Instagram plugs flaw but seen as 'serious oversight'

Facebook-owned Instagram, a site that makes it easy to share photos via smartphones, has plugged a vulnerability that a security expert claimed could allow hackers to view users' private photos.

Instagram, which Facebook bought for $1 billion in April, said in a post on its help center that the flaw, dubbed the "Friendship Vulnerability," was fixed within a couple of hours the site was notified of the problem. Instagram did not say when it was notified.

The company did not find any evidence that the vulnerability had been exploited, other than by the researcher. Instagram was vague in how the flaw could have been used, saying only that in "very specific circumstances a following relationship could be created incorrectly."

"Never in the course of the bug existing was users' data at risk -- and at no point were private photos made public," the company said in the post.

Spanish security researcher Sebastian Guerreo discovered the vulnerability this week and posted the discovery on his blog on Wednesday, after notifying Instagram, according to Stephen Cobb, a security evangelist at ESET who communicated with Guerreo by email.

By using a brute force attack, Guerreo was able to bypass Instagram's friend request mechanism, making it possible to use only a username to view someone's private photos.

"If I knew your username on Instagram, then I would be able to look at your pictures without you having to approve my request to do so," Cobb said on Thursday. "You can abuse the permission request process."

A brute-force attack is when a hacker uses software to systematically check all possible combinations of numbers, letters and symbols to discover the key to decrypt encrypted data.

Despite Instagram's claims that no accounts were compromised, the flaw indicated a "serious oversight" in the way the request mechanism was programmed, Cobb said. "It raises question about the process by which Instagram rolls out its code."

Instagram has more than 50 million users of its Android and Apple iOS apps that enable people to add retro or vintage-style filters to photos and then use their smartphones and tablets to share the pictures across multiple social networks.

Read more about social networking security in CSOonline's Social Networking Security section.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Antone Gonsalves

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place