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MI5 security alert finally runs on secure server

Rush job patched up

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MI5's terror status mailing list has been made a little more secure even though the service has still not been moved onto a fully secure UK government-run infrastructure.

The service, launched by MI5 last Tuesday, is designed to allow subscribers to receive email notification of changing national security threat levels by email.

But an investigation by privacy website Spyblog showed it was sending web subscription forms to the US without encryption. Initially, data submitted to the list was wide open to snoopers.

The subscription system has been changed so it no longer uses the WhatCounts.com services in the USA and so it uses SSL links to submit data to web servers based in the UK. These servers are being run by a private firm called MailTrack and not the UK government. The mailing list was modified late on Friday from its "shambolic" early version, SpyBlog reports.

"The email list subscription service no longer seems to send your personal data to the USA in an unencrypted format, but it is still not being hosted entirely on secure UK Government IT infrastructure. However, signing up this way no longer gets you an email confirmation immediately, you will now have to wait 'a few days'," SpyBlog told El Reg.

The set-up of the system, even ignoring the delay in processing data, is far from ideal, however. Submitted web forms are processed at a site called https://mi5.h0st.biz/xdata.html, which looks suspiciously like a phishing site, but was legitimately registered by MailTrack.

SpyBlog's assessment that the service was established as a "rush job" is supported by emails received by El Reg suggesting that British defence technology company QinetiQ was only informed about plans to launch the service on Monday, 8 January - only a day before the email alert service went live in an insecure format.

Even though changes have been made to improve this somewhat, the affair leaves a number of questions unanswered, as SpyBlog notes, not least who authorised the list to go live without rudimentary security precautions.

More on the aftermath of this web security shambles can be found here. ®

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