The author asked some of his acquaintances for permission to break into their online banking accounts. The goal was simple: get into their online accounts using the information about them, their families and acquaintances that is freely available online
By Herbert H. Thompson
As a professor, a software developer and an author I've spent a career in software security. I decided to conduct an experiment to see how vulnerable people's accounts are to mining the Web for information. I asked some of my acquaintances, people I know only casually, if with their permission and under their supervision I could break into their online banking accounts. After a few uncomfortable pauses, some agreed. The goal was simple: get into their online banking account by using information about them, their hobbies, their families and their lives freely available online. To be clear, this isn't hacking or exploiting vulnerabilities, instead it's mining the Internet for nuggets of personal data. Here's one case. I share it here because it represents some of the common pitfalls and illustrates a pretty serious weakness that most of us have online.
Setup: This is the case of one subject whom I'll call "Kim." She's a friend of my wife, so just from previous conversations I already knew her name, what state she was from, where she worked, and about how old she was. But that's about all I knew. She then told me which bank she used (although there are some pretty easy ways to find that out) and what her user name was. (It turns out it was fairly predictable: her first initial + last name.) Based on this information, my task was to gain access to her account.
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