Analysis of social site hack: Are risks too great for gov workers?

Imperva's reconstruction of the MilitarySingles hack shows the inherent risks of user-generated content and asks if government needs a "higher standard" for social networking.

An analysis of a military dating website hack in March shows how hackers can exploit weaknesses on social media sites and crack poorly protected passwords, and raises the question of whether government employees should “be held to a higher standard” when using such sites.

Data security company Imperva performed a breakdown of the hacker group LulzSec’s attack on MilitarySingles.com, after which user names and passwords of 170,937 subscribers were posted. A key finding was that the attack was made easy by the very lifeblood of social networking sites: user-generated content.

Once inside, the hackers were able to crack weakly protected passwords, many of them belonging to users with military e-mail addresses, leading the reports authors to warn: “Social networking and the public sector don’t mix.”


Related stories:

LulzSec reborn? Military dating data dump may be work of reformed group

Is Facebook the next cybersecurity nmightmare?


Sites that thrive on content uploaded by users operate on a level of trust that can be exploited, according to the report, which detailed how hackers got past MilitarySingles’ filters.

MilitarySingles allowed users to upload their profile pictures. And although it had filters designed to restrict uploads to picture files only, the filters determined a file’s validity according to its file extension, such as common image formats as .jpg, .gif or .bmp. As a result, a hacker could add, say, .jpg to a text file containing malicious code and upload it to the site.

The site’s filter also trusted browsers to specify file types, which would allow an attacker to use a proxy to change a file name to one ostensibly containing a picture file without changing the file’s content.

Imperva researchers found evidence that the hackers use this approach to change uploaded file names to PHP, a scripting language that would make it executable on the server. The report notes that PHP, used by about 77 percent of Web applications, is vulnerable to Remote File Inclusion attacks. “That’s probably how the LulzSec attacker has obtained control over the server,” the report states.

Once hackers had control of the servers, they also had access to the data, including passwords, which were hashed but with the MD5 algorithm that hadn’t been strengthened. The report cites an IQ Security analysis concluding that 92 percent of the password hashes were cracked within nine hours.

(On top of having weak protection, many of the passwords were easily guessed. A word graphic built from the passwords used on the site shows many of the usual suspects as the most popular choices: “123456,” “password” and “iloveyou” lead the way, followed by some that could be common among other military sites, such as “military,” “marines,” “ranger” and “freedom.” Some first names, some animals and at one least expletive also were popular.)

Web 2.0 applications, including social networking sites, are here to stay, the report notes, adding that user-generated content, “the main driver of today’s Internet, is also its Achilles' Heel.”

When combining the risks of these types of applications hackers’ increasing use of social engineering tricks to get inside networks and frequent targeting of government users, the report suggests that public employees might need to do more than other people to protect themselves. “Imperva calls into question if military and government employees should be held to a higher standard when it comes to social networking,” the authors write.

A start on those higher standards would be password encryption on top of strong password policies. The report recommends using SHA-2 hashes, such as SHA-256, as recommended by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and adding “salt,” or random bits that make cracking the algorithm even more difficult.

On file uploads, the report recommends:

  • Assigning minimal permissions to uploaded content, especially not allowing executable permissions.
  • Hosting user-generated content on a different domain. That way, even if the code is malicious it’s not evaluated in the context of your site. For example, Facebook stores user uploads on the fbcdn.net domain.
  • Hosting user-generated content on a different machine, so that code that is executed won’t be on the machine storing sensitive data and resources.
  • Whitelisting, to make sure the content is a valid instance of the file type that the application expects, such as a valid JPEG file.
  • Blacklisting, scanning files for malicious content, using a relevant scanner and as antivirus to detect malware or an HTML scanner to detect cross-site scripting.
  • Implementing all security checks on the server side; do not trust the client, as the client cannot be trusted.
X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.