Security Experts:

Grammarly Rushes to Patch Flaw Exposing User Data

Google Project Zero researcher Tavis Ormandy discovered a vulnerability in the online grammar checker Grammarly that could have been exploited by malicious websites to access user data. The app’s developers quickly patched the flaw after learning of its existence.

Ormandy found that the Grammarly browser extension, which has roughly 20 million users on Chrome and 645,000 on Firefox, exposed authentication tokens to third-party websites.

An attacker could have obtained authentication tokens and used them to access the target’s account simply by getting them to visit a specially crafted website. This was a serious flaw considering that some Grammarly accounts could contain highly sensitive information.

“I'm calling this a high severity bug, because it seems like a pretty severe violation of user expectations,” Ormandy said in an advisory. “Users would not expect that visiting a website gives it permission to access documents or data they've typed into other websites.”

In a blog post covering the Google researcher’s findings, Sophos expert Paul Ducklin explained how authentication tokens work.

“An authentication token is a one-time cryptographic string that is set by a server as a browser cookie after you’ve successfully logged into a website. Your browser sends that cookie back to the site with every subsequent web transaction, thus signalling to the server that it’s you coming back for more,” Ducklin said. “Without this sort of arrangement, you’d have to supply your username and password for every web request you wanted to make.”

Ducklin highlighted that online services should protect these tokens by using HTTPS, and by enforcing the same-origin policy (SOP), which prevents websites from interacting with each other.

Ormandy reported the vulnerability to Grammarly on Friday and the company said it rolled out a fix within hours. Users are not required to take any action as the affected browser extensions should be updated automatically.

Grammarly pointed out that the security hole only affected text saved in the Grammarly Editor, and it did not impact Grammarly Keyboard, the Microsoft Office add-in, or any text typed in websites while using the extension.

“At this time, Grammarly has no evidence that any user information was compromised by this issue,” Grammarly said. “We’re continuing to monitor actively for any unusual activity.”

This is not the first vulnerability disclosed by Ormandy this year. He has also reported finding a critical remote code execution vulnerability in the Transmission BitTorrent client, and a code execution flaw affecting all games from Blizzard.

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Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.