Posts Tagged: two-factor authentication


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 →