Investigator ridicules UK visa site
'Upside down pyramid' about to topple
Security on websites used to apply for UK visas is utter crap, an independent investigator looking into the matter has concluded - in so many words. They should remain shuttered until a list of improvements are completed by the governmental agency responsible for processing applications and the India-based private contractor hired to run the sites.
The system, implemented by a company called VFS, was so porous that user security questions could be viewed using simple SQL injections. There were no formal third-party penetration tests conducted. One internal report even recommended a Windows 2003 server running Service Pack 2 should be rolled back to SP1. Fortunately, organization inertia prevented the recommendation from ever being carried out.
"I note the expert view that the VFS online system is so poor that it should be completely rewritten - one expert described it as an upside down pyramid, where piling more levels of changes and processes on the top only makes it more likely to fall over," the independent investigator, L. M. Costelloe Baker, wrote in her report (PDF here).
"I also note that VFS has accepted that it is not an IT company and that it needs to outsource its software writing."
The scathing, 47-page report came at the insistence of the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office following the discovery in May that the site was leaking the personal details of visa applicants. The breach was particularly notable because the security hole responsible had been reported more than a year earlier but no action had been taken.
When Sanjib Mitra, the Indian individual who uncovered the problem, went public with his discovery on May 17, the story led television news casts and resulted in a promise from the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the FOC that the agency would conduct a thorough investigation into the matter.
The FCO, in responding to the report, said the VFS application site will be replaced by a UKvisas application facility called visa4UK. UKvisas has made other changes, including measures to ensure contractors maintaining visa application centers comply with various security compliance laws and industry best practices.
The investigator also took UKvisas to task for failing to act on notifications from three people that there were security weaknesses.
"I do not find it acceptable for a complaint to be simply passed on to a third party - VFS in this case - for a response," Costelloe Baker write. "If UKvisas felt responsible for replying to the complaints, it may have paid more attention to the outcomes." ®
we've been citizens for decades now
well surprise! - my passport (red) says 'British Citizen'
last time I checked (blue passport but not *decades* ago) I was 'British Subject, Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies'.
sadly afaik HM still owns my house (and all Real estate in the UK)
No, we've been citizens for decades now
First subjects, then last century the official description became citizen-subject and later on citizen.
Better than being denizens I suppose.
angry about this? do something - make your view known
If you are a subject in the UK (all this Government talk of 'citizen' is incorrect - read the words in your passport!) and you personally experience a security flaw in an official Information System, you lodge a report with 'GovCert'
It is a matter of standing UK Goverment policy that all Information Systems procured for 'official' use are subject to a process of independent scrutiny by an 'Accreditor'. It is the Accreditor who should decide whether the security behaviour of IS meets the appropriate level of performance.
If you are as angry about this particular story as I am please consider doing what I am doing:
1. contact your MP to express your displeasure at an agency of a UK Government department failing in its duty to the centre (be polite - not the MP's fault!)
URL: http://www.upmystreet.com/commons/l/ [to find your MP]
2. ask the MP to consider asking a parliamentary question of the appropriate Minister; this is Ed Milliband at the Cabinet Office
he is responsible for the Central Sponsor for Information Assurance
[It may be that Ukvisas is considered part of the 'Critical National Infrastructure' (but I don't think it is), if it is, then they should have talked to these people:
Regardless, ask your MP to ask Minister the following:
a. Was the Ukvisas information system procurement Accredited in accordance with the Manual of Protective Security and what was the accreditation decision?
b. If not Accredited, why not? Will an Accreditor now be appointed retrospectively to ensure that the obviously necessary improvements to this IS are implemented satisfactorily? If not, why not?
c. What steps is he (Minister) taking to ensure that ALL IS that is procured for official purposes regardless of whether this is directly by a HMG department or by some agency on behalf of a department now and in the future will be Accredited in accordance with policy set by his Office and recorded in the Manual of Protective Security and what regime of reporting back to his Office is in place to ensure that his Office is aware of the Information Assurance status of every such procurement (including those for the Olympics that also come under his control)?