Aussie "family" social network fails security basics

"Fail, fail, bag of fail!", Family HQ ain't ready for families yet

"Browse everyone's photos? Noice!" View anyone's private information in Family HQ by changing the ID. (Screenshot by Brendan Gordon)

"Browse everyone's photos? Noice!" View anyone's private information in Family HQ by changing the ID. (Screenshot by Brendan Gordon)

A new Australian private social network designed to keep families "safe and connected online" has failed secure web programming 101.

Family HQ was created by Gold Coast husband and wife team Jase and Brooke Farmer, and claims user privacy as its "number one priority".

"Users can be assured of a cyber-safe environment when joining Family HQ due to the processes involved with creating groups and sending invites," Family HQ said in a media release yesterday.

"By basing the creation of groups on a system that does not allow consumers to search for existing members, users are able to control who has access to their personal profile and therefore retain control over their private information."

But within minutes of creating his Family HQ account, web developer Brendan Gordon uncovered a security flaw. He could view another family's private information simply by changing the user ID or media ID in the URL.

"I didn't really try and look for anything," Gordon told CSO Online. "Out of curiosity I tried changing the numbers... Oh, that's not very secure."

Gordon says Family HQ has failed web security basics. Freelance application architect Benno Rice agrees.

"Fail, fail, bag of fail! It's like building Fort Knox and forgetting to put a lock on the front door," Rice told CSO Online.

"It's even worse than that. It's like building a copy of Fort Knox after people have built a dozen of them in the past, and forgetting to put a lock on the front door, even though all the other guys have learned the hard way that you need to do that," he said.

"Why didn't you test that, you pillocks? If you're making privacy one of your things, hire a bloody pentester," Rice said, referring to the penetration testers who independently evaluate the security of computer systems.

Family HQ says the problem has now been fixed.

"This afternoon Family HQ was made aware of a potential security issue with the site. We take such reports very seriously and urgently investigated the issue with our technical team," the company said in a statement.

"The technical team identified a potential security vulnerability that has now been fixed so that customers are assured that their data and images remain private. We regret any concern this may have raised with our customers and urge them to call our helpline if they have any further questions or issues."

Following their four-week beta trial, Family HQ claims 4616 members in 25 countries. The company plans to expand in New Zealand, the UK and Ireland in the next six to nine months, aiming to amass 500,000 members by the end of 2012.

Contact Stilgherrian at or follow him on Twitter at @stilgherrian

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