Feeds

Et tu, Gmail? Simple hack defeats last barrier to decades-old attack

Only Salesforce standing

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

In the morass of Web 2.0 insecurity, Gmail and other Google-hosted services stood out as a beacon of hope. That's because they were believed to be the only free destination that offered protection against a decade-old vulnerability that enabled hackers to steal sensitive authentication details as they pass over Wi-Fi hotspots and other types of public networks.

Now, we know better.

According to security researcher Rob Graham, it doesn't take much to disable the safety measure. And that, in turn, would give attackers free rein over a victim's Google account, including any email, map searches or calendar entries that happen to be housed there.

The vulnerability stems from the wide-spread use of session-IDs that websites use after visitors have successfully entered their login credentials. Typically, they come in the form of random text strings in the URL or the HTTP cookie and are sent in the clear.

That makes it a snap for bad guys hanging out at coffee shops to sniff the string and use it to masquerade as the victim. This happens even if the password is entered behind the veil of a Secure Socket Layer session, which encrypts the information so it's not decipherable to prying eyes.

Google was the only free service known to encrypt the session-ID if the user went through the trouble of putting an HTTPS in the address for Gmail and other Google services that support SSL. Visit this Google Calendar address instead of this one and no one would be able to make heads or tails of the session-ID, the thinking went.

But Graham says Google SSL will automatically revert to plain-vanilla HTML if the site believes there are connection problems. This means an attacker at a hotspot can cause Google to lower its shield simply by sending a reset packet to either the Google server or to the victim's PC.

"If companies do SSL correctly, then you're safe," Graham says. "The problem with Gmail is it's not doing SSL correctly. In my experience just using Gmail normally, I've seen this happen accidentally."

A Google spokeswoman said company security pros were looking in to Graham's research.

Graham posted his finding here more than two weeks ago. It remained largely overlooked until George Ou picked it up on the Zero Day Blog.

To be fair, Google still offers protections that Yahoo!, MySpace, Facebook and most other Web 2.0 properties do not. That's because Gmail and several other Google services that support SSL encrypt all information passed back and forth during a session. Most other websites encrypt data only during the login sequence and then quickly drop the protection once the user has been authenticated.

Among websites Graham has tested, only Salesforce.com has managed to insulate itself from this man-in-the-middle attack.

"As far as I can tell, they really have spent a lot of effort to solve problems like this," he says. ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
14 antivirus apps found to have security problems
Vendors just don't care, says researcher, after finding basic boo-boos in security software
'Things' on the Internet-of-things have 25 vulnerabilities apiece
Leaking sprinklers, overheated thermostats and picked locks all online
Only '3% of web servers in top corps' fully fixed after Heartbleed snafu
Just slapping a patched OpenSSL on a machine ain't going to cut it, we're told
iWallet: No BONKING PLEASE, we're Apple
BLE-ding iPhones, not NFC bonkers, will drive trend - marketeers
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
Secure microkernel that uses maths to be 'bug free' goes open source
Hacker-repelling, drone-protecting code will soon be yours to tweak as you see fit
Israel's Iron Dome missile tech stolen by Chinese hackers
Corporate raiders Comment Crew fingered for attacks
Roll out the welcome mat to hackers and crackers
Security chap pens guide to bug bounty programs that won't fail like Yahoo!'s
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.