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eBay plugs hole in sign-on page

Persistence pays off

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A week or more after it was brought to its attention, eBay has plugged a hole in its sign-on page that was being exploited by phishers.

The vulnerability was noteworthy because it led users to eBay's official login page first, unlike most phishing attacks, which direct victims to a spoofed URL. Once a user entered a valid user name and password on the eBay site, however, the exploit redirected the person to a third-party site of an attacker's choosing.

We brought the vulnerability to the attention of an eBay spokesman eight days ago, and a blogger on jjncj.com said he had alerted eBay of the problem several days before that. What he got in response was a form letter from eBay security. "In the future, be very cautious of any email that asks you to submit information such as your credit card numbers or passwords," it read in part.

It required persistence, but our correspondence was slightly more productive. We contacted eBay PR again late yesterday, and a spokeswoman emailed back to say "early indications have shown this isn't a new vulnerability" and that teams were working to fix it. We asked how long, exactly, security people had known of the hole, but never did get an answer. Nonetheless, the security problem was fixed early Thursday evening.

While critics of eBay security are sure to complain that the response time was inadequate, the vulnerability was considerably more short lived than a similar one we reported in November, which languished for more than 18 months.

Security on eBay has become a hot-button issue for some users of the online auctioneer, who claim eBay servers suffer from a backdoor that allows cyber crooks to penetrate them at will, and for evidence point to at least two breaches by an intruder who calls himself Vladuz and a regular stream of legitimate accounts that have been hijacked. eBay officials steadfastly maintain there is no such backdoor, and that the vast majority of breaches are the result of individual users falling for phishing scams.

We're inclined to agree with eBay that a secret hole is far-fetched. But we'd feel more confident if officials in eBay's Trust and Safety group were more forthcoming about vulnerabilities - and more timely in plugging holes.

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