Instagram Website Flaw Exposed Users' Phone Numbers and Email Addresses

by

A security researcher found a flaw in Instagram's website that caused thousands of users' email addresses and phone numbers to be exposed online for several weeks, it was revealed on Thursday.

David Stier, a data scientist and business consultant, told CNET the website source code for some Instagram user profiles included the account holder's contact information whenever it loaded in a web browser.

Although the contact information was available in Instagram's mobile app if users chose to reveal it in their profile, it was never displayed on the desktop version of the Instagram website, so it's unclear why the details were exposed.

The leaked contacts are said to have come from thousands of accounts belonging to private individuals, including minors, as well businesses and brands. Stier alerted Instagram to the problem shortly after discovering it in February, and the photo-focused social platform issued a patch in March.

According to Stier, including the details in the source code could have let hackers scrape the data from the website relatively easily and use it to compile a database listing the contact information of thousands of Instagram users.

A similar data haul may have already occurred. On Monday it was revealed that a database containing contact information for millions of Instagram influencers, celebrities, and brand accounts had been leaked online.

The records included public data pulled from Instagram, such as profile picture, biography, and follower numbers, but also private contact information like phone numbers and email addresses.

The database was initially uploaded and shared by Mumbai-based social media marketing firm Chtrbox, a company that pays Instagram influencers to share sponsored content. Though uploaded by Chtrbox, the database included info from influencers who have never worked with the company.

In a statement, Chtrbox said the information in its database wasn't private and that it didn't source the information through unethical means.

Instagram parent company Facebook said on Monday that it was investigating the Chtrbox database. "We're also inquiring with Chtrbox to understand where this data came from and how it became publicly available," said Facebook.

A similar privacy befell the social media platform in August 2017, when a bug related to an Instagram API allowed hackers to breach multiple high-profile Instagram accounts belonging to celebrities.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
13 months ago
Our weekly failure by Facebook.
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
13 months ago
I don’t get why the EU isn’t doing anything about Facebook or Instagram. Usually they r up on everyone’s a$$. I guess lobbying is a hell of a thing
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
13 months ago
Instagram: We’re sorry. We’ll try harder to protect your privacy.

Everyone sane: *begins taking bets on how long until the next privacy issue is discovered*
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
13 months ago
What the hell do they use as a security measure, a Trapper Keeper!?
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
13 months ago
as usual not surprising ....

By now everyone should know that those big cooperations care more about ad revenue and sale of personal data then about protecting the privacy of their user base - there is just no money in protecting the privacy and apparently users still stick with them - so no harm done in their view point.
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
13 months ago
The article is a bit jumbled on details, so hard to understand exactly what is going on. By "web site source code", I assume they mean HTML. But could be buried in some Javascript or retrieved using Ajax and then inserted into the DOM. Probably in a hidden element, hidden input, in a data- attribute, etc.

I am not at all surprised, though.

I am one of a small handful of developers who still answer questions on the jQuery developer forums. jQuery is a popular but rapidly-fading Javascript library that was created primarily to "normalize" the differences between browsers so that devs don't have to code "if this browser, do this, if that browser do that...". Instead, jQuery provides it's own API and if you use their API then it deals with the differences between browser. Rapidly becoming a Thing That Is Not Needed.

Anyhoo, I am shocked at the low level of competency on the part of the (almost always overseas) frontend devs for major Fortune 500 companies. Like, for example, the web site for a major U.S. cell phone provider that I shall not name. You'll have to cycle through the alphabet to guess, but you won't have to go very far. ;)

So, first off, how do I know that they are working for major Fortune 500 companies? Because they've repeatedly failed to reduce their examples to the minimum needed to show the problem, and just post links to their development site - which is typically open to the Internet with no security. If somebody is willing to help them, they will have to dig through mountains of code - like 50 or more JS files being loaded, with redundant plugins left by the previous devs who were hired to do Just One Thing and then moved on to other jobs for other companies. They just keep adding layer after layer of crap. And another dozen tracking scripts, etc.

Anyway, there's their logo, and say an order form for for service, or for the latest iPhone or whatnot, and they've posted a link to their example page and usually it's accessible without a password, though sometimes it needs one, which of course they post openly in an open forum.

