Skip to main content

eBay's Weak Security Architecture

Well eBay are in the news due to their breach of 145 million users' account details. There are a few worrying things about this breach, beyond the breach itself, that point to architectural issues in eBay's security.

The first issue is that a spokeswoman (according to Reuters) claimed "that it used 'sophisticated', proprietary hashing and salting technology to protect the passwords." This sounds very much like security through obscurity, which doesn't work. So, either they are using a proprietary implementation of a publicly known algorithm, or they have created their own. Both of these situations are doomed. As always, no one person can think of all the attacks on an algorithm, which is why we have public scrutiny. Even the best cryptographers in the world can't create new algorithms with acceptable levels of security every time. Do eBay have the best cryptographers in the world working for them? I don't believe so, but I could be wrong.

Also, if their argument is that hackers don't know the algorithm so can't attack it, then I'm fairly sure they're wrong there too. Even if the algorithm was secure enough to stand up to analysis of the hashes only, as hackers have eBay staff passwords perhaps they also have access to the code! If, on the other hand, they have their own implementation of a public algorithm I have to question why? Many examples are available of implementations that have gone wrong and introduced vulnerabilities, e.g. Heartbleed in OpenSSL. Do they think they know better?

The second issue is that they don't seem to encrypt Personally Identifiable Information (PII). This is obviously an issue if a breach should occur, but, admittedly, doesn't solve all problems as vulnerabilities in the web application could still expose the data. However, it is likely to have helped in this situation.

Finally, and most importantly, how did gaining access to eBay staff accounts give attackers access to the data? Database administrators shouldn't have access to read the data in the databases they manage. Why would they need it? Also, I would hope that there are VPNs between the corporate and production systems with 2-factor authentication. So how did they get in? Well, either eBay don't use this standard simple layer of protection, they leave their machines logged into the VPN for extended periods or they protect the VPN with the same password as their account.

Even if eBay do implement VPNs properly with 2-factor authentication, the production servers shouldn't have accounts on them that map to user accounts on the corporate network. Administrative accounts on production servers should have proper audited account control with single use passwords. Administrators should have to 'sign out' an account and be issued with a one-time password for it by the security group responsible for Identity and Access Management (IAM).

All this leads me to think that eBay have implemented a weak security architecture. 


Popular Posts

You say it's 'Security Best Practice' - prove it!

Over the last few weeks I have had many conversations and even attended presentations where people talk about 'Security Best Practices' and how we should all follow them. However, 'Best Practice' is just another way of saying 'What everyone else does!' OK, so if everyone else does it and it's the right thing to do, you should be able to prove it. The trouble is that nobody ever measures best practice - why would you? If everyone's doing it, it must be right. Well, I don't agree with this sentiment. Don't get me wrong, many of the so-called best practices are good for most organisations, but blindly following them without thought for your specific business could cause as many problems as you solve. I see best practice like buying an off-the-peg suit - it will fit most people acceptably well if they are a fairly 'normal' size and shape. However, it will never fit as well as a tailored suit and isn't an option for those of us who are o

Trusteer or no trust 'ere...

...that is the question. Well, I've had more of a look into Trusteer's Rapport, and it seems that my fears were justified. There are many security professionals out there who are claiming that this is 'snake oil' - marketing hype for something that isn't possible. Trusteer's Rapport gives security 'guaranteed' even if your machine is infected with malware according to their marketing department. Now any security professional worth his salt will tell you that this is rubbish and you should run a mile from claims like this. Anyway, I will try to address a few questions I raised in my last post about this. Firstly, I was correct in my assumption that Rapport requires a list of the servers that you wish to communicate with; it contacts a secure DNS server, which has a list already in it. This is how it switches from a phishing site to the legitimate site silently in the background. I have yet to fully investigate the security of this DNS, however, as most

Web Hosting Security Policy & Guidelines

I have seen so many websites hosted and developed insecurely that I have often thought I should write a guide of sorts for those wanting to commission a new website. Now I have have actually been asked to develop a web hosting security policy and a set of guidelines to give to project managers for dissemination to developers and hosting providers. So, I thought I would share some of my advice here. Before I do, though, I have to answer why we need this policy in the first place? There are many types of attack on websites, but these can be broadly categorised as follows: Denial of Service (DoS), Defacement and Data Breaches/Information Stealing. Data breaches and defacements hurt businesses' reputations and customer confidence as well as having direct financial impacts. But surely any hosting provider or solution developer will have these standards in place, yes? Well, in my experience the answer is no. It is true that they are mostly common sense and most providers will conform