I recently read that Sarah Palin's Yahoo! email accounts had been hacked. What is interesting about the hack is that instead of guessing her password or finding a security flaw in Yahoo's email service, the hacker used the forgot your ID or password feature and a search engine. The Threat Level blog on Wired has posted an email from the hacker in a post entitled Palin E-Mail Hacker Says It Was Easy which is excerpted below
rubico 09/17/08(Wed)12:57:22 No.85782652
Hello, /b/ as many of you might already know, last night sarah palin’s yahoo was “hacked” and caps were posted on /b/, i am the lurker who did it, and i would like to tell the story.
In the past couple days news had come to light about palin using a yahoo mail account, it was in news stories and such, a thread was started full of newfags trying to do something that would not get this off the ground, for the next 2 hours the acct was locked from password recovery presumably from all this bullshit spamming.
after the password recovery was reenabled, it took seriously 45 mins on wikipedia and google to find the info, Birthday? 15 seconds on wikipedia, zip code? well she had always been from wasilla, and it only has 2 zip codes (thanks online postal service!)
the second was somewhat harder, the question was “where did you meet your spouse?” did some research, and apparently she had eloped with mister palin after college, if youll look on some of the screenshits that I took and other fellow anon have so graciously put on photobucket you will see the google search for “palin eloped” or some such in one of the tabs.
I found out later though more research that they met at high school, so I did variations of that, high, high school, eventually hit on “Wasilla high” I promptly changed the password to popcorn and took a cold shower…
The fundamental flaw of pretty much every password recovery feature I've found online is that what they consider "secret" information actually isn't thanks to social networking, blogs and even Wikipedia. Yahoo! Mail password recovery relies on asking you your date of birth, zip code and country of residence as a proof of identity. Considering that this is the kind of information that is on the average Facebook profile or MySpace page, it seems ludicrous that this is all that stops someone from stealing your identity online.
Even the sites that try to be secure by asking more personal questions such as "the name of your childhood pet" or "where you met your spouse" fail because people often write about their childhood pets and tell stories about how they met on weddings sites all over the Web.
Web developers need start considering whether it isn't time to put password recovery features based on asking personal questions to pasture. I wonder how many more high profile account hijackings it will take before this becomes as abhorred a practice as emailing users their forgotten passwords (you know why this is wrong right?)
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