So, I COMMONLY see things like price calculators that are being relied-upon by the backend (they have inadvertently created their very own "name your own price tool"!), and it's not uncommon for the devs to not understand that Javascript running in a browser is NO MEASURE OF SECURITY. The only reason anyone should be doing any kind of price calculations or form validations in a web page is as a convenience to the user, to avoid a trip back and forth to the server. Where the validations MUST be done again, but often never are.

It is very common to see posted PHP, C# code, etc. often with no understanding on the part of the dev that we can't help them with that - it's a jQuery forum, not a forum for some random server language. And, at the same time, no understanding that, say, the PHP code runs on the server, and the Javascript code runs in the browser. Chalk that up to the awful historical design of PHP where you can (you don't HAVE to, and this style is discouraged today) mix server and browser code in the same file. It's not uncommon for these devs to just not get it that the server is treating their file as a template, and generates HTML on the server to send to the browser, and the generated HTML (generated by the PHP code) is sent rather than the PHP.

Since we often see PHP/C#/Cold Fusion/whatever code, that means we also see their (common) SQL injection vulnerabilities and other horrors of poor or no security in server code.

I can see the described leakage easily happening because a dev made a query that returned columns that should never have been included in the page and/or the dev somehow thought there's no issue with including some extra data that "the user will never see". You know, because it is "hidden". Hidden, yes, to the casual user, but not to anybody who knows how to use the web inspection/debugging tools present in every desktop browser. Or to a scraper/crawler, which is not limited to seeing just the "visible" elements on a page.

Somebody "might have made a copy". No, it is certain that somebody made a copy. There are certainly multiple copies of the data now in scrapers archives, and they probably do not even know what they have. A scraper is just a robot - it will scrape whatever it finds and squirrel it away. Probably later, an algorithm or a human will comb through it to see what might be "interesting".

Front-end development practices, as done by many top companies, is just absolute crap. The companies piece it out to the cheapest bidder, and there is often no continuity. It gets handed off from one developer to another and again and again and again, and each adds their own layer of crap and leaves their own footprints to the mess.

Beyond that, it is OBVIOUS that many of these devs are getting their information from 10-20 year-old books (which is why I now dispose of old development books rather than them them to a charity store), outdated blogs and tutorial sites, etc. Search engines and SEO have a surprising influence on this, BTW. Because sites that work their way to the top continue to stay there for many years after they have ceased to be useful. There are so many "frozen" dev tutorial sites that just have obsolete information but were once the top reference, and the search engines do a poor job of "expiring" their rankings.

I have to admit, I often Google for answers. But I CHECK THE EXPIRATION DATE. Usually I will include a data constraint in my searches and then check any dates in the blog or tutorial, etc. to insure I am getting fresh results, and not some 10-year-old advice. You don't know how many of these devs I have to point toward MDN, CSS-Tricks, jQuery Learning Center (on the VERY SAME SITE they are posting on...) and they had no clue that these sites existed and are the best references on the development they are doing.

What this researcher uncovered is just the tip of the iceberg. It is not an anomaly. It is endemic.

Edit: It's probably not fair to place the blame on front-end developers. Much of it can be blamed on the scourge known as "full-stack development". This is the fantasy that one person can do it all - front end, back end, database, security, etc. So, you have devs that know a little bit of that, a little bit of that, much of it outdated. As well as the fantasy that developers are fungible - you can just pass off bits and pieces of functionality to whatever random dev is available or can be hired the cheapest from an online virtual sweat-shop to implement a feature and you will somehow magically wind-up with something coherent.

And that, my friends is how sausage.... er, many of the highest profile websites - are too often made.
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

Leaker: Apple to Stick With Lightning Over USB-C for 'iPhone 12' Before Going Port-Less Next Year

Tuesday May 26, 2020 2:31 am PDT by
Apple will use a Lightning port instead of USB-C in the upcoming "iPhone 12," but it will be the last major series of Apple's flagship phones to do so, with models set to combine wireless charging and a port-less Smart Connector system for data transfer and syncing in the iPhone "13 series" next year. The above claim comes from occasional Apple leaker and Twitter user "Fudge" (@choco_bit),...

