Posts Tagged jasmine huda

The Other Engineering: Social Engineering

Last night I was interviewed by Jasmine Huda on St. Louis KMOV-TV Channel 4 news about a scam used to steal information from PCs.  The attackers are calling random people and claiming to be from Microsoft Technical Support.  They say they received an error report from their computer and have found a problem that they will help them fix over the phone.  Many PC users see those send error report dialog boxes after a crash, and often click to send the report.  Of course, the scammers did not see those reports – they go directly to Microsoft who treats their content confidentially.  In addition, if you think about it, does your PC know your phone number?

This seems to be a recent report of this in Denver, Colorado, although you can find variants of this scam all over the world and over a few year period, such as this one in the UK.

This is an example of the other engineering – social engineering.  Social engineering is a confidence game of tricking someone into sharing their computer password or installing malware on their computer or visiting malicious websites.  Unfortunately, it is all too easy, especially if they have a small amount of information (or a lucky guess, such as that you recently clicked on a send error report message).

For a complete analysis of social engineering, I’d recommend Kevin Mitnick’s The Art of Deception.  Or, to read his incredible real-life account of how he used social engineering to take over telephone networks, try Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker.

Everyone should be aware of social engineering and how to protect themselves from it.  The most important thing is to never give out information or access to your computer to someone who calls you, even if they sound legitimate.  If you think it really is Microsoft calling you, or your bank, or your credit card company, then ask for their case number, hangup, then lookup the phone number of the business or bank and call them back at that number.  (Note that you can’t ask them for their phone number or call the number shown on Caller ID – you can’t trust that information either, and some attackers can even working have toll free numbers).

I do hope, however, that people don’t stop sending those error reports.  I’ve heard from my friends who are software developers that these reports are a goldmine for them in terms of fixing bugs and improving their software.

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Smartphone Hacking

Alan B. Johnston interview on KMOV-TV on Smartphone Hacking

Last night I was interviewed on KMOV-TV Channel 4 in St. Louis about smartphone hacking.  I was asked by Jasmine Huda to comment about an article in USA Today “Hackers prey on smartphone use at work during holidays” and about the general issue of smartphone hacking.

The USA Today article is primarily about users whose smartphone connects to both their corporate accounts and their personal accounts.  The angle was that the smartphone becomes a new attack vector to penetrate corporate networks via the personal accounts on these devices.  While this attack seems plausible in theory and will no doubt happen, it is hardly widespread today.  I commented that smartphone hacking is definitely on the rise, with Android devices and their open ecosystem most common, while at the other end of the spectrum is the iPhone with its closed ecosystem and minimal hacking reported.  However, there is still the potential for iPhone hacking as demonstrated recently by Charlie Miller who got his application accepted in the App Store despite having malware in it.

Jasmine Huda, KMOV-TV, story on Smartphone Hacking

Besides paying attention to what apps you run and what links you follow, you also need to pay attention to the physical security of your smartphone.  With so much personal information stored in it, having a smartphone password protected is a must, as is the ability to remotely wipe the phone if lost. In my technothriller novel Counting from Zero, the main character Mick O’Malley temporarily loses possession of his smartphone.  Being the overly paranoid type, he immediately discards the phone hardware, replaces it, then reinstalls all his information on it.

Today, a bigger concern than smartphone hacking is smartphone privacy, and the personal information that apps are routinely sharing without really informing the user, but this is a topic for another day.

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