This month’s major data breach news comes courtesy of hackers who accessed eBay’s user database by using valid credentials pilfered from eBay employees. The hackers apparently had access to eBay’s entire database of 145 million active users during the months of February and March 2014. The information accessed included passwords in encrypted form, as well as names, email addresses, shipping addresses, and dates of birth all in plaintext.
eBay’s user database was apparently accessible to the hackers because they logged in using genuine eBay employee credentials. But why should that give the hackers unfettered access to the entire user database? Of course company employees may have valid reasons for accessing the user database, but eBay could have limited the access such that:
a separate password or two-factor authentication was required to gain entry to the database; and
the database was only accessible from whitelisted terminals
excessive access by any individual employee throws up a red flag immediately (not months later).
eBay’s IT department has a chance to address those issues, but the company’s public relations department hasn’t done too well thus far.
eBay posted a notice on its website regarding the breach, entitled “Important Password Update,” the full text of which is below.
In VDC’s opinion, eBay’s public response to the breach has missed the mark.
eBay’s notice informed users that their encrypted passwords might have been compromised, and instructed them to change the passwords. Since the passwords were encrypted using a “salted hash” technique, few if any actual passwords are likely to be decrypted. Nevertheless, it doesn’t hurt to tell users to change passwords, particularly if a user shares the same password across multiple websites. However, the notice failed to mention the other personal information (non-encrypted) that was compromised. Such personal information presents a risk that hackers could attempt identity theft, which is arguably a greater concern than just the compromise of one site’s password. In effect, eBay has warned users about the information that is probably still safe, and ignored the disclosure of information that is clearly unsafe. And by failing to mention the other personal data that was accessed, eBay is creating a false sense of security that users will be safe if they just change their passwords.
Password changes can help make eBay safer, but they don’t improve the security of users whose personal information has already been appropriated. Because disclosure of users’ personal information could lead to subsequent attempts at identity theft, eBay might need to offer up free credit monitoring service to its users, even though no credit card or other financial information was disclosed.
Users don’t necessarily care how safe and secure eBay is; they care how safe and secure their own personal information is. eBay’s response thus far indicates that the company doesn’t get the distinction.
Full text of eBay’s notice to users:
[Note several days after we posted this, eBay revised the text of its password update notice to include the fact that personal data beyond encrypted passwords had been compromised, although eBay still doesn't relate the implications of that to its members. The text below is eBay's original notice.]
Important Password Update
Keeping Our Buyers and Sellers Safe and Secure on eBay
On Wednesday, we announced that we are asking all eBay users to change their password. This is because of a cyberattack that compromised our eBay user database, which contained your encrypted password.
Because your password is encrypted (even we don’t know what it is), we believe your eBay account is secure. But we don’t want to take any chances. We take security on eBay very seriously, and we want to ensure that you feel safe and secure buying and selling on eBay. So we think it’s the right thing to do to have you change your password. And we want to remind you that it’s a good idea to always use different passwords for different sites and accounts. If you used your eBay password on other sites, we are encouraging you to change those passwords, too.
Here’s what we recommend you do the next time you visit eBay:
Take a moment to change your password. You can do this in the “My eBay” section under account settings. This will help further protect you; it’s always a good practice to periodically update your password. Millions of eBay users already have updated their passwords.
Remember to always use different passwords on different sites and accounts. So if you haven’t done this yet, take the time to do so.
Meanwhile, our team is committed to making eBay as safe and secure as possible. So we are looking at other ways to strengthen security on eBay. In the coming days and weeks we may be introducing new security features. We’ll keep you updated as we do.
Thanks for your support and cooperation. eBay is your marketplace, and we are committed to keeping it one of the world’s safest places to buy and sell.
President, eBay Marketplaces