re: What are the worst security practices you've ever witnessed? VIEW POST


Last April, a local 19 year old was browsing the provincial government's freedom-of-information portal which is the public-facing website for completed FOIPOP (Freedom of Information & Protection of Privacy) requests.

Essentially, anyone can request reasonable information from the government by filling out a form and paying a modest fee; wait a couple weeks, and you'll be given access to said information. It could be one page or several hundred. It could be fully intact or heavily redacted. Completed FOIPOP requests then get posted to a web portal for public interest.

So... While browsing the portal, this 19 year old notices that file IDs are contained within individual page URLs, and they are sequential integers. Instead of clicking through each page of the portal by hand, he writes a script and scrapes 7000 pages from the website--exploiting the sequential numeric IDs.

Exploiting a public website...? Yes, his blitz of activity was noticed by portal administrative staff, the police were called, and he was charged for hacking government infrastructure! (Officially, the criminal code charge was "unauthorized use of a computer".)

Arguably, he should not have slammed the server with 7000 requests in one fell swoop--could be interpreted as a denial-of-service attack. To call his actions "hacking" though is a stretch too far.

Why did government bureaucrats want to see him brought up on charges? Well, it seems that the administrative unit responsible for processing FOIPOP requests and posting them to the portal didn't completely redact sensitive details from files in a portion of its (public!) database. Therefore, in a classic government bungle, the person who stumbled upon this oversight was deemed to be nefarious, meanwhile the government department did what it could to cover up its own failed responsibility in the aftermath.

Charges against the 19 year old "hacker" were eventually dropped and the government freedom-of-information portal was taken offline for an overhaul and security hardening.

Teen charged after personal information exposed in Nova Scotia government website breach (via CBC News, Apr 11/18)

You're a govt official. You accidentally slap personal info on the web. Quick, blame a kid! (via The Register: Security, Apr 18/18)

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