Posts Tagged: two-factor authentication


18
May 17

Fraudsters Exploited Lax Security at Equifax’s TALX Payroll Division

Identity thieves who specialize in tax refund fraud had big help this past tax year from Equifax, one of the nation’s largest consumer data brokers and credit bureaus. The trouble stems from TALX, an Equifax subsidiary that provides online payroll, HR and tax services. Equifax says crooks were able to reset the 4-digit PIN given to customer employees as a password and then steal W-2 tax data after successfully answering personal questions about those employees.

In a boilerplate text sent to several affected customers, Equifax said the unauthorized access to customers’ employee tax records happened between April 17, 2016 and March 29, 2017.

Beyond that, the extent of the fraud perpetrated with the help of hacked TALX accounts is unclear, and Equifax refused requests to say how many consumers or payroll service customers may have been impacted by the authentication weaknesses.

Equifax's TALX -- now called Equifax Workforce Solutions -- aided tax thieves by relying on outdated and insufficient consumer authentication methods.

Equifax’s subsidiary TALX — now called Equifax Workforce Solutions — aided tax thieves by relying on outdated and insufficient consumer authentication methods.

Thanks to data breach notification laws in nearly all U.S. states now, we know that so far at least five organizations have received letters from Equifax about a series of incidents over the past year, including defense contractor giant Northrop Grumman; staffing firm Allegis Group; Saint-Gobain Corp.; Erickson Living; and the University of Louisville.

A snippet from TALX’s letter to the New Hampshire attorney general (PDF) offers some insight into the level of security offered by this wholly-owned subsidiary of Equifax. In it, lawyers for TALX downplay the scope of the breach even as they admit the company wasn’t able to tell exactly how much unauthorized access to tax records may have occurred.

“TALX believes that the unauthorized third-party(ies) gained access to the accounts primarily by successfully answering personal questions about the affected employees in order to reset the employees’ pins (the password to the online account portal),” wrote Nicholas A. Oldham, an attorney representing TALX. “Because the accesses generally appear legitimate (e.g., successful use of login credentials), TALX cannot confirm forensically exactly which accounts were, in fact, accessed without authorization, although TALX believes that only a small percentage of these potentially affected accounts were actually affected.”

ANALYSIS

Generally. Forensically. Exactly. Potentially. Actually. Lots of hand-waving from the TALX/Equifax suits. But Equifax should have known better than to rely on a simple PIN for a password, says Avivah Litan, a fraud analyst with Gartner Inc.

“That’s so 1990s,” Litan said. “It’s pretty unbelievable that a company like Equifax would only protect such sensitive data with just a PIN.”

Litan said TALX should have required customers to use stronger two-factor authentication options, such as one-time tokens sent to an email address or mobile device (as Equifax now says TALX is doing — at least with those we know were notified about possible employee account abuse).

The big consumer credit bureaus like Equifax, Experian, Innovis and Trans Union are all regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which strives to promote accuracy, fairness and privacy for data used by consumer reporting agencies.  But Litan said there are no federal requirements that credit bureaus use stronger authentication for access to consumer data — such as two-factor authentication.

“There’s about 500 percent more protection for credit card data right now than there is for identity data,” Litan said. “And yet I don’t know of one document from the federal government that spells out how these credit bureaus and other companies have to protect PII (personally identifiable information).” Continue reading →


10
May 17

SSA.GOV To Require Stronger Authentication

The U.S. Social Security Administration will soon require Americans to use stronger authentication when accessing their accounts at ssa.gov. As part of the change, SSA will require all users to enter a username and password in addition to a one-time security code sent their email or phone. In this post, we’ll parse this a bit more and look at some additional security options for SSA users.

The SSA recently updated its portal with the following message:

The Social Security Administration's message to Americans regarding the new login changes coming in July 2017.

The Social Security Administration’s message to Americans regarding the new login
changes coming in July 2017.

I read that to mean even though an email address is required to sign up at ssa.gov, the SSA also is treating email as a second authentication factor. But the above statement seemed open to interpretation, so I put my questions to the SSA: Here’s what SSA’s press office came back with:

“Beginning June 10, 2017, we will require all my Social Security account holders (both new and returning) to use a stronger authentication method to create an account or access their account. In addition to entering the username and password, people must select either of the following options to receive a one-time use security code:

A text message; or
An email.

