Feeds

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

Researchers go public with vuln claims, biz plays down risk

High performance access to file storage

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.

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Android engineer: We DIDN'T copy Apple OR follow Samsung's orders
Veep testifies for Samsung during Apple patent trial
Microsoft: Windows version you probably haven't upgraded to yet is ALREADY OBSOLETE
Pre-Update versions of Windows 8.1 will no longer support patches
OpenSSL Heartbleed: Bloody nose for open-source bleeding hearts
Bloke behind the cockup says not enough people are helping crucial crypto project
Half of Twitter's 'active users' are SILENT STALKERS
Nearly 50% have NEVER tweeted a word
Windows XP still has 27 per cent market share on its deathbed
Windows 7 making some gains on XP Death Day
Internet-of-stuff startup dumps NoSQL for ... SQL?
NoSQL taste great at first but lacks proper nutrients, says startup cloud whiz
US taxman blows Win XP deadline, must now spend millions on custom support
Gov't IT likened to 'a Model T with a lot of things on top of it'
Microsoft TIER SMEAR changes app prices whether devs ask or not
Some go up, some go down, Redmond goes silent
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.