Saturday, October 3, 2009

Who Has the Answers to Your Security Questions?

I'm back after a summer that was crazy busy for me. Recently, I had two eye-opening occurrences where other people viewed the answers to my personal security questions - you know, those questions that web sites ask in case you forget your password. These incidents weren't security breaches, just normal business processes that appear to be more prevalent than I thought.

In the first incident, I got a new cell phone for my daughter at a retail store of one of the major providers. I gave the clerk my cell number so he could look up my account and he then asked for my "PIN". I didn't know it. I knew my password for their site, but that's not what he wanted (I wouldn't have told him anyway). Since I didn't know my PIN, the clerk followed up by asking me "What's the model of your first car?". Whoa. I proceeded to answer the question. He looked at his monitor and said "okay, good".

The other incident involved Vanguard again. I got locked out of their site (not just unrecognized like last time). The darn thing wouldn't even allow me to answer my security questions. Forced to call Vanguard customer service, I explained to the CSR that I was completely locked out. Wouldn't you know the CSR simply asked me to answer two of my security questions? I provided the correct answers, and he immediately unlocked my account allowing me to log in again.

Moral to the story: These answers are not simply being used programmatically or being treated as confidential data. Realize that the answers to your personal security questions could be viewed by other people in many cases.

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