Will the hack of 500 million Yahoo accounts get everyone to protect their passwords?

September 26, 2016 by David Glance, The Conversation
How to Hack Yahoo. Credit: The Hacker News

Yahoo has confirmed that account information of around 500 million users was stolen by hackers in 2014. This hack, which Yahoo blamed on a foreign "state-sponsored actor", could have been part of, or following on from, an earlier breach in 2012 in which 450,000 accounts were compromised.

Other than the immediate concern of a password being compromised, there is additional information that was stolen such as the answer to security challenge questions, phone numbers, linked email addresses and dates of birth.

The latest hack is the latest in a regular succession of incidents with large organisations in which account information has been stolen and compromised. And this is only the times when specific organisations have lost large scale numbers of user account information. The everyday compromise of accounts and through malware and phishing attacks is ongoing and persistent.

Given how hard it has been to keep passwords secure, companies have been looking at alternative approaches. Ironically enough, given the poor security that lead to the loss of 500 million accounts, Yahoo is one of the companies that has introduced technology that has tried to do just that.

In 2015, Yahoo introduced a service called Account Key. Account Key works by using push notifications to a Yahoo app on your mobile phone that will pop up a screen asking whether you are trying to sign in to another Yahoo app anywhere else. It will then provide an key consisting of letters that you type into the login window of the other app.

Other than the initial setting up of Account Key, you don't need to use a password again. Google has been experimenting with a similar system and right now, the Google app can be used as the second factor in 2 factor authentication.

This type of password-less login is different from 2 factor authentication which is another approach to add protection to the use of a password. In 2 factor authentication, which you can use on Apple iCloud, Google, Facebook and other accounts (including Yahoo), users still use a password but also use an app on their phone to provide an access key that is available for a limited time when a user logs in. 2 factor authentication works on the principle of using "something you know", i.e. your password, and "something you own", i.e. your phone.

Apple and others have been introducing biometrics to act in the place of passwords and pins on apps on iPhone and Android phones. The fingerprint sensor on iPhones and phones like the Samsung Galaxy range of phones can be used to access many apps. Whilst this is convenient, it doesn't replace passwords or pins entirely because these are still needed periodically and so theoretically passwords could still be compromised if the system, or its data, was accessed.

Likewise Apple's new feature on MacOS Sierra whereby an Apple Mac can be unlocked automatically using an owner's Apple Watch. Again, a password is still needed for the system, the Apple Watch just becomes a convenience feature to access the system quickly when in regular use.

2 factor authentication is still by far the safest way to protect against hackers getting access to a system even if they have managed to get a password. If accounts from Google and Facebook are being used to authorise access to other apps, it becomes even more important that these accounts in particular are protected. Even though Google's and Facebook's security is considered to be very good, the security of the system doesn't protect an individual's account details from being compromised through a targeted attack like phishing.

Yahoo has managed to dispense with passwords but the system does rely on the user having access to their phone, having a working network and that phone itself having security applied to it. Also, because the Yahoo mail app for example is always logged in, in order to provide Access Keys, anyone getting access to the unlocked phone can get access to a user's Yahoo Access Keys. Even with 2 factor authentication, keeping the phone protected becomes critical because if it is lost, it could provide the person who has it with the means to reset passwords and get access to all accounts it is protecting.

The advice to anyone still using Yahoo (which by now must be a rapidly diminishing number) has been to switch to 2 factor authentication, or use Google instead.

Explore further: Can't remember your password? Here are two new ways to log in

Related Stories

Yahoo Mail upgrade sheds passwords

October 15, 2015

Yahoo on Thursday set out to make its free email service hip again with upgrades that included getting rid of the need for passwords on mobile devices.

Tech Tips: Stay safe by reducing reliance on passwords

June 17, 2015

Mix upper and lower case letters in your password? Substitute the numeral 1 for the letter l? Throw in an exclamation point and other special characters? Who can remember all that for dozens of websites and services?

Ambient sound may help protect your online accounts

August 18, 2015

Two-factor authentication based on ambient sound has been the focus of four researchers from the Institute of Information Security ETH Zurich. Nikolaos Karapanos, Claudio Marforio, Claudio Soriente, and Srdjan Capkun posted ...

Protecting data assets with two-factor authentication

February 3, 2016

To better protect the Institute's data – including employee data – from future cyber risks, the Office of Information Technology (OIT) will begin deploying two-factor authentication to early adopters across campus in ...

Dropbox says 68 million user IDs stolen

September 1, 2016

Cloud-based data storage company Dropbox said Thursday that user IDs and passwords of some 68 million clients were stolen four years ago and recently leaked onto the internet.

Recommended for you

Multiple stellar populations detected in the cluster Hodge 6

February 18, 2019

Using ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT), astronomers have found that the cluster Hodge 6 hosts multiple stellar populations. The detection could provide important hints on the formation and evolution of Hodge 6 and star clusters ...

Predicting sequence from structure

February 18, 2019

One way to probe intricate biological systems is to block their components from interacting and see what happens. This method allows researchers to better understand cellular processes and functions, augmenting everyday laboratory ...

Energetic particles can bombard exoplanets

February 18, 2019

TRAPPIST-1 is a system of seven Earth-sized worlds orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf star about 120 light-years away. The star, and hence its system of planets, is thought to be between five-to-ten billion years old, up to twice ...

Meteorite source in asteroid belt not a single debris field

February 17, 2019

A new study published online in Meteoritics and Planetary Science finds that our most common meteorites, those known as L chondrites, come from at least two different debris fields in the asteroid belt. The belt contains ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Sep 29, 2016
contact HACKSERVICES41 @GMAIL .COM for any type of hacking, he is a professional hacker that specializes in exposing cheating spouse,and every other hacking related issues. he is a cyber guru , he helps catch cheating spouse by hacking their communications like call, Facebook, text, emails, Skype and many more. i have used this service before and he did a very good job, he gave me every proof i needed to know that my fiancee was cheating. You can contact him on his email HACKSERVICES41 @GMAIL .COM to help you catch your cheating spouse, or for any other hacking related problems, like hacking websites, bank statement, grades and many more. he will definitely help you, he has helped a lot of people, contact him and figure out your relationship status. i wish you the best too.
not rated yet Oct 01, 2016
you can really hire a hacker in some situations where it seems like you have to clear all doubts and be cool with yourself. I could remember my friend was told lotta things about his wife he never believed any untill he hired a hacker to hack the wife's Facebook and it turned out she has been cheating on him for 3years. Contact the hacker HOMICIDEHACK @ GMAIL.COM
not rated yet Nov 19, 2016
I have contacted ZeusHacks to hire him to hack a Gmail account and my partner's phone for me. I am happy to say I have no regrets because their service and results is outstanding and very fast. I recommend ZeusHacks and look forward to working with them again, because I need to also hack the Facebook account . You can also contact them on ZEUSHACKERS01@OUTLOOK.COM . They offer lots of hacking services like bank account hacks, iCloud hacks, website database hacks, recover passwords, upgrading school grades and so many hacking services.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.