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Google Analytics — Yes, it is a security risk
To recap, Change.gov and BarackObama.com were both found exposing non-encrypted pages that Obama officials use to make post press releases and carry out other administrative tasks. The lack of IP filtering, or at the very least, use of secure sockets layer was surprising, but what was really baffling was the decision to link the admin pages to Google Analytics.
The reason: The service grants unscrupulous employees at Google — not to mention anyone who manages to penetrate Mountain View’s fortress — access to the administrative pages.
A few of the more uninformed, but more vocal, readers (less than .2 percent of those who read the story, by the way) howled in protest. Google Analytics does nothing more than aggregate page visitors, they argued. Surely, there’s no way it could give someone outside the Obama camp access to one of the more popular websites in the .gov domain.
Actually, it does. Here’s how.
Campbell and three other website security experts interviewed for this story say it would be trivial for anyone with control of the urchin.js file to hijack authentication cookies or other session variables used to validate users accessing the Change.gov administration page. Dinis Cruz, an OWASP board member and director of advanced technologies for source code assessment firm Ounce Labs, says such exploits could prove especially effective if combined with attacks on browsers or network infrastructure.
“If that urchin.js can be controlled by somebody with malicious intent (and with the latest DNS exploits they don’t even need to control the google server), then the content of those Obama sites could be manipulated,“ he writes in an email to The Register.
Besides using a rogue urchin.js to steal session cookies or sniff data typed into forms, Cruz envisions other, more exotic attacks, among them one called a cross site script proxy, which essentially causes the attacker to control a user’s login session.
“If I wanted a backdoor into the website, this would be one of the best ways to do it,“ Cruz says. “It would allow somebody who knew about this to drop a payload in a way that almost wouldn’t be detected.“