In Summary
  • Dorsey became the latest target of so-called "SIM swap" fraud which enables a fraudster to trick a mobile carrier into transferring a number -- potentially causing people to lose control not only of social media, but bank accounts and other sensitive information.
  • This type of attack targets a weakness in "two factor authentication" via text message to validate access to an account, which has become a popular break-in method in recent years.

Even with considerable security precautions in place, Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey became the victim of an embarrassing compromise when attackers took control of his account on the platform by hijacking his phone number.

Dorsey became the latest target of so-called "SIM swap" fraud which enables a fraudster to trick a mobile carrier into transferring a number -- potentially causing people to lose control not only of social media, but bank accounts and other sensitive information.

This type of attack targets a weakness in "two factor authentication" via text message to validate access to an account, which has become a popular break-in method in recent years.

Twitter said Friday the account was restored after a brief time in which the attackers posted a series of offensive tweets.

But Ori Eisen, founder of Arizona-based security firm Trusona, which specialises in authentication without passwords, said the rapid fix should not be seen as an answer to the broad problem of SIM swap fraud.

"The problem is not over," Eisen said, noting that these kinds of attacks have been used to take over other high-profile social media accounts and for various kinds of fraud schemes.

Eisen said it's not clear how many people are attacked in this manner but that automated technology can create billions of calls that lure people into giving up information or passwords.

EASILY GET INFORMATION

Some analysts say hackers have found ways to easily get enough information to get a telecom carrier to transfer a number to a fraudster's account, especially after hacks of large databases which result in personal data sold on the so-called "dark web."

"Mobile accounts' text messages can be hijacked by sophisticated hardware techniques, but also by so-called 'social engineering' -- convincing a mobile provider to migrate your account to another, unauthorized phone," said R. David Edelman, a former White House adviser who heads a cybersecurity research center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"It only takes a few minutes of confusion to make mischief like Dorsey experienced."

Thousands of these attacks have been reported in countries where mobile payments are common, including in Brazil, Mozambique, India and Spain.

Researchers at the security firm Kaspersky say security systems by many mobile operators "are weak and leave customers open to SIM swap attacks" especially if the attackers are able to gather information such as birth dates and other data.

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