Entries Tagged "social engineering"

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Social Engineering Via Voicemail

Here’s a clever social engineering attack:

The Division has received a number of calls concerning a voicemail message left by an anonymous female caller urging them to purchase a particular penny stock. The message is intended to appear as if the caller is calling a close friend and has dialed the wrong number. The caller talks fast stating she has a great inside deal on a penny stock. The caller personalizes the conversation by saying the recommendation comes from a broker the woman is dating and that her father previously purchased stock and made a huge profit. The purpose of the call is to make you think you’ve received a hot stock tip by mistake.

Posted on May 20, 2005 at 8:37 AMView Comments

Social Engineering and the IRS

Social engineering is still very effective:

More than one-third of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employees and managers
who were contacted by Treasury Department inspectors posing as computer technicians provided their computer login and changed their password, a government report said Wednesday.

This is a problem that two-factor authentication would significantly mitigate.

Posted on March 22, 2005 at 9:54 AMView Comments

Choicepoint's CISO Speaks

Richard Baich, Choicepoint’s CISO, is interviewed on SearchSecurity.com:

This is not an information security issue. My biggest concern is the impact this has on the industry from the standpoint that people are saying ChoicePoint was hacked. No we weren’t. This type of fraud happens every day.

Nice spin job, but it just doesn’t make sense. This isn’t a computer hack in the traditional sense, but it’s a social engineering hack of their system. Information security controls were compromised, and confidential information was leaked.

It’s created a media frenzy; this has been mislabeled a hack and a security breach. That’s such a negative impression that suggests we failed to provide adequate protection. Fraud happens every day. Hacks don’t.

So, Choicepoint believes that providing adequate protection doesn’t include preventing this kind of attack.

I’m sure he’s exaggerating when he says that “this type of fraud happens every day” and “frauds happens every day,” but if it’s true then Choicepoint has a huge information security problem.

Posted on March 1, 2005 at 10:45 AMView Comments

ChoicePoint

The ChoicePoint fiasco has been news for over a week now, and there are only a few things I can add. For those who haven’t been following along, ChoicePoint mistakenly sold personal credit reports for about 145,000 Americans to criminals.

This story would have never been made public if it were not for SB 1386, a California law requiring companies to notify California residents if any of a specific set of personal information is leaked.

ChoicePoint’s behavior is a textbook example of how to be a bad corporate citizen. The information leakage occurred in October, and it didn’t tell any victims until February. First, ChoicePoint notified 30,000 Californians and said that it would not notify anyone who lived outside California (since the law didn’t require it). Finally, after public outcry, it announced that it would notify everyone affected.

The clear moral here is that first, SB 1386 needs to be a national law, since without it ChoicePoint would have covered up their mistakes forever. And second, the national law needs to force companies to disclose these sorts of privacy breaches immediately, and not allow them to hide for four months behind the “ongoing FBI investigation” shield.

More is required. Compare the difference in ChoicePoint’s public marketing slogans with its private reality.

From “Identity Theft Puts Pressure on Data Sellers,” by Evan Perez, in the 18 Feb 2005 Wall Street Journal:

The current investigation involving ChoicePoint began in October when the company found the 50 accounts it said were fraudulent. According to the company and police, criminals opened the accounts, posing as businesses seeking information on potential employees and customers. They paid fees of $100 to $200, and provided fake documentation, gaining access to a trove of
personal data including addresses, phone numbers, and social security numbers.

From ChoicePoint Chairman and CEO Derek V. Smith:

ChoicePoint’s core competency is verifying and authenticating individuals
and their credentials.

The reason there is a difference is purely economic. Identity theft is the fastest-growing crime in the U.S., and an enormous problem elsewhere in the world. It’s expensive — both in money and time — to the victims. And there’s not much people can do to stop it, as much of their personal identifying information is not under their control: it’s in the computers of companies like ChoicePoint.

ChoicePoint protects its data, but only to the extent that it values it. The hundreds of millions of people in ChoicePoint’s databases are not ChoicePoint’s customers. They have no power to switch credit agencies. They have no economic pressure that they can bring to bear on the problem. Maybe they should rename the company “NoChoicePoint.”

The upshot of this is that ChoicePoint doesn’t bear the costs of identity theft, so ChoicePoint doesn’t take those costs into account when figuring out how much money to spend on data security. In economic terms, it’s an “externality.”

The point of regulation is to make externalities internal. SB 1386 did that to some extent, since ChoicePoint now must figure the cost of public humiliation when they decide how much money to spend on security. But the actual cost of ChoicePoint’s security failure is much, much greater.

Until ChoicePoint feels those costs — whether through regulation or liability — it has no economic incentive to reduce them. Capitalism works, not through corporate charity, but through the free market. I see no other way of solving the problem.

Posted on February 23, 2005 at 3:19 PMView Comments

Phishing by Cell Phone

From an alert reader:

I don’t know whether to tell you, or RISKS, or the cops, but I just received an automated call on my cellphone that asked for the last four digits of my Social Security number. The script went:

Hello! This is not a solicitation! We have an important message for J-O-H-N DOE (my first name was spelled out, but the last name was pronounced). If this is J-O-H-N Doe, Press 1 now!

(after pressing 1:)

For your security, please enter the last four digits of your Social Security Number!

I have no idea who it was, because I’ll be — damned — if I’d give out ANY digits of my SSN to an unidentified party. My cell’s display is broken so I’m not sure whether there was any caller ID information on it, but I also know that can be forged. What company expects its customers to give up critical data like that during an unidentified, unsolicited call?

Sadly, there probably are well-meaning people writing automatic telephone scripts that ask this sort of question. But this could very well be a phishing scheme: someone trying to trick the listener into divulging personal information.

In general, my advice is to not divulge this sort of information when you are called. There’s simply no way to verify who the caller is. Far safer is for you to make the call.

For example, I regularly receive calls from the anti-fraud division of my credit card company checking up on particular charges. I always hang up on them and call them back, using the phone number on the back of my card. That gives me more confidence that I’m speaking to a legitimate representative of my credit card company.

Posted on December 7, 2004 at 1:58 PMView Comments

Clever Virus Attack

Just received this e-mail message, with an attachment entitled “schneier@counterpane.com.” The file is really an executable .com file, presumably one harboring a virus. Clever social engineering attack, and one I had not seen before.

From: ((some fake address))

To: schneier@counterpane.com

Subject: Message could not be delivered

Dear user schneier@counterpane.com,

Your email account has been used to send a huge amount of spam messages during the last week. Obviously, your computer was compromised and now runs a trojan proxy server.

Please follow our instruction in the attached file in order to keep your computer safe.

Virtually yours,
counterpane.com user support team.

Posted on November 1, 2004 at 11:44 AMView Comments

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.