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Yahoo! Mail! offers! HTTPS! amid! account! hijack! spree!

Web giant tangles with resilient XSS bug

Vid Yahoo! is now offering to encrypt its webmail service with HTTPS for security-conscious users. Meanwhile, an exploit that allowed anyone to hijack Yahoo! Mail accounts if victims clicked on a link was being flogged to cybercrims for $700.

The HTTPS development, which is not enabled by default, affords Yahoo! webmail users greater privacy when accessing their emails and reassurance that someone is not intercepting and nobbling their communications. Competitors such as Microsoft's Hotmail and Google's Gmail have offered full-session HTTPS for some time. Emails handled in a web browser session without HTTPS are sent over the network unencrypted, leaving them wide open to eavesdropping, particularly when access through insecure locations such as Wi-Fi hotspots.

The handshaking that takes place when logging into a Yahoo! account was already encrypted, but this is no longer sufficient by itself as Yahoo itself now recognises.

Security experts have urged users to enable the always-on HTTPS privacy option, labelled "Turn on SSL", as soon as possible in the Yahoo! Mail Options tab.

In other Yahoo! news, the online giant claimed it had squashed a cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability in its webmail service; the flaw was blamed for a spate of account hijackings. The compromised accounts were used to send spam.

The bug, which was triggered by tricking users into clicking on a malicious link (as demonstrated in the above YouTube video), appears to be the same bug offered for sale for about $700 on an underground forum in November.

However researchers, including Offensive Security, reckon the bug remains and is still exploitable, contrary to Yahoo's claims otherwise. The situation remains somewhat confused: while things settle down, Yahoo! webmail users are advised to be extra cautious about following links in emails. ®

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