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Palin's 'Hacker' Tells How He Did It

Hacker claiming to have broken into Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin's Yahoo email account reportedly used low-tech research and a little social engineering

So how did someone manage to hack “Sarah Barracuda’s” email account?

Word got out late yesterday that Republican vice presidential hopeful Sarah Palin’s personal Yahoo mail account ([email protected]) had been hacked, with some screenshots of messages and photos of her family posted on WikiLeaks.org and, later, gawker.com. Just whodunnit remains unclear, but details of just how the hack was executed have been emerging today -- and it was embarrassingly and eerily simple.

Palin’s Yahoo account had been in the limelight this week after reports that she had used her personal email account to conduct official state government business.

Initially, the Anonymous group, best known for its online protests against the Church of Scientology, was pegged with the hack, but the group has since posted a message on its site denying its involvement. The latest word is that it may have been a one-man effort, according to a Wired.com post. The person claiming to have executed the hack said in a post (which has since been removed) on the 4chan bulletin board site that he used Wikipedia to get Palin’s birthdate, her ZIP code, and then Googled for information for her security question -- where she met her husband -- in an effort to trick Yahoo into reassigning her password.

Her password was reportedly changed to “popcorn,” according to the Associated Press report.

Security experts say Yahoo’s “forgot-my-password" service was basically fooled into giving up Palin’s account to the attacker. Once he got enough information to go on and pose as Palin, he could easily grab control of her email account.

“This is much bigger than Web-based email insecurity. This is the inherent danger of the current hype around ‘cloud-based computing.’ There is no cloud, just a lot of fog around the security and privacy vulnerabilities surrounding online data of all kinds. Email, office collaboration, everything," says Randy Abrams, director of technical education for Eset.

“If it is online, it is available 24x7 for an attacker to attempt to access,” Abrams says. “Download and remove messages from the server is what I recommend, if you have anything you don't want to be public.”

Meanwhile, the FBI and Secret Service are investigating the hack. The alleged hacker appeared worried in his post that by hiding behind only a single anonymous proxy service, he could eventually be exposed. Investigators reportedly plan to speak with the operator of that service, who told the AP he plans to turn over any information from his logs that may be helpful to the case.

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading