Feeds

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

Only Salesforce standing

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

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. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
'Kim Kardashian snaps naked selfies with a BLACKBERRY'. *Twitterati gasps*
More alleged private, nude celeb pics appear online
Home Depot ignored staff warnings of security fail laundry list
'Just use cash', former security staffer warns friends
Hackers pop Brazil newspaper to root home routers
Step One: try default passwords. Step Two: Repeat Step One until success
UK.gov lobs another fistful of change at SME infosec nightmares
Senior Lib Dem in 'trying to be relevant' shocker. It's only taxpayers' money, after all
Spies would need SUPER POWERS to tap undersea cables
Why mess with armoured 10kV cables when land-based, and legal, snoop tools are easier?
Who.is does the Harlem Shake
Blame it on LOLing XSS terroristas
Snowden, Dotcom, throw bombs into NZ election campaign
Claim of tapped undersea cable refuted by Kiwi PM as Kim claims extradition plot
Freenode IRC users told to change passwords after securo-breach
Miscreants probably got in, you guys know the drill by now
THREE QUARTERS of Android mobes open to web page spy bug
Metasploit module gobbles KitKat SOP slop
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.