Apple Releases macOS Catalina 10.15.5 With Battery Health Management Features, Fix for Finder Freezing

Tuesday May 26, 2020 1:59 pm PDT by
Apple today released macOS Catalina 10.15.5, the fifth update to the macOS Catalina operating system that was released in October 2019. macOS Catalina 10.15.5 comes two months after the launch of macOS Catalina 10.15.4, which introduced Screen Time Communication Limits. macOS Catalina 10.15.5 is a free update that can be downloaded from the Mac App Store using the Update feature in the...

Apple Reissuing Numerous iOS App Updates, Potentially Related to Recent 'This App is No Longer Shared' Bug

Sunday May 24, 2020 9:13 pm PDT by
Over the past few hours, a number of MacRumors readers have reported seeing dozens or even hundreds of pending app updates showing in the App Store on their iOS devices, including for many apps that were already recently updated by the users. In many cases, the dates listed on these new app updates extend back as far as ten days. Apple has not shared any information as to why updates for...

16-Inch MacBook Pro, iPad Pro, and iMac Pro With Mini-LED Displays Again Rumored to Launch in 2021

Tuesday May 26, 2020 5:30 am PDT by
Apple plans to release several higher-end devices with Mini-LED displays in 2021, including a new 12.9-inch iPad Pro in the first quarter, a new 16-inch MacBook Pro in the second quarter, and a new 27-inch iMac in the second half of the year, according to Jeff Pu, an analyst at Chinese research firm GF Securities. This timeframe lines up with one shared by analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who recently...

Jailbreak Tool 'unc0ver' 5.0 Released With iOS 13.5 Compatibility

Sunday May 24, 2020 3:06 pm PDT by
The team behind the "unc0ver" jailbreaking tool for iOS has released version 5.0.0 of its software that claims to have the ability to jailbreak "every signed iOS version on every device" using a zero-day kernel vulnerability by Pwn20wnd, a renowned iOS hacker. The announcement comes just days after it was announced that the tool would soon launch. The unc0ver website highlights how the tool...

Future AirPods to Include 'Ambient Light Sensors' Possibly Related to Rumored Health Features

Monday May 25, 2020 2:53 am PDT by
Apple is reportedly looking to integrate light sensors in a new model of AirPods in the next couple of years, according to a new report today, suggesting their use could be part of rumored upcoming health monitoring features in the true wireless earbuds. In a paywalled article, DigiTimes reports that ASE Technology could be involved in manufacturing the sensors: Apple is expected to...

First App Using Apple and Google's Exposure Notification API Launches in Switzerland

Tuesday May 26, 2020 3:02 pm PDT by
The first app that takes advantage of the Exposure Notification API developed by Apple and Google has launched in Switzerland, according to a report from the BBC. A team of app developers working on contact tracing app called SwissCovid have rolled out the app in a beta capacity for members of the Swiss army, hospital workers, and civil servants. After the app is tested and approved by MPs,...

'This App is No Longer Shared' iOS Bug Preventing Some Apps From Opening

Friday May 22, 2020 3:58 pm PDT by
An app bug is causing some iOS users to be unable to open their apps, with affected iPhone and iPad users seeing the message "This app is no longer shared with you" when attempting to access an app. There are multiple complaints about the issue on the MacRumors forums and on Twitter from users who are running into problems. A MacRumors reader describes the issue:Is anyone else experiencing...

HBO Max Now Available on Apple TV and iOS Devices

Wednesday May 27, 2020 2:42 am PDT by
HBO Max launched today, and is now available on Apple TV, iPhone, and iPad. WarnerMedia's new streaming service, which replaces HBO Now, combines HBO content with shows and films from Warner Bros and Turner TV. The service is available as a native app on the ‌Apple TV‌ HD and ‌Apple TV‌ 4K, but second and third-generation ‌Apple TV‌ owners will need to AirPlay HBO Max content...

Apple's Pro Display XDR Wins 'Displays of the Year' Award

Tuesday May 26, 2020 7:45 am PDT by
The Society for Information Display today announced its selections for the 26th Annual Display Industry Awards, and Apple has once again taken one of the top spots, this time with its Pro Display XDR that debuted last year alongside the revamped Mac Pro. The Pro Display XDR was one of three display products named "Displays of the Year," alongside Samsung's foldable display and BOE's...