Data breach of toy maker VTech leaked photos of children, parents

The details of 5 million parents and children were disclosed after a cyberattack

The data breach of Hong Kong toy manufacturer VTech appears to have also included photos of children and parents, adding to what could be one of the most surprising leaks of the year.

VTech, which makes cordless phones and what it terms electronic learning devices for kids, apologized on Twitter on Monday. The company said it has suspended the affected service, called Learning Lodge, and is notifying customers.

Vice's Motherboard tech news site, which first reported the breach, said on Monday the breach also contained thousands of photos of parents and kids and chat logs.

VTech officials couldn't immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday.

The breach affected a database for VTech's Learning Lodge app store, an online service that connects to many of the company's devices. VTech said the database was accessed on Nov. 14.

The compromised data includes 4.8 million customer email addresses, names and weakly hashed passwords of adult registered users. It also includes the gender, first name and birth dates of more than 200,000 children.

The customer data came from users in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland, France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Luxembourg, Hong Kong, China, Australia, New Zealand and Latin America, VTech said in a FAQ.

The data was passed to Motherboard by the hacker, the publication reported. Motherboard was told the data was obtained by a SQL injection vulnerability.

A SQL injection flaw, one of the most common types of problems with websites, can allow a hacker to enter commands into a Web-based form and get the back-end database to respond.

Some of the VTech data was passed by Motherboard to Troy Hunt, an Australia-based security expert who studies data breaches and runs a notification service called Have I Been Pwned.

He verified the leaked data by contacting some people who had registered for his service, which notifies people if their email addresses turns up in a new data breach.

In a lengthy blog post on Saturday, Hunt's investigation of VTech's Learning Lodge and associated online services turned up numerous egregious security issues.

VTech's account registration services do not use SSL/TLS (Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Layer Security), which encrypts data sent between a user's computer and a service, Hunt wrote. It's considered a high risk to not enable SSL/TLS, particularly when registering accounts with personal information and passwords.

vtech account registration Troy Hunt

This is one of VTech's account registration panels for parents.

VTech said the passwords stored were encrypted. Hunt found VTech stored password hashes, which are cryptographic representations of passwords that have been churned through an algorithm.

But VTech used an algorithm known as MD5, which is considered very weak. Converting those hashes into their original passwords is possible using decoding tools and powerful graphics processors.

"The vast majority of these passwords would be cracked in next to no time," Hunt wrote.

Further analysis by Hunt showed it is easy to match the registered accounts of parents with their registered children. The flaws, he said, have been reported to VTech.

"The flaws are fundamental, and the recommendation I've passed on is to take it offline ASAP until they can fix it properly," Hunt wrote. "You just can't take chances with other people's data in this way, especially not when they're kids."

Chris Eng, vice president of security research at Veracode, said some consumer technology companies don't view security as a primary part of their core business, and "they're paying the price for it."

"VTech is a toy company," Eng said. "Toy manufacturers don’t have the rigor around secure development that’s needed in today’s environment and are inevitably going to fall short on security.”

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