Is Xbox support staff helping hackers hijack accounts?

Investigations prove that compromising Xbox Live accounts can be a trivial pursuit

Microsoft Thursday blamed Xbox Live network account hacks on users' gullibility, but evidence shows that in some cases the gaming service's own support staff could be unwittingly helping hackers snare players' identities.

Responding to reports of account theft on Xbox Live that surfaced this week after security researcher Kevin Finisterre -- of "Month of Apple Bugs" fame -- went public with how his account was pinched, Microsoft today said it had wrapped up its investigation. It was only yesterday that Microsoft announced it had begun looking into the thefts.

"Despite some recent reports and speculation, I want to reassure all of our six million Xbox Live members that we have looked into the situation and found no evidence of any compromise of the security of Bungie.net or our Live network," Larry Hryb, the Xbox Live director of programming, said on his popular "Major Nelson" blog. "There have been a few isolated incidents where malicious users have been attempting to draw personal information from unsuspecting users and use it to gain access to their Live account.

"Hope that clears things up," he added. A Microsoft spokesman later e-mailed IDG publication, Computerworld (U.S.) an almost-identical statement.

Both Hryb and the Microsoft spokesman also reminded users not to "give out information that personally identifies you, such as your real name, address, phone number, credit card number, etc."

But its Xbox Live support staff may not have gotten that message.

Xbox Live users have offered accounts to Computerworld of instances where the service's support representatives have given out personal information about an account without verifying the caller's identity. Computerworld also obtained an audio recording of one such call.

"We learned of [a hack into my son's account] in December, when Live charges were showing up on my credit card," said Lori Dobson in an e-mail. "When I contacted Microsoft, the rep I dealt with actually gave me the name and city, state that was using the account, other than my son!"

In the audio recording, an Xbox Live support rep ends up giving out another user's gamertag, the service's term for a player's username, as well as that user's street address and city. The caller, who was attempting to hijack a friend's account with that friend's permission -- the friend was listening in on the line -- started with a legitimate gamertag, but then when the rep said she could not pull up the file based on a bogus phone number, he shifted to phony information, eventually making up a last name and claiming he didn't know which credit card was associated with the account.

"Okay, I got it," the rep said after the caller had given out a fake surname for the account. She then read out another player's gamertag as well as a street address and city associated with that account.

Although the caller wasn't able to collect enough information to hijack the gamertag, the recording demonstrated the tactic that one Xbox Live hacking group uses. The Web site of the "Infamous" clan -- a group of Halo players who have crowed about hijacking accounts of other players -- boast how easy it is to dupe the service's support staff.

"How do we get your information? Its easy...you call [and] pretend to be that person make up a story about how your little brother put in the information on the account and it was all fake, blah blah blah you might get one little piece of information per call but then you keep calling and keep calling everytime getting a little more information. once you have enough information you can get the password on the windows live ID Reset. they may tell you they cant but its bull s***. people at Bungie CAN and WILL reset your password."

The site, which was online as recently as Wednesday, was offline Thursday.

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld

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