An attendee works on her computer during the Black Hat conference, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, in Las Vegas.

An attendee works on her computer during the Black Hat conference, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, in Las Vegas. John Locher/AP

Hacker May Have Punched Through FBI Cyber Security With One Phone Call

It doesn’t matter how technically secure your data is if it’s protected by gullible humans.

The departments of Justice and Homeland Security are investigating a Justice hack allegedly made possible by the enemy of secure logins—IT support.

Many federal agencies, including Justice, recently switched on two-factor authentication intended to stop hackers from busting into government databases with merely a password. But that second factor for identification isn't all that safe, when it only takes a call to the help desk for a second form of authorization, say security experts.

Now, a hacktivist, who wishes to remain nameless, claims that technique is exactly what he used to break into a computer containing contact information on some 9,000 DHS personnel and 20,000 FBI employees.

The hacker already had a password for a Justice employee's email account, according to Motherboard, which first reported the breach Feb. 7. From the account, he attempted to log into a restricted department website. When he couldn't enter, he dialed the relevant help desk.

“So I called up, told them I was new and I didn't understand how to get past [the portal],” the hacker told Motherboard. “They asked if I had a token code, I said no, they said that's fine—just use our one.”

A former FBI official said there are existing policies that prohibit Justice IT support personnel from supplying a token without further verifying the individual requesting access is who he or she claims to be.

The individual typically must either visit a facility—in person—that can identity-proof the employee, or he must prove his identity over the phone by providing knowledge only he would know.

"I'm not sure it was in the protocol for the help desk to provide the token for access without significant further authentication," Leo Taddeo, former FBI special agent in charge of the special operations and cyber division, told Nextgov. "Probably, if you trace it back, it is a failure to follow proper protocol. It's probably someone just wanted to be helpful."

Technology and policy safeguards fail when confronted by human nature, he said. 

"The weakest point is the user," said Taddeo, now chief security officer for cyber firm Cryptzone. "It's the human being, no matter what we design, no matter how much we emphasize the technological solutions—if we have users and especially help desks and system administrators that circumvent technology controls by just giving away information."

White House Requests $26 Million for Justice Cybersecurity

On Tuesday, Justice officials declined to comment on IT support procedures for users locked out of department accounts. But they acknowledged a probe into a breach is underway.

"The department is looking into the unauthorized access of a system operated by one of its components containing employee contact information," Justice spokesman Peter Carr said in an emailed statement. "There is no indication at this time that there is any breach of sensitive personally identifiable information."

He added that the department will continue "to deploy protection and defensive measures to safeguard information."

DHS spokesman S.Y. Lee said Homeland Security takes such allegations very seriously.

"We are looking into the reports of purported disclosure of DHS employee contact information," he said, adding, "however, there is no indication at this time that there is any breach of sensitive or personally identifiable information." 

After revelations Office of Personnel Management hackers stole a gigantic number of national security employee records, the White House in June 2015 ordered all agencies to accelerate the activation of two-factor authentication.

As of last October, more than 80 percent of civilian employees governmentwide needed a password plus a smartcard, digital token or other secondary ID format to enter agency systems. 

The Obama administration’s budget proposal for 2017, released Tuesday, requests $26 million from Congress for the "Justice Security Operations Center; for the Identity, Credentialing, and Access Management program; to enhance information security and continuous monitoring; and for a stronger insider threat program."

Whoever is behind the leak of FBI and DHS contacts tweeted links to the data accompanied by Pro-Palestine messages, using the handle @DotGovs.

The stash included DHS employee names, official titles, departments, phone and fax numbers, state and country address information, and official DHS.gov email address, according to Reuters and researchers at the SITE Intelligence Group.

‘This Is a Continuing Threat’

During a Monday call with reporters about the budget, White House cyber czar Michael Daniel said, "With the breach today at DOJ" what that "shows is that this is a continuing threat of varying degrees. We’re still sort of understanding better exactly what happened there.”

The dump of Rolodex information does not seem to come close to the severity of the OPM data theft. 

"It doesn't sound like he got into a sensitive database," Taddeo said. "It sounds like he got into an address book that would accompany an email account." 

Similar recent social engineering hacks reportedly deceived Verizon and Amazon customer support representatives. 

Last fall, a member of the hacktivist group “Crackas with Attitude” impersonated a Verizon technician over the phone to gain data necessary for accessing CIA Chief John Brennan's AOL account. The hacker provided a real Verizon worker a fake employee code and then asked for the details about Brennan.

Software developer Eric Springer last month wrote on Medium about an ID thief who, he said, supplied an Amazon customer service rep an incorrect mailing address found online at whois.com, to similar effect.

“Wow. Just wow. The attacker gave Amazon my fake details from a whois query, and got my real address and phone number in exchange. Now they had enough to bounce around a few services, even convincing my bank to issue them a new copy of my credit card,” Springer wrote.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.