According to Kaspersky Labs, Apple, Inc. (AAPL) is ten years behind Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) in security. Mat Honan, a former Wired editor and senior Gizmodo reporter found that out the hard way when a hacker took over the official Gizmodo Twitter feed and Mr. Honan’s other accounts to spew foul racist and offensive messages onto the internet.
The culprit was a combination of Apple and Amazon.com, Inc.’s (AMZN) security procedures. Like many journalists, Mr. Honan was a fan of Apple’s popular gadgets. And like many he shopped on Amazon. But that popular commerce portal, Amazon, combined with those Apple gadgets’ ubiquitous online interface — iCloud — proved the key to the unfortunate intrusion. The real Mat Honan writes, “[The hacker] got in via Apple tech support and some clever social engineering that let them bypass security questions. ”
Via the iCloud (*.mac) email account, the hackers gained access to his Gmail and Twitter via common password recovery interfaces. They also locked him out of his iCloud account, changing his password.
By hacking Apple’s iCloud and Amazon’s commerce portal, a malicious user gained access to an award-winning journalist’s accounts. [Image Source: 9 to 5 Mac]
At first Mr. Honan suspected his “7 digit alphanumeric” was cracked, given its shorter length. However, he was puzzled because “I didn’t use elsewhere.”
In the chaos that ensued Mr. Honan saw his MacBook Air, iPhone, and iPad remote wiped — a glaring dark-side of these features that were designed to protect Apple users. The “Genius Bar” is currently working with him to see what data is recoverable, and in the meant time he’s managed to re-secure his accounts.
Aside from the newsworthiness of such a high profile, award-winning tech journalist being victimized by a malicious hacker, the story of Mr. Honan’s misfortune also raises more serious questions regarding Apple and Amazon’s security.
The hack of prize-winning journalist Mat Honan raises tough questions for Apple and Amazon.
[Image Source: Ibabuzz]
Based on the account by both the hacker who attacked him and Apple, Mr. Honan says virtually any iCloud user is at risk of having their account hijacked via a quick and dirty social engineering scheme.
He writes in a followup:
Via AppleCare, I was able to confirm the hacker’s account of how he got access to my account. I have an email in to Tim Cook and Apple PR, and want to give them a chance to respond (and make changes). I want to give the company a little more time to look at its internal processes, but should be as simple as a policy change. So far, I haven’t received any acknowledgement from Apple corporate. I did, however, get an urgent call from AppleCare ten minutes after emailing Mr. Cook, informing me that my situation had been escalated and there is now only one person at Apple who can make changes to my account. So I gather corporate is aware of what happened and looking into how to most effectively respond to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
At least, I hope that’s what’s happening.
In a post yesterday on Wired, he provides more information, explaining Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN) is also to blame, by allowing unwanted account access through a bizarre loophole. Mr. Honan writes in Wired:
First you call Amazon and tell them you are the account holder, and want to add a credit card number to the account. All you need is the name on the account, an associated e-mail address, and the billing address. Amazon then allows you to input a new credit card. (Wired used a bogus credit card number from a website that generates fake card numbers that conform with the industry’s published self-check algorithm.) Then you hang up.
Next you call back, and tell Amazon that you’ve lost access to your account. Upon providing a name, billing address, and the new credit card number you gave the company on the prior call, Amazon will allow you to add a new e-mail address to the account. From here, you go to the Amazon website, and send a password reset to the new e-mail account. This allows you to see all the credit cards on file for the account — not the complete numbers, just the last four digits. But, as we know, Apple only needs those last four digits. We asked Amazon to comment on its security policy, but didn’t have anything to share by press time.
The key gaff on Amazon’s part appears to be to allow you to add a credit card to your account without verification at your original email. Hopefully Amazon fixes this in a timely manner.
As for Apple, in many ways its flaw is worse, as virtually any compromised commerce portal provides a partial (last 4-digit) credit card number. That Apple would allow this as identity verification is troubling, to say the least.
Apple has struggled over the last year with security. In one extreme instance it was shown to be saving some user passwords in plaintext, an issue that took it months to remedy. The company, whose value is largely built on an impression of superiority over conventional personal computers, has largely refused to publicly acknowledge these issues for fear of damaging its prized image.
Ultimately Mr. Honan would discover that the hacker involved — who called themself “Phobia” — didn’t target him because he was a high profile writer. He targeted him because he has a coveted 3-character Twitter handle (@mat). The rest was, as hackers say “gravy” — and thanks to Amazon and Apple there was plenty of gravy to go around.
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