Instagram vulnerability on iPhone allows for account takeover

A security researcher has found a vulnerability in Instagram involving how it handles cookies

A security researcher published on Friday another attack on Facebook's Instagram photo-sharing service that could allow a hacker to seize control of a victim's account.

The attack was developed by Carlos Reventlov around a vulnerability he found within Instagram in mid-November. He notified Instagram of the problem on Nov. 11, but as of last Tuesday, it had not been fixed.

The vulnerability is in the 3.1.2 version of Instagram's application, released on Oct. 23, for the iPhone. Reventlov found that while some sensitive activities, such as logging in and editing profile data, are encrypted when sent to Instagram, other data was sent in plain-text. He tested the two attacks on an iPhone 4 running iOS 6, where he first found the problem.

"When the victim starts the Instagram app, a plain-text cookie is sent to the Instagram server," Reventlov wrote. "Once the attacker gets the cookie he is able to craft special HTTP requests for getting data and deleting photos."

The plain-text cookie can be intercepted using a man-in-the-middle attack as long as the hacker is on the same LAN (local area network) as the victim. Once the cookie is obtained, the hacker can delete or download photos or access the photos of another person who is friends with the victim.

The Danish security company Secunia verified the attack and issued an advisory.

Reventlov continued to study the potential of the vulnerability and found the cookie issue could also allow the hacker to take over the victim's account. Again, the attacker has to be on the same LAN as the victim.

The compromise uses a method called ARP (Address Resolution Protocol) spoofing, where the web traffic of the victim's mobile device is channeled through the attacker's computer. Reventlov wrote that it is then possible to intercept the plain-text cookie.

By using another tool to modify the headers of a web browser during transmission to Instagram's servers, it is possible to then sign in as the victim and change the victim's email address, resulting in a compromised account. The fix for Instagram is easy: the site should use always use HTTPS for API requests that have sensitive data, Reventlov wrote.

"I've found that many iPhone apps are vulnerable to such things but not too many are high-profile apps like Instagram," Reventlov wrote in an email to IDG News Service.

Neither Instagram nor Facebook officials could be immediately reached on Monday. Reventlov wrote in his advisories that he received an automated reply when he told Instagram of the issue.

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

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.

Tags social mediainternetFacebookdata protectionInternet-based applications and servicesExploits / vulnerabilitiesInstagram

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?