Yahoo Breach Cookies are delicious. They are magical lucky charms for most of us, but for Yahoo they’re the source of exploitation in yet another data breach. This is the third breach resulting from compromised accounts reported by Yahoo in one year. For a security professional, it’s a chocolate chip gold mine of writing material, but to everyone else this latest breach represents what not to do for cyber security and personal computer hygiene. If you think this tongue-in-cheek approach is whimsical in discussing yet another breach at Yahoo, you’re right; and it’s almost comical that the story broke on Hacker News in the middle of one of the largest security conferences in the world – RSA in San Francisco. Bad timing for Yahoo and another reminder of how bad security practices could lead to a data breach cover up.

How it Happened

On Wednesday, February 15, Yahoo quietly sent out notifications to users warning that their accounts may have been compromised and that the incidents may have occurred as recently as last year or as early as 2015. The investigation turned up evidence that attackers used forged browser cookies to log into accounts without the use of passwords. The cookie exploit was traced back to a flaw in the security of Yahoo’s mail server. Essentially, it allowed hackers using malicious cookies to log into accounts by tricking the mail server to think the user had previously logged in from that source when in fact they never did. From there, the hackers had access to the email, accounts, and potentially other settings and information stored in Yahoo. Unfortunately, according to reports, the investigation into this breach has not been closed and more details or other incidents may surface. If you think this latest breach means nothing except to Yahoo users, think again. It has far reaching effects – from Yahoo stock holders to the entire information technology industry. On the same Wednesday, Verizon announced it was going to cut the offer price for Yahoo by at least $250 million! Presumably this is due to the previous data breaches and now the latest announcement of a pending deal closure as reported by Bloomberg.

What’s Next?

So what is next for Yahoo? Potentially a forth breach disclosure, more details on how malicious cookies circumvented Yahoo security, users changing their passwords more frequently, or an exodus of users losing faith in Yahoo and closing their accounts. Whatever does happen next, all users and security professionals need to be aware of the risks of stagnant passwords, and that bad security practices from improper public disclosure to real exploits can have ramifications on data security and financial bottom lines. Please remember these guidelines about passwords:
  • Never re-use the same password between work and home
  • Never re-use the same password for financial institutions and social media
  • Never re-use the same password for an administrator account at work as your standard logon
  • Never tell anyone your password. If you need to share it, change it when the other person is done with using it.
  • Change your passwords frequently. Yes, ALL of them.
  • For individuals, use a secure personal password manager like Apple iCloud Keychain, or third party application to remember your passwords and create new randomized ones.
  • For organizations use an enterprise password management solutions at work for password tracking, release, randomization, and workflow.
Now, I am realistic and there are always exceptions. These should be your basic guidelines and be embedded in your habits just like saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ We all need to learn this and more importantly, we all need to practice it. If you would like more information on enterprise password management, contact us today.