A former Yahoo software engineer has admitted hacking into thousands of Yahoo users’ accounts in a search for naked images and videos of young women.
34-year-old Reyes Daniel Ruiz, of Tracy, California, pleaded guilty in a federal court after admitting he exploited privileged access he had due to his job role to hack into approximately 6000 Yahoo accounts.
Cracking account passwords and accessing internal systems at Yahoo, Ruiz was able to break into the accounts of young women, including those belonging to personal friends and work colleagues. Images and videos stolen from the hacked accounts were then copied onto computers in Ruiz’s home.
I imagine it’s a pretty awful experience knowing that a hacker has gained access to your email account and accessed your most private photos and videos. But it must be even worse when you realise it is someone in your social circle or one of your work colleagues that has seen pictures of you naked.
Seemingly, accessing Yahoo accounts wasn’t enough for Ruiz.
Because having compromised victims’ Yahoo accounts, Ruiz was then able to gain access to their other online accounts – including Apple iCloud, Dropbox, Facebook and Gmail – in his search for further private images and videos.
In all likelihood, Ruiz was able to use a couple of different techniques to access these non-Yahoo accounts.
If users had unfortunately made the mistake of reusing passwords, then it would be clearly be child’s play for Ruiz to use the same password to access, say, a Facebook account.
However, even if different passwords were in use then Ruiz would have been able to request a password reset be sent from the third-party site to the victim’s Yahoo account.
In both instances, the use of two-factor authentication might have made it more difficult for Ruiz to widen his search for nude photos to victims’ other accounts.
According to a DOJ press release, Ruiz’s activities were only spotted when Yahoo noticed suspicious account activity. In an attempt to destroy evidence, Ruiz then “destroyed the computer and hard drive on which he stored the images.”
Although charged with both computer intrusion and interception of a wire communication, under a plea agreement Ruiz has only pleaded guilty to the former charge.
Sentencing is currently scheduled for early February 2020, where Ruiz could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Questions will inevitably ask whether Yahoo had strong enough security in place to prevent its staff from abusing their access to internal systems and data.