Stupid QA tricks: Colossal testing oversights

The trick to nipping IT miscues is testing, testing, testing, as these hard-luck lessons in boneheaded quality assurance attest

Department of Corrections database inadvertently steps into the "user-generated" generation

Testing oversight: Trusted anonymous access to US government database

Consequence: Database queries in URLs permit anyone with passing knowledge of SQL to pull down full personal information of anyone affiliated with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, including prisoners, guards, and officers.

Anyone who's ever been an employee of the Oklahoma prison system or an unwilling guest of the state now has an additional issue to worry about: identity theft. Thanks to a poorly programmed Web page designed to provide access to the Sexual and Violent Offender Registry, Web visitors were able to gain complete access to the entire Department of Corrections database.

Among the data stored in the database were names, addresses, Social Security numbers, medical histories, and e-mail addresses. But the problem was far worse that that: Anyone who knew how to craft SQL queries could have actually added information to the database.

Got an annoying neighbor who mows his lawn too early on a Sunday? How about a roommate who plays his music too loud, late into the night? Annoying ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend? Why not add them to the Sexual and Violent Offender Registry and watch them get rejected from jobs and be dragged off to the pokey after a routine traffic stop?

To add insult to injury, when Alex Papadimoulis, editor of, alerted Oklahoma corrections officials about the security problem, they fixed it immediately -- by making the SQL query case-sensitive.

So instead of adding "social_security_number" to the query string that retrieves that bit of information, it only worked if you used "Social_security_number." Genius, huh? Nobody would ever have thought of that.

The database-on-a-Web-site issue is only a slice of the problems Oklahoma's Department of Corrections faces when it comes to IT. An audit of the department published at the end of 2007 explains that the OMS (Offender Management System) is on the brink of collapse.

"The current software is so out of date that it cannot reside on newer computer equipment and is maintained on an antiquated hardware platform that is becoming increasingly difficult to repair. A recent malfunction of this server took OMS down for over a full day while replacement parts were located. If this hardware ultimately fails, the agency will lose its most vital technology resource in the day-to-day management of the offender population."

Testing tip: When you're building an interface to a database that contains the sensitive data of hundreds or thousands of people, there's no excuse for taking the least-expensive-coder route. Coding security into a Web application takes a programmer with practical experience. In this case, that didn't happen. The money you spend on a secure site architecture at the beginning may save you from major embarrassment later, after some kid breaks your security model in five minutes. Remember, "security through obscurity" provides no security at all.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags corporate issuesIT management

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

Andrew Brandt

Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Armand Abogado

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

Wireless printing from my iPhone was also a handy feature, the whole experience was quick and seamless with no setup requirements - accessed through the default iOS printing menu options.

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

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.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?