OAuth weakness threatens users of social media sites

Depending on their OAuth implementation, social media sites, such as Google, LinkedIn and Yahoo, could share users' personal information with malicious third-party websites, experts say.

OAuth is an open framework used by social networks to authorize third-party sites seeking profile information from network users who provided permission for the data sharing. Security problems arise when the social network implements OAuth in a way that it cannot determine for certain the third-party site is who it says it is.

Jing Wang, a PhD student in mathematics from Nanyang Technological University in China, described the problem, called a "covert redirect, in a research paper.

Which, if any, major Internet sites are affected is not clear, since it would depend on their OAuth implementation. Wang claimed Facebook is vulnerable, but the site declined to fix the problem immediately.

"Short of forcing every single application on the platform to use a whitelist, (the problem) isn't something that can be accomplished in the short term," Facebook said, according to Wang.

Facebook was not immediately available for comment.

OAuth 2.0, the latest version of the framework, does not require a website to restrict information sharing to only those sites with a uniform resource identifier (URI) on the OAuth whitelist. Sites that choose to skip this requirement, which is allowed in the framework, accept the risk of providing user information to bogus sites.

Despite the option of using the URI whitelist, some experts believe it is still a flaw that the framework does not require it.

"The framework should be written such that there is no option to not specify the redirect URI," Kevin O'Brien, director of product marketing at cloud security vendor CloudLock, said.

To take advantage of OAuth, an attacker would first have to lure a person to a location disguised as a trusted site, experts say. This is typically done through a phishing email with a link to the malicious site.

In logging into the bogus site, visitors would get a drop-down box asking if they want to log in using, for example, their Facebook credentials.

Because of the way OAuth works, the phisher would not get visitors user names and passwords, but they would get whatever personal information they permit Facebook to share, such as name, birth date, email addresses and contact lists.

Attackers could potentially get more information, if they then redirected visitors to another location disguised as a trusted site asking for more information. In redirecting victims, attackers could hide the URL of the bogus site and show the URL of the legitimate site instead.

The threat to companies is not new in that it starts as a typical phishing attack, Brandon Edwards, vice president of labs, at cloud security vendor SilverSky, said.

"The threat seems to be limited to social networking and the impact (to the permissions) that would normally be granted by these apps," Edwards said.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags identity managementLinkedInsocial engineering attacksocial networking securitymalwarecybercrimeFacebookYahooGoogleNanyang Technological Universitysecuritysocial networking threatslegalAccess control and authentication

More about FacebookGoogleNanyangWangYahoo

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