watch for any certificate weirdness.

If you have your own Webmail server or have access to Webmail from a smaller provider, such as a regional ISP, those may be less likely for someone to attempt to spoof or proxy than one of the “big guys”. For maximum paranoia though, using a strong VPN connection really is best.


And with that, we're out of space for this month, but we're done! If I say so myself, it wasn't a bad column's work. My laptop is now hardened for DEFCON WLAN use, and you've hopefully learned a thing or two about Mick's brutally pragmatic approach to desktop security. We'll see whether I end up on the Wall of Sheep this year (if so, maybe I'll admit it, and maybe I won't). Good luck with your own public LAN adventures!

Mick Bauer ( is Network Security Architect for one of the US's largest banks. He is the author of the O'Reilly book Linux Server Security, 2nd edition (formerly called Building Secure Servers With Linux), an occasional presenter at information security conferences and composer of the “Network Engineering Polka”.



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I just have been to a seminar

pari sportif's picture

I just have been to a seminar and they told us the exact same thing. Thanks for sharing, you made a great point.

Great Article, but can you tell us some more?

winfree's picture

Great read this month. I really like that you address an issue for very insecure networks but relate it to everyday use. I was motivated afterward to check the security of my NFS/SVN server as well. When I did a netstat --inet -al, I saw lost of things I wasn't expecting. Maybe you could cover security of the "small home" server one of these next months (or is there something I missed in the past?).
Also, you mentioned using IMAPS, POP3S, etc... IMAP with the SSL option (say in Thunderbird) is just that, right?
As a closing comment, I appreciate that you also included info on the Firefox Add-ons like Ghostery, I'll be checking those out soon. But what about TOR? Does The Onion Router offer any security? Does it compromise security since you're asking others to handle your packets? What about if VPN isn't an option? I know I've used it in the past to get past domain name filtering on networks (all forums and blogs were blocked at my work once, including the ones on PHP I needed access to).
Thanks again for a good read, just when I was thinking I might not renew my subscription, you convinced me otherwise.

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