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Social engineering is the new method of choice for hackers. Here’s how it works.

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Is your name and your phone number all it takes for a hacker to take over your cellphone account?

Marketplace‘s latest investigation has found that just a few pieces of personal information could leave you and your accounts vulnerable.

It happened to Erynn Tomlinson. The former cryptocurrency executive lost about $30,000 in cryptocurrency after hackers used a few of her personal details during interactions with Rogers customer service representatives to ultimately gain access to her account.

« I don’t know how to describe it. I was sort of in shock at the whole thing, » said Tomlinson about realizing hackers stole savings she was planning on using for a mortgage.

Tomlinson is a victim of the latest type of hack plaguing the telecommunications industry: it’s called a SIM swap, and hackers use what’s known as social engineering to make it happen.

Social engineering fraud typically happens through email, phone, or text — or in Tomlinson’s case, through online chat windows. Hackers use charm and persuasion to convince a customer service representative they are actually the account holder.

If at first you don’t succeed, hack again

The hackers might have a few pieces of publicly available personal information: a person’s name, email address, birthdate, postal code or phone number.

Hackers use some of those details to try to sweet talk a representative into handing over more information and ultimately gain access to an account.

« The attackers are very sophisticated. In this case, Rogers didn’t provide any friction for them and made it far too easy, » Tomlinson said of her experience.

In an increasingly cashless world, many people rely on digital apps for banking and online purchases. Experts say hackers are taking advantage of this. (Hannah Yoon/Canadian Press)

As far as Tomlinson can tell, the hackers had only her name and her phone number. Over a series of eight different online chats, the hackers managed to obtain her date of birth, email address, account number, the last four digits of her credit card, and other details about her account.

Armed with this information, the hacker convinced a Rogers rep to activate a new SIM card linked to Tomlinson’s account, which could then be placed into a phone in their possession. A SIM card is a chip used to identify and authenticate a subscriber to a service provider.

Once the hackers had executed the SIM swap, they were able to use their own phone to gain access to a number of Tomlinson’s sensitive accounts, including those tied to her finances.

  • Watch Marketplace‘s investigation into social engineering fraud at 8 p.m. Friday on CBC-TV and online.

Tomlinson used two-factor authentication on her sensitive accounts, an extra security step that sends a message to your cellphone before granting access. Tomlinson believes the SIM swap allowed the hackers to divert those incoming messages to a new device, effectively bypassing her security measures.

She first became aware something was wrong when her cellphone stopped working. After stopping by a nearby café to use the Wi-Fi, she realized one of her financial accounts was at zero. She rushed home and logged onto her other accounts, and also saw them being drained.

In total, the hackers managed to steal the equivalent of $30,000 in cryptocurrency.

« I hope this is a bit more of an extreme case, » she said. « But I think … every Canadian is at risk right now. »

Social engineering on the rise

Tomlinson’s losses may sound extreme, but companies around the world say social engineering attacks are on the rise.

Canada’s federal privacy commissioner now requires all companies to report any security or privacy breaches. Since November 2018,  there have been more than a dozen reports of social-engineering breaches in this country’s telecommunications sector alone.

In an email, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner told Marketplace the trend « clearly raises concerns. »

The emergence of social engineering fraud comes as no surprise to ethical hacker and cybersecurity expert Joshua Crumbaugh.

« Social engineering’s been a popular thing, I mean, since the beginning of time — we just gave it a new term. It’s the same thing that grifters and con men have been doing forever … they’re just exploiting basic human weaknesses or vulnerabilities. »

Joshua Crumbaugh is an ethical hacker and cybersecurity expert whose company, PeopleSec, teaches skills for avoiding cyberattacks. (David MacIntosh/CBC)

It’s human nature to want to help and avoid conflict, which is why Crumbaugh says the key to a successful social engineering hack depends on who picks up the other line.

Chances are if one person is not willing to help, the next person likely is, he says.

« It’s just psychology. So if you understand how somebody’s going to react to something, you can easily manipulate somebody into giving you information or access to things that maybe they shouldn’t. »  

Marketplace calling

To see how Rogers would respond to a social engineering attack, Marketplace asked Crumbaugh to try to hack into Marketplace host Charlsie Agro’s personal account, providing him only with her name and phone number.

On the first attempt, Crumbaugh called the company’s customer service line, posing as Agro’s personal assistant. The call ended quickly, with the rep refusing Crumbaugh’s access to the account unless Agro phoned and added him as user.

He called back minutes later and, with a different rep on the phone, instead posed as Agro herself. He did not disguise his voice. This time, the agent requested Agro’s birthdate and email address as verification, which Crumbaugh was able to provide after some quick searches online.

