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Google Buzz bug exposes user geo location

'Pretty nasty vulnerability'

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Updated Already besieged by complaints of shoddy user privacy, Google Buzz is was susceptible to exploits that allow an attacker to commandeer accounts and even learn where victims are located, a security researcher said Tuesday.

The XSS, or cross-site scripting, vulnerability is unusual because it affects google.com, the domain that sets authentication cookies for a variety of popular Google services, including Mail, Calendar and Documents. That means an attacker might be able to tamper with victims' accounts simply by tricking them into visiting a booby-trapped link, although the researcher said only cookies for Buzz appeared to be at risk in this case.

What's more, the vulnerability ties into to the much-vaunted Google Location Services, making it possible for the attacker to learn the geographical location of users who have already opted in.

"It's a pretty nasty vulnerability, actually," Robert "RSnake" Hansen, CEO of secTheory.com, told The Register. "If you've already agreed to that before being exploited, which most people will do, then the attacker also gets to know your location."

A Google spokesman said the bug could affect users of Google Buzz for mobile and that company security personnel fixed the bug late on Tuesday, after this article was first published. There are no indications the flaw was actively exploited, he said.

"We understand the importance of our users' security, and we are committed to further improving the security of Google Buzz," he wrote in an email.

The vulnerability is the result of web applications that fail to adequately scrutinize user input for malicious commands that inject unauthorized content and javascript into browsers visiting google.com addresses. The vulnerability, which Hansen said was reported by a hacker known as TrainReq, is also notable because it works over the SSL, or secure sockets layer, protocol.

The resulting "https" and "google.com" included in the address is likely to lead some victims into believing the address is safe, he said.

Over the years, Google engineers have done a good job at fortifying the site against XSS flaws. In the rare instances the bugs get through, Google personnel are usually quick at stamping them out once they've been reported. Hansen has more here. ®

This article was updated twice, on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, to include comment from a Google spokesman.

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