Immobilise, the website of the United Kingdom’s National Property Register, was plagued until recently by a privacy flaw that could have been exploited to harvest information on millions of registered users, a researcher revealed on Monday.
Immobilise is said to be the world's largest free register of possession ownership details. The website has been used by roughly 4.2 million businesses and consumers to register more than 28 million items, such as bikes, computers, phones and other valuables. Immobilise and its partner websites, the Police’s National Mobile Property Register (NMPR) and CheckMEND, are utilized to reduce crime and trace the owners of lost or stolen property.
Insecure by design
According to Paul Moore, a UK-based IT security consultant, the Immobilise website was affected by what he initially believed to be a direct object reference vulnerability. The bug exposed names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and details on registered items (serial numbers, IMEIs, unique marks, value), information that can be highly valuable for burglars and other malicious actors.
The researcher identified the issue after analyzing the URL presented to users when they download an ownership certificate from Immobilise in PDF format. The URL includes two parameters that represent the user ID and the certificate ID. Since the value of these parameters was sequential, an attacker could have easily accessed all accounts and all records simply by trying out all combinations, Moore said in a blog post.
“Sure, it'll take some time and you're bound to hit a rate limiter along the way, but even if it takes a day/week/month, it's worth the wait,” the expert explained.
Moore told SecurityWeek that he hasn’t attempted to harvest information, but the rate limiting mechanism could exist because Immobilise uses CloudFlare services.
“If it detects any unusual activity, it’s entirely possible that CloudFlare could implement artificial rate limiting, which doesn’t actually limit connections as such, but intercepts requests and asks the user to prove they’re human etc.,” Moore said via email.
After further investigation, the researcher determined that the direct object reference was not an actual vulnerability, but a feature that allowed police and insurance companies to verify the authenticity of an ownership certificate based on its ID. Moore said the website was insecure by design.
Immobilise security issues fixed
According to Moore, the issue was discovered and reported more than a year ago to Recipero, the company that develops the Immobilise, CheckMEND and NMPR websites. At the time, Moore reported this and several other security holes in the National Property Register site, including stored cross-site scripting (XSS), cross-site reference forgery (CSRF), and remote code execution flaws. The vulnerabilities were fixed quickly, but the direct object reference issue was addressed only after Moore informed the company on Saturday of his plans to make the existence of the privacy bug public.
The flaw has been addressed by Recipero by limiting access to the verification and certificate generation pages to authorized users.
Moore also discovered that the CheckMEND (checkmend.com) and NMPR (thenmpr.com) websites were vulnerable to SSL 3.0 POODLE attacks. This problem has also been addressed.
“Perhaps ironically, some forces are now unable to access the site because Internet Explorer (as shipped with Windows XP) is only able to use insecure protocols (SSLv3). It's now the responsibility of the affected forces to ensure their software meets current standards,” the researcher said.
When asked about why it took the company more than a year to address the issue, Recipero representatives said they’re currently investigating the validity of Moore’s claims.
“Recipero the provider of the Immobilise.com property register confirms that a vulnerability in the website process has been identified. If exploited this could have allowed a third party to view details associated with an item registration,” Recipero told SecurityWeek in an emailed statement. ”The vulnerability targeted a feature intended for use by registrants when inviting their insurers to view details of an item. This vulnerability has been removed and a thorough review of records revealed no evidence of irregular usage.”
“In addition Recipero confirms that the ‘POODLE SSLv3’ vulnerability has also recently been addressed on all of Recipero’s servers,” the company added.
Moore says he hasn’t reported his findings to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) because the organization will likely not take any measures without proof that the vulnerability has been exploited. However, the expert hopes that the agency will investigate the issue if enough people file a report. The ICO could not immediately be reached for comment.
Moore has also pointed out that the Immobilise website displays the “Secured by Design” seal, an initiative of the UK Police. Researchers have demonstrated recently that many seal providers fail to properly check the websites they vouch for. Furthermore, these seals can actually make certain types of schemes, such as phishing, more efficient, experts said in their paper.
“Take trustmarks, padlocks and privacy policies with a pinch of salt. Even something which looks secure can be wide open to abuse,” Moore said.