[Cryptography] HSBC's Password Approach: Impressive

Kent Borg kentborg at borg.org
Mon Dec 23 12:00:34 EST 2013

I have an account with one of HSBC's banks and in my case their password 
use is pretty impressive.  (I don't know how it varies around the world 
with different instances of HSBC.)

1. They chose the password, not me. (So not duplicated elsewhere, at 
least not initially.)  Short, alpha-numeric.

2. When I login, they want my account number.  Their Javascript doesn't 
allow pasting, I used to use X11 middle-click pasting but one day they 
decided I was a specific piece of Windows malware and locked me out 
until I had my computer professionally cleaned. I managed to talk them 
out of that for my Linux machine--but I don't middle click any more.  (I 
actually ended up talking to someone pretty real.)  They are watching 
their attacks, maintaining a security model on each customer.

4. They want the answer to a security question (effectively a password I 
have chosen).

5. They want their password--but only a few positions, they show a form, 
graying out boxes for positions they are not interested in.

In their model they are keeping track of when they have used which 
character positions (when a keyboard sniffer might have discovered a 
position).  They seem to settle on the same character positions for a 
long time, until something interesting happens (such as logging in with 
a smart phone app), then they shift them.  I bet their HTML doesn't 
obviously reveal which positions they are requesting, to make the 
sniffing harder.

They are being pretty clever to make up for terribly endpoint security.


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