CNBC Asks Readers To Submit Their Password To Check Its Strength Into Exploitable Widget

from the p@ssw0rd dept

People's passwords and their relative strength and weakness is a subject I know quite well. As part of my business, we regularly battle users who think very simple passwords, often times relating to their birthdays and whatnot, are sufficient. Sometimes they simply make "password" or a similiar variant their go-to option. So, when CNBC put together a widget for readers to input the passwords they use to get feedback on their strength or weakness, I completely understand what they were attempting to accomplish. Password security is a real issue, after all -- which is what makes it all the more face-palming that the widget CNBC used was found to be exploitable.

A columnist for CNBC’s The Big Crunch tried to make a misguided point about the FBI’s iPhone situation with an interactive tool that asked readers to input their password to see how secure they were. The post is now down, but if you did comply with the CNBC request, it might be a good idea to change your password. A few people on Twitter claimed the widget is an insecure form that actually submits the characters you enter into the text field to third parties.

Since it’s a form field, it reloads the page when you hit “enter,” changing the url and, in effect, saving the password you just typed in.

“In theory, if there’s someone sniffing traffic on your network, they could see these urls being requested in plain text, and then try sniffing on other traffic coming from you that might indicate some account information,” [Gawker Media's Adam] Pash told me. This could be as easy as finding out your email address. And it wouldn’t be hard for these ad trackers to collect a bunch of people’s passwords in their logs.

So while CNBC’s cool tool is not necessarily malicious, it’s more just sloppy. “I’m not sure it’s a serious threat,” says Pash. “But it’s definitely dumb.”
Dumb in general, yes, but all the more dumb specifically as the widget was created to educate readers on password security, while it simultaneously opened up a security threat vector upon those same readers. This is the kind of thing that is almost too hysterical to be true. The very concept of attempting to educate the public about password security by developing an online widget and asking them to input their passwords is hilariously self-contradicting. Whatever the list of password do's and don'ts are, that list must certainly include something about not simply typing your passwords into online search fields for fun. Add to this that CNBC didn't use HTTPS, and it's starting to get difficult to see what its widget did right on matters of security.

And, if the social media accusations are true and CNBC was indeed sharing data with third parties, including the passwords that users were inputting into the widget, then this goes from laugh-inducing to dumpster fire fairly quickly. And, keep in mind that all of this was done supposedly to educate readers about password security. For CNBC to then start sharing those passwords with third parties? That kind of thing earns you an IT death sentence.

CNBC apparently realized its mistake and took the widget down, but not before teaching its readers a valuable security lesson, albeit not the one it had intended to teach: Don't put your passwords into an online widget, no matter who put it up. That's just dumb.


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  1. identicon
    Lurker Keith, 31 Mar 2016 @ 3:35pm

    substitution

    On the rare (& I mean rare) occasions I even bother w/ a Password Strength Checker, I never input my actual passwords. Doing that is beyond stupid. No, I formulate a substitute that should be roughly the same strength (similar length, similar character groupings (though, almost never any that could be used as a future password), but different characters).

    I also avoid using the same password for multiple accounts.

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