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Dropbox waits almost six months to fix a flaw that probably took less than a day

Posted by on May 7, 2014.

Security expert Graham Cluley

Security expert Graham Cluley

Graham Cluley is a much respected security expert – but we don’t always agree. Full disclosure – the early public disclosure of a vulnerability whether or not the vendor has a fix available – is an example.

I believe that vendors should be notified when a flaw is discovered, and then given 7 days to fix it. After that, whether the fix has been made or not, the flaw should be made public.

Graham does not believe a flaw should ever be made public before the fix is ready. When I asked him, back in March this year, “What if the vendor does nothing or takes a ridiculously long time to fix it?…”

Graham sticks to his basic principle. You still don’t go public. Instead, you could, for example, go to the press “and demonstrate the flaw to them (to apply pressure to the vendor) rather than make the intimate details of how to exploit a weakness public.”
Phoenix-like, Full Disclosure returns

dropboxThis is exactly what happened with the newly disclosed and fixed Dropbox vulnerability. This flaw (not in the coding, but in the way the system works) allowed third parties to view privately shared, and sometimes confidential and sensitive documents. There were two separate but related problems. The first would occur if a user put a shared URL into a search box rather than the browser URL box. In this instance, the owner of the search engine would receive the shared link as part of the referring URL.

The second problem occurred

if a document stored on Dropbox contains a clickable link to a third-party site, guess what happens if someone clicks on the link within Dropbox’s web-based preview of the document?

The Dropbox Share Link to that document will be included in the referring URL sent to the third-party site.

On 5 May 2014, Dropbox blogged:

We wanted to let you know about a web vulnerability that impacted shared links to files containing hyperlinks. We’ve taken steps to address this issue and you don’t need to take any further action.
Web vulnerability affecting shared links

On 6 May 2014 (actually on the same day if you take time differences into account), IntraLinks (who ‘found’ the flaw), the BBC and Graham Cluley all wrote about it:

But each of them talk as if they had prior knowledge of the issue and at greater depth than that revealed by Dropbox. So what exactly is the history of this disclosure?

From the IntraLinks blog we learn:

We notified Dropbox about this issue when we first uncovered files, back in November 2013, to give them time to respond and deal with the problem. They sent a short response saying, “we do not believe this is a vulnerability.”

So for almost six months Dropbox knew about this flaw but did nothing about it. Graham explained by email how it came to a head, and Dropbox was forced to respond:

Intralinks told Dropbox and Box back in November last year.

Intralinks told me a few weeks ago. My advice was to get a big media outlet interested. They went to the BBC.

The BBC spoke to me on Monday (the 5th) and contacted Dropbox. The BBC were due to publish their story that day, but Dropbox convinced them to wait until the following day (presumably they were responding).

Dropbox then published their blog in the hours before the BBC and I published our articles (Tuesday morning).

This seems to be the perfect vindication of Graham’s preferred disclosure route: use the media to force the vendor’s hand before public disclosure of a vulnerability.

But just to keep the argument going, it also vindicates my own position. Dropbox users were exposed to this vulnerability for more than four months longer than they need have been. There is simply no way of knowing whether criminals were already aware of and using the flaw, and we consequently have no way of knowing how many Dropbox users may have had sensitive information compromised during those four months. After all, the NSA knew about Heartbleed, and were most likely using it, for two years before it was disclosed and fixed.

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