Your Passwords Were Stolen: What's Your Plan?


If you have been glancing at many news stories this year, you have certainly seen the large number of data breaches that have occurred. Even just today, we are seeing reports that Drupal.org suffered from a breach (https://drupal.org/news/130529SecurityUpdate) that shows unauthorized access to hashed passwords, usernames, and email addresses. Note that this is not a vulnerability in the CMS product, but the actual website for Drupal.org. Unfortunately, Drupal is just the latest to report this issue.

In addition to Drupal, LivingSocial also suffered a huge breach involving passwords. LinkedIn, Evernote, Yahoo, and Name.com have also joined this elite club. In each of these cases, we have seen many different formats for storing the passwords. Some are using plain tex (ouch), others are actually doing what has been recommended and using a
salted hash. Even with a salted hash, there are still some issues. One, hashes are fast and some hashes are not as strong as others. Bad choices can lead to an immediate failure in implementation and protection.

Going into what format you should store your passwords in will be saved for another post, and has been discusses heavily on the internet. It is really outside the scope of this post, because in this discussion, it is already too late for that. Here, I want to ask the simple question of, “You have been breached, What do you do?”

Ok, Maybe it is not a simple question, or maybe it is. Most of the sites that have seen these breaches are fairly quick to force password resets by all of their users. The idea behind this is that the credentials were stolen, but only the actual user should be able to perform a password reset. The user performs the reset, they have new credentials, and the information that the bad guy got (and everyone else that downloads the stolen credentials) are no good. Or maybe not?? Wait.. you re-use passwords across multiple sites? Well, that makes it more interesting. I guess you now need to reset a bunch of passwords.

Reseting passwords appears to be the standard. I haven’t seen anyone attempt to do anything else, if you have please share. But what else would work? You can’t just change the algorithm to make it stronger.. the bad guy has the password. Changing the algorithm doesn’t change that fact and they just log in using a stronger algorithm. I guess that won’t work. Might be nice to have a mechanism to upgrade everyone to a stronger algorithm as time goes on though. So if resetting passwords in mass appears to work and is the standard, do you have a way to do it? if you got breached today, what would you need to do to reset everyone’s password, or at least force a password reset on all users? There are a few options, and of course it depends on how you actually manage user passwords.

If you have a password expiration field in the DB, you could just set all passwords to have expired yesterday. Now everyone will be presented with an expired password prompt. The problem with this solution is if an expired password just requires the old password to set the new password. It is possible the bad guy does this before the actual user. Oops.

You could just null out or put in a 0 or some false value into all of the password fields. This only works for encrypted or hashed passwords.. not clear text. This could be done with a simple SQL Update statement, just drop that needless WHERE clause ;). When a user logs in, they will be unsuccessful because the encrypted password they submit will never match the value you placed in the updated field. This forces them to use the forgot password field.

You could also run a separate application that resets everyone password like the previous method, it just doesn’t run a DB Update directly on the server. Maybe you are a control freak as to what gets run against the servers and control that access.

As you can see, there are many ways to do this, but have you really given it any thought? Have you written out your plan that in the event your site gets breached like these other sites, you will be able to react intelligently and swiftly? Often times when we think of incidence response, we think of stopping the attack, but we also have to think about how we would protect our users from future attacks quickly.

These ideas are just a few examples of how you can go about this to help provoke you and your team to think about how you would do this in your situation. Every application is different and this scenario should be in your IR plan. If you have other ways to handle this, please share with everyone.

James Jardine is a Principal Consultant at Secure Ideas. If you are in need of a penetration test or other security consulting services you can contact him at james@secureideas.com or visit the Secure Ideas – Professionally Evil site for services provided.

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