Gawker tech boss admits site security was crap
'We lost your trust and don't deserve it back'
Gawker Media plans to overhaul its web infrastructure and require employees to use two-factor authentication when accessing sensitive documents stored online, following an embarrassing attack that completely rooted the publisher's servers.
The publisher of Gawker, Gizmodo, and seven other popular websites also plans to, gasp, mandate the use of secure sockets layer encryption for all users with Gawker Media accounts on Google Apps, according to a memo written by Gawker tech boss Tom Plunkett and published Friday by The Next Web. The company-wide message conceded a point first made by the perpetrators of the hack: That Gawker Media's security was utter crap.
“It is clear that the Gawker tech team did not adequately secure our platform from an attack of this nature,” Plunkett wrote. “We were also not prepared to respond when it was necessary.”
Indeed, security researchers who examined the web platform's source code were amazed as just how poorly the site was put together.
“Having looked at the Gawker PHP source, I'm shocked it hasn't happened sooner,” Mike Bailey, who specializes in web-application security recently tweeted. “Test code all over the place, bugs galore.”
“Gonna go ahead and make a prediction: Nothing short of a full site rewrite is going to keep Gawker online at this point,” he said in another message.
Another amateur goof was the use of DES, or Data Encryption Standard, to protect some 1.5 million account passwords despite long-known weakness in the hashing algorithm. As a result, the attackers were able to retrieve the first eight characters of plaintext for each one.
Plunkett also laid out plans for disposable reader accounts that could be dumped at any time and said that the publisher would no longer store email addresses and other reader data.
“On all of our sites, we will be introducing several new features to our commenting system to acknowledge the reality that we have lost the commenters' trust and don't deserve it back,” he wrote. “We should not be in the business of collecting and storing personal information, and our objective is to migrate our platform away from any personal data dependencies (like email & password). ®
They can't be a very large business with honesty like that. Kudos for owning up to being crap. Brickbats for being crap in the first place.
In my experience, as a systems analyst and programmer, it is always better to tell a customer "sorry this was my fault" in stead of blaming the OS or the programming language or the hardware or anything else. Works better that way, very well in fact, but in order to stay employed your boss has to understand that too. And it hurts sometimes, and it works only if you know the problem can be fixed. (soon)
Management and security woes
We did a bunch of development work for two major universities in the UK. We were told that they just wanted the system to work, but didn't have the commitment to make any effort to invest in any security. We pushed back as hard as hell, they overruled us. Very strongly in fact!
There's two universities (at least) out there in the UK who's core systems are completely open to the most basic injection attacks, which would expose a lot of confidential data. I'm afraid I blame short-term thinking and a basic lack of managerial understanding for this. I cannot believe how hard we tried to tell them what the risks were, and how patronising and over-ruling they were in response. We were 'banned' from putting in any kind of security measures!
Does anyone else in IT recognise this? Third party managers with little or no understanding of the situation, arrogantly defending a position with little or no understanding of the repercussions?