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YouTube 'riddled with 40-plus security vulnerabilities'

Faced with ultimatum, Google finally responds

Website security in corporate America

Google researchers have at last responded to a hacker who says he's uncovered more than 40 YouTube flaws that put users at risk.

Christian Matthies, says he's been trying to get the attention of Google bug squashers for the past several months, but was unsuccessful in getting a single reply to his emails warning of the vulnerabilities. That changed this week, a few days after he posted an ultimatum effectively vowing to disclose the bugs publicly if Google didn't give him some acknowledgment of the problems.

The vast majority of the vulnerabilities are of the cross site scripting (XSS) variety, in which hackers are able to inject unauthorized code by making it appear as if it's hosted by the website being targeted. Many of the flaws make it possible for an attacker to infect a user's profile with a quick-spreading worm that could also steal login credentials. In recent weeks, both Googleand Yahoo! have been tripped up by serious XSS errors that put the privacy of millions of their users at risk.

And XSS errors aren't the only threat lurking on YouTube, according to California firm Secure Computing. It is warning that a fake video file containing the Zlob Trojan has been planted on the video-sharing site that, if selected, bombards infected users with ads and could also be used to upload other forms of malware onto compromised PCs.

"Having security holes is one thing but not responding to vulnerability reports is totally unacceptable and certainly not conform to your Commitment to data security," Matthies wrote late last week. "Taking that into account I'm going to have one last try and give you two weeks from now to contact me. If you don't, I am obliged to disclose all vulnerabilities in public."

Sure enough, Google responded earlier this week, leaving Matthies confident that the security team plans to address the issues in the near future, the hacker said in an email.

Google declined to comment on any discussions it has had with Matthies except to say, very generally, that the search king encourages "responsible disclosure practices". We wanted to know how Google's purported delay of several months in responding to Matthies helped to foster such disclosure. After all, aren't researchers more likely to go public if they feel like their private communications are being blown off? Google wouldn't say, nor would it discuss the channels it has in place for allowing researchers to report vulnerabilities.

Matthies wanted to emphasize he was never out to harm YouTube's reputation with his campaign. "However putting a little bit of pressure on them (and by that all other companies who read it) is a good idea," he said. ®

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