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Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

An elementary security mistake by the official online supplier of Welsh Rugby and UK Athletics has resulted in the exposure of sensitive customer information on the merchant's Web site.

Up until yesterday, Official-merchandise.co.uk was using a database query string for order-checking. This HTTP Get method would allow anyone so inclined to see other people's order details by simply changing the invoice number in the URL.

This information omitted credit card details but did include customer names, addresses and phone numbers, stored in an unencrypted database. Rich pickings for any fraudster with rudimentary social engineering skills.

The issue came to light when a Register reader inadvertently came across someone else's order. We immediately spoke to Official-merchandise.co.uk and it promptly closed the security loophole.

What the firm should have been doing in the first place is encoding a database query within a request for a page, the HTTP Post method, that way a requested page has a URL that looks like a long string of gibberish and URL manipulation is no longer such a serious risk. Storing customer information as encrypted data on a secure server would also be a good idea.

Mark Read, professional services consultant at MIS Corporate Defence, described the security loophole as "blatantly obvious".

"You're asking for trouble if changing simple variables allows people to access other customer's details," he said.

There's an obligation under the Data Protection Act to keep customer details secure, which Official-merchandise.co.uk has failed to follow in this instance. A representative of the firm admitted this but declined our invitation to comment on why it had weak security protection for invoices.

That said, the firm deserves credit was acting quickly on the problem after we contacted it on Tuesday and since URL manipulation is a popular cracker trick other online firms would do well to take lessons from its experience. Official-merchandise.co.uk was guilty of making an all-too-common type of security lapse. ®

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