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Home : Advisories : Intuit Collects information from QuickBooks 2000 users

Title: Intuit Collects information from QuickBooks 2000 users
Released by: TygerTeam
Date: 19th October 2000
Printable version: Click here

                       Tyger Team Security Advisory



Intuit Collects information from QuickBooks 2000 users

Found: 03/01/00

Published:   10/19/00

Author: Steve Birnbaum 

URL: http://www.tygerteam.com/advisories.html

Status: Vendor contacted.  Update available, though some

        issues are still outstanding.


- ------------------------------------------------------------


- ------------------------------------------------------------

Intuit is collecting information ranging from system configuration to

usage from users of its new QuickBooks 2000 and QuickBooks Pro 2000 software.

Intuit uses Marimba Castanet, an automated software update technology, to

update the QuickBooks 2000 software on their customers' computers

automatically.  The client does not allow the user to restrict what

information is sent to Intuit upon request by the Intuit server.  Intuit

is able to collect private user information without the user's knowledge.

Intuit has also implemented this software in an insecure manner that

allows malicious users to hijack it and either obtain information

about the user, or install their own files or programs on the

user's computer.

Intuit provides WWW integration by providing links to web sites.

When going to such a link, Intuit is sent both the user's

unique serial number and their registration number.  This allows

the monitoring of software installation and user's usage patterns.

- ------------------------------------------------------------

Tested Configuration:

- ------------------------------------------------------------

QuickBooks 2000 (Canadian version) running on a dedicated test platform

Windows NT 4.0 with service pack 6.  No other software, other than

Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.0, which Quicken both provides and

requires, was installed.

Some basic tests were conducted with QuickBooks Pro 2000 and it

is confirmed to have the same problems.  QuickBooks and QuickBooks Pro

are the same program.  The mode in which it runs depends on the

serial number.

- ------------------------------------------------------------


- ------------------------------------------------------------

Using two different methods, QuickBooks reports user information back to


Issue 1

- -------

QuickBooks has integrated the Marimba Castanet (http://www.marimba.com)

product into their software.  Immediately upon first execution, QuickBooks

displays the license agreement.  However, before QuickBooks completes its

launch and presents the user with the interface, it connects to Intuit's

Castanet server (qbmarimbaqw.quicken.com) on port 80.

Below is the start of the first http session.  It shows the initial

connection to the Castanet server and the sending of information

regarding the configuration of the host running QuickBooks, such as

the operating system version.

The meaning of the other strings that are seen below, such as the

reference to "properties.txt" and "any/any" are currently unknown.

- -----------------------------------------------------------------

qb2000-pc.1046 -> qbmarimbaqw.quicken.com.http over TCP

        POST /UpdateDirChanQB HTTP/1.0.

        User-Agent: null.

        Connection: Keep-Alive.

        Content-length: 391.

        Pragma: no-cache.

        Content-type: application/marimba.

        Request-type: update/13.


- -----------------------------------------------------------------

qbmarimbaqw.quicken.com.http -> qb2000-pc.1046 over TCP


- -----------------------------------------------------------------

qb2000-pc.1046 -> qbmarimbaqw.quicken.com.http over TCP



        Windows NT..x86..4.0..en_US....UpdateDirChanQB........DATA=AUC01QFN00000

21911004000011501002                                0000000000

              0000000005200000057010300000000000000000                    05701n

ewfeatures         00000000                    0000................

- -----------------------------------------------------------------

- -----------------------------------------------------------------

qb2000-pc.1047 -> qbmarimbaqw.quicken.com.http over TCP


- -----------------------------------------------------------------

qbmarimbaqw.quicken.com.http -> qb2000-pc.1046 over TCP

        HTTP/1.0 200 Reply follows.

        Server: Marimba-Transmitter/4.0.3.

        Content-type: application/marimba.

        Expires: 0.

        Pragma: no-cache.

        Connection: Keep-Alive.

        Content-length: 140.




- -----------------------------------------------------------------

Next, QuickBooks connects again to the Castanet server and initiates a

request for updated information.  The following capture gives an

indication of the control that the server holds over the client.  It

includes the receipt of various configuration instructions.  The

commands "desktop.shortcut" and "install.inactive=ignore" raised our

suspicions considerably.  The explanation we were later given by

Marimba via Intuit is that these options are part of the full version

of Castanet which were not removed from the more limited SDK software

that Intuit uses.  We were told that while the server has not had

this code removed and it still sends it as part of the handshaking,

the SDK client has had the code to process them removed.  Therefore, we

were told by Intuit that these specific commands are ignored.

- -----------------------------------------------------------------

qb2000-pc.1047 -> qbmarimbaqw.quicken.com.http over TCP

        POST /UpdateDirChanQB HTTP/1.0.

