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With the first and last character -- the first being the letter "A" and the latter being a number -- I assumed it was his full first name, with space for the first letter of his surname, perhaps, the last two digits of his year of birth. After about three hours, I plugged in multiple combinations, unmasked the asterisks, and on my screen was his Facebook account. And yes, as I suspected, 1979 was his birth year. I now had his full date-of-birth, which tied in with the rough timing of his academic history from his LinkedIn account.

Armed with his full personal e-mail address, I next hit Gmail's password reset facility, Although Google's security and validation system for inaccessible e-mail accounts is better than most e-mail providers, Alex's own security questions let him down, Often the weakest link in the security chain is the person in question, I was already walking on thin ice, Though I had uncovered his security question, I refrained from attempting to answer it, Suffice to say, I probably could have, By this point, I had already discovered at least five pieces of data that could be used as a security answer or code iphone case with lanyard with his bank, But in order to get access to his checking or savings account, I would almost certainly require his Social Security number, Many banks require a full bank account, or credit or debit card number, Accessing his physical cards would be nigh on impossible, When no card details are given, a Social Security number is almost always used as a fallback..

But how would I get his Social Security number? Two hours of searching some of the Web's darker hacker forums was leading me nowhere. Alex is a British expat, likely in the country on a visa or a green card. When he married Sarah, a US citizen based on her Facebook profile, it's possible that he had obtained permanent legal residency through a marriage-acquired green card. But, that was based on assumptions. Even if he submitted a green card application at the time he was married, would he have even received it by now? I was guessing, and going down this path of thinking likely wouldn't yield any definitive answers.

I needed his Social Security number, but my options were fading fast, Hours later, my eyes lit up, What is one of the first things you get if you relocate to a foreign country? A cell service plan, Most cell service providers -- AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint, among others -- require you to present certain iphone case with lanyard forms of identification, often including a Social Security number, before you can sign up, In theory, the next challenge seemed easy enough, In reality, I would rely on sheer luck, If I could find his cell phone number, and if he used a cell provider that required a Social Security number, I could then, in theory, acquire at least a few of those golden government digits from his cell provider through similar social engineering techniques I would reserve for his bank..

It turned out that sooner rather than later, I would have to use those very techniques directly on my target. How exactly would I get his phone number? By asking for it -- directly or indirectly -- by sending him an e-mail asking for it. Knowing his work and what he does for a living, I would need to throw out the "phishing" line by pretending to be a potential client. And for the purposes of this exercise, I would want to talk to him on the phone about it. Though I already had his personal Gmail account, I needed to send him a note through his work e-mail. I already had knowledge of his work's e-mail address naming scheme, but after a few searches it was clear that it was, like many organizations, it followed the "firstname" dot "lastname" at the company's domain scheme.

In a matter of minutes, I created a full-name personal e-mail address with Gmail, and, with knowledge of his work and expertise, carefully crafted an e-mail that would not only get his attention, but also surely warrant a reply, Hi Alex, We're a B2B startup based in Mountain View, and we're looking to advertise, I'm traveling for the next iphone case with lanyard couple of days, could you email me back letting me know how might be the best approach going forward? --John, I sent the e-mail, and waited, The next day, he replied, Behold, in his e-mail signature, was his cell phone number, I didn't need to continue the thread any further, I plugged the phone number into a popular cell provider lookup Web site, His cell phone provider was Verizon..

I was unthinkably close to acquiring the golden goose: at very least the final 4-digits of his US government-issued identifier, or at most the full 9-digit figure. And that's where I stopped. Going too far?I geared back into "journalism mode," and set up a call with Alex to discuss my findings. Every shred of my being wanted to fight until the bitter end and see how far I could go. The thirst for this data reached such levels that I was uncomfortable in how I was acting. There was a line in the sand though that I would not cross. I would not impersonate him without him being physically there in our New York office -- a place he rarely visited.

How I would have loved to have told you how I stood in his office with his phone on speaker, with him watching over me as I read aloud his personal and sensitive data, playfully chatting with a call center operator at his bank, joking along and chuckling about how my wife had "spent a bit too much on the kids again," and wanting to review my current checking account balance, Alas, that call I had longed to make for days never came to fruition, We discussed my findings at length, I iphone case with lanyard explained that going any further would be unethical, and possibly illegal, Enough was enough, and my point was made..