myBART hack by Anonymous could have been worse

The website for several years issued randomly generated passwords, which were unlikely to be resued

The disclosure of 2,000 usernames and passwords by the hacking collective Anonymous against a San Francisco transportation website could have been more damaging, according to a doctoral candidate at the University of Cambridge.

Joseph Bonneau, who is working on a thesis on password security, analyzed the disclosed passwords and found that more than 1,300 were randomly generated when users signed up for accounts at myBART, a marketing site for Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART).

Between 2001 until 2006, myBART did not allow users to change passwords, which consisted of two digits plus up to eight lower-case characters, Bonneau said in an interview. That was good, since users were unlikely to reuse the randomly generated passwords on other accounts, such as e-mail or social networking services.

It's not uncommon for people to use the same password across a range of websites. Security experts generally advise against it, since if the password is compromised, a variety of data could be obtained by hackers by trying out the password on other sites.

In the case of myBART, which was a marketing site, the accounts that were compromised aren't valuable.

"There's no interest for criminals or even people who want to do vandalism in the myBART account, but if you can try those passwords and e-mail addresses elsewhere, you can get interesting accounts," Bonneau said.

It's rare for websites to mandate randomly generated passwords. Bonneau and a colleague, Sören Preibusch, conducted a survey in 2010 of password practices across some 150 popular websites. Only one issued a randomly generated passwords.

MyBART e-mailed the passwords to users, which may be fine for accounts that aren't that important or infrequently accessed since users can look the password up if they forget, Bonneau said. But the website stored the passwords unhashed in its database -- considered to be an unsound security practice -- which eventually led to exposure by Anonymous.

Anonymous attacked myBART after the transportation agency on Aug. 11 shut off mobile-phone service to hundreds of thousands of commuters to thwart a planned protest over two fatal shootings by its police force.

Just a few days later, Anonymous struck BART again, publicly posting names, home addresses, e-mail addresses and passwords of 102 BART police officers.

Send news tips and comments to

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags University of Cambrigesecuritydata breachdata protection

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Jeremy Kirk

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place