Feeds

Saucy Snapchat addicts EXPOSED: Exploit code to poke holes goes wild

Researchers go public with vuln claims, biz plays down risk

Build a business case: developing custom apps

Updated Four months ago Gibson Security, a group of freelance vulnerability researchers, notified Snapchat that it had found serious flaws in the image-flinging service's security and privacy systems.

Having heard nothing back, the group has now released the details and some exploit code to back up its claims.

"Given that it's been around four months since our last Snapchat release, we figured we'd do a refresher on the latest version, and see which of the released exploits had been fixed (full disclosure: none of them)," said the group in a Christmas Eve missive to the security community.

Gibson studied Snapchat's Android app, and claims to have found flaws in its private API – the interface between the software and the Snapchat servers – that enable an attacker to decode and decrypt received data, and build a database linking users to their cell numbers.

It appears photos sent via Snapchat are encrypted using AES and a key hardwired into the application's code, allowing anyone to decrypt and view intercepted images. Separately, denial-of-service attacks are also possible, we're told.

"We were able to crunch through 10 thousand phone numbers (an entire sub-range in the American number format (XXX) YYY-ZZZZ - we did the Zs) in approximately 7 minutes on a gigabit line on a virtual server," the report states.

"Given some asynchronous optimizations, we believe that you could potentially crunch through that many in as little as a minute and a half (or, as a worst case, two minutes). This means you'd be railing through as many as 6666 phone numbers a minute (or, in our worst case, 5000!)"

The published exploit code can harvest these phone numbers, and a separate piece can register multiple bogus accounts for spamming purposes, we're told.

Snapchat's application allows its predominantly young users base to send up to ten second views of pictures before they are permanently deleted. Given the current fad for sexting, and the ensuing moral panic it has inspired, the service has a significant following among those who wish to send titillating titbits to a paramour.

This crucial young adult market has had VCs valuing the firm at $800m in June, although Evan Spiegel, Snapchat’s 23-year-old co-founder and CEO reportedly turned down a $3bn offer from Facebook and $4bn counter-bid from Chinese e-commerce conglomerate Tencent Holdings.

Snapchat's audience might be young and valuable, but they are also fickle, and if malware can use the newly released information then those kinds of valuation figures may evaporate like summer mist. ®

Updated to add

Snapchat has downplayed the significance of the reported security holes, and suggested it has checks in place to thwart a mass slurping of users' private data. On its blog today, the company stated:

This week, on Christmas Eve, a security group posted documentation for our private API. This documentation included an allegation regarding a possible attack by which one could compile a database of Snapchat usernames and phone numbers.

Theoretically, if someone were able upload a huge set of phone numbers, like every number in an area code, or every possible number in the US, they could create a database of the results and match usernames to phone numbers that way. Over the past year we’ve implemented various safeguards to make it more difficult to do. We recently added additional counter-measures and continue to make improvements to combat spam and abuse.

HP ProLiant Gen8: Integrated lifecycle automation

More from The Register

next story
KDE releases ice-cream coloured Plasma 5 just in time for summer
Melty but refreshing - popular rival to Mint's Cinnamon's still a work in progress
NO MORE ALL CAPS and other pleasures of Visual Studio 14
Unpicking a packed preview that breaks down ASP.NET
Secure microkernel that uses maths to be 'bug free' goes open source
Hacker-repelling, drone-protecting code will soon be yours to tweak as you see fit
Cheer up, Nokia fans. It can start making mobes again in 18 months
The real winner of the Nokia sale is *drumroll* ... Nokia
Put down that Oracle database patch: It could cost $23,000 per CPU
On-by-default INMEMORY tech a boon for developers ... as long as they can afford it
Another day, another Firefox: Version 31 is upon us ALREADY
Web devs, Mozilla really wants you to like this one
Google shows off new Chrome OS look
Athena springs full-grown from Chromium project's head
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.