‘Anonymous’ hackers expose weak computer passwords

Bob Moon Dec 29, 2011

Steve Chiotakis: The group of computer hackers known as “Anonymous” is vowing to release confidential U.S. military and Wall Street documents and emails. That’s after Anonymous exposed thousands of credit card numbers stolen from computers at a major security think-tank called Stratfor.

Marketplace’s Bob Moon reports now the latest breach is another lesson in why using the same user name and password for everything can be pretty risky.

Bob Moon: The 44,000 passwords made public so far were hashed — which is computer-speak for encrypted. But privacy expert Aaron Titus says his analysis shows roughly half were short enough and common enough to be quickly cracked. Titus says the problem isn’t just weak passwords, though: The combination of both user-name and password can cause big headaches.

Aaron Titus: If there is a breach at one website, it can have ripple effects on many websites.

That’s because we tend to use the same identity everywhere. Todd Feinman, who heads the security software firm Identity Finder, says once a hacker has that combination, it’s just a matter of trying out all your locks.

Todd Feinman: Now they’re going to go try and use it at, you know, every banking institution they can think of.

Feinman suggests using split identities, and limiting your critical log-ins to a special few sites. But he concedes your data could still end up being exposed, and he says businesses need to start being held more accountable for better protecting sensitive information.

Feinman: They have the power to prevent this from happening — if they do the right things.

Until companies stop cutting corners, he says, this problem will just keep getting worse.

I’m Bob Moon for Marketplace.

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