When you think about the secure communications technology available to high-powered individuals such as the director of the CIA, you probably don’t think about AOL. And indeed, when it came out two days ago that the director of the Central Intelligence Agency not only used a personal AOL email account in order to conduct government business, but that it had also been hacked by two 13-year-old stoners, many commentators dismissed it as a probable hoax.
Don’t adjust your screen, readers, because it looks like this story is one hundred percent real. Documents have recently been posted on Wikileaks, purporting to be from CIA director John Brennan, and including social security numbers, passport numbers, and position papers on Iran. This leak also includes a document that Brennan used to obtain his security clearance, and which contains a wealth of data about his friends, family, and personal history.
So, how did these hackers—identified as stoners under the age of 20—compromise the email of a man who could potentially kill them with drone strikes? Did they have to type lines of code into a triply-secured computer while hanging from a BDSM harness a la Mission Impossible?
Absolutely not. They called tech support.
According to an interview with Wired, the hackers gained access John Brennan’s account by first doing a lookup of his mobile phone number, which is listed for some reason. After discovering that he was a Verizon customer, they pulled off a social engineering attack by convincing Verizon that they were service technicians in order to gain access to his account. Verizon apparently didn’t either (a) flag Brennan’s account as someone whose details should remain secret or, (b) check that the hackers were using valid credentials. Thus armed by the stupidity of one of the world’s largest telecom carriers, the hackers were able to gain sufficient information to reset the password on Brennan’s AOL account.
In the coming days and weeks, we’ll probably end up learning much more about John Brennan, his emails, and the CIA than we ever really wanted to know. However, what this incident really proves is something that you probably knew already:
Teenagers are fucking terrifying.
[Post image via Shutterstock]