Google has fixed a security hole in Google Base that would have exposed sensitive information stored by users of Google’s services. The cross site scripting vulnerabilities discovered by British Computer Scientist Jim Ley would allow an attacker to steal cookies and other information from users, while providing fraudsters with the facility to publish their own forms and receive input using an apparently reassuring Google Base URL.
Google Base will spearhead the search giant’s entry into classified advertising and payment processing, where it will compete with established offerings from eBay and CraigsList. If it succeeds, Google Base will likely accelerate a trend which has seen a growing percentage of advertising dollars shift to the web and away from television, magazines and especially newspapers, which rely heavily on classified ads for revenue. Strong application security is important to gain user confidence in the service, as Google Base is eventually expected to integrate a micropayment system (presumably Google Payments).
Google’s move towards a single Google Account for multiple services exacerbates the problem, as the same account used by the Google Base site can also be used to access financially sensitive services such as AdWords and AdSense, and Google’s GMail webmail service.
Ley, who also recently found a similar security vulnerability in Yahoo Maps, says that there is a pervasive problem with companies releasing new applications on to the Web with easy-to-find vulnerabilities still present. Too little thought is given to the consequences of such action, which in the case of an identity or data theft scenario on a very widely used service could be severe for a correspondingly large number of people.
The nature of the problems discovered by Ley provides fraudsters with the tools to create phishing sites with a good level of plausibility because the base URL would be that of a well-known brand – in this case Google or Yahoo. This is the same in principle to that scenario whereby fraudsters try to find open redirects or cross site scripting vulnerabilities on bank sites to improve the authenticity of their frauds. The importance of testing to remove application vulnerabilities is proportional to the level of trust the public places in the service and the impact of this trust being broken.
Netcraft provides a range of services for companies to eliminate these kinds of errors from their systems, including comprehensive application testing, training for developers and designers of web based applications, and an service aimed specifically at detecting and reporting Open Redirects.