Exposed data from ABC breach shows true extent of attack: Trend Micro

Security vendor weighs in on the recent attack on one of ABC’s television sites

Earlier this week, the ABC admitted that one of its television program sites had been hacked.

The broadcaster has attributed the attack to an overseas activist opposing right wing Dutch politician, Geert Wilders.

The breach occurred on the Making Australia Happy site, a program that ran on the ABC in late 2010, where the name, username and a hashed version of the password that were used to register on the program website were allegedly exposed.

While the hack happened to the Making Australia Happy site, Geert Wilders was actually interviewed recently on ABC’s Lateline, with the accompanying site remaining unhacked.

The part of the attack that worries Trend Micro A/NZ strategic products senior manager, Adam Biviano, is the exposed email addresses and password details.

“Without a doubt, the loss of privacy here is damaging to the people affected by the breach,” he said.

“At this stage, it’s hard to tell specifically unless you are the individual.” While the password fields are hashed, Biviano said many of the passwords can be reverse engineered without too much effort.

“Thus, the user becomes vulnerable should they use that same email and/or password combination elsewhere,” he said. For individuals that may have a reason to keep their location private, the access to location data could become another concern.

The ABC has publicly stated that it is still investigating the details of the breach, but in the meantime the hacked data has entered the public domain.

Trend Micro used the hacked data to created a map to illustrate the nature of the breach’s impact

For instance, the leaked data contains longitude and latitude information in each record, likely from the user’s location services on the device they connected to the site with or an address that was keyed in.

“We took a subset of the data, stripped any user and record identifiers and fed it into Google Maps,” Biviano said.

“This only took a few minutes, but graphically reveals the extent of the impact on end users.”

Better password habits

The ABC said the site was shut down as soon as it was made aware of the activity, and in response to the attack it will be in contact with affected members of the breached site.

Biviano, however, said that merely reaching out to the site members will not undo the damage the hack may have caused.

“At a minimum, the government should look to legislating standards for the storing of password material in such a way that it’s not possible to reverse engineer,” he said.

In the wake of this hack, Biviano recommends everyone should use a different password for each online site.

“Often people take shortcuts and make use of the same password for many things such as email accounts, utility accounts and banking systems,” he said.

Patrick Budmar covers consumer and enterprise technology breaking news for IDG Communications. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @patrick_budmar.

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