Feeds

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

Address and 4 digits was all fast-talking fraudster needed

Build a business case: developing custom apps

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. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
UK fuzz want PINCODES on ALL mobile phones
Met Police calls for mandatory passwords on all new mobes
Don't call it throttling: Ericsson 'priority' tech gives users their own slice of spectrum
Actually it's a nifty trick - at least you'll pay for what you get
Three floats Jolla in Hong Kong: Says Sailfish is '3rd option'
Network throws hat into ring with Linux-powered handsets
Fifteen zero days found in hacker router comp romp
Four routers rooted in SOHOpelessly Broken challenge
New Sprint CEO says he will lower axe on staff – but prices come first
'Very disruptive' new rates to be revealed next week
US TV stations bowl sueball directly at FCC's spectrum mega-sale
Broadcasters upset about coverage and cost as they shift up and down the dials
Trans-Pacific: Google spaffs cash on FAST undersea packet-flinging
One of 6 backers for new 60 Tbps cable to hook US to Japan
Tech city types developing 'Google Glass for the blind' app
An app and service where other people 'see' for you
Canadian ISP Shaw falls over with 'routing' sickness
How sure are you of cloud computing now?
UK mobile coverage is BETTER than EVER, networks tell Ofcom
Regulator swallows this line and parrots it back out at us. What are they playing at?
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
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.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.