edestrians walk by a T-Mobile store.
Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty)

Given that password theft from major tech companies like Yahoo has become routine, most large firms now store their users‚Äô passwords in an encrypted format. Keeping a list of users‚Äô passwords in plaintext creates a huge risk‚ÄĒstealing that password database can give a hacker access to millions of accounts. And if a company‚Äôs users reuse their passwords on other websites, the breach can put a customer‚Äôs entire online identity at risk.

That’s why T-Mobile Austria’s apparent admission this week that it stores at least parts of customers’ passwords in plaintext is potentially a colossal fuckup.

Earlier this week, a customer service representative using T-Mobile’s Austria Twitter account wrote that reps for the company can view the first four characters of a customer’s password.

‚ÄúThe customer service agents see the first four characters of your password. We store the whole password, because you need it for the login,‚ÄĚ the rep wrote.

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As Motherboard reported, those four characters could be used to guess or brute-force a password.

But when customers pointed this out, T-Mobile responded that its security was too good for hackers to breach. ‚ÄúI really do not get why this is a problem. You have so many passwords for evey [sic] app, for every mail-account and so on. We secure all data very carefully, so there is not a thing to fear,‚ÄĚ a rep wrote.

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‚ÄúT-Mobile US customer care representatives cannot see passwords, and we do not store passwords in plain text,‚ÄĚ a T-Mobile US spokesperson said. Gizmodo reached out to T-Mobile for more information about how its Austria business stores and secures customer passwords, and will update if we hear back.

Update 7:00 p.m.: A spokesperson for T-Mobile Austria said, ‚ÄúCustomer service agents see only parts of customers‚Äô passwords which are safely stored in encrypted databases. We are also using one-time-PINs for customer authentication and are evaluating voice biometrics for a better user experience.‚Ä̬†