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"The current software is so out of date that it cannot reside on newer computer equipment and is maintained on an antiquated hardware platform that is becoming increasingly difficult to repair.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.

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