Feeds

That password-protected site of yours - it ain't

Google exposes the Net's dirty secrets

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

It's one of the simplest hacks we've seen in a long time, and the more elite computer users have known about it for a while, but it's still kinda cool and just a little bit unnerving: A hacker has revealed a way to use Google and other search engines to gain unauthorized access to password-protected content on a dizzying number of websites.

While plenty of webmasters require their visitors to register or pay a fee before viewing certain pages, they are typically more than eager for search engine bots to see the content for free. After all, the more search engines that catalog the info, the better the chances of luring new users.

But the technique, known as cloaking, has a gaping loophole: if Google and other search engines can see the content without entering a password, so can you. Want to read this forum from the InkDrop Styles website? You can, but first you'll have to enter a user name and password. Or you can simply type "cache:http://forums.inkdropstyles.com/index.php?showtopic=4227" into Google. It leads you to this cache, which shows you the entire thread.

The technique yields plenty of other restricted forums, including those here, here and here.

Those in the know have been using the trick for years, but a hacker who goes by the handle Oxy recently made this post that shares the technique with the world at large. It reminds us of a similar approach for accessing restricted sites that involves changing a browser's user agent to one used by search engine bots.

The hack is one example of the security problems that result from the practice of cloaking. Robert Hansen, the web security guru and CEO of secTheory recently alerted us to the compromised blog of Blake Ross, the co-founder of the Mozilla Firefox project who recently went to work for Facebook. For more than a month, unknown miscreants have been using his site to host links to sites pushing diet pills and other kinds of drugs.

Thanks the some javascript magic, users who visit the site never see evidence of the compromise, i.e. the links are cloaked. But the image below shows what happens when javascript is disabled.

Screenshot of site with javascript turned off

We've contacted Blake about his website, but haven't yet received a response. Cleaning up the site ought to be as easy as updating his badly out-of-date version of WordPress. Addressing the shadowy world of cloaking will take a bit more work. ®

Intelligent flash storage arrays

More from The Register

next story
Webcam hacker pervs in MASS HOME INVASION
You thought you were all alone? Nope – change your password, says ICO
You really need to do some tech support for Aunty Agnes
Free anti-virus software, expires, stops updating and p0wns the world
USB coding anarchy: Consider all sticks licked
Thumb drive design ruled by almighty buck
Attack reveals 81 percent of Tor users but admins call for calm
Cisco Netflow a handy tool for cheapskate attackers
Privacy bods offer GOV SPY VICTIMS a FREE SPYWARE SNIFFER
Looks for gov malware that evades most antivirus
Patch NOW! Microsoft slings emergency bug fix at Windows admins
Vulnerability promotes lusers to domain overlords ... oops
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
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?
Managing SSL certificates with ease
The lack of operational efficiencies and compliance pitfalls associated with poor SSL certificate management, and how the right SSL certificate management tool can help.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.