During registration and each subsequent login, customers will receive a new, one-time use security code by text message or email – depending on their choice.

The combination of the username, password, and one-time use security code will provide access to their personal my Social Security account.”

ANALYSIS

The idea that one can reset the password using the same email account that will receive the one-time code seems to lessen the value of this requirement as a security measure.

Notice the SSA isn’t referring to its new security scheme as “two-factor authentication,” which requires the user to supply something he knows and something he is or has. Continue reading →


24
Mar 17

Phishing 101 at the School of Hard Knocks

A recent, massive spike in sophisticated and successful phishing attacks is prompting many universities to speed up timetables for deploying mandatory two-factor authentication (2FA) — requiring a one-time code in addition to a password — for access to student and faculty services online. This is the story of one university that accelerated plans to require 2FA after witnessing nearly twice as many phishing victims in the first two-and-half months of this year than it saw in all of 2015.

bgBowling Green State University in Ohio has more than 20,000 students and faculty, and like virtually any other mid-sized state school its Internet users are constantly under attack from scammers trying to phish login credentials for email and online services.

BGSU had planned later this summer to make 2FA mandatory for access to the school’s portal — the primary place where students register for classes, pay bills, and otherwise manage their financial relationship to the university.

That is, until a surge in successful phishing attacks resulted in several students having bank accounts and W-2 tax forms siphoned.

On March 1, 2017 all BGSU account holders were required to change their passwords, and on March 15, 2017 two-factor authentication (Duo) protection was placed in front of the MyBGSU portal [full disclosure: Duo is a longtime advertiser on KrebsOnSecurity].

Matt Haschak, director of IT security and infrastructure at BGSU, said the number of compromised accounts detected at BGSU has risen from 250 in calendar year 2015 to 1000 in 2016, and to approximately 400 in the first 75 days of 2017.

Left unchecked, phishers are on track to steal credentials from nearly 10 percent of the BGSU student body by the end of this year. The university has offered 2FA options for its portal access since June 2016, but until this month few students or faculty were using it, Haschak said.

“We saw very low adoption when it was voluntary,” he said. “And typically the people who adopted it were not my big security risks.”

Haschak said it’s clear that the scale and size of the phishing problem is hardly unique to BGSU.

“As I keep preaching to our campus community, this is not unique to BGSU,” Haschak said. “I’ve been talking a lot lately to my counterparts at universities in Ohio and elsewhere, and we’re all getting hit with these attacks very heavily right now. Some of the phishing scams are pretty good, but unfortunately some are god-awful, and I think people are just not thinking or they’re too busy in their day, they receive something on their phone and they just click it.”

Last month, an especially tricky phishing scam fooled several students who are also employed at the university into giving away their BGSU portal passwords, after which the thieves changed the victims’ direct deposit information so that their money went to accounts controlled by the phishers.

In other scams, the phishers would change the routing number for a bank account tied to a portal user, and then cancel that student’s classes near the beginning of a semester — thus kicking off a fraudulent refund.

One of the victims even had a fraudulent tax refund request filed in her name with the IRS as a result, Haschak said.

“They went in and looked at her W-2 information, which is also available via the portal,” he said. Continue reading →


1
Aug 16

Social Security Administration Now Requires Two-Factor Authentication

The U.S. Social Security Administration announced last week that it will now require a cell phone number from all Americans who wish to manage their retirement benefits at ssa.gov. Unfortunately, the new security measure does little to prevent identity thieves from fraudulently creating online accounts to siphon benefits from Americans who haven’t yet created accounts for themselves.

ssasiteThe SSA said all new and existing ‘my Social Security’ account holders will need to provide a cell phone number. The agency said it will use the mobile numbers to send users an 8-digit code via text message that needs to be entered along with a username and password to log in to the site.

The SSA noted it was making the change to comply with an executive order for federal agencies to provide more secure authentication for their online services.

“People will not be able to access their personal my Social Security account if they do not have a cell phone or do not wish to provide the cell phone number,” the agency said. “The purpose of providing your cell phone number is that, each time you log in to your account with your username and password, we will send you a one-time security code you must also enter to log in successfully to your account. We expect to provide additional options in the future, dependent upon requirements of national guidelines currently being revised.”

Although the SSA’s policy change provides additional proof that the person signing in is the same individual who established multi-factor authentication in the the first place, it does not appear to provide any additional proof that the person creating an account at ssa.gov is who they say they are.

