Hacker commandeers GitHub to prove Rails vulnerability

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A Russian hacker dramatically demonstrated one of the most common security weaknesses in the Ruby on Rails web application language. By doing so, he took full control of the databases GitHub uses to distribute Linux and thousands of other open-source software packages.

Egor Homakov exploited what's known as a mass assignment vulnerability in GitHub to gain administrator access to the Ruby on Rails repository hosted on the popular website. The weekend hack allowed him to post an entry in the framework's bug tracker dated 1,001 years into the future. It also allowed him to gain write privileges to the Ruby code repository. He carried out the attack by replacing a cryptographic key of a known developer with one he created. While the hack was innocuous, it sparked alarm among open-source advocates because it could have been used to plant malicious code in repositories millions of people use to download trusted software.

Homakov launched the attack two days after he posted a vulnerability report to the Ruby bug list warning mass assignments in Rails made the websites relying on the developer language susceptible to compromise. A variety of developers replied with posts saying the vulnerability is already well known and responsibility for preventing exploits rests with those who use the language. Homakov responded by saying even developers for large sites for GitHub, Poster, Speakerdeck, and Scribd were failing to adequately protect against the vulnerability.