Security researchers ponder possible Palin hacks

Password reset, sidejack, brute force or spear phising attack could each have given hacker access to Palin's e-mail account.

Security experts speculating Thursday on how Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's Yahoo! e-mail account had been hacked put forward several theories, with some skeptical of claims that the access was gained by a simple password reset.

A Yahoo! spokeswoman would not comment on the Palin hack or answer questions about the service's password reset feature. "In general, Yahoo doesn't comment on security policies," said Kelley Benander.

One or more hackers broke into Palin's account early Tuesday, then sent copies of several of its messages to news organizations and to WikiLeaks, a site known for publishing confidential and leaked documents. Among the leaked messages was one between Palin, the Republican nominee for vice president, and Alaska's current Lt. Gov., Sean Parnell, who is running for the state's lone congressional seat, and another with a former private investigator that Palin appointed to the Governor's Advisory Board on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse in October 2007.

Wednesday, the McCain-Palin campaign acknowledged the hack. "This is a shocking invasion of the Governor's privacy and a violation of law," the campaign said in a statement. "The matter has been turned over to the appropriate authorities."

Although it's unclear how Palin's account was accessed, at least one person has stepped forward to claim the hack. In a message posted to 4chan.org's "Random" message board -- the site's most popular, which also goes by "/b/" -- but since deleted, someone identified only as "Rubico" claimed to have gotten Palin's password by using Yahoo's own password reset mechanism.

Some security experts found that hard to believe.

"The whole password reset sounds dubious," said Paul Ferguson, a network architect at antivirus vendor Trend Micro Inc. "Yahoo! sends a password reset to a secondary e-mail account, so it sounds far-fetched to me that it would be that easy."

Yahoo! users who ask the service to remind them of their password are asked for just a few personal details -- such as birth date, country of residence and postal code -- but assuming those are entered correctly, the password is e-mailed to an alternate account, which has had to be entered previously. Computerworld 's tests today, which involved several accounts and used various combinations of password reset queries, always resulted in the Yahoo password or username being sent to an alternate address. However, if a user says his or her alternate e-mail address is unavailable, the password can be reset.

Other researchers, however, thought that the password reset method might make sense. "It's plausible," admitted Adam O'Donnell, director of emerging technologies at message security vendor Cloudmark. "That's a pretty accurate description on how to break into a system," he added, referring to Rubico's description of the attack.

"It's either a password reset or a brute force attack," O'Donnell continued. A brute force attack is one where the hacker simply tries the most likely passwords.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags palin

Struggling for Christmas presents this year? Check out our Christmas Gift Guide for some top tech suggestions and more.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)

Most Popular Reviews

Follow Us

Best Deals on GoodGearGuide

Shopping.com

Latest News Articles

Resources

GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell

LIFEBOOK UH574

The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi

STYLISTIC Q702

The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott

STYLISTIC Q702

My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Latest Jobs

Shopping.com

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?