Apple tech support failure lets hacker take reporter's email

A US reporter had his life turned upside down when a hacker accessed his personal accounts and began tweeting from Gizmodo's feed.

Here's a terrifying tale of modern hacking. Mat Honan, a writer for Wired.com and a former reporter at tech site Gizmodo (this becomes important later), was playing with his daughter when his phone went dead. Thinking it was a software glitch, he rebooted, and went to log in to his iCloud. But his password wouldn't work.

He was "irritated, but not alarmed", and connected his iPhone to his MacBook Air to restore from backup. On opening his laptop, an iCal message popped up telling him his Gmail account information was wrong. The screen went grey, and he was asked for a four-digit pin, which he didn't have. By now he knew something was up, but had no idea just how much damage the hacker had done.

Honan tried his iPad, and found that had been reset too. So now he couldn't use his phone, laptop or tablet. He tried to log in to his Gmail using his wife's computer, only to find his password had been changed. He checked Twitter, and saw someone tweeting from his account, as well as Gizmodo's, because he had linked the two years ago.

So how did it happen? Apple confirmed that the hacker got in via its tech support "and some clever social engineering that let them bypass security questions", according to Honan, who sensibly doesn't elaborate. He wants to give Apple the chance to change its policies before revealing how the mistake was made.

At 4.50pm, the hacker had gained access to Honan's iCloud account, reset the password, and sent the confirmation message to the trash. At 4.52pm, the hacker managed to access his Gmail account. Then how's this for a chain of events:

"At 5:00 PM, they remote wiped my iPhone.

"At 5:01 PM, they remote wiped my iPad.

"At 5:05, they remote wiped my MacBook Air."

Ouch.

Honan has managed to restore his phone and is back into his Google account. He's now tweeting from @mat. Apple is trying to recover the data from his MacBook, which Honan estimates as "a year's worth of photos, emails, documents, and more".

I can't imagine what kind of disruption that would cause. And it goes to show just how dangerous it is having so much data stored on devices and online.

Have you experienced anything similar? Let me know in the comments, or on Facebook.

Update: A previous version of this article stated that Honan still works for Gizmodo. That's not the case.

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About the author

    Joe has been writing about consumer tech for nearly seven years now, but his liking for all things shiny goes back to the Gameboy he received aged eight (and that he still plays on at family gatherings, much to the annoyance of his parents). His pride and joy is an Infocus projector, whose 80-inch picture elevates movie nights to a whole new level.

     

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