Correct Old Mistakes

I ran across this piece on the VTech hack that recently occurred. It’s almost a classic example of what not to do in data storage. You can read the piece, and also look at Troy Hunt’s analysis, but clearly we can see that poor encryption, unencrypted communications, plain text storage of passwords, and more. What’s especially disconcerting is that we have kids’ information disclosed, plenty of which could be problematic years down the road as these kids grow up.

Apart from all of the technology issues, there are certainly responsibility issues. I expect that VTech will deny knowledge of issues, and certainly limit the amount of time they admit to knowing about the security issues. After all, they’re a corporation and if they can deny liability it could certainly limit the number of actions taken against them. However I’m hoping that the developers and operational people that manage this technology realize they made mistakes while building these systems.

There’s a certain immaturity that’s prevalent in the analysis of this system. I’m guessing that developers were under pressure to get websites up and running, in concert with product launches, and that plenty of code was shared among their various sites and web domains. However I would hope that the current developers at VTech would have learned more about building robust applications, and would be looking to rewrite and rebuild their systems to be more secure with more current technologies. I hope that any of you running Flash based systems, or using MD5, or any other well known, poor security practices, would be pressing your management to correct those deficiencies and giving them more secure solutions. You might also give them a copy of the article linked above.

Likely most companies out there, I’m guessing VTech’s management don’t want to spend money to rebuild systems that work, regardless of security flaws. Likely developers that have learned how to better code public facing sites don’t have the time to spend rewriting old code when they have new systems to develop. However I think that the old code that lives out there, that poorly built code that most of us have written in our past, would get updated over time, as part of the cost of doing business. This is especially true for anyone using encryption, where upgrades should be regular and mandated as Moore’s law and better mathematics consistently eliminate the security provided by older algorithms.

Steve Jones

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