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Friday, 02 February 2018 12:13

Did car-sharing firm hack suspect enter an open door?

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A hue and cry has been raised after a security researcher was found to have breached a car-sharing firm's website and used some of the cars on offer without paying.

Websites have been falling over themselves to name the man, and to write reams about this "hacker" who appears to have done nothing more than walk through an open front door and sample some of the wares in the house.

For those who have not heard of the case, the NSW Cyber Crime Squad announced triumphantly on Wednesday that it had caught and charged a man "who allegedly gained unauthorised access to a company’s database and stole cars".

In fact, the man never actually stole any cars. He used a few cars belonging to others on offer from the car-sharing service for transporting himself around.

Of course, some may classify that as stealing because he didn’t pay for the service, but billed it to others.

However, the self-congratulatory NSW Cyber Crime Squad did not question why the company had not bothered to encrypt data that the public submitted to the site. That is the 101 of running an online business.

kops big

GoGet's nominated media spokesperson Jonathan Englert did not respond to a query from iTWire asking why the company had not bothered to offer users basic encryption.

Given that the GoGet site is hosted by Amazon, the possibility that the data was lying unsecured in an Amazon S3 bucket exists and that the so-called "hacker" had to do nothing to access the data, apart from find it on the Web.

Dozens of such finds have been made by the security firm UpGuard – iTWire has reported on many of them.

But Englert was mum when asked about this too.

On the GoGet Web page set up after the arrest of the "hacker" was announced, there was no mention of why it had taken the company more than six months to inform the public not to submit data to the site which may have had more ways of being accessed than had been used by the suspect.

But then the NSW Cyber Crime Squad did not ask this question either.

From what has been reported, breathlessly, the researcher appears to have some nous about infosec, and has provided information about other vulnerabilities in the past.

There is an acute shortage of good security professionals at the moment and people like this man are a much-needed quantity.

But given the way the media and the NSW Police are seemingly bent on demonising him over what could well turn out to be a very simple breach, one doubts that he will be given a fair hearing.

Instead the reaction — as in the case of the teenager who pointed out flaws in the Public Transport Victoria website, only to be muzzled by authority — is well over the top.

The GoGet breach suspect does not appear to be a hardened criminal, but rather someone down on his luck who was tempted when he saw a lure and succumbed. Ask him to pay the $3500-odd in damages which he spent. And then he should be let off with a bond for good behaviour and one of the country's cyber security outfits would do well to snap him up as fast as possible.

Overly-zealous law enforcement officials and businessmen who don't take basic precautions when they go online should not be allowed to make him a scapegoat.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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