Private Element Gone Public

Are you following FogMarks?

In what way you interact with “private” elements of your users? I mean elements like their name, email address, home address, phone number or any other kind of information that may be important to them.

Today’s case-study talks just about that. We will talk about the way private elements (and I’ll explain the term ‘elements’ later) should be handled, and then we will see 2 neat examples from vulnerabilities I have found on Facebook (and were fixed, of course).

OK, so you are mature enough to ask your users to trust you with their email address, home address and phone number. If you are smart, you’ll know that this type of information should be transmitted on the wire via HTTPS, but you’ll remember that sometimes it is a good practice to encrypt by yourself.

But now that the users info are properly saved, and your system is immune to SQL injections, I would like to introduce you to your next enemy: IDOR.

Insecure Direct Object References are your info’s second-worst enemy (after SQLi, of course). Attacker who is able to access other users private elements (such as email address, phone number, etc) basically could expose all of the private data from the server.

This is the time to explain my definition to private elements. User elements are not just the user’s phone number, email address, name, gender, sexual-orientation or favorite side of the bed. They are also elements that the user’s creates or own, like the items in the user’s cart, a group that the user owns or a paint that a user makes.

The best way to handle private elements is to define them as private and treat them with the needed honor.

If you know that only a certain user (or users) should be able to access a certain element, make sure that only those users IDs (or other identifier) are able to access and fetch the element.

How will you do so? Using a private elements manager of course.
The idea is simple: A one class that is fetching information about private events only if an accepted identifier is being provided (for example, a class that will return the email address of the user ID ‘212’ only if the ID of the user who requested that information is ‘212’.

By sticking to this logic you’ll enforce a strong policy that will make all of the APIs to interact the same way with the private elements.

Now, our good friends at Facebook apparently forgot to change their logic on their old mbasic site (

I have found 2 vulnerabilities which allowed the name of a private (secret) group or event to be disclosed to any user, regardless the fact that he is not invited or in the group/event. The first vulnerability is here by presented, but the second one is yet to be fully patched (it is in progress these days):