Opinion: Three steps to avoid getting hacked Like Yahoo

Hackers breached Yahoo and exposed more than 450,000 passwords, but Yahoo is to blame for making it easy.

By now you've probably heard that hackers were able to breach a Yahoo server and expose more than 450,000 account passwords. No server or network is impervious, but Yahoo's negligence or incompetence made this attack possible.

It may seem like a wake-up call for protecting servers better, and improving network security, but the reality is that it's just a reminder that common sense and basic security practices could probably prevent this--and most other--attacks.

Where did Yahoo go wrong? Well, according to Jason Rhykerd, an IT security expert with SystemExperts, Yahoo made three serious mistakes.

1. Unencrypted Passwords

There are many security experts who are using this attack as an opportunity to remind users that they need to create strong passwords. Unfortunately, strong passwords would not have helped in this case. This was a failure of password handling, not a weakness of the passwords themselves.

According to Rob Rachwald, Director of Security Strategy at Imperva, "This breach highlights a disturbing trend in password security: as we saw with last month's breach of the LinkedIn social network, these passwords were stored in clear text and not hashed."

2. Network Monitoring

Rhykerd claims that the hackers captured more than 2,000 database tables and/or column names, along with 298 MySQL variables. All of that traffic had to traverse from the Yahoo server to the hackers PCs.

Rhykerd points out that Yahoo should have had some sort of network monitoring in place that would have alerted IT admins to the suspicious amount of data leaving the network. "The amount of network traffic this attack would have generated should of set off the lightest of IDS rules."

3. Least Privilege Access

The attackers were able to gain complete administrative access to the database server. The concept of least privileged access means that each user or process should have the least amount of privileges necessary to perform their functions. Rhykerd believes--based on the success of the hackers--that least privilege access was not instituted for the application service account.

Slavik Markovich, CTO of Database Security at McAfee, explained, "It is often the case that obvious database vulnerabilities--such as weak passwords and default configuration settings--are initially overlooked and never fully remediated," adding, "An organization's sensitive information can never be adequately secured if it lacks dedicated tools and processes to gain complete visibility into their databases' security weaknesses and eliminate the opportunity for the bad guys to exploit them."

That may have played a part in this security failure, but the simple fact is Yahoo has been in the Internet business long enough to know better. There's really no excuse.

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