Why I No Longer Have a Login at ISACA.org

After much conversation with the folks who manage the ISACA.org site and quite a bit of frustration trying to reach the people responsible for the site within ISACA, I had a good discussion with them last night and they have removed my login credentials by my request. While I have been and continue to be a supporter and member of ISACA, I disagree with them over this particular issue.

The problem is that the ISACA.org password reset mechanism sends your password in clear text to your registered email address. An attacker, or anyone, only needs to know or guess a user name to cause the system to send the password. If an attacker initiates this process and can gain access to the email system or the email itself in transit, then they gain access to a live, user generated password.

The threat model for this is obvious and commonly exploited. Users, even security folks, often re-use the same passwords around the Internet for a variety of sites. If the attacker can gain the password by exploiting this mechanism, then it becomes easy to try and leverage those credentials on a myriad of sites and accounts. Similar attacks have been quite popular lately and have proven effective for high level compromises on social media, e-commerce and other popular sites.

When I explained the problem to the web manager, he did not disagree with either the risk or the attack vectors. He only explained that they had known of the problem for a year or so and that their mitigation was to launch a new web site. He assured me the new site would be ready within a few months. He explained that the new site, in accordance with current best-practices, would include a new reset mechanism for passwords that used a token URL link or the like instead of a plain text password. I suggested that they remove the current mechanism from use until then and he said they would explore that as an option.

My main point on this issue is that I expect more from ISACA. I expect that since they are teaching the world to audit systems and processes for security, that they themselves would have secure processes. I especially have a hard time accepting that they knew of this problem for a year and chose to accept the risk without any additional controls being implemented, thereby placing the residual risk squarely on the shoulders of their members. To make matters worse, they transferred this risk to the membership without so much as a reminder or disclosure statement on their site about the problem. I understand that they may have resource constraints around managing the site, as he explained,   but these are the same issues that all organizations face, including the very organizations their training teaches people not to accept this explanation from.

While the discussion was amiable and professional, I am left with my disappointment. I got no assurances that anything would be done differently until the new site is launched and I got no sense for how that new site will be peer tested, reviewed or the like. Thus, I asked them to remove my account until that time. This is also the reason I am making this post. I want all ISACA members to be aware of the risk and that their credentials could potentially be exposed. Hopefully, none of the membership reuses their password around the web, but that seems unlikely. At least now, if they read this blog post, they will be aware.

Please feel free to let me know your thoughts on this issue by leaving a comment below. You can also contact ISACA by phone. Their numbers are listed in the contact us portion of their website.

Lastly, I want to say that I continue to support ISACA and their membership. I think their mission is critical and that their training is a strong positive for the security community and the world at large. As always, thanks for reading!

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About Brent Huston

I am the CEO of MicroSolved, Inc. and a security evangelist. I have spent the last 20+ years working to make the Internet safer for everyone on a global scale. I believe the Internet has the capability to contribute to the next great leap for mankind, and I want to help make that happen!

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