By John Leyden
21st September 2005
Businesspeople are treating public access terminals in airport
departure lounges as their home PCs and in the process exposing
confidential data and email messages to all and sundry. A mixture of
curiosity and boredom led consultants from the Dubai-based network
security outfit Scanit to uncover a plethora of secrets left by
globe-trotting executives who log on in-between flights.
Many airport executive lounges are equipped with PCs that allow
business and first class fliers to surf the web. Rather than using a
web-based email service and clearing the cache and password completion
forms before shutting down, some execs are using Outlook Express
packages on these machines to write emails.
Outlook Express is probably not configured to allow emails to be sent
from these machines, so any message created simply moves to the
system's 'outbox' where it remains indefinitely after the user clicks
'send'. Even if the system is configured to send messages, the email
will normally be saved in the machine's 'sent items' folder. In either
case, email messages are left wide open for subsequent access. You'd
think most people would realise this but Scanit has discovered
While traveling to meet clients, Scanit engineers found everything
from intimate messages to mistresses (perfect for blackmail) to
desktop-saved documents outlining multi-million dollar deals, complete
with profit margins and lowest bid values.
They also found many of these airport lounge PCs were infected with
computer viruses. Scanit chief exec David Michaux recalls a discovery
he made while waiting for a delayed flight.
"As I was playing patience, I noticed heavy network traffic on the
lounge machine's taskbar even though I wasn't using any network
applications," he said. "After some delving I was amazed to find Back
Orifice 2000 (BO2K) as the culprit. It had been invisibly collecting
my keystrokes and sending a record of them to a Hotmail account every
Michaux reported his findings to the lounge receptionist who said that
she wasn't responsible for the security of machines. Another lapse
(this time in a London airport) permitted users to log onto machines
as an administrator rather than a restricted user. Again, Scanit's
engineers found key-loggers running on systems at the airport.
"The danger is that the CEO-types who travel on behalf of their
companies and use these lounges are privy to usually sensitive data,"
Michaux explains. "This makes computers there a veritable goldmine,
whether it's executives downloading attachments from their web mail
and leaving them on the desktop, or even deleting them afterwards, but
not emptying the recycle bin before they leave to catch their plane."
Even executives who do take care are likely to be let down by the
lounge's lack of security, especially if a hacker has turned its
machines into zombie drones. The security of wireless networks if
often maligned but this is one problem wider use of laptops by
business execs can help to control. =AE
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