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8Aug 2012

Wired: How hackers wiped my iPhone, iPad, and Macbook

Wired: How hackers wiped my iPhone, iPad, and Macbook

This is one of the most frightening hacking stories I've read, because I immediately recognized my own vulnerability. 

The victim, Matt Honan, is a writer for Wired, where he tells the story of the nightmare he experienced over the weekend. It's worth reading to understand what your own vulnerability might be, but it's also worth reading as a piece of journalism: Honan does a very nice job of telling a complicated personal story.

Honan is a familiar figure to many online, and to readers of Wired. Despite his intimacy with the Web, he admits that he made a mistake that he should never have made:

Had I been regularly backing up the data on my MacBook, I wouldn't have had to wrorry about losing more than a year's worth of photos, covering the entire lifespan of my daughter, or documents and e-mails that I had stored in no other location.

He begins his 3,500-word tale by describing what happened. He was playing with his daughter when his iPhone powered down. He plugged it in, and the setup screen came up. Just a glitch, he thought. He connected it to his MacBook to restore from a backup he'd just made there. The screen on his laptop said his Gmail information had changed, then went gray and asked for a four-digit PIN. "I don't have a four-digit PIN," he wrote.

After explaining in great detail what happened, he then reports that one of his hackers messaged him. They began a conversation on Twitter (a new account Honan had just set up, because his was hacked). 

You can learn a lot about how the hackers did what they did, and about how you can be better prepared. I'm sorry for Honan, who seems to be a very nice fellow; he manages to tell this story without hurling invectives at the hackers, which I'm not sure I could do. He has, however, converted this personal digital tragedy into a compelling and important story--and one that will probably spare others the same fate.

[Apple has reportedly stopped allowing password changes over the phone which, as you will read, played a key role in the Honan hacking.]

-Paul Raeburn

Comments

Yes, it was a human problem--not a computer problem. Apple gave the hackers the info they needed over the phone.

I haven't followed this closely, but apparently the hackers got significant personal information by "social engineering." That is to say, they asked for personal information and the owner of that information gave it to them. They then used that to reset a password using  a process that Apple says involved someone at Apple not following the prescribed procedures. Apple says it's reviewing procedures and addressing that vulnerability.

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