Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Glitch lets you mess with the phone book

I just received a pointer to a story in the Vancouver Sun about an interesting glitch that appears to allow anyone to alter any directory listing on the SuperPages online phone directory. The site is available from myTelus.com. Not a good thing. I expect that Telus has had enough of dealing with the Privacy Commissioner as of late.

I just went to www.mytelus.com and it looked like I could change the info of my west coast relatives. Not that I would ...

The story is available on the Vancouver Sun website, but they expire their content quickly.

SuperPages glitch lets anyone alter your listing

"Fancy an address in Shaughnessy? Or do you dream about moving your boss to Timbuktu?

A security glitch in SuperPages' online listings allows anyone to change the telephone number, address and other personal information of any listing and the edited version will show up in the SuperPages and myTelus.com listings for subscribers across Canada.

A similar loophole in www.SuperPages.com allows users to do the same for U.S. listings, although unlike SuperPages.ca, the U.S. site doesn't permit telephone-number changes.

Jonas Abersbach, who runs his own tech-support company, SupportLINK Systems, discovered the glitch when he went online to change his company's SuperPages listing.

SuperPages is the Telus directory that handles both the online and print white pages and classified directory.

Making the change requires some deception. Abersbach found that, by using a free e-mail account and a password of his own invention, he could not only change his own information, he could change others' as well.

"If you do it properly you can use the same computer to update many listings," said Abersbach, who started his company at the age of 17 and ran it part time while he completed a computer-science degree at the University of B.C. "Thousands of records could be corrupted. What's maybe more of a problem, for example, is the address of the police chief could be changed or added, or his name could be slandered, or he could be given a middle name -- and the same for government figures, political figures or famous people.

"Their privacy is infringed upon. Everybody's privacy is infringed upon."

Abersbach said he took his concerns to SuperPages because he was worried any savvy hacker could create a program to wreak havoc with the online database. He said someone with knowledge could write a program in a couple of days that could override the SuperPages condition allowing only two updates per e-mail address.

"You could write a program to register an e-mail address online and use a different e-mail address after every two updates," he said.

Abersbach said after two weeks it appeared SuperPages had updated one of its servers to prevent the unauthorized editing, but anyone clicking on the site could be directed to a server that still had the glitch.

I tested SuperPage's security, first giving our business editor an address on Dante's Ave. in Hades and then moving him to: 1234 Vancouver Sun St., Pouce Coupe, B.C., H0H0H0, with the phone number 604-123-4567...."

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