Google error leaks website owners' personal information

The leak of the information could help phishing campaigns

A Google software problem inadvertently exposed the names, addresses, email addresses and phone numbers used to register websites after people had chosen to keep the information private.

The privacy breach involves whois, a database that contains contact information for people who've bought domain names. For privacy reasons, people can elect to make information private, often by paying an extra fee.

Craig Williams, senior technical leader for Cisco's Talos research group who discovered the issue, said the data will make it easier for cybercriminals to draft phishing emails that try to trick victims into divulging information or clicking on malicious links.

The cybercriminals are "going to have the right website name, the right name, the right address, the right phone number, the right email," he said.

Cisco said in a blog post that some 282,867 domains were affected. Williams stumbled across the problem last month while doing research on domains associated with malware.

The privacy settings for domain names registered through the company eNom were being turned off right at the time when the domains were up for renewal, starting around mid-2013.

"I immediately knew that was really weird," Williams said. "Nearly everyone these days is very careful about their presence online."

Google partners with registrars including eNom to let people register domain names as part of its Apps product. Williams contacted Google, and in about six days the privacy settings had been restored. In a notice, Google blamed a "software defect." On Thursday, Google said in a statement it is contacting affected Apps customers.

The damage will be long lasting, even if the privacy protections are now back in place. Changes to whois records are immediately recorded by many people and organizations, including security companies.

"A lot of people track this information historically quietly," Williams said.

There may be a small upside to the leak, particularly for computer security researchers.

Although well-intended, whois information is often useless since it's either set to private or is simply fake. Cybercriminals will often buy domains using other people's credit cards and personal information or enter bogus information.

But even the entry of fake information can help track malware campaigns. Williams said fraudsters will often get lazy and reuse the same bogus details, which can still be helpful if it is consistent.

"There are legitimate reasons to track whois information," he said.

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 internetGoogleeNom

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

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

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.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?