Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Endpoint

Study: 'Secret Security Questions' Can Be Guessed By Insiders

Ability to guess the answers to second-level security questions goes up significantly if the guesser knows the account holder, study says

It's true that few hackers would guess the name of your favorite childhood pet. But what about the people who know you? For them, guessing the answer to your "secret security question" might not be so tough, a new study says.

At the IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy in Oakland, Calif., this week, researchers from Microsoft Research and Carnegie Mellon University presented research that shows the popular method of asking a "security question" of end users is not nearly as secure as it may seem.

According to a report in the industry publication TechWorld, the researchers conducted tests to see how well users who knew each other might guess the answers to common security questions.

"The study looked at the questions used by Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and AOL in March 2008," the report states. "In one test, the researchers paired two people together, with the email account holder saying they would not trust the other person with their password. When presented with the account holder's secret question, the other person guessed it right 17 percent of the time."

Between two people who trust each other, one partner was able to supply the right answer for a Hotmail account 28 percent of the time, the study said. Even with questions written by a user, a complete stranger could guess the answer right 15 percent of the time within five attempts, the report says.

"Our results do not give us confidence that today's personal questions make adequate authentication secret," the study says. "Those that are hard to guess are less likely to be chosen by users in the first place, and when chosen they are less likely to be remembered."

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Threaded  |  Newest First  |  Oldest First
10 Ways to Keep a Rogue RasPi From Wrecking Your Network
Curtis Franklin Jr., Senior Editor at Dark Reading,  7/10/2019
The Security of Cloud Applications
Hillel Solow, CTO and Co-founder, Protego,  7/11/2019
Where Businesses Waste Endpoint Security Budgets
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  7/15/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: "Jim, stop pretending you're drowning in tickets."
Current Issue
Building and Managing an IT Security Operations Program
As cyber threats grow, many organizations are building security operations centers (SOCs) to improve their defenses. In this Tech Digest you will learn tips on how to get the most out of a SOC in your organization - and what to do if you can't afford to build one.
Flash Poll
The State of IT Operations and Cybersecurity Operations
The State of IT Operations and Cybersecurity Operations
Your enterprise's cyber risk may depend upon the relationship between the IT team and the security team. Heres some insight on what's working and what isn't in the data center.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-3571
PUBLISHED: 2019-07-16
An input validation issue affected WhatsApp Desktop versions prior to 0.3.3793 which allows malicious clients to send files to users that would be displayed with a wrong extension.
CVE-2019-6160
PUBLISHED: 2019-07-16
A vulnerability in various versions of Iomega and LenovoEMC NAS products could allow an unauthenticated user to access files on NAS shares via the API.
CVE-2019-9700
PUBLISHED: 2019-07-16
Norton Password Manager, prior to 6.3.0.2082, may be susceptible to an address spoofing issue. This type of issue may allow an attacker to disguise their origin IP address in order to obfuscate the source of network traffic.
CVE-2019-12990
PUBLISHED: 2019-07-16
Citrix SD-WAN 10.2.x before 10.2.3 and NetScaler SD-WAN 10.0.x before 10.0.8 allow Directory Traversal.
CVE-2019-12991
PUBLISHED: 2019-07-16
Citrix SD-WAN 10.2.x before 10.2.3 and NetScaler SD-WAN 10.0.x before 10.0.8 have Improper Input Validation (issue 5 of 6).