A photo that can steal your Facebook account

Researchers have developed a new hybrid image-and-applet file that could be used to hack sites like Facebook or Google.

At the Black Hat computer security conference in Las Vegas next week, researchers will demonstrate software they've developed that could steal online credentials from users of popular Web sites such as Facebook, eBay and Google.

The attack relies on a new type of hybrid file that looks like different things to different programs. By placing these files on Web sites that allow users to upload their own images, the researchers can circumvent security systems and take over the accounts of Web surfers who use these sites.

"We've been able to come up with a Java applet that for all intents and purposes is an image," said John Heasman, vice president of research at NGS Software.

They call this type of file a GIFAR, a contraction of GIF (graphics interchange format) and JAR (Java Archive), the two file-types that are mixed. At Black Hat, the researchers will show attendees how to create the GIFAR while omitting a few key details to prevent it from being used immediately in any widespread attack.

To the Web server, the file looks exactly like a .gif file, however a browser's Java virtual machine will open it up as a Java Archive file and then run it as an applet. That gives the attacker an opportunity to run Java code in the victim's browser. For its part, the browser treats this malicious applet as though it were written by the Web site's developers.

Here's how an attack would work: The bad guys would create a profile on one of these popular Web sites -- Facebook for example -- and upload their GIFAR as an image on the site. Then they'd trick the victim into visiting a malicious Web site, which would tell the victim's browser to go open the GIFAR. At that point, the applet would run in the browser, giving the bad guys access to the victim's Facebook account.

The attack could work on any site that allows users to upload files, potentially even on Web sites that are used to upload banking card photos or even Amazon.com, they say.

Because GIFARs are opened by Java, they can be opened in many types of browsers.

There is one catch, however. The victim would have to be logged into the Web site that is hosting the image for the attack to work. "The attack is going to work best wherever you leave yourself logged in for long periods of time," Heasman said.

There are a couple of ways that the GIFAR attack could be thwarted. Web sites could beef up their filtering tools so that they could spot the hybrid files. Alternatively, Sun could tighten up the Java runtime environment to prevent this from happening. The researchers expect Sun to come up with a fix not long after its Black Hat talk.

But researchers say that while a Java fix may disable this one attack vector, the problem of malicious content being placed on legitimate Web applications is a much larger and thornier issue. "There will be other ways to do this, with other technologies," said GIFAR developer Nathan McFeters, a researcher with Ernst & Young's Advanced Security Center.

"In the long term, Web applications are going to have to take control of the content," McFeters said. "It's a Web application issue. The Java attack that we're currently using is just one vector."

He and his fellow Black Hat presenters have entitled their talk The Internet is Broken.

Ultimately, browser makers will have to make some fundamental changes to their software too, said Jeremiah Grossman, chief technology officer with White Hat Security. "It's not that the Internet is broken," he said. "It's that browser security is broken. Browser security is really an oxymoron."

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Robert McMillan

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?