Oh, Look: Yet Another Security Flaw In Government Websites

from the WE'RE-HERE-TO-HELP-[malware-ensures] dept

As if you needed another reason not to trust the government… or its public-facing websites. Brian Krebs is reporting that several government websites are leaving themselves open for exploitation by malicious internetizens.

Spam purveyors are taking advantage of so-called “open redirects” on several U.S. state Web sites to hide the true destination to which users will be taken if they click the link. Open redirects are potentially dangerous because they let spammers abuse the reputation of the site hosting the redirect to get users to visit malicious or spammy sites without realizing it.

For example, South Dakota has an open redirect:


…which spammers are abusing to insert the name of their site at the end of the script. Here’s a link that uses this redirect to route you through dss.sd.gov and then on to krebsonsecurity.com. But this same redirect could just as easily be altered to divert anyone clicking the link to a booby-trapped Web site that tries to foist malware.

So, instead of seeing information on government assistance eligibility, citizens are instead seeing things like:

Or worse. The open direct could lead to spyware and malware, rather than just advertising masquerading as content or bottom-feeder clickbait. Fortunately, you can keep an eye on what URLs are being reached using these open redirects via this link. Unfortunately, it may be only citizens keeping an eye on that page, and they’re in no position to prevent further abuse.

The redirect listed in Krebs’ post is still being exploited. Here are just a couple of the dozen or so I saw during 30 minutes of observation.

Even more unfortunately, these holes have been left open for years.

A minute or so of research online shows that exact issue was highlighted almost four years ago by researchers at Symantec. In October 2012, Symantec said it found that about 15 percent of all 1.usa.gov URLS were used to promote spammy messages. I’d be curious to know the current ratio, but I doubt it has changed much.

The government wants so much info but can’t be bothered to protect it. Between falling prey to 16-year-old hackers, running private email servers that house classified information, encouraging citizens to rat out drug dealers using unsecured, interceptable web forms and identity fraud protection services being run by identity fraudsters, is it any wonder the government’s requests for “information sharing” are being greeted with spit takes and cries of “SERIOUSLY?”

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Comments on “Oh, Look: Yet Another Security Flaw In Government Websites”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

They can’t be bothered with the little things, they have to worry about this giant scary cyberwar they keep talking about.
This help reinforce the idea they don’t have any grasp of the topic & are making demands they don’t understand.

They can’t sure their own sites, yet we trust them to investigate breaches?
They can’t put even put minimal effort into securing their own sites, yet give us directions.
How much money are they paying the ‘experts’ to secure our systems?
How much money is being wasted in cleaning up these ‘booboos’ they allow to happen when stopping them from happening would have cost less and taken little time?

How much more time will be wasted on hand-wringing, studies, & investigations where nothing is actually fixed?

Whatever (profile) says:

Unrestricted redirection scripts are actually pretty common things, all considered. It’s a bit old school, but not unusual considering the age of many of the government sites, which aren’t updated as fast as say a blog that posts 10-20 items per day.

Trotting out stats from 2012 to make a point is pretty good journalism. Deep, hard research there!

Generally, open redirects exist on older sites, and as sites get updated, they go away. Already the SD example does not appear to work anymore.

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