Feeds

Code for open-source Facebook littered with landmines

Diaspora release not for noobs

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Four New York University students who raised a bundle of cash to build a privacy-preserving alternative to Facebook sure have their work cut out for them.

The release of pre-alpha source code for their Diaspora social Website was only a few hours old on Wednesday when hackers began identifying flaws they said could seriously compromise the security of those who used it. Among other things, the mistakes make it possible to hijack accounts, friend users without their permission, and delete their photos.

“The bottom line is currently there is nothing that you cannot do to someone's Diaspora account, absolutely nothing,” said Patrick McKenzie, owner of Bingo Card Creator, a software company in Ogaki, Japan.

“About the only thing I haven't been able to do yet is to compromise the security of the server that Diaspora is installed on. That's not because that isn't possible. If a professional security researcher goes after this, I have every confidence that they will be able to do that.”

Diaspora grew out of deep-rooted dissatisfaction many people expressed earlier this year in response to Facebook privacy changes that without warning exposed details many users didn't want to share with world+dog. When the developers sought funding, according to The New York Times, they asked for $10,000. So strong was the discontent of some Facebook users that they ended up with donations exceeding $200,000.

McKenzie first voiced his concerns on a online hacker discussion devoted to Wednesday's release. Diaspora representatives didn't respond to an email seeking comment.

To be fair, the Diaspora creators are very clear that Wednesday's release comes with “no guarantees” and includes known “security holes and bugs.” But McKenzie said he isn't sure that message has reached some of the project's most fervent fans.

“If you've been on the Diaspora mailing list, there are people who are clearly not security professionals who are asking each other, 'OK, what do I need to do to get this running because I hate being on Facebook,'” he said. “They are going to get burned in a very serious manner very, very quickly if they actually succeed in doing what they're trying to do.”

He's not the only one who has found bugs. Among the list of reported issues in the code are numerous XSS — or cross-site scripting — attack vulnerabilities, a session token that's easy to steal, a lack of user input filtering, and repeated errors when a null character is entered into web fields.

Encryption features in Diaspora, which runs on the Ruby on Rails software stack, is also susceptible to a recently enhanced “Oracle Padding attack,” being demonstrated this week at the Ekoparty conference in Argentina, but then again, so are many banking apps. ®

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
Kill off SSL 3.0 NOW: HTTPS savaged by vicious POODLE
Pull it out ASAP, it is SWISS CHEESE
Facebook slurps 'paste sites' for STOLEN passwords, sprinkles on hash and salt
Zuck's ad empire DOESN'T see details in plain text. Phew!
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.