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Mystery SNAFU exposes email logins for 100 foreign embassies (and counting)

In Tunisia, Iran's password is 'Tunisia'

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Underscoring a major susceptibility threatening thousands of high-profile computer users across the world, a Swedish security consultant has published login credentials belonging to some 100 embassies.

The list contains the login credentials for official email addresses belonging to some 100 foreign embassies from countries including Russia, India, Japan and Iran. They are used to conduct official, sometimes confidential business, from sending ambassadors' schedules to transmitting information relating to lost passports.

The consultant, Dan Egerstad, says the list is only part of a much bigger problem that allowed him to gain credentials for more than 1,000 email accounts around the world, including at least one belonging to an employee of a company that generates more than $10bn in annual revenue. He declined to offer specific details for fear they would be misused by criminals.

"It will only take 10 minutes and every script kiddie is going to be using the exact same method," he told The Reg. "I'm probably not the first one grabbing these passwords, but I'm absolutely the first one publishing them."

Egerstad said he was able to get the information because users of the accounts were misusing a common security application in a way that allowed him to perform a man-in-the-middle attack. He declined to give further details, other than to say its a client application and that the vendor has offered ample warnings to customers not to use the program in a certain way that makes them vulnerable to the attack. Anyone with a clue what the misused app may be, please email your author using the above link.

Most of the embassies on the list belonged to countries in Asia, the middle east and Eastern Europe. We weren't willing to risk getting a one-way ticket to the gulag, so we haven't actually validated the authenticity of the credentials by trying to log in to an account.

Alas, it appears a reporter from The Indian Express was braver. According to this article, a reporter sent an email to the official address of India's ambassador in China and then logged in and read it. The reporter also claims to have found other emails, including one containing a transcript of a recent meeting between a senior Indian official and the Chinese foreign minister. Others contained phone numbers, commercial documents, official correspondence and personal messages.

Egerstad's list offers a rare glimpse into the password robustness, or lack thereof, of various countries. At the top of the list was Uzbekistan, where a typical password looks something like "s1e7u0l7c." Surprisingly, the ultra-secret Iran was near the bottom of the list; passwords for its various embassies tended to be the city or country in which the embassy resides. The Hong Kong Liberal Party used "12345678" while one for an Indian embassy was simply "1234."

Egerstad's decision to publish the account details online is sure to reignite the frequent debate about whether such full disclosure is irresponsible because it simply allows a broader base of people to misuse the information. He says he's well versed in the merits of responsible disclosure but decided that posting the login details was the only way to get the attention this problem deserves.

"I don't have time calling all over the world to tell them something they won't understand or listen to," Egerstad said. "I'm probably going to get charged for helping to commit a crime. I don't really care." ®

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