Feeds

Amazon exploited by hacker in scribe's epic Apple iCloud pwn

Address and 4 digits was all fast-talking fraudster needed

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications

Unfortunate journo Mat Honan has said the demolition of his digital life by a hacker started with a call to Amazon customer support.

Just minutes after the call ended, the WiReD writer's Apple iCloud account was compromised and his iPhone, iPad and MacBook remotely erased. The writer's Google Mail and Twitter accounts were also hacked.

Although Honan blames himself for not having two-factor authentication enabled on his Gmail login, he also said that Amazon made it "remarkably easy" for the miscreant to gain control of his Apple iCloud account. He added that Apple had its own "security flaws" after allowing the hijacker to bypass Honan's preset security questions on his iCloud account.

"Apple tech support gave the hackers access to my iCloud account. Amazon tech support gave them the ability to see a piece of information - a partial credit card number - that Apple used to release information," he wrote in a postmortem examination of the digital attack.

"In short, the very four digits that Amazon considers unimportant enough to display in the clear on the web are precisely the same ones that Apple considers secure enough to perform identity verification."

Honan claims that he later chatted to his hacker via Twitter, email and AIM, and after Honan agreed not to press charges, the hijacker revealed how he broke into the Twitter, Google and Apple accounts.

The hacker, who called himself Phobia, said he didn't have to use brute force to figure out Honan's passwords for the accounts, but instead used clever social engineering to work his way from call centre to call centre.

Phobia said that the whole intrusion was designed to take control of Honan's Twitter feed because it had a three-character handle: @mat.

He followed the Twitter account's profile page to Honan's website, where he learned of his Gmail address. Phobia then started a password reset process for the Gmail account and thereby bagged another of Honan's email addresses: the Gmail account was setup to send a password reset message to the scribe's @me.com inbox. Although that address was partly obscured by Google (m••••n@me.com), Phobia guessed what it was because it had the same starting character as Honan's Gmail username.

Now that Phobia knew Honan had an AppleID account (associated with the @me inbox), he knew he could take over his iDevices.

Amazon pulled into epic hack attack

Phobia phoned Amazon masquerading as Honan and used his email address and billing address (found in Honan's Whois records for his website) to add a fake credit card to his Amazon account. The hacker hung up and then phoned Amazon again, claiming he'd been locked out of his account and used the fake credit card number, plus real email and address, to persuade Amazon tech support to let him into the account.

Once in Honan's Amazon account, Phobia could read the last four digits of the writer's real credit card in the payment settings page. Unfortunately, those four numbers, along with the addresses, were all Apple tech support needed in a subsequent phone call to allow Phobia to reset Honan's iCloud backup storage login, giving him access to pretty much every account and device Honan owned.

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, told The Reg that Amazon's verification process for adding the credit card wasn't thorough enough. "A billing address and email address are probably too easy to dig out," he said.

But, as Honan himself admitted, it's normal practice for retailers to star out all but the last four digits of credit or debit cards, so Amazon had no reason not to do the same for an online account.

"Amazon made it too easy for someone to add a credit card to an account (and subsequently gain access to the account), but Apple made it too easy to access account information using the final four digits," Cluley said.

"There's any number of questions Apple could have asked - either extra support questions or they could have asked about recent purchases on iTunes or the App Store."

Apple said that its "internal policies were not followed completely" and it was reviewing its processes for password resets. Amazon had not returned a request for comment at the time of publication. ®

HP ProLiant Gen8: Integrated lifecycle automation

More from The Register

next story
Auntie remains MYSTIFIED by that weekend BBC iPlayer and website outage
Still doing 'forensics' on the caching layer – Beeb digi wonk
Bring back error correction, say Danish 'net boffins
We don't need no steenkin' TCP/IP retransmission and the congestion it causes
NBN Co adds apartments to FTTP rollout
Commercial trial locations to go live in September
GoTenna: How does this 'magic' work?
An ideal product if you believe the Earth is flat
Samsung Z Tizen OS mobe is post-phoned – this time for good?
Russian launch for Sammy's non-droid knocked back
Telstra to KILL 2G network by end of 2016
GSM now stands for Grave-Seeking-Mobile network
Seeking LTE expert to insert small cells into BT customers' places
Is this the first step to a FON-a-like 4G network?
What FTC lawsuit? T-Mobile US touts 10GB, $100 family-of-4 plan
Folks 'could use that money for more important things' says CEO Legere
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.
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.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.