ALERT: Threat to computer accounts due to Adobe security breach

November 20, 2013

BACKGROUND

In early October 2013, Adobe suffered a massive data security breach. Their database of 38 million usernames and passwords was stolen and subsequently posted online [1] [2]. Adobe did not protect user passwords to industry standards, and attackers were able to exploit that. Also stored with the passwords were the users' password hints in clear text. Many of the hints are weak and easily exploited by third parties. Security experts agree that it will be trivial for miscreants to discover the passwords.

Of the estimated 38 million Adobe customers affected, analysis indicates that there were over 2 million education-related accounts. We don't know how many of the email addresses are attached to active accounts on Valpo systems.

Adobe reached out to individual affected users via email. The notification thoughtfully included "[we] recommend that you also change your password on any website where you use the same user ID or password." However, there are reports of non-delivery (it might have been filtered as spam) and users disregarding the email (it might have been thought to be a phishing message).

IMPACT

If you used the same password used for Adobe System accounts as well as for work, school, banking, or other accounts, those accounts may be at risk. Repercussions could range from simple to severe, such as account hijacks to send spam, theft of bank deposits, or hackers gaining a foothold in a place of employment to conduct widespread damaging attacks.

RECOMMENDATIONS

We recommend that you take the following actions:

  1. CHANGE PASSWORDS IMMEDIATELY. Persons who used the same password for Adobe and other accounts should immediately change their passwords at the other locations and monitor for unusual activity.
  2. ADOBE PASSWORDS SHOULD BE RESET only by manually visiting the Adobe website, and not by clicking on links arriving via email, as there is now a concern that there will be a rise in phishing related to this event.
  3. NEVER REUSE YOUR VALPONET PASSWORD for external web sites or internet services. If you reuse a password at multiple locations, when the password is compromised at one site the miscreants then can gain access to all sites where you've used that password. The best policy is to always use different passwords for different accounts.
  4. CREATE STRONG PASSWORDS OR PASSPHRASES [3]. The Wikipedia Guidelines for Strong Passwords [4] is a good starting point.
  5. CONSIDER THE USE OF A PASSWORD "WALLET" such as KeePass and LastPass. These tools make it very easy to have a unique password for every web site or service, and to have strong passwords.
  6. BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR PHISHING. Miscreants will be using the Adobe breach as a pretext for phishing.
  7. USE INFORMATION THAT IS NOT EASILY GUESSED. When providing password hints use information that is not easily guessed or discovered. For example, if your hint is "dog's name" and you mention your dog on social networking sites miscreants can discover that information.

REFERENCES

[1] http://helpx.adobe.com/x-productkb/policy-pricing/ecc.html
[2] http://krebsonsecurity.com/2013/10/adobe-breach-impacted-at-least-38-million-users/
[3] http://xkcd.com/936/
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Password_strength#Guidelines_for_strong_passwords