Don’t Trust Social Media: Film at 11

Security researcher finds random application can access his Twitter “direct messages” (private messages) even though he never authorized this. It turns out any time you used a “sign in with Twitter” page, the application could escalate privileges enough to get access to these messages if you weren’t already logged in to Twitter.

Twitter fixed the problem silently, so millions of peoples’ messages are probably exposed to random websites. You mean you seriously thought your private Tweets were private?

On a more abstract note, a wonderful example of “don’t trust things you don’t understand.” Cloud apps like this count as things you can’t ever really understand.

” I found that the application obtained access to my private direct messages when I signed in with Twitter for a second or third time. The first time I signed in with Twitter on the application, it only received read and write access permissions. This gave the application access to what Twitter displays on its “Sign in with Twitter” web page (see image 1). Later, however, when I signed in again with Twitter without being already logged in to Twitter (not having an active Twitter session – you have to enter your Twitter username and password), the application obtained access to my private direct messages. It did so without having authorization, and Twitter did not display any messages about this. It was a simple bypass trick for third-party applications to obtain access to a user’s Twitter direct messages.[…]

I tried to quickly determine the root cause, although I had little time. However, I could not determine this. I therefore decided to report the vulnerability to Twitter and let them do a deeper investigation. The Twitter security team quickly answered and took care of the issue, fixing it within 24 hours. This was impressive. Their team was very fast and responsive. They said the issue occurred due to complex code and incorrect assumptions and validations.

While I think the Twitter security team is great, I do not think the same of the Twitter vulnerability disclosure policy. The vulnerability was fixed on January 17, 2013, but Twitter has not issued any alerts/advisories notifying users.

There should be millions of Twitter users (remember Twitter has 200 million active users) that have signed in with Twitter into third-party applications. Some of these applications might have gained access to and might still have access to Twitter users private direct messages (after the security fix the application I tested still had access to direct messages until I revoked it). “

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