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May 16

How the Pwnedlist Got Pwned

Last week, I learned about a vulnerability that exposed all 866 million account credentials harvested by, a service designed to help companies track public password breaches that may create security problems for their users. The vulnerability has since been fixed, but this simple security flaw may have inadvertently exacerbated countless breaches by preserving the data lost in them and then providing free access to one of the Internet’s largest collections of compromised credentials.

PwndlistPwnedlist is run by Scottsdale, Ariz. based InfoArmor, and is marketed as a repository of usernames and passwords that have been publicly leaked online for any period of time at Pastebin, online chat channels and other free data dump sites.

The service until quite recently was free to all comers, but it makes money by allowing companies to get a live feed of usernames and passwords exposed in third-party breaches which might create security problems going forward for the subscriber organization and its employees.

This 2014 article from the Phoenix Business Journal describes one way InfoArmor markets the Pwnedlist to companies: “InfoArmor’s new Vendor Security Monitoring tool allows businesses to do due diligence and monitor its third-party vendors through real-time safety reports.”

The trouble is, the way Pwnedlist should work is very different from how it does. This became evident after I was contacted by Bob Hodges, a longtime reader and security researcher in Detroit who discovered something peculiar while he was using Pwnedlist: Hodges wanted to add to his watchlist the .edu and .com domains for which he is the administrator, but that feature wasn’t available.

In the first sign that something wasn’t quite right authentication-wise at Pwnedlist, the system didn’t even allow him to validate that he had control of an email address or domain by sending him a verification to said email or domain.

On the other hand, he found he could monitor any email address he wanted. Hodges said this gave him an idea about how to add his domains: Turns out that when any Pwnedlist user requests that a new Web site name be added to his “Watchlist,” the process for approving that request was fundamentally flawed.

That’s because the process of adding a new thing for Pwnedlist to look for — be it a domain, email address, or password hash — was a two-step procedure involving a submit button and confirmation page, and the confirmation page didn’t bother to check whether the thing being added in the first step was the same as the thing approved in the confirmation page. [For the Geek Factor 5 crowd here, this vulnerability type is known as “parameter tampering,” and it involves  the ability to modify hidden parameters in POST requests].

“Their system is supposed to compare the data that gets submitted in the second step with what you initially submitted in the first window, but there’s nothing to prevent you from changing that,” Hodges said. “They’re not even checking normal email addresses. For example, when you add an email to your watchlist, that email [account] doesn’t get a message saying they’ve been added. After you add an email you don’t own or control, it gives you the verified check box, but in reality it does no verification. You just typed it in. It’s almost like at some point they just disabled any verification systems they may have had at Pwnedlist.” Continue reading →

Nov 11

Are You on the Pwnedlist?

2011 has been called the year of the data breach, with hacker groups publishing huge troves of stolen data online almost daily. Now a new site called lets users check to see if their email address or username and associated information may have been compromised. is the creation of Alen Puzic and Jasiel Spelman, two security researchers from DVLabs, a division of HP/TippingPoint. Enter a username or email address into the site’s search box, and it will check to see if the information was found in any of these recent public data dumps.

Puzic said the project stemmed from an effort to harvest mounds of data being leaked or deposited daily to sites like Pastebin and torrent trackers.

“I was trying to harvest as much data as I could, to see how many passwords I could possibly find, and it just happened to be that within two hours, I found about 30,000 usernames and passwords,” Puzic said. “That kind of got me thinking that I could do this every day, and if I could find over one million then maybe I could create a site that would help the everyday user find if they were compromised.” currently allows users to search through nearly five million emails and usernames that have been dumped online. The site also frequently receives large caches of account data that people directly submit to its database. Puzic said it is growing at a rate of about 40,000 new compromised accounts each week.

Puzic said information contained in these data donations often make it simple to learn which organization lost the information.

“Usually, somewhere in the dump files there’s a readme.txt file or there’s some type of header made by hacker who caused the breach, and there’s an advertisement about who did the hack and which company was compromised,” Puzic said. “Other times it’s really obvious because all of the emails come from the same domain.”

Puzic said doesn’t store the username, email address and password data itself; instead, it records a cryptographic hash of the information and then discards the plaintext data. As a result, a “hit” on any searched email or username only produces a binary “yes” or “no” answer about whether any hashes matching that data were found. It won’t return the associated password, nor does it offer any clues about from where the data was leaked.

Continue reading →