Albert the (Bug) Bounty Hunter

August 18, 2022

Albert Pedersen, an inquisitive scholar in Denmark, makes a hobby of prodding software for vulnerabilities. Now he has proudly collected a bounty after his second successful hunt. Gizmodo reports, “A College Student Discovered a Bug in Cloudflare Email Routing that Let You Read Any User’s Emails.” Email routing services allow users to create disposable email addresses that point back to their “real” accounts and can be valuable privacy tools. That is, if they are truly secure. Writer Lucas Ropek reports:

“Unfortunately, as demonstrated in research published Wednesday by a college student from Denmark, Cloudflare’s service had a giant bug in it. The flaw, when properly exploited, allowed any user to read—or even manipulate—other users’ emails. … The vulnerability, which Cloudflare has confirmed but says was never exploited, involved a flaw in the program’s ‘zone ownership verification’ system, meaning that it was possible for a hacker to reconfigure email routing and forwarding for email domains that weren’t owned by them. Proper manipulation of the exploit would have allowed someone with knowledge of the bug to re-route any users’ emails to their own address. It would have also allowed a hacker to prevent certain emails from being sent to the target at all. In his write-up, Pedersen notes that it’s not that difficult to find online lists of email addresses attached to Cloudflare’s service. Using one of those lists, a bad guy could have quite easily targeted anybody using the forwarding service. After discovering the exploit, Pedersen managed to reproduce it a number of times using multiple personal domains and decided to report the issue to Cloudflare’s bug bounty program.”

We are sure Cloudflare considers the bounty to be $6,000 well spent. Had the bug gone unsquashed, the repercussions may have gone well beyond the troublesome privacy issues. Bad actors could also have used it to reset passwords, gaining access to financial and other accounts. As Ropek points out, this is a good illustration of why two-factor authentication is worth the hassle. As talented as he is, the intrepid young Dane is only one person. He may not catch the next bug in time.

Cynthia Murrell, August 18, 2022


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