Bush Family Hit by Email Hacker
Eric Draper/The White House via Getty Images
Photos of the Bush family were posted to the website, the Smoking Gun late Thursday.
Once relegated to the shadows of the digital underground, hacking has gone mainstream. Hardly a day goes by without the announcement of a major cybersecurity breach, sometimes conducted by groups, such as Anonymous and LulzSec, that are virtually becoming household names. Hacking has become so prevalent that it has even been allegedly used by major news organizations in the United Kingdom for news gathering. This year alone, there have been a number of high-profile attacks on major companies, such as Sony; international organizations, such as NATO; and even entire governments, as was the case most recently with Syria. Although the major players are becoming more familiar, to many, their methods are as opaque as they've always been. In this slideshow, explore some of the techniques used by hackers to exploit and overcome cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
Eavesdropping and Other Passive Attacks With a passive attack, computer systems and networks are monitored in order for a hacker to gain some information. One technique involves eavesdropping, where a hacker listens in on a network. The point isn't to cause damage to the computer system itself, but to harvest information as it's transmitted. This technique is also known as sniffing or snooping. Eavesdropping is not only a concern for computers, but also mobile devices as they become ubiquitous.
Viruses, Worms and Other Active Attacks Active attacks, such as viruses and trojans, are techniques where a hacker manipulates or deletes data to create the desired result. Computer viruses were first seen in the late 1980s just as home computers were growing more popular. As its name suggests, a virus is a piece of code attached to a seemingly innocuous program and passed between computers. Once inside a system, the virus spreads and can bring down a computer. Like a virus, a Trojan horse is simply a computer program. As the name implies, a Trojan horse fools the user into thinking it's another kind of program, and once installed, releases a malicious code. Another cousin of the virus is the computer worm. Worms burrow into network security holes to pass and install malicious code from user to user. One of the most severe cyber-attacks of all time was through the accidental use of a worm by a graduate student in 1988, who was looking to determine the size of the Internet. Software used for a variety of functions from disrupting a system to gaining access to a network is often called malware. Spyware serves to collect information on users and may or may not be malicious. Not all spyware is malware and vice versa. There are also more niche subcategories of malware, such as ransomware, a term used for an attack meant to scare the user into paying what is essentially a form of blackmail, or scareware, a product falsely sold under the premise that it will protect your computer from outside threats.
Denial of Service A denial of service attack is a technique intended to impede normal operations of a website or network. The basic idea is to overrun a computer or server with requests from outside a network to overwhelm the system's available resources. By flooding the intended target with requests, hackers incapacitate the site. These attacks often employ botnets, also known as zombie computers, which are systems that are taken over, sometimes unknowingly though occasionally voluntarily, by a hacker. This technique was most notably employed by the hacking group known as Anonymous against various websites, including Mastercard, Visa, Paypal and others, in the wake of the controversy surrounding the online whistleblower Wikileaks.
Going In The Back Door Earlier this year, hackers shut down Sony's PlayStation Network and stole the personal information, including some credit card data, from nearly 100 millions users. According to a letter by Sony following a Congressional inquiry into the matter, the company asserted that the heist was the result of two groups of hackers: the first launched a denial of service attack while the second stole the data. Before this series of attacks took place, however, Sony itself was accused of slipping malicious code -- a rootkit -- into one of its firmware updates for the PlayStation 3. A rootkit, also known as a back door, is software that gives a hacker access to a computer or network, often without an administrator's knowledge. Gaming security experts, however, dismissed the rumors as false.
Phishing and Sidejacking Behind almost all secure data both online and off is a username and password. If a hacker can gain user information and crack a password, that attacker can access a network and create, modify or delete data maliciously. Different techniques, however, are used to steal a user's password. One of the most popular methods is known as phishing. It starts when a hacker sends an electronic communication to an unsuspecting user under the illusion that the message is from a trusted institution. The user is duped into supplying his information, which may not only include a username and password but also a social security number and bank account information. Another method, known as sidejacking, session IDs, which can be unencrypted data in a URL or cookie, to gain access to an account. Other automated attacks simply guess passwords using predetermined dictionaries and often exploits systems without lockout policies for successive login failures.
Keylogging Keylogging is a technique that could be used for password cracking, but goes a step further. It allows hackers to monitor every stroke of the key entered by a user, which could include other information besides passwords, such as social security numbers, credit card data and much more.
Spoofing With spoofing attacks, hackers pretend to be a user designated to access a particular system or network by mimicking that person's IP address. Once a hacker is inside the system, that attacker can steal or delete data, or access other resources within a particular network.
The family of former presidents George H.W. Bush and his son, George W. Bush, has been hit by an email hacker.
The website The Smoking Gun late Thursday (Feb. 7) posted family photos that the site said came from six email accounts belonging to Bush friends and family members.
The photos include one showing the elder President Bush during his December hospital stay, which was so serious that some of the stolen emails discussed funeral arrangements. (He later recovered.)
The compromised accounts are said to include those of Dorothy Bush Koch, the younger President Bush's sister; Jim Nantz, a CBS sportscaster and old family friend; Willard Heminway, another family friend; and two unnamed in-laws.
A spokesman for the elder President Bush told the Houston Chronicle that he could confirm only that there was a criminal investigation.
Most of the photographs seem to have been taken at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Me.. They include images of the elder President Bush with former President Bill Clinton, and of the younger President Bush with clothing designer Ralph Lauren and his son, who is married to model Lauren Bush.
Four photos display the younger President Bush's artistic endeavors, including two paintings, a photo of him working on a third painting and one of him posing with a cardboard cutout of himself dressed as a Parisian artist, complete with mustache and beret.
All the photos are watermarked with the word "Guccifer," which The Smoking Gun says is the hacker's alias.
The Smoking Gun said it corresponded with the hacker, who told the website he had accessed lists of Bush family contact information as well as emails among family members concerning the elder President Bush's health.
The Smoking Gun did not publish any of the emails, but did post some excerpts, some which reveal misgivings by the younger President Bush and his siblings about their father's friendship with Bill Clinton.
"Dad probably helped Bill Clinton than anything he himself has done" to "restore his [Clinton's] sordid reputation," former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush allegedly wrote.
The younger President Bush asked his siblings for family stories in case he would have to soon deliver an eulogy for his father.
"Hopefully I'm jumping the gun," George W. Bush allegedly wrote. "But since the feeling is that you all would rather me speak than bubba, please help," he added, using Clinton's somewhat pejorative nickname. [8 Ways to Protect Your Email Account]
Poor Password Protection?
The website said it had contacted Dorothy Bush Koch, who until then was not aware her email account had been compromised.
"Why would someone do this?" she reportedly wondered.
The Smoking Gun did not disclose how "Guccifer" broke into the accounts, but Web-based email accounts are often protected by weak passwords.
The case resembles the 2008 hack of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who was at the time the Republican candidate for vice president.
A Tennessee college student, the son of a Democratic state representative, guessed the password to Palin's Yahoo Mail account and posted several messages online. He was later sentenced to a year in prison.
To protect a Web-based email account, make sure you have a strong password of at least characters, including numbers and punctuation marks.
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