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BitDefender distances self from gaping BitDefender.pt breach

Can you trust the gatekeeper?

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Comment This piece was updated to reflect information released by BitDefendor after publication.

More than 24 hours after hackers posted partial email addresses and other sensitive details lifted from BitDefender's authorized Portuguese partner website, the security company was still distancing itself from responsibility and declining to provide details about the extent of the security lapse.

It was only after this article first appeared that the anti-virus company even owned up to the breach, and yes, it potentially exposed Portuguese customers' names, email addresses and possibly their physical addresses as well. The vulnerability has now been closed, and no customer data was accessed, a spokesman said.

The breach at BitDefender.pt allowed the hackers to siphon customer email addresses, administrator usernames and passwords, and other sensitive information out of the site's database by embedding simple database commands into its URL. The attack is strikingly similar to one that hit Kaspersky Lab's American support site over the weekend and was exposed by the same hacker. The hacker has offered screenshots and other details that suggest the breach is real.

BitDefender spokesman Vitor Souza on Tuesday issued a statement that said the hole was closed Monday at 6 p.m. GMT, several hours after BitDefender officials first learned of it. Investigators are still in the process of determining how long the website was vulnerable and how the buggy code managed to get on the site.

Amazingly, BitDefender offered customers no details about the extent of the damage for more than a day and went so far as to suggest the breach at a site bearing its corporate name isn't its fault. Contacted Monday evening a spokesman would say only this:

"This was an unfortunate event and while we sympathize with the sites that were affected, BitDefender was not one of those sites. None of the sites hacked are owned or operated by BitDefender. A partner site was compromised and we are working to investigate exactly what happened so we can help our partner prevent this from happening again."

Of course, the website, which carries BitDefender's trademarked logo, doesn't make such fine distinctions to prospective customers. It simply provides a place for Portuguese-speaking computer users to legally buy and download BitDefender's security software. And for more than 24 hours, those people to wonder if their personal information had been pilfered by hackers.

We saw a similar reluctance from Kaspersky to share what it knew during the first 36 hours after its security lapse was exposed. This is unacceptable for companies entrusted to keep their customers safe. Security companies have a responsibility to share basic details, such as when it learned of the breach, whether the damage has been contained and whether it believes customer data has been compromised.

If some of that information is preliminary or isn't immediately available, people will understand. What they won't forgive is PR people who issue terse statements that dance around the major questions.

To its credit, Kaspersky on Monday came clean about its own exposed database and went on to announce the hiring of a well-known security expert to independently audit its website and make his findings public. That went a long way to restoring its credibility, but it came after a two-day period when the company wouldn't even say whether it had repaired a database that was exposing customer email addresses.

In the wake of the information vacuum, the only people talking about the breach were the hackers who discovered it. That didn't help Kaspersky's standing with the public.

Unlike Kaspersky, BitDefender still has more questions to answer about the breach. For one, what processes are in place to make sure BitDefender.pt and other sites bearing its name are free of basic security vulnerabilities? Souza said only that partners are required to follow "best practices" and was unsure whether code on those sites was reviewed by anyone inside BitDefender.

Computers increasingly are the gatekeepers of our most vital business and personal information. Companies that promise to secure them owe us more than we often get when something goes wrong. Breaches are a fact of life, and it's time security companies added public relations to their emergency response routines. BitDefender customers deserve nothing less. ®

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