The SSA does offer other “extra security” options, such as the sending users a special code via the U.S. Mail that has to be entered on the agency’s site to complete the signup process. If you choose to enable extra security, the SSA will then ask you for:

  • The last eight digits of your Visa, MasterCard, or Discover credit card;
  • Information from your W2 tax form;
  • Information from a 1040 Schedule SE (self-employment) tax form; or
  • Your direct deposit amount, if you receive Social Security benefits.

Sadly, it is still relatively easy for thieves to create an account in the name of Americans who have not already created one for themselves. All one would need is the target’s name, date of birth, Social Security number, residential address, and phone number. This personal data can be bought for roughly $3-$4 from a variety of cybercrime shops online.

After that, the SSA relays four multiple-guess, so-called “knowledge-based authentication” or KBA questions from credit bureau Equifax. In practice, many of these KBA questions — such as previous address, loan amounts and dates — can be successfully enumerated with random guessing.  What’s more, very often the answers to these questions can be found by consulting free online services, such as Zillow and Facebook.

In September 2013, I warned that SSA and financial institutions were tracking a rise in cases wherein identity thieves register an account at the SSA’s portal using a retiree’s personal information and have the victim’s benefits diverted to prepaid debit cards that the crooks control. Unfortunately, because the SSA’s new security features are optional, they do little to block crooks from hijacking SSA benefit payments from retirees. Continue reading →


29
Sep 14

We Take Your Privacy and Security. Seriously.

“Please note that [COMPANY NAME] takes the security of your personal data very seriously.” If you’ve been on the Internet for any length of time, chances are very good that you’ve received at least one breach notification email or letter that includes some version of this obligatory line. But as far as lines go, this one is about as convincing as the classic break-up line, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

coxletter

I was reminded of the sheer emptiness of this corporate breach-speak approximately two weeks ago, after receiving a snail mail letter from my Internet service provider — Cox Communications. In its letter, the company explained:

“On or about Aug. 13, 2014, “we learned that one of our customer service representatives had her account credentials compromised by an unknown individual. This incident allowed the unauthorized person to view personal information associated with a small number of Cox accounts. The information which could have been viewed included your name, address, email address, your Secret Question/Answer, PIN and in some cases, the last four digits only of your Social Security number or drivers’ license number.”

The letter ended with the textbook offer of free credit monitoring services (through Experian, no less), and the obligatory “Please note that Cox takes the security of your personal data very seriously.” But I wondered how seriously they really take it. So, I called the number on the back of the letter, and was directed to Stephen Boggs, director of public affairs at Cox.

Boggs said that the trouble started after a female customer account representative was “socially engineered” or tricked into giving away her account credentials to a caller posing as a Cox tech support staffer. Boggs informed me that I was one of just 52 customers whose information the attacker(s) looked up after hijacking the customer service rep’s account.

The nature of the attack described by Boggs suggested two things: 1) That the login page that Cox employees use to access customer information is available on the larger Internet (i.e., it is not an internal-only application); and that 2) the customer support representative was able to access that public portal with nothing more than a username and a password.

Boggs either did not want to answer or did not know the answer to my main question: Were Cox customer support employees required to use multi-factor or two-factor authentication to access their accounts? Boggs promised to call back with an definitive response. To Cox’s credit, he did call back a few hours later, and confirmed my suspicions. Continue reading →


31
Jul 12

Dropbox: Password Breach Led to Spam

Two weeks ago, many Dropbox users began suspecting a data breach at the online file-sharing service after they started receiving spam at email addresses they’d created specifically for use at Dropbox. Today, the company confirmed that suspicion, blaming the incident on a Dropbox employee who had re-used his or her Dropbox password at another site that got hacked.

In a statement released on its blog this evening, DropBox’s Aditya Agarwal wrote:

Our investigation found that usernames and passwords recently stolen from other websites were used to sign in to a small number of Dropbox accounts. We’ve contacted these users and have helped them protect their accounts.

A stolen password was also used to access an employee Dropbox account containing a project document with user email addresses. We believe this improper access is what led to the spam. We’re sorry about this, and have put additional controls in place to help make sure it doesn’t happen again.

A Dropbox spokeswoman said the company is not ready to disclose just how many user account credentials may have been compromised by this password oops, noting that the investigation is still ongoing.

Continue reading →