Sorry we let your email leak. Love, AT&T  (Source: Boy Genius Report)

Some members of the Goatse Security team, such as Sam Hovecar, reside outside the U.S., which could hinder possible prosecution efforts.  (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
FBI may have trouble prosecuting the Goatse Security team given how easy the info was available

AT&T's iPad 3G customers may soon be getting a lot more spam.  Last week, security analysts with Goatse Security exploited AT&T's overly permissive web interface to obtain 114,000 email addresses of iPad 3G buyers, including a host of A-list politicians, military officials, business chiefs, and celebrities.  Goatse Security previously indicated that it may have disclosed the flaw to interested third parties before it was closed, raising the likelihood that malicious parties may have harvested iPad owners' emails for spamming or other ill purposes.

On Sunday, AT&T’s VP of public policy and Chief Privacy Officer Dorothy Attwood today sent out an apology email to all of AT&T’s iPad 3G data plan subscribers.

In the email Attwood writes, "We apologize for the incident and any inconvenience it may have caused.  Rest assured, you can continue to use your AT&T 3G service on you iPad with confidence."

Later in the email, AT&T warns customers to be on the lookout for new spam emails.  They write, "While the attack was limited to email addresses and ICC-ID data, we encourage you to be alert to scams that could attempt to use this information to obtain other data or send you unwanted email.  You can learn more about phishing by visiting the AT&T website."

One interesting thing about the letter is its characterization of the Goatse Security analysts as "hackers" and the breach as an "attack".  AT&T also writes in a letter that the attack was "malicious", despite the fact that Goatse Security purportedly informed AT&T of the hole.

AT&T is cooperating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate the breach.  The investigation could yield criminal charges against the Goatse Security analysts, if they reside in the U.S.  In AT&T's letter it says that it does not tolerate leaking of personal information and will "prosecute violators to the fullest extent of the law."

In the case of Goatse Security, one thing that may hinder criminal charges is just how easy to find the information was.  The only "hack" of any sort Goatse Security had to engage in was to send AT&T's web application a request header that looked like it came from an iPad.  Sending fake request headers is nothing new, and not particularly illegal.  For example, many smartphones have the option to set your request header to either indicate you're on mobile phone, or to spoof websites to think you're on a PC and display the normal website.

With the easy-to-make iPad header in place, Goatse ran an extremely simple PHP script to guess a variety of ICC-ID numbers and store the resulting emails.  Harvesting private information that's accidentally exposed is a gray area of the law (
abusing such info is obviously a crime, though, under various laws, such as anti-spamming legislation).  Since Goatse did not break into password-protected systems or conduct any sort of serious attack on AT&T's servers, it's hard to say whether AT&T and the FBI will be able to successfully prosecute the team.

Goatse Security has issued a response, in which it argues that iPad owners had a right to know about this security flaw and that it did nothing wrong.  It writes:

This disclosure needed to be made. iPad 3G users had the right to know that their email addresses were potentially public knowledge so they could take steps to mitigate the issue (like changing their email address). This was done in service of the American public. Do you really think corporate privacy breaches should stay indefinitely secret? I don’t. If you’re potentially on a list of exploit targets because someone has an iPad Safari vulnerability and they scraped you in a gigantic list of emails it is best that you are informed of that sooner than later (after you’ve been successfully exploited). We did this to help you.

Another thing that could complicate prosecution is that the Goatse team appears to at least be partially be based out of France.  A WhoIS lookup on the domain (security.) reveals that it is hosted by a French registrar by the name of "GANDI" which resides in Paris (the company's contact email and phone number appear to be included in the registration).  Gandi's website can be found here and appears to offer hosting and security services.

Combining information provided by the team page on the Goatse Security site and simple Google name searches, we discovered that a couple of the team members indeed reside in the U.S. --Escher Auernheimer (Calif.), Christopher Abad (Calif.).  Others -- such as Sam Hocevar (France) -- reside outside the country.

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov

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