The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) disclosed more details regarding the breach that exposed the usernames and passwords of some 100,000 members.
Last week, Radu Dragusin, a teaching assistant at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, revealed that he had discovered an FTP server that had been left open on the Web for at least a month. The server contained plain-text files that had password and user ID information, including credentials that belonged to members from organizations such as NASA and Google.
In an update, IEEE stated that the incident related to the communication of user IDs and passwords between two specific applications within its internal network.
"An anomaly occurred with a process executed in coordination with a proxy provider of IEEE, with the result that copies of some of the logs were placed on our public FTP server," a spokesperson said in a statement. "These communications affected approximately two percent of our users. The log files in question contained user IDs and accompanying passwords that matched our directory. The primary logs were, and are, stored in protected areas."
"Upon discovering this exposure, IEEE immediately removed those files, ceased receiving those log files from the proxy provider, and corrected the interapplication communication that resulted in the logs containing user IDs and passwords," the spokesperson continued. "The affected user accounts were locked down, and only affected users were notified that IEEE is requiring that each affected user change his or her password. Institutional account information was, and remains, unaffected."
The IEEE added that it does not store its corporate directory information in the clear, does not expose it to the public, nor was the corporate directory compromised.
It is not clear whether someone other than Dragusin accessed the data. According to him, some 411,308 of the log entries contain both usernames and passwords. Out of these, there appear to be 99,979 unique usernames. In an analysis of the data, he found that the most common password used to be '123456', with 'ieee2012' coming in at a close second.
"Keeping a salted cryptographic hash of the password is considered best practice, since it would mitigate exactly such an access permission mistake," Dragusin blogged. "Also, keeping passwords in logs is inherently insecure, especially plaintext passwords, since any employee with access to logs (for the purpose of analysis, monitoring or intrusion detection) could pose a threat to the privacy of users."