Cast your mind back – way back – to the dark days before Gmail. Remember your Yahoo account? Now would be a good time to change that password.
Rumours of a monumental Yahoo hack have been confirmed by the company. The account information of at least 500 million users was stolen by hackers in 2014, including names, email addresses, passwords, telephone numbers, and answers to some security questions. This is the biggest known intrusion of a single company’s computer network to date.
Wait, What Happened?
Yahoo chief information security officer Bob Lord confirmed on the company’s Tumblr blog that “a copy of certain user account information was stolen from the company’s network in late 2014 by what it believes is a state-sponsored actor. The account information may have included names, email addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, hashed passwords (the vast majority with bcrypt) and, in some cases, encrypted or unencrypted security questions and answers.”
This is not good news for the half a billion accounts affected, nor is it good for Yahoo, which is in the midst of trying to negotiate a deal to sell itself to Verizon for US$4.8 billion. Talk about damaged goods.
Yikes. How Bad Is It?
Bad, but there’s a small bit of brightness amidst the dark, for both Yahoo and the 500 million accounts that have been breached. “The ongoing investigation suggests that stolen information did not include unprotected passwords, payment card data, or bank account information,” says the Yahoo blog. “Payment card data and bank account information are not stored in the system that the investigation has found to be affected.”
The company is working with law enforcement and has taken steps to minimise damage. All potentially affected users are being notified by email. Yahoo has also invalidated unencrypted security questions and answers so they cannot be used to access an account.
“An increasingly connected world has come with increasingly sophisticated threats. Industry, government and users are constantly in the crosshairs of adversaries,” writes Lord. “Through strategic proactive detection initiatives and active response to unauthorized access of accounts, Yahoo will continue to strive to stay ahead of these ever-evolving online threats and to keep our users and our platforms secure.
Ok, So What’s Next?
The first step is obvious: change your password, security questions, and answers immediately, whether or not you’ve received an email from Yahoo. Be sure to change them for any other accounts on which you used the same or similar information used for your Yahoo account (but remember, you really shouldn’t be reusing passwords).
Review your accounts for signs of suspicious activity and be wary of “unsolicited communications that ask for your personal information or refer you to a web page asking for personal information.” Avoid clicking on links or downloading attachments from suspicious emails.
Lastly, enter your email address or username on the website Have I Been Pwned? to see if your login information has been compromised. It’s not foolproof, but it’s a step up from total ignorance.