Microsoft.co.uk succumbs to SQL injection attack

A hacker successfully defaced a Web page within Microsoft's U.K. domain on Thursday, but the problem has been fixed.

A hacker successfully attacked a Web page within Microsoft Corp.'s U.K. domain on Wednesday, resulting in the display of a photograph of a child waving the flag of Saudi Arabia.

It was "unfortunate" that the site was vulnerable, said Roger Halbheer, chief security advisor for Microsoft in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, on Friday.

The problem has since been fixed. However, the hack highlights how large software companies with technical expertise can still prove vulnerable to hackers.

The hacker, who posted his name as "rEmOtEr," exploited a programming mistake in the site by using a technique known as SQL (Structured Query Language) injection to get unauthorized access to a database, Halbheer said. The site took SQL queries of a particular form, embedded in URLs (uniform resource locators), and passed them to a database. By embedding a query with an unexpected form in the requested URL, the hacker prompted the server to return error messages, Halbheer said.

From those error messages, a hacker can get an idea of how the database is structured and refine a SQL query that the database will process as an instruction to insert, rather than retrieve, data. Eventually, the hacker found the right combination and inserted a link to an external Web site into the database.

That meant when the normal Web page was called into a browser, the database would download data from an external link. In this case, it was two photos and a graphic, a screen shot of which is available on Zone-H.org, which tracks hacked Web sites.

There are two ways to avoid this style of attack. First, the database should not be allowed to return error messages, Halbheer said. Secondly, the Web application should have validated the URL the hacker entered and rejected ones that should not be processed, he said.

If a programmer makes a mistake, "the bad guy can leverage it," Halbheer said.

SQL injection attacks are on the rise, overall, since valuable data is held within databases, said Paul Davie, founder and chief operating officer of Secerno, a security vendor that develops technology to protect databases from SQL attacks.

"I don't think Microsoft are unique in this respect and shouldn't be held up as particularly slipshod," Davie said. "This could have happened to practically anybody."

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?