Apple, Amazon, close password door after horse bolts

Australian bank dealt with this a decade ago, why can’t tech titans?


Comment Apple and Amazon have, in the wake of the grievous p0wnage inflicted on WiReD writer Mat Honan, changed their security procedures and no longer allow password changes to be made over the phone.

Much is being made of how sloppy it was for both companies to allow this to happen.

I've got worse news: this stuff has been going on for a decade or more.

I can say this with confidence because in 2001, when I worked as a consultant, I was asked into a meeting at which a very large Australian financial institution sought advice on a problem.

The problem was that famous people had been ringing its call centres and telling sob stories about how they'd lost their passwords. The famous people pleaded that, as extremely busy and important individuals, they simply couldn't remember the details of every bank account they had opened.

Of course these calls did not come from famous people. They came from scammers who, armed with a copy of Who's Who, were able to provide enough personal details about the famous people they impersonated that call centre staff were convinced they were speaking to the right person.

The financial institution, which has of late been talking up its can-do attitude, was left with a collection of angry, high-profile, customers threatening to take their business elsewhere.

Over the last decade I have also, for what it is worth, spent a bit of time mixing with the call centre and customer service communities. Say what you like about both (we’ve all had some horrid times in queues) but in my experience folks in those fields are like anyone else inside a business: they have a sincere desire to do the best they can within the constraints of the policies and budgets at their disposal.

When I told the above story to call centre folks, they agreed that this kind of thing goes on, but added that call centre agents should be trained to avoid it.

The bank, for what it’s worth, hardened up its authentication procedures to stop this kind of thing from happening again.

Which leaves the “problem” Amazon and Apple have addressed in a fact a known way to scam call centres that has, even in the far antipodes, been something customer service professionals have been on top of for a decade.

That two of the mightiest tech companies have such poor processes is therefore a cause for some serious eyebrow-raising. Throw in the fact that two-factor authentication is now easier than ever to deliver, thanks to SMS, and the failure looks inexcusable. ®

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