Symantec has warned about a new password recovery scam that tricks users into handing over webmail account access, possibly setting the stage for more serious security issues.
Crooks behind the social engineering ruse need only knowledge of a prospective mark’s email address and associated mobile phone number before attempting the con.
Users of webmail services including Gmail, Outlook and Yahoo! are all potentially at risk. Phase one of the scam starts when a fraudster poses as a victim and requests a password reset, selecting the option of sending an account rescue verification code to a victim’s mobile phone.
Crooks don’t have access to this phone. What comes next is the sneaky part.
Fraudsters approach the victim with a text message, supposedly from Google or their webmail provider, requesting the six-digit account rescue verification code they’ll have just received as “confirmation”.
If the victim replies with the verification code, then the crooks are then free to seize control of the account. Hijacking is the most obvious risk, but crooks could be more subtle.
They could automatically configure the forwarding of emails to accounts under their control, for example.
These emails will be forwarded even after a victim regains control of his or her account and changes passwords. Fraudsters are interested in personal email addresses, not so much as an end in themselves, but because webmail addresses are tied to social media and online banking accounts. So one successful password reset scam lays the groundwork for further password reset fraud.
Symantec has put together a blog post and video to illustrate the scam – which is apparently doing the rounds.
It’s easy to imagine people getting taken in by this kind of ruse. And the solution is not to avoid registering mobile phone number with webmail providers, since the process by itself offers security benefits because it underpins two-factor authentication options within, for example, Gmail.
“The simplest advice is to be suspicious of SMS messages that ask you to text back a verification code, in particular if you did not request a verification code in the first place,” said security veteran Graham Cluley in a blog post. ®