The agent also asked Crumbaugh to provide the PIN and postal code attached to the account. Crumbaugh guessed at a PIN number and, after another online search, provided a postal code. Both were off by a single digit but the agent still allowed Crumbaugh to access the account, which could have ultimately locked Agro out.

Watch how ethical hacker Joshua Crumbaugh uses social engineering to gain access to Charlsie Agro’s Rogers account:

Cybersecurity expert Joshua Crumbaugh hacks into Marketplace host Charlsie Agro’s Rogers account using only her name and phone number. 1:00

Crumbaugh believes companies need to better educate their customer service representatives on how to identify and prevent social engineering hacks.

« We have got to do more in making our people aware that these things happen, » he said.

Marketplace asked the Canadian Wireless and Telecommunications Association — the wireless industry’s main lobby group, representing Bell, Rogers and Videotron, among others — what it is doing to help protect consumers from social engineering attacks.

CWTA president Robert Ghiz said each of its members is responsible for their own security, but that the companies have measures in place to keep customers’ data safe, including PINs, passwords, security questions and voice identification.

He also said many telecommunications companies are undertaking training for their staff, and that he believes protecting consumers against social engineering attacks is a top priority for CWTA members.

« It’s got to be about educating those front-line services and training those front-line services — and it needs to continue to be vigilant into the future, » Ghiz said.

When Marketplace pointed out that an incorrect PIN and postal code didn’t keep our ethical hacker out of Agro’s account, Ghiz said he believes the security measures in place are largely working, noting there are millions of calls coming in every week.

« There’s always going to be some human error that’s going to exist, » he said.

Rogers responds

In an email, Rogers said it takes its customers’ privacy and security very seriously and the company is continually strengthening its security measures and verification processes. It reinforces those measures with « ongoing training in authentication best practices for front-line team members. »

When provided with the results of Marketplace‘s ethical hacking test, Rogers admitted its authentication steps were not followed and said action was taken to reinforce proper protocols with the agent involved.

As for Tomlinson, she says she was not happy with the solutions Rogers offered following her experience: she was initially offered three months of free service, then a year of free service.

She is now pursuing legal action against the company.

Although Rogers would not comment on Tomlinson’s case, as it is before the courts, the company argues it is not responsible for what happened to her.

« What I really want to see is, not just that they give platitudes, and say, ‘Oh, we’re sorry this happened’ from a customer service point of view, but that they make real changes to their policies and their training … so that this can’t happen, » said Tomlinson.

Kevin Mitnick, one of the world’s most famous hackers, says social engineering attacks are happening every day, as they’re relatively easy to perform, with little technical skill needed. (David MacIntosh/CBC)

Kevin Mitnick, an infamous hacker turned do gooder, agrees customer service reps need better training. « The companies need to have policies put into place to come up with a way to have a very high confidence that they’re dealing with the consumer, » he said.

Mitnick has hacked into more than 40 companies, from a McDonald’s drive-thru to Motorola, and was once one of the FBI’s most wanted — eventually serving five years in prison for computer and phone hacking. Today he runs a business that points out security flaws to the corporations he once targeted.

Social engineering attacks are happening every day, Mitnick says, and it is often the first technique hackers turn to, because « calling somebody on the phone is so much easier than doing the technical magic you need to break into a computer. »

Mitnick is adamant: Consumers need to demand more from their vendors. If you aren’t satisfied with the steps your provider is taking to protect your account, vote with your wallet, he says.

« It’s really up to the organizations that need to verify their customers’ information. They’re the ones that are in control … they’re the ones that could affect change, » he said. « The consumer can only demand change — and if they’re unwilling to do it, you go to a different vendor. »

Consumers can help themselves

Crumbaugh says there are some ways consumers can help themselves.

First, if possible, set a PIN on your account. Choose four digits at random; connecting them to an easy-to-guess birthdate or address is a bad idea.

He also suggests creating fake answers to common security questions like « What is your mother’s maiden name. »  For example, don’t use your dog’s real name and if you do, don’t make that information public.

Social media is one of the first places hackers look to for clues about your passwords and answers to common security questions, such as your birthdate and where you went on your honeymoon.

Watch as Marketplace asks Canadians how careful they are about their online passwords:

Marketplace asked members of the public about the strength of their passwords. 0:51

« So many people will use their children’s names or birthdates or their animals’ names as passwords, and then you go onto their social media, and they’ve posted a million pictures of the same dog with the name of their dog, and they’re basically putting their passwords out there for everyone to see, » said Crumbaugh.

Crumbaugh also suggests using security questions that require an answer only you know but is not a personal detail like a birthdate.

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Anglais

Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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Anglais

MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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