Scanlyze

The Online Journal of Insight, Satire, Desire, Wit and Observation

Guardian inaccurate article: Alleged credit card scam raises new web security fears

Guardian inaccurate article: Alleged credit card scam raises new web security fears

To the Guardian Tech Editor:

Dear Editor,

The article,

Alleged credit card scam raises new web security fears

published Tuesday 18 August 2009 20.43 BST

incorrectly describes the computer vulnerability, or “exploit” allegedly used by one Albert Gonzalez and unnamed others to allegedly steal and sell credit card information from several companies. The article also mis-characterizes the legal procedure used to bring the charges.

The article says,

“The charge sheet says that Gonzalez, along with two others who “resided in or near Russia”, in December 2007 injected “structured query language”, a computer programming language designed to retrieve and manage data, into the computers of companies such as Heartland, one of the world’s biggest credit and debit card payment processing companies.”

Structured Query Language is not a computer language such as C or FORTRAN. It cannot be “injected” anywhere. It is a format or language for querying or posting information to a computer database.

It sounds like your reporters read “SQL injection”, didn’t understand what that meant, and made up a likely sounding (but wrong) explanation.

A more correct description would be that the alleged fraudsters illegally accessed corporate databases, and inserted fraudulent information into them in order to gain access to those or other systems.

SQL injection is a well-known and preventable vulnerability, see http://cve.mitre.org/cgi-bin/cvename.cgi?name=CVE-2006-1804

Your writers apparently could not even be troubled to look up the defendant on wikipedia, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Gonzalez

The article refers to a “charge sheet”, the correct term in this case is “indictment”, see http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/ma/Press%20Office%20-%20Press%20Release%20Files/IDTheft/Gonzalez,%20Albert%20-%20Indictment%20080508.pdf

A “charge sheet” in US usage refers to the daily written record of events in a police station, it has little or nothing to do with Grand Jury proceedings. In the Commonwealth, it may refer to a final police report. It is not the same as an indictment brought by a Grand Jury. Confusing charges brought by police and charges brought by a Grand Jury is a fundamental error.

The most newsworthy item overlooked in this rather poor excuse for an article is the question of liability. Both the “wardriving” and “SQL Injection” attacks are well-documented and generally preventable. Thus there is the question of the liability of the companies allegedly victimized as they may have failed to take even the most basic computer security precautions with this sensitive data. Further, how was the defendant able to carry out the alleged attacks while at the same time allegedly acting as a consultant or informant to the US Secret Service? To what degree is the Secret Service liable for failing to prevent, or even possibly enabling, these attacks?

The article’s confusion of the acting US attorney for New Jersey, Ralph Marra, with the “acting US Attorney General” further detracts from the accuracy and reliability of your reportage. The Attorney General of the United States is Eric Holder. There is no “acting US Attorney General.” Your reporters should certainly have known this if they were even moderately well-informed. Basic fact-checking by your editors should have caught and prevented this error from being published.

In the future, please don’t have articles written by people who A) have no idea what they are writing about in either the legal or technical sphere and B) don’t do even a basic job of research and fact-checking. Editors must fact-check and verify all references to technical descriptions, legal proceedings, and offices held by public officials.

Best regards,

Henry Edward Hardy
scanlyze.wordpress.com

The subtitle refers to “‘Biggest ever’ case involves 130m cards”

Who says it is the “biggest ever” case? This unattributed quote appears nowhere in the article, which does not state anything of the kind. Was it simply made up by a copy editor?

I would also note that the title of the Guardian article claims that the incident “raises new web security fears.” This is bullocks. Wardriving and SQL injection are neither new issues nor are they web-dependent; how to defend against them is well-understood and documented; and fear-mongering about them isn’t warranted or appropriate.

Copyright © 2009 Henry Edward Hardy

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2 September, 2009 - Posted by | Bobbie Johnson, credit, credit card, criticism, Ewen MacAskill, fraud, Guardian, indictment, law, news, reporting, scanlyze, Secret Service, war driving | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Albert Gonzales has pleaded guilty. No surprise there. Will be interseting to see what happens on 8th December.

    Comment by David in Sydney | 16 September, 2009 | Reply


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