Fail and You Over a month ago, a hacker gained access to Twitter's internal documents and thereby introduced the unprofitable Web 2.0 darling to the blunt end of internet justice. Hacker Croll - the still anonymous Frenchman who has claimed responsibility for the attack - cracked the personal e-mail account of a Twitter administrator. In its observance of the San Francisco startup law of relying on free, online productivity suites instead of ponying up to Microsoft for something that actually works, Twitter stores all of its internal documents on Google Docs.
The administrator whose account was hacked used the same password for both his personal e-mail and his Google Docs login. Yes, web applications are sure to overtake desktop applications any day now.
Hacker Croll didn't exploit any software vulnerabilities. He exploited stupidity. To crack this personal e-mail account, all he had to do was answer a security question, which is the same way that a hacker gained access to Sarah Palin's personal e-mail account during the 2008 election.
The major sell of web applications is that you can do your work from any computer that has internet access. Conveniently, anybody who knows your password can also have a field day reading your shit from any computer that has internet access.
Let's think back to the days before journalists who failed at other beats took to pretending that they understood technology on blogs like TechCrunch. Back to the days before some mental midget first typed out the words "Web Operating System" on a crusty laptop keyboard with his breakfast-sausage digits. Back in these days - or today with organizations who have some sensibility about them - what damage could you really cause if you knew somebody's password?
More likely than not, if you had the login information from some office drone who spends his day cultivating a corporate tan under the fluorescent lights of a private, climate controlled hell, you most likely had credentials for a Windows NT domain or Active Directory.
If it's tied to e-mail, then it's a POP/IMAP password or Exchange account. What can you do with this information? Unless there's remote access set up, you'll need to be on the physical network to access file shares. You may be able to access the e-mail account if you can figure out what the IP address of the IMAP or Exchange server is.
In that situation, you need to put a fair bit of effort into finding the entry point for your hack. A username and password? Wow, that's great. But where do you type them in? While that extra layer of obscurity won't stop a determined villain, it's enough to keep your average asshole from getting lucky. Now, however, if you buy into the Web 2.0 happy horseshit about online applications being the future of computing, everybody knows where they can type in a username and password.
All you need to know is how URLs work, and you can guess passwords to your heart's content. For example, Hacker Croll went to http://docs.google.com/a/twitter.com, which is the front door to all of Twitter's corporate data. Anybody who knows Eric Schmidt's e-mail password can go to http://mail.google.com/a/google.com to browse messages.
And just for the sake of completion, if you know a TechCrunch writer's account information can load up http://www.techcrunch.com/wp-login.php and start posting about how online productivity suites will save us all from a hoof to the face by the savage brute in Redmond.