Journo Asks Hackers to Spy on Him—With Scary Results

Took control of his wife's computer, got into his bank account, cracked all his passwords
By Ruth Brown,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 26, 2013 4:23 PM CDT
Journo Asks Hackers to Spy on Him—With Scary Results

Some 14 years ago, journalist Adam Penenberg wrote an article for Forbes in which he paid a private detective to investigate him, starting with nothing but his name. This year, he decided to repeat the experiment for the 21st Century, asking an "ethical hacking team" to do the same thing. The results, he writes in PandoDaily, were "chilling." In the original investigation, the PI took a week to find his social security number, mother’s maiden name, phone records, rent, bank accounts, stock holdings, and utility bills. The hackers went way, way further. After finding Penenberg's address, they flew to New York and staked out his apartment.

Though they never made it inside, they did manage to infiltrate his wife's Pilates studio and install a "backdoor" on the her work computer. She was using such an ancient machine that the program didn't work, so they successfully hacked her laptop instead, by emailing a job application with malware in the attached resume. From there, they got Penenberg's social security number, online banking password, and other passwords for sites like Amazon—the formula for which allowed them to crack every single password he has. They also hacked his Twitter account, and remotely disabled his iPhone and laptop. "Since we concluded this exercise I’ve changed my passwords and log ins," writes Penenberg, "but I don’t delude myself into thinking I’m protected from prying eyes—the government’s or anyone else’s." Click through for his full report. (More hackers stories.)

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