Menu
Using Instagram on public Wi-Fi poses risk of an account hijack, researcher says

Using Instagram on public Wi-Fi poses risk of an account hijack, researcher says

Instagram is moving to full https encryption but isn't there just yet

A configuration problem in Facebook's popular Instagram application for Apple devices could allow a hacker to hijack a person's account if they're both on the same public Wi-Fi network.

Stevie Graham, who describes himself as a "hacker at large" based in London, wrote on Twitter that Facebook won't pay him a reward for reporting the flaw, which he said he found years ago.

Graham wrote he hopes to draw more attention to the issue by writing a tool that could quickly compromise many Instagram accounts. He cheekily calls the tool "Instasheep," a play on Firesheep, a Firefox extension that can compromise online accounts in certain circumstances.

"I think this attack is extremely severe because it allows full session hijack and is easily automated," according to Graham's technical writeup. "I could go to the Apple Store tomorrow and reap thousands of accounts in one day, and then use them to post spam."

Graham's finding is a long-known configuration problem that has prompted many Web companies to fully encrypt all connections made with their servers. The transition to full encryption, signified by "https" in a browser URL bar and by the padlock symbol, can be technically challenging.

Instagram's API (application programming interface) makes unencrypted requests to some parts of its network, Graham wrote. That poses an opportunity for a hacker who is on the same Wi-Fi network that doesn't use encryption or uses the outdated WEP encryption, which can be easily cracked.

Some of those Instagram API calls transmit an unencrypted session cookie, or a data file that lets Instagram know a user is still logged in. By collecting the network traffic, known as a man-in-the-middle attack, the session cookie can be stolen and used by an attacker to gain control of the victim's account.

Facebook officials didn't have an immediate comment, but Instagram's co-founder, Mike Krieger, wrote on Ycombinator's Hacker News feed that Instagram has been "steadily increasing" use of full encryption.

Its "Instagram Direct" service, which allows photos to be shared with only small groups of people, is fully encrypted, he wrote. For more latency-sensitive endpoints, such as Instagram's main feed, the service is trying to make sure the transition to https doesn't affect performance, he wrote.

"This is a project we're hoping to complete soon, and we'll share our experiences in our [engineering] blog so other companies can learn from it as well," Krieger wrote.

Google offered full encryption as an option for Gmail in 2008, but two years later made it the default. Facebook switched it on by default in January 2011

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 Internet-based applications and servicesInstagramsecurityExploits / vulnerabilitiesinternetFacebook

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