GST site breach: AFP investigating

The aftermath of Thurday's exposure of a flaw in the department of the Treasury's 'GST Assist' web site has seen a project manager with the Office admit that low levels of security on the site were a consequence of the Office's need to complete the task of publishing the information.

Glenn Carlos, GST Project Manager with the Office said on Friday that the Office "We were looking for the most rapid system. If we had more time I probably would have spent three or four more weeks going through security, but I'm not even sure that would have been valid."

Questions also remain over whether the person who discovered, then reported the breach is himself guilty of an intrusion. Some of the 17,000 recipients of the original emails warning of the site's low security have been distributing their own messages of support for "K2", the identifying name used by "Kelly", the man originally identified as being responsible for the breach.

"K2 sent out 17,000 e-mail messages to business's registered with the Treasury's web site (http://www.gstassist.gov.au) containing our own bank account details," read one such email distributed today, which also included an email address set up to receive messages of support for K2. "He did this, not for fame or profit, but to highlight a security problem. He did not publish the information or broadcast anyone's details to anyone other than the information owner. He is a hero!"

Security experts remain divided over the value of the breach "Rather than let the problem go unnoticed, he informed the owners of the information that is vulnerable," said one industry insider. "The people whose bank account details were open to access with something as simple as an iteration of a number in a URL."

"Good design practices would have prevented this problem in the first place, disallowing users from accessing information other than their own or disallowing access to more than a certain number of individual queries in a period of time and alerting system administrators, for example." Said another security analyst, adding that "The trend with other Government IT systems is to rigorously maintain separation between the "public face" of their systems and the "back end". Sadly, no firewall would have prevented this problem because as long as users are "tunnelled" through the firewall to an inherently flawed and insecure system behind the firewall, it's not a matter of if they'll break out - it's a matter of how and when."

It has been reported on Friday that the Australian Federal Police are interviewing a suspect, with reports saying that the suspect is either a 20 year old unemployed man named Kelly, as reported yesterday, or is a 17 year old high school student, also called Kelly. Some reports suggest Kelly inadvertently discovered the breach while attempting to apply for an Australian Business Number himself, writing a simple CGI script which recorded page information for each of the database entrants and emailing them to inform of the breach. When asked why he had contacted the database entrants rather than authorities, Kelly said, "I found it quite shocking, I sent emails warning people that it could be done."

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