Blind chance has helped to expose a password security issue at dabs.com over the way it and many other online retailers deal with forgotten passwords.
Reg reader Dave (not his real name) recently received emails from dabs.com about an order he'd supposedly placed for a digital camera. He received a receipt and despatch confirmation emails. All well and good except that he hadn't placed the order. In fact, Dave didn't even have an account with dabs.com.
At this point we might have suspected some kind of phishing scam but Dave's curiosity was piqued. "I checked the emails and then went to dabs.com and tried logging in with my [Hotmail] email address, I don't have a password, but they have a forgot password box, so I clicked on this.
"It then asks for the email address registered against the account, this I put in as my own and clicked send. A few moments later I receive an email with a password for the account," he said.
At this point Dave discovered he was able to log into the original customer's account. "The worrying part is that I am able to change these details at will. I could change the delivery address, contact email etc. If I was not so honest, I could have ordered any item, changed the delivery date etc and possibly received the item, whilst charging the account holders' debit card," he added.
Dave contacted the account holder, using dabs.com's account holder information page to find a telephone number. The real account holder - who shares the same forename - was understandably annoyed at developments. He changed his password but even after this happened the old password still allowed our correspondent to log into the rightful holder's account. This snafu has since been rectified, dabs.com assures us.
Louise Derbyshire of dabs.com said that the mix up had happened because the account holder had entered the wrong email (referring to a Hotmail instead of an AOL account) when he placed the order. "We've never had a security issue about this before," she said.
Derbyshire acknowledged that our correspondent might have been able to place orders charged to someone else's credit card but she said he wouldn't be able to see the legitimate customers' credit card details. "He could only have ordered through dabs.com and we could easily trace what happened," she said.
Derbyshire said dabs.com was in the process of revamping its website and introducing an email verification feature. "This is essentially for marketing purposes but a byproduct of the procedure is that it will address the specific issue of people entering the wrong emails in orders," she said. Dab.com maintains its current password reminder procedures are followed by many other ecommerce websites. "etailers have to thread a fine line between security and useability," she said.
Our correspondent said that the incident illustrated the need for online firms to ask a secret question before handing out replacement passwords. Derbyshire said dabs.com would consider this suggestion. ®