Menu
Disqus scrambles after leak fuels Swedish tabloid exposé

Disqus scrambles after leak fuels Swedish tabloid exposé

The company's API leaked information that allowed a tabloid to link offensive forum comments to email addresses

Disqus is updating its widely-used comments platform after a Swedish tabloid exposed politicians and other public figures for allegedly making highly offensive comments on right-wing websites.

The Swedish daily Expressen, working with an investigative journalism group, said it uncovered the identity of hundreds of people who left offensive comments at four right-wing websites through their email addresses. It then confronted the authors of the comments, many of whom freely admitted to writing them.

Later on Tuesday, Disqus said its network had not been breached and that it did not leak email addresses. The journalists appeared to have abused a feature it used for a third-party service, it said.

Based on information from Disqus and other observers, a general picture of the journalists' method has emerged.

Disqus used a third-party service called Gravatar from Automattic, the company behind the WordPress software. Users can upload an avatar, which will then appear on any Gravatar-enabled website.

A Disqus API (application programming interface) fetched avatars from Gravatar using the hashed email addresses of registered users. A hash is a cryptographic representation of a value processed by an algorithm.

For example, the email address "idg@idgnews.com" when processed by the MD5 algorithm appears as this hash: "0ff3eeab2b765f017a526bbddd328c3b."

The journalists likely collected the nicknames of commentators from the websites, then pinged Disqus' API to see what MD5 value was returned. They could have gained access to Disqus' API by creating an account, according to Eaxbreakparty, a blog run by a self-described cryptography enthusiast.

With that value in hand, a couple of scenarios are possible. If the journalists already had a database of personal email addresses, they could generate the MD5 hash for those addresses and then see which ones match the hashes returned by Disqus.

Also, it is possible, but difficult, to convert MD5 hashes back to their original value, which would give them email addresses with which to perform further research.

Disqus said in a statement that "to use our API or service for such purposes, is a breach of our privacy guidelines." The account believed to have been used for the research would be terminated, it said.

The company said it would also disable Gravatar and remove "the MD5 hash email addresses from the API. We will evaluate any further changes that will need to be made based on these actions."

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

Follow Us

Join the New Zealand Reseller News newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags securityDisqus

Slideshows

Top 50 defining moments of the New Zealand channel in 2016

Top 50 defining moments of the New Zealand channel in 2016

Reseller News looks back on a tumultuous 12 months for the New Zealand channel, assessing the fallout from a year of sizeable industry change. Whether it be local or global mergers and acquisitions, distribution deals or job changes, the channel that started the year differs somewhat to the one set to finish it - Reseller News assesses the key moments that made 2016.​

Top 50 defining moments of the New Zealand channel in 2016
​Hewlett Packard Enterprise honours high achieving NZ channel

​Hewlett Packard Enterprise honours high achieving NZ channel

Hewlett Packard Enterprise honoured its top performing Kiwi partners at the second running of its HPE Partner Awards in New Zealand, held at a glitzy ceremony in Auckland. Recognising excellence across eight categories - from distributors to resellers - the tech giant celebrated its first year as a standalone company, following its official split from HP in 2015.

​Hewlett Packard Enterprise honours high achieving NZ channel
Nutanix treats channel partners to Christmas cruise

Nutanix treats channel partners to Christmas cruise

Nutanix recently took to the seas for a Christmas Cruise around Sydney Harbour with its Australia and New Zealand staff, customers and partners to celebrate a stellar year for the vendor. With the sun out, they were all smiles and mingled over drinks and food.

Nutanix treats channel partners to Christmas cruise
Show Comments