Feeds

AOL probes hacker “breach”

Don't panic, just yet

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

SANS - Survey on application security programs

AOL is investigating reports that crackers gained access to its customer database through a combination of cracking and social engineering exploits.

The allegation of an extremely serious security breach is published today in Wired. The publication interviewed hackers who claim to have gained full access to Merlin, AOL's latest intranet-based customer database application. If true, the breach potentially exposes the private information of AOL's 35 million users.

However we have serious doubts that the Merlin exploit as detailed would be effective: Wired explains the scenario thus:

The hack involves tricking an AOL employee into accepting a file using Instant Messenger or uploading a Trojan horse to an AOL file library. When the file is executed, the Trojan horse connects the user who launched it to an Internet relay chat server, which the hacker can use to issue commands on the targeted machine. This allows the hacker to enter the internal AOL network and the Merlin application.

Merlin requires a user ID, two passwords and a SecurID code, all of which hackers obtain by spamming the AOL employee database with phony security updates, through online password trades, or by "social engineering" attacks over IM or the telephone.

Hmmm.

SecurID codes change constantly, every 60 seconds, and are almost always contained in a device (for example keyfob) which is separate from a user's PC. For this reason we have out doubts that the exploit - as explained - would work. Hackers would need to steal a token (and hope it wasn't cancelled), or have someone on the inside feeding them information on request, it would seem.

Mumbling's the word

These doubts aside, the Wired article contains a fresh twist of the latest social-engineering exploits, which we'll call war-mumbling. Again AOL is the target of this alleged attack.

A hacker, nicknamed hakrobatik, explained the trick to Wired.

I kept calling and pretending I just had jaw surgery and mumbling gibberish. At first I had no info except the screen name, then I called and got the first name and last name by saying, 'Could you repeat what I just said?' Then each time that I got information I called back making the real information understandable, and everything else I just mumbled.

Eventually service reps got so fed up, that they reset a user's password. In this way, hakrobatik plausibly claims, a cracker could gain access to any AOL member's account - using only a screen name - by phoning up overseas call centres.

An AOL spokesman told us it was investigating the allegations of security breaches documented by Wired.

He said: "We take any attempt to compromise a member's personal information extremely seriously. Such actions are illegal, and we will work with law enforcement to prosecute whenever possible."

"We are currently investigating the specific allegations." ®

External Link

Wired: Hackers Run Wild and Free on AOL

Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction

More from The Register

next story
Parent gabfest Mumsnet hit by SSL bug: My heart bleeds, grins hacker
Natter-board tells middle-class Britain to purée its passwords
Obama allows NSA to exploit 0-days: report
If the spooks say they need it, they get it
Web data BLEEDOUT: Users to feel the pain as Heartbleed bug revealed
Vendors and ISPs have work to do updating firmware - if it's possible to fix this
Samsung Galaxy S5 fingerprint scanner hacked in just 4 DAYS
Sammy's newbie cooked slower than iPhone, also costs more to build
Mounties always get their man: Heartbleed 'hacker', 19, CUFFED
Canadian teen accused of raiding tax computers using OpenSSL bug
Snowden-inspired crypto-email service Lavaboom launches
German service pays tribute to Lavabit
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a defence for mobile apps
In this whitepaper learn the various considerations for defending mobile applications; from the mobile application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies needed to properly assess mobile applications risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.