Charter Spectrum Security Flaw Exposes Private Data Of Millions Of Subscribers
from the Another-day,-another-scandal dept
Last year you’ll recall that the cable and broadband industry lobbied the government to kill off broadband privacy rules at the FCC. The rules were fairly basic, requiring that ISPs and cable operators clearly disclose what data is being collected and sold, but also provide working opt out tools for users who didn’t want to participate. The rules also contained restrictions requiring that consumers opt in to more sensitive data collection (financial), as well as some requirements that ISPs and cable ops adhere to standard security procedures, and quickly inform consumers when their private data was exposed by a hacker.
In recent months, the cable industry has been showcasing how it’s simply not very good at keeping its websites secure. Comcast, for example, has seen three privacy breaches in almost as many months, with security researcher Ryan Stevenson discovering numerous, previously-unreported vulnerabilities that potentially exposed the the partial home addresses and Social Security numbers of more than 26.5 million Comcast customers.
Not to be outdone, now Buzzfeed has found that a vulnerability on the Charter Communications (Spectrum) website made it possible for just about anyone to take over customers? accounts without a password. According to the report, this flaw was again discovered by Stevenson (who goes by the monicker Phobia), and involved tricking a Spectrum website that let subscribers create a Time Warner Cable (the company Charter just acquired) ID.
If a targeted customer hadn’t yet registered for such an ID, a website flaw let a hacker trick the website into creating one by replacing their own IP address with the customer?s using the ?X-forwarded-for? technique, a relatively trivial affair:
“The registration website tried to verify subscribers? identities by asking for their zip codes and phone numbers. But according to the security researcher Phobia, the zip code didn?t need to be correct to proceed to the next page. Only the phone number associated with the account needed to be accurate. Additionally, Ceraolo found that hackers could use a brute-force software program in the phone number field (in other words, repeatedly try different 10-digit combinations), because the Spectrum website did not limit the number of attempts. That means it would be relatively easy for a hacker to take over someone?s account even without an accurate phone number.”
Once the bogus ID was created, the hacker subsequently had access to oodles of private user account data, including billing address, email, and account number. That data could, in turn, be used as the cornerstone of social engineering and phishing efforts to glean even more customer information. Not all of Charter’s total 23 million customers are impacted; only a smaller subset of the company’s 14 million “legacy,” pre-merger Time Warner Cable subscribers were impacted. The company also claims that it has no evidence to suggest that these flaws were actually exploited.
But we’re still likely talking about millions of potential subscribers, and Charter won’t specify just how many users may have had their private data exposed. And if Stevenson’s recent track record is any indication, there’s plenty more flaws likely waiting in the wings to be discovered.