LinkedIn takes security "very seriously"? Bollocks!

Describing recently-introduced password security basics as "enhanced security" is nothing but a PR spin.

"We take the security of our members very seriously," said LinkedIn director Vicente Silveira in the company's vague but official blog post about the company's massive data breach. He's such a fibber.

I logged into LinkedIn earlier to change my password, just in case—as you should too. As soon as the initial login exchange was complete, the encrypted Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) connection disappeared. From then on, all my interactions with LinkedIn, including reading and posting my private LinkedIn email, took place in the clear. Unencrypted. They could be read by anyone in between me and LinkedIn's servers.

How does unencrypted private communication fulfil the claim of taking the security of members "very seriously"?

Apparently LinkedIn users "benefit" from the "enhanced security" that was "recently put in place" including "hashing and salting of our current password databases," Silveira said.

Right. Where do we start?

Hashing and salting password databases isn't "enhanced security". It's Passwords 101. It's the bare minimum. Describing the basics as "enhanced security" is clearly nothing more than PR spin, designed to reassure the ignorant by spouting a few buzzwords.

How does misleading your users about the nature and effectiveness of your security measures fulfil the claim of taking the security of members "very seriously"?

These basics were only implemented "recently".

How does failing to implement the basics of password protection for nine years — LinkedIn was founded in May 2003 — fulfil the claim of taking the security of members "very seriously"?

LinkedIn users' passwords were reportedly hashed using the SHA-1 algorithm. SHA-1 was broken in 2005.

While those near-brute-force attacks against SHA-1 may be computationally intensive and unlikely to be used in practice by anyone except the three- and four-letter security agencies, there are such things as rainbow tables—databases of pre-computed hash values that allow an attacker to look up a password hash and discover the original password in moments.

Rainbow tables exist for all the common hash functions, including MD5 and SHA-2, for ever-increasing password lengths.

For that reason, some security researchers think that password authentication is fundamentally broken, including Evgeny (Eugene) Aseev, head of Kaspersky Lab's China Anti-Virus Lab. Two-factor authentication is the way to go, he reckons.

The jury is still out on whether password-only authentication has had its day. Nevertheless, how does using an authentication method that's on its last legs fulfil the claim of taking the security of members "very seriously"?

LinkedIn says that it will email all users affected by the data breach, "providing a bit more context on this situation and why they are being asked to change their passwords". But why isn't that information being sent to all LinkedIn users?

If LinkedIn truly took my security "very seriously", then I'd be sent the explanatory email whether my password was known to be compromised or not—so I could make my own risk assessment.

Social media sites "had better get their act together", said James Turner, a security analyst with IBRS. He's right.

While LinkedIn now seems to be doing the right thing by notifying the victims and implementing improvements, they should never have gotten in this mess to begin with. PR spin after the fact simply isn't good enough.

Contact Stilgherrian at Stil@stilgherrian.com or follow him on Twitter at @stilgherrian

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