Here is a lesson for all you webmasters, hosting companies or aspiring hackers out there. Recently the GOP’s website (voteforthe.gop.com) was hacked in a surprisingly simple way… well sort of.
What was the vulnerability?
The republican party’s website, gop.com, was configured to forward ANY unrecognised subdomain back to the top level domain. A subdomain is text that precedes the primary domain in a URL like, for example zyx.gop.com or abc.gop.com. By forwarding unrecognised subdomains, it meant that anyone could share what looked like official Republican party website URL’s even though they could be defamatory or embarrassing.
What happened next?
After this simple exploit was shared on various forums and discussion boards, many fake links started to pop up across the internet such as dontvoteforthe.gop.com, causing embarrassment and confusion for the party in the media.
The boring tech stuff
Okay webmasters, listen up. Using a wildcard to accept incoming subdomain internet requests is not uncommon, but it’s not best practice.
“The upside is if someone mistypes the www at the beginning of the URL they are still directed to the correct website,” according to Doug Madory a internet infrastructure researcher at Dyn, a company specialising in internet infrastructure. “On the flip side it could create a branding issue if people start circulating a website like DontVoteForThe.gop.com and it appears to be a valid URL.”
This isn’t the first time government parties have left themselves open to digital vandalism. In 2009, US election candidates also launched a URL shortening service that was temporarily misused by pranksters to create links pointing to seedy and ridiculing websites.
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