Feeds

Password reset questions dead easy to guess

Your pet's name is Poochie? You're pwned

Boost IT visibility and business value

Guessing the answer to common password reset questions is far easier than previously thought, according to a new study by computer science researchers.

In the paper What's in a Name? Evaluating Statistical Attacks on Personal Knowledge Questions (pdf), Joseph Bonneau of the University of Cambridge and two colleagues from the University of Edinburgh show how hackers stand a one in 80 chance of guessing common security questions such as someone's mother's maiden name or their first school within three attempts.

The academics reached their conclusion after analysing 270 million first and last names pairs extracted from Facebook. Online research about a subject or a pre-existing relationship makes the chances of figuring out the answer to password reset questions still easier.

Sarah Palin's Yahoo! webmail account was famously hacked during the 2008 presidential election using publicly available information to determine the answers to webmail password reset questions. The research led by Bonneau shows that even a brute force dictionary attack with no prior knowledge or background research stands an unacceptably high chance of success.

Bonneau, whose research currently focuses on security and privacy in social networks, said that online services need to move away from password reset questions towards more secure approaches, such as setting multiple questions. The issue is important because access to webmail accounts provides a gateway to other even more sensitive information, such as a possible mechanism to break into online banking accounts.

"Asking what was the name of someone's first grade teacher seems like a secure choice," Bonneau told the BBC. "The problem is that there's a tonne of teachers out there named Mrs Smith."

Sending reset passwords via text messages to a mobile phone already associated with an account represents another step towards improved security. ®

Gartner critical capabilities for enterprise endpoint backup

More from The Register

next story
Microsoft: We plan to CLEAN UP this here Windows Store town
Paid-for apps that provide free downloads? Really
Snowden on NSA's MonsterMind TERROR: It may trigger cyberwar
Plus: Syria's internet going down? That was a US cock-up
Who needs hackers? 'Password1' opens a third of all biz doors
GPU-powered pen test yields more bad news about defences and passwords
e-Borders fiasco: Brits stung for £224m after US IT giant sues UK govt
Defeat to Raytheon branded 'catastrophic result'
Hear ye, young cyber warriors of the realm: GCHQ wants you
Get involved, get a job and then never discuss work ever again
Chinese hackers spied on investigators of Flight MH370 - report
Classified data on flight's disappearance pinched
Microsoft cries UNINSTALL in the wake of Blue Screens of Death™
Cache crash causes contained choloric calamity
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
7 Elements of Radically Simple OS Migration
Avoid the typical headaches of OS migration during your next project by learning about 7 elements of radically simple OS migration.
BYOD's dark side: Data protection
An endpoint data protection solution that adds value to the user and the organization so it can protect itself from data loss as well as leverage corporate data.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?