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“Don’t Eat Your Hash without Salt”- Zappos Data Theft February 29, 2012

Posted by Chris Mark in InfoSec & Privacy, Risk & Risk Management.
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On January 12, 2017 it was announced on MSNBC.com that an Amazon owned shoe company, Zappos, experienced a data breach of more than 24 million accounts.  According to the report, the breach captured the names, email addresses, telephone numbers, last four digits of the credit card, and the “cryptographically scrambled passwords”.   The report on MSNBC then states:  “Using the clues gleaned from Zappos accounts, the hackers may now have enough clues to gain access to a user’s e-mail or other important accounts. So while Zappos passwords may still be relatively secure, all those other pieces of information can offer clues to a user’s password. That information can also be used to answer a weak set of security questions correctly.”  Unfortunately, this article is somewhat misleading.

The description of ‘cryptographically scrambled’ passwords is referring to passwords that have been stored using one-way cryptographic functions known as ‘hashing algorithms’.   A hashing algorithm like MD5, SHA1, SHA256 is called ‘one way’ because the same input will always result in the same output.  If given the output, it approaches mathematical impossibility (because nothing is truly impossible) to derive the input.  Why would you want a ‘one way hash’ to secure passwords?  (more…)

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