hack – Stay N Alive

There’s More Than One Way to Store a Password – PerlMonks Hacked

nirvana-smells-like-teen-52041Hackers are in a state of Nirvana as it would appear they hit the gold mine of programmer passwords in a hack of the popular Perl forums and resource site, PerlMonks.com yesterday.  The hack claims to have gained access to the database of more than 50,000 passwords, which insanely were stored in plain text in the database for anyone to see.  The hackers subsequently published the list to several mirrored servers (I can’t find a link to verify, but it’s not something I would publish anyway), along with the following statement:

“There is a really simple reason we owned PerlMonks: we couldn’t resist more than 50,000 unencrypted programmer passwords.

That’s right, unhashed. Just sitting in the database. From which they save convenient backups for us.

Believe it or not, there is actually debate at perlmonks about whether or not this is a good idea. Let’s just settle the argument right now and say it was an idea that children with mental disabilities would be smart enough to scoff at. We considered patching this for you but we were just too busy and lazy. I’m sure you can figure it out yourselves.

This isn’t a bad set of passwords, either. Programmers have access to interesting things. These Perl guys are alright, just a little dumb apparently. A lot of them reuse. You can explore them yourselves, I really do not want to point out anyone in particular.

In case you guys are worried, we did NOT backdoor dozens of your public Perl projects. Honest. Why would we want to do that?

Not worth our time ;)”

It’s unclear exactly who, and how many were compromised, but the site is recommending all who have previously had accounts on PerlMonks.com to change their passwords immediately.  In addition, one of the worlds largest repositories of open source code, the CPAN network, has also recommended that its authors change their passwords, as evidently somehow the two sites are connected.

As a Perl developer, and CPAN author, this is a bit concerning.  First, it would be one issue if this were just some random group of people whose passwords had been hacked, but this is a database of tens of thousands of developers, probably most with root access to the machines they write code on, and according to the hackers, many using passwords that are being re-used elsewhere.  These are the passwords of developers like Chromatic, Brian D Foy, Andy Lester, engineers at major corporations and government entities, and more.  The hackers couldn’t have picked a worse server to crack and expose.

I’m baffled at what the PerlMonks developers and admins were thinking storing their passwords in plain-text, something that, in my own opinion is amateurish, and should have some sort of repercussions at their lack of responsibility in handling their users passwords.  This is something that not only has been in Perl since version 1.0, but has also been integrated natively in almost every database environment on the planet.  That said, there is no privacy policy that I can see on the PerlMonks website, so maybe the users should have paid better attention.  I don’t expect the PerlMonks admins to say that, though. I’m ashamed as a Perl developer, and this gives a huge black eye to the entire Perl community.  It only gives further validation to the rest of the world’s claims that Perl is for messy code.

I hope the PerlMonks developers and admins can make right of this situation and not only fix their database, but make amends with the community, and the rest of the world, whose trust they just violated. After this, I’m seriously considering switching to another language for my next project.