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Blackboard (in)Security

The University recently recently paid for a vulnerability assessment and penetration test, which came back saying that, apart from a few minor things, everything was fine and secure. I take issue with this finding for several reasons, most of which I won't go into here. Now, I haven't actually seen the report produced by the company, but I have had verbal reports from the IT technicians that 'nothing serious' was found.

The University uses a hateful product called Blackboard as a Virtual Learning Management System. This is a web-based application allowing access to learning materials, grades, etc., from anywhere in the world. The problem is that it doesn't use an encrypted connection and uses a simple Session ID cookie to assert that you are an authenticated user. There are two problems with this. Firstly, if I capture your cookie and send it with my HTTP request, then I will be treated as you and can see or do anything as you. Secondly, and much more importantly, is that the username and password are sent in plaintext!

I shouldn't have to explain why this is such a bad idea, but I can't understand why this wasn't picked up as a major security hole. A simple packet sniffer will pick up anyone's username and password, giving full access to the network and other services, such as email, home directories, etc. The trouble is that it's not just students who login to this service, all the academics and admin staff do as well. You can imagine what could be done by grabbing a lecturer's username and password.

How easy is it to actually launch a sniffing attack? Well, surprisingly easy (unless you are a pen tester, in which case it won't surprise you at all). Consider the fact that people do connect to this service from public wireless hotspots or from shared networks, such as the halls of residence or the university network itself. It isn't difficult for someone to sniff the network and extract the user's password. 'MAJOR SECURITY WEAKNESS' not 'nothing serious'.

I advise people to connect to Blackboard instances via SSL connections at the very least. It doesn't stop all the attacks, but it will stop simple packet sniffing.

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