Autarchy of the Private Cave

Tiny bits of bioinformatics, [web-]programming etc

    Megahack of Stratfor

    9th January 2012

    If you haven’t heard yet – stratfor.com was hacked in December 2011, leaking full information about 75k credit cards (including owner’s addresses and CVV codes) and 860k (right, almost a million) user accounts. All Stratfor email archives were also reportedly stolen (around 160-200 GB of data), but those were not made publicly available on the internet – unlike the credit cards and user accounts information, which is still relatively easy to find and download.

    I do not really recollect anything that large. Well, not counting dropbox’s 4-hour window of “any password fits all accounts”, but that was different.

    Here are some of the news items about this seriously large hacking incident:

    Here come more technical reports:

    TheTechGerald’s analysis linked to above got my attention. Unfortunately, a while ago I’ve subscribed to stratfor’s “free intelligence mailing list”, and was wondering if my account information is now publicly available. I was the most worried about the password I’ve used to subscribe, because of the risk of using the same password somewhere else.

    Unlike TheTechGerald, I haven’t used any dictionaries – just the default configuration of a well-known tool for finding weak passwords. Within a single hour, ~100k passwords were decrypted (~12% of all). Till the end of the day, ~50k more passwords were decrypted (totalling 17.4% of 860k). At this point my password was still safe, and I’ve found a way to verify that it is not used anywhere else, so I’ve aborted further decryption.

    There are a few simple conclusions:

    • anybody who had a stratfor account must verify that he/she isn’t using that password anywhere else, because if 1 PC can get 17% of all the passwords in less than a day, it is only a matter of short time until all the leaked passwords will be decrypted and made publicly available in various “md5 decryption databases”
    • system owners should run periodic screenings for weak passwords (and implement policies to prevent creating obviously weak passwords from the very beginning)
    • md5 is very fast to decrypt/bruteforce – a much slower hashing function wouldn’t hurt; also, using a more complex hashing approach, maybe even with a closed-source shared library, could help
    • single-factor authentication (password-based) is likely to get replaced with 2-factor authentication in the nearest future
    • one may enjoy increased personal data safety by using throw-away passwords in conjunction with antispam mailboxes like spam.la and mailinator.com (at least 1600 users – 0.186% – did use these services).


    Fortunately, the top 10 passwords (by their counts) were exclusively “throw-away”, and added up to ~10% of the decrypted passwords. (I’m not showing any, as that would unnecessarily simplify further decryption – maybe thetechgerald should have also been more vague about actual passwords.)

    Sooner or later this significant-size corpus of real-life passwords will find its way (after decryption by those who would actually use leaked passwords to gain unauthorized access) into various wordlists and wordlist mutation rules, making it even easier to decrypt any future leaks. This is where 2-factor authentication will, hopefully, come in handy to protect against similar leaks.

    I wonder if I should put up a page “Check if my password was among those 860k”, to help people easily identify if they should change theirs – not even necessarily being a Stratfor subscriber. Unless similar pages/services had already been put up by others.

    It is also unclear what will the future of Stratfor be, taking into account that their website is still dysfunctional.

    It is sad to see Drupal (stratfor.com’s CMS) involved here. However, I have no idea if their installation was up to date, and if their website was the point of entry. The hacklog suggests that attackers somehow obtained the password of one of the system administrators, and then used it for SSH access, which would save Drupal’s face (Drupal’s security record to date was pretty reassuring).

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