Dyman Associates Risk Management: eBay In Security Storm With Dangerous Flaw Wide Open

Auction site eBay has found itself in the midst of another security storm after apparently choosing to leave a security hole wide open – in the interests of user functionality – as customer details were being stolen.

It is the latest in a trio of serious cybersecurity problems at the company this year, following a database breach in May, and the theft of details from its StubHub ticket site customers two months later.

eBay allows highly visual JavaScript and Flash content to be included in its listings, which is a somewhat unsurprising step – however, the company reportedly knew for months that a number of hackers were manipulating this code for malicious content, and left the ability to add the code largely as it is, in the interests of offering sellers attractive auction listings.

Cyber criminals have been using the technology to introduce cross-site scripting (XSS) – in which customers are led to a fake, eBay-mimicking site to enter their payment details. At least 100 exploited listings have been identified by the BBC, which reports that the problems continue even though eBay may have been aware of them since February.

‘Not An Okay Situation’

Security experts have lambasted eBay’s handling of the problems. Chris Oakley, principal security consultant at testing firm Nettitude, says he would expect “all organizations, particularly those with vast quantities of customer data to protect” to have the required, standard cross site scripting defenses in place.

“This hat-trick of security incidents will surely do the company no favors in terms of restoring and maintaining consumer confidence,” adds Paul Ayers, European VP at data security vendor Vormetric, and Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer at security firm F-Secure, describes the situation as “not okay”. Independent expert Graham Cluley told The Drum website that eBay was not in “proper control” of the situation, which he described as “embarrassing”.

Solving The XSS Problem

Experts have proposed a number of solutions for eBay, including simply removing the harmful code or listings, or providing its own Javascript editor in which sellers’ code can be more easily managed and controlled.

Dr Adrian Davis, EMEA managing director at security organization (ISC)2, tellsForbes that XSS is a well known threat, adding that “we can’t afford to tolerate relatively simple security issues like this, especially for a company as massive as eBay”.

Sites with the issue “need to update their current code to remove the vulnerability”, he says. “Functionality for the user would not be impaired, providing the code running in the browser and application is written properly.”

He warns that developers need to be much better trained to write secure code and not focus solely on usability, with “fully qualified and certified individuals, such as those holding (ISC)2’s CISSP or CSSLP” qualifications being involved “throughout the entire process”.

“This is an issue that must rise above the purely technical considerations and go onto the agendas of management and business leaders that are driving the development projects. Only then would we see investment in curbing incidents like these.”

Act Much More Quickly

Randy Gross, chief information officer at industry association CompTIA, says that it is “always difficult” for organizations to strike the right balance between security and convenience. But he adds: “With financial transactions, especially given recent high profile attacks, the pendulum needs to swing hard back toward security and give consumers the confidence their information is secure.”

Fayaz Khaki, an associate director of information security at IDC, adds in aForbes email interview that it is always difficult for large and complex sites, such as eBay, to be completely XSS free. “However, once an XSS vulnerability has been identified the organization must act quickly to remove the vulnerability”, even if it means removing a listing.

Active content such as Javascript, he says, should only be used where completely necessary, and regular monitoring and vulnerability assessments ought to be carried out to minimize risk.

“XSS vulnerabilities have existed for a number of years and really companies such as eBay, that came into existence solely as an internet organization, should be on top of these types of vulnerabilities and should have the capability to identify and mitigate these vulnerabilities very quickly.”

eBay said in a statement that cross site scripting risks exist across the internet, and that it has “hundreds” of engineers and security experts who collaborate with researchers to make its own site both usable and safe.

It added: “We have no current plans to remove active content from eBay. However, we will continue to review all site features and content in the context of the benefit they bring our customers, as well as overall site security.”

Criminals behind cross site scripting and phishing activity adapt their code and tactics “to try to stay ahead of the most sophisticated security systems”, it said. “Cross site scripting is not allowed on eBay and we have a range of security features designed to detect and then remove listings containing malicious code.”

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