Two-factor authentication (also known as 2FA) is the most trusted method of securing your accounts by combining two different components. These components may be something that the user knows, something that the user possesses or something that is inseparable from the user – usually in form of a code sent to user’s phone for verification – before log in.
However, some wise hackers and account hijackers are strategizing different means to find ways around the Two-factor authentication – the most trusted means of securing any account online.
Earlier this week, Alex MacCaw, cofounder of data API Company Clearbit, shared a screenshot of a text attempting to trick its way past the 2FA on one Google account.
Here’s is the trick and how it works:
- The attacker sends the target a text message, pretending to be the very company that the target has an account with.
- They say they have detected “suspicious” activity to the account, and so are sending the 2FA code to the target, which they should then text back to them to avoid having their account locked.
- The victim, worried they are being hacked and not wanting to lose access to their data, sends the code back, believing they have thwarted the attempted hack.
- But in doing so, they actually give the hacker the one thing they needed to break into the account.
- The hacker enters the victim’s password, followed by this ill-gotten 2FA code, and they’re in.
The attacker can sometimes even spoof their identity – so the text looks like it comes from Google, or Facebook, or Apple, rather than an unknown number.
Although, the hijacker still needs the victim’s password to get all this done. But there are a number of ways they could get hold of it. Often they look at data dumps from old hacks for emails/usernames and passwords that they then try on other sites, because so many people reuse passwords across multiple accounts and platforms.
Huge databases of tens of millions of email addresses and passwords have been floating around in the last few weeks – notably from LinkedIn and MySpace. So if you reuse passwords, your login details may be being shared online right now without you realising.
Mainly, the attackers were mentally preparing the victim to receive the 2FA verification code, in order to facilitate the following illegal login attempt they were about to perform. The criminals were going to access MacCaw’s account, and when his 2FA system would commence, MacCaw would act to lock his account by sending the “verification code to Google.” In fact, MacCaw would be sending the 2FA code to the criminal, who would then enter it in the login page and access his account, with his help.
Thankfully, MacCaw was able to detect their strategies and didn’t fall for this new type of social engineering hoax. However, if you are a Gmail user, you should take precautions and not fall for these new tricks being used by hackers to gain access into your Gmail and Google accounts.
To stay safe, use a strong, unique password for every account you have – managing them all with a password manager if necessary – and don’t text your two-factor authentication codes to anyone, even if they appear legitimate.