Feeds

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

Researchers go public with vuln claims, biz plays down risk

Website security in corporate America

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.

Protecting against web application threats using SSL

More from The Register

next story
New 'Cosmos' browser surfs the net by TXT alone
No data plan? No WiFi? No worries ... except sluggish download speed
'Windows 9' LEAK: Microsoft's playing catchup with Linux
Multiple desktops and live tiles in restored Start button star in new vids
iOS 8 release: WebGL now runs everywhere. Hurrah for 3D graphics!
HTML 5's pretty neat ... when your browser supports it
Mathematica hits the Web
Wolfram embraces the cloud, promies private cloud cut of its number-cruncher
Google extends app refund window to two hours
You now have 120 minutes to finish that game instead of 15
Mozilla shutters Labs, tells nobody it's been dead for five months
Staffer's blog reveals all as projects languish on GitHub
SUSE Linux owner Attachmate gobbled by Micro Focus for $2.3bn
Merger will lead to mainframe and COBOL powerhouse
iOS 8 Healthkit gets a bug SO Apple KILLS it. That's real healthcare!
Not fit for purpose on day of launch, says Cupertino
Profitless Twitter: We're looking to raise $1.5... yes, billion
We'll spend the dosh on transactions, biz stuff 'n' sh*t
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.