The recent e-mail hackings of two former presidents and those of their family members is a wake up call to take Internet security seriously, experts are saying.
The e-mails of George Bush and his son George W. Bush, were breached after the AOL e-mail account of Dorothy Bush Koch, the daughter and sister of the former presidents, was hacked late last week.
Also compromised were the accounts of Scott Pierce, brother-in-law and uncle, an unspecified sister-in-law and aunt, Williard Heminway, a friend of the senior Bush, family friend Jim Nantz and another unspecified account.
Some of the leaked e-mails included family preparations for the possible death and funeral of Bush Sr. who was hospitalized until late last month.
According to The Smoking Gun, in an e-mail to his siblings, George W. Bush said he was “thinking about eulogy” and asked for anecdotes that would reveal their father’s sweet nature and kindness. “Hopefully I’m jumping the gun,” he added.
George W. Bush
Included in the hacked data was a confidential list of home addresses, cellphone numbers, and e-mails for dozens of Bush family members, including both former presidents, their siblings and their children, The Smoking Gun reported. A number of embarrassing photos of George W. Bush — self-paintings of himself showering and in a bathtub — were also posted.
The photos and e-mails — which were posted to an online account that has since been purged — were stamped with a watermark bearing the hacker’s online alias, “Guccifer.”
Guccifer claimed to be a veteran hacker who is already being sought by “the feds” for hacking hundreds of accounts.
“This is just another chapter in the game,” he wrote on the website.
The Secret Service and the FBI are currently investigating the incident.
The Bush hacking was preceded by other high-profile incidents: The Emergency Communication System of the Federal Reserve, an unnamed American power station, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and several private companies.
Dr. Bhavani Thuraisingham, executive director of the Cyber Security Research and Education Center at the University of Texas at Dallas, said the attack is an indicator of how insidious hacking has become.
“It is a lot easier. It’s getting so dangerous these days,” she told The LA Times, adding that malware grants hackers access to personal information remotely. “By the time you find a problem, it’s already changed and attacked your e-mail …. Anti-virus software cannot keep up with the changes. We have to be one step ahead of the hackers, and the hackers are also getting very smart.”
“It can happen to anyone, it’s not just the Bush family. This is all cyberspace — they are as vulnerable as you and me. They’re just a bigger target.”
Security expert Christopher Wolf, in a piece written for CNN, says the recent proliferation of hacking incidents “will mean that government and businesses will up their game even more to secure our information infrastructure.”
“But the security reinforcement might take time,” Wolf says. “In the meantime, people have options to protect their information and themselves. Privacy and data security is a shared responsibility, after all, and users have a role to play.”
Wolf, who leads the privacy and information management practice at Hogan Lovells US LLP and is the founder and co-chairman of the Future of Privacy Forum, says users should take advantage of the two-step verification offered by many Web-based e-mail services.
In two-step verification, after a user enters his user name and password, he then must enter a code sent by the e-mail provider via text, voice call or mobile app.
“Two-step verification drastically reduces the chances of someone stealing the personal information from your e-mail account because hackers would have to not only get a password and your user name, they would also have to have access to the mobile phone to which the code is sent,” Wolf says.
He also recommends users ensure their Wi-Fi connections are secure.
“Wireless routers are ubiquitous, allowing you to share your Internet connection and files around the house,” he says. “But without securing your router, anyone within range can access the websites you visit and may be able to access your personal information. Securing your Wi-Fi router with a password is an easy step to take, and it is often overlooked.”
Wired tech writer Mat Honan, who went public about being hacked last year, says users themselves have made their digital identities too easy to crack.
“Imagine that I want to get into your e-mail,” he writes. “Let’s say you’re on AOL. All I need to do is go to the website and supply your name plus maybe the city you were born in, info that’s easy to find in the age of Google. With that, AOL gives me a password reset, and I can log in as you.”
“The common weakness in these hacks is the password. It’s an artifact from a time when our computers were not hyper-connected. Today, nothing you do, no precaution you take, no long or random string of characters can stop a truly dedicated and devious individual from cracking your account. The age of the password has come to an end; we just haven’t realized it yet.”
Mark Bower of Voltage Security told PC Mag Smartphones and tablets are also a large security risk.
“For convenience, many users let their Smartphones remember their logins to e-mail systems, Web mail, and so on without even a passcode protecting the device,” he says. “Anyone who gets possession of the device could quickly access a potential goldmine of personal, private or financial data in the user’s email account—or even data in their cloud services.”
Bower also says encrypting all of one’s files and digital correspondence is the only way to fully secure one’s digital data.
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Hacking of Bush Family E-mails Shows Internet Security A Serious Issue: Experts