LulzSec, Anonymous and other hacks - should I change my password?

Filed Under: Data loss, Privacy, Social networks

With all the data breaches in the news lately, it's hard to know whether you've been affected.

You could just change all your passwords after every reported breach - just in case. You could insist on tokens for everything. (Of course, that might raise additional concerns.) You could stop using the internet entirely. Or you could do nothing.

Cybercrime happens to other people, right?

Another approach is to keep trawling the internet for exposed password databases, grabbing copies and checking to see if you're on anyone's "hit list". Of course, it doesn't tell you much if you're not in one of LulzSec's or Anonymous's triumphantly-publicised leaks. But if you are, then you're facing a clear and present danger.

After LulzSec's recent spray of 62,000 passwords, Twitter came alive with LulzSec hangers-on announcing the malevolent uses to which they'd quickly put the leaked data - such as sending a large pack of condoms to a random woman using someone else's money, or trying to break up relationships by posting fake information on Facebook. Very funny.

So a large part of the risk posed by these allegedly-amusing data leakage incidents comes not from traditional cybercrooks, but from a plethora of not-so-innocent bystanders.

Of course, continually chasing down hacked password lists and downloading them to see if you're there is not only a hassle, but also creates a somewhat circular dependency on the hackers themselves.

The more downloads they achieve, the more notoriety; the more notoriety, the more incentive to continue; and the more positive uses which can be claimed for their stolen data, the easier their rationalisation for carrying on.

Fortunately, thoughtful Sydney infosec technologist Daniel Grzelak can help you keep track of the latest breaches, so you don't have to.

(See how much nicer it is to hack to help, rather than to break?)

You can see if you're in any of a number of recently-spilled leakages by simply searching for your email address at:

Daniel doesn't store your email address after you've looked it up - so he can't spam you even if he wanted to, which he doesn't - and he's not accumulating a list of email addresses which spammers might like to break in and steal. And he doesn't keep any of the stolen databases on his server, so he's not offering a handy-to-hack repository for unlawfully-acquired loot, either.

As I mentioned above, a green light from Daniel's website isn't a clean bill of health. It just means, "You may proceed to the next intersection." But if you get a red light about a recent breach, you should fix your passwords as soon as you can.

(And remember that the data probably wasn't stolen from you, but from someone you trusted to keep it safe. You might want to rethink that relationship at the same time.)

If you need to change passwords, but you're struggling to do better than "123456", "secret" or "monkey", please watch this video first:

→ Can't view the video on this page? Watch directly from YouTube. Can't hear the audio? Click on the Captions icon for closed captions.

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8 Responses to LulzSec, Anonymous and other hacks - should I change my password?

  1. Excellent post. This will allow people to at least keep their minds at ease until the next round of releases.

  2. EkimBbew · 1503 days ago

    This is the second checking site I've seen--while it's a good thing, I wish someone would design one where we could paste in a list of our addresses and have 'em all checked at once. Is adding that feature all that difficult? I know I'd appreciate it and am sure others would too.

    • Paul Ducklin · 1503 days ago

      As Daniel and I are both based in Sydney, I just spoke to him, and he says, "Thanks for the suggestion. I am currently working on a batch check feature for organisations and potentially an alert mechanism. However, these have security and privacy implications which I need to work through. Stay tuned."

  3. kurt wismer · 1503 days ago

    sucks to be me, then. i have nearly as many email addresses as i have passwords - somewhere in the low triple digit range. using this sort of service would be entirely impractical for me.

  4. Olly · 1502 days ago

    In reference to creating secure passwords (love the video on it btw, remember it from when it was first posted):

    I would like to see companies forced to comply with a standard policy for password criteria. For example, Virgin media do not allow you to have, what i believe to be, a secure password - their criteria is this

    "Your password needs to be between 6 and 10 characters long, with no spaces, and must contain only numbers and letters"

    Upper case, lower case, numbers and a maximum of 10 characters long is a little pathetic to say the least.

    What are other peoples thoughts?

    • bob douglas · 1501 days ago

      This kind of deliberate restriction on password strength occurs within a number of organisations.What I don't understand is why anyone would object to the use of characters other than numbers or letters.

      Unless they are paranoid that a password may contain an escape sequence which could paralyze their server - but this is not possible, is it?

  5. Adrian · 1495 days ago

    So I check my email address and I get a red light. Time to change my password for .. um... exactly which of the web sites where I've used that account? Last time I checked in my log of "sites I have accounts on" the file contains 300+ entries.

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About the author

Paul Ducklin is a passionate security proselytiser. (That's like an evangelist, but more so!) He lives and breathes computer security, and would be happy for you to do so, too. Paul won the inaugural AusCERT Director's Award for Individual Excellence in Computer Security in 2009. Follow him on Twitter: @duckblog