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Defense Intelligence Agency Fixes Risky Web Site Code

The presence of a call to execute JavaScript code that resides on a Statcounter.com server in Ireland provided a weak link in the security chain that could have been exploited.

Thomas Claburn

October 31, 2008

2 Min Read

The Defense Intelligence Agency Web site, until earlier this week, exposed job applicants to potential privacy and security risks because it included a link to JavaScript code hosted on a third-party Web site.

While there's no evidence that the site leaked personal information, the presence of a call to execute JavaScript code that resides on a Statcounter.com server in Ireland provided a weak link in the security chain that could have been exploited to provide potentially valuable foreign intelligence about future DIA personnel.

Security researcher Bipin Gautam sent an e-mail to the Full Disclosure security mailing list earlier this week outlining his concerns.

In a follow-up e-mail to InformationWeek, he explained the issue. "If a Web site includes third-party JavaScript like stat counters, advertisement scripts, [or] banners called from third-party servers, the Web site is at risk of having to rely on the third party as well for overall security assurance of its Web site," he said.

In an e-mail, Robert "RSnake" Hansen, CEO of SecTheory and contributor to TechWeb security site Dark Reading, confirmed that the DIA Web site was unnecessarily vulnerable.

"It definitely is an issue if the Web site StatCounter.com were ever to get under an attacker's control," he said. "The site itself is not HTTPS, so it's already vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks."

The presence of that third-party JavaScript call, said Hansen, "could give an attacker complete cross-domain read/write into dia.mil."

The DIA was made aware of the risk following Gautam's initial post.

"This code was brought to DIA's attention by individuals within the agency on Monday," said a DIA spokesperson via e-mail. "Upon further investigation, it was resident only on the one page and was determined to be superfluous coding from a previous page incarnation. The code was deleted and no longer resides on DIA servers."

In response to the suggestion by one participant on the Full Disclosure mailing list that the cookie files used by StatCounter.com might have violated federal guidelines, the DIA spokesperson said that the DIA used session cookies (not persistent cookies) for its employment pages only and that the rest of dia.mil is cookie-free.

The spokesperson said, "DIA has followed and continues to follow Department of Defense policy on cookie usage."

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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