        User-Agent: null.

        Connection: Keep-Alive.

        Content-length: 113.

        Pragma: no-cache.

        Content-type: application/marimba.

        Request-type: getfiles/3.


- -----------------------------------------------------------------

qbmarimbaqw.quicken.com.http -> qb2000-pc.1046 over TCP

        HTTP/1.0 200 Reply follows.

        Server: Marimba-Transmitter/4.0.3.

        Content-type: application/marimba.

        Expires: 0.

        Pragma: no-cache.


        ..........      ...........z...0..kE.@.6.f........DAUS000000000000000000

00QFN0000030111004010011501002                                0000000000


    11801newfeatures         n .edition                 000000213dff621c4a11b6c0

















        update.schedule=every 1 weeks on sun update at 04:00AM

- -----------------------------------------------------------------

There are further exchanges between QuickBooks 2000 and the Castanet

server.  During these exchanges files are sent and installed without

user approval.  In fact, the user isn't even aware that this entire exchange

is taking place.

We contacted Marimba to find out what their software is capable of.

They informed us that the full version of Castanet is able to retrieve

information such as, but not limited to IP addresses, user names and host

names.  The exact information that is obtained depends on what their

customer configures the server to request.  Marimba explicitly stated that

there is no way for the user to prevent certain types of information from

being sent if the server requests it.  We were informed that there is an

additional module (which Intuit has not purchased) that will perform a

full disk scan of the computer running the client software and send the

output to the Castanet server.  We were told that Intuit uses the much

more limited SDK version, which cannot perform this full disk scan.

According to Marimba, the SDK version is limited in the host information

it can retrieve.  It is also limited in its ability to download only to

one specific directory within the QuickBooks directory tree.  The

information it has access to includes the IP address, OS name, version

and architecture, the locale and time zone.  Even though the list of

information retrieved is smaller than the full version, users still

have no ability to control what is sent within that set.

On the other hand, Marimba has also stated that their software is capable

of working with an SSL encrypted session.  The client software can store

the server's key and would reject any attempt from someone to represent

himself as the real Castanet server.  This would also prevent hijacking of

an already established session.  Furthermore, they

support the ability to digitally sign each file being sent.

Castanet seems like a very nice product for an enterprise network.  However,

we question Intuit's use of Castanet in this environment.  Regardless, Intuit

has not activated the most basic security features in the Castanet software.

This results in the user being at risk of session hijacking.

If someone is able to hijack a session, they could install programs that

create back doors to allow an intruder to take full control of the computer.

These sessions raise a list of issues:

1) Intuit knows the identity of the user connecting.  They can theoretically

   target specific files to specific users, such as a program to

   monitor the user's computer or network, even behind a firewall.

2) Since the sessions are not secured, the session can be hijacked and

   a malicious user can insert their own files or backdoors onto the

   user's system.  Intuit has chosen not to encrypt the sessions, thereby

   creating this risk.

3) The user has no control over what information is retrieved from their

   system.  They must simply hope that Intuit won't do something to violate

   their privacy, and that no malicious users will hijack a legitimate session.

4) Users are unaware of what information is being collected and for

   what purpose it is being used.

Issue 2

- -------

QuickBooks 2000 is integrated with Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.  Many

of the windows in QuickBooks are HTML generated on the fly.  With

the seamless web integration, Intuit has created certain text items within

the GUI that are in fact links to web sites, and not buttons, to perform

local program functions.  These links are not labeled as such and appear

no different than HTML links that open other local windows.  This in itself

is not such a security problem.

The issue lies in the method with which Intuit directs the user to a web

site.  The following is the URL that is accessed when the user clicks on

the text of a reminder that the program refers to as an "alert".  The

example is linked to by a warning with regard to a periodic tax payment

due to the government.


The '*' replace the registration number provided by Intuit.  If you have

not registered, the value in the URL is "Unregistered".  This is a unique

number identifying a particular customer of Intuit.

The '#' replace the serial number found on the back of the manual.  This

is a unique number identifying a specific copy of the software.

When you register your purchased copy of QuickBooks with Intuit after

supplying them with your detailed information, you receive a registration

number in return.  Even if you buy the software, you can only run it a

certain number of times without entering a registration number.  So

unless you provide them with false information when registering,

Intuit knows exactly what actions their users are performing that take

them to Internet sites.

- ------------------------------------------------------------

Vendor Response:

- ------------------------------------------------------------

Once we were able to make contact with the appropriate people within

Intuit, they seemed quite receptive to our concerns.

Since first contacting Intuit on March 14, 2000, they have implemented

the following changes with the US R5 and Canadian R6 updates to

QuickBooks 2000:

1) Users installing the R5 and R6 updates are presented with an