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Freeserve does a RedHotAnt

21st century parlour game: Pass the Password

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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Happily, handing passwords out over the phone is not exclusive to RedHotAnt. On at least one occassion, Freeserve's tech support department was equally content to hand out users password without any confirmation of identity.

This is a rather more serious problem for Freeserve than RHA. RedHotAnt usernames are long numeric codes, prefaced by the letters RHA, and are not usually accessible to the public, so some knowledge of computer systems would be required to do any damage with the password. At Freeserve, however, the username and the email address are usually the same, and the email address is in the public domain.

According to Freeserve's tech support, to retrieve a lost password, a caller must provide a username, surname, date of birth and the phone number the account is usually accessed from.

A reader tells a different story.

A couple of years back, a firm of surveyors dipped its toes into the waters of the Wibbly Wobbly Web with Freeserve. The person who signed them up left the company without telling anyone else the passwords, and rather unfortunately, no one thought to ask him what it was as he left.

Then one day the computer forgot the mailbox password and no one could connect to access their emails. A call was made to tech support, our reader tells us, and the ensuing conversation was along these lines:

Me: We've lost our password. What is the procedure?
Operator: Can you give me your username?
Me: Yeah, it's (username)
Op: Can you tell me the name of the person who set up the account?
Me: No, but I guess the name you might have could be (I take a stab at the name of the founding partner of the firm).
Op: No sir, that's not the name I've got here.
Me: Oh, hang on a minute, I'll have a word with someone and find out the guy's name.
Op: No, that's okay. It would appear that your account has been suspended, as you haven't logged on to it for 90 days.
Me: Okay, fair enough. What can we do about that?
Op: Er, I need to get you to the Freeserve website
Me: That's okay, it's open in front of me ATM.
Op: How?
Me: I'm logged on via another ISP
At this point the operator proceeded to talk me through retrieving the account, to complete which he read me the password over the phone. I said thank-you and goodbye.

The partners of this firm were far from happy once I'd explained exactly what had taken place. At no point was my name or any proof of my identity requested, nor was any proof sought that I was a legit user of the account in question.

When asked to comment on the security lapse, a Freeserve spokesman said: "It would be irregular for a password to be given out without three identifying details being requested. Freeserve takes this report very seriously and further details will enable us to investigate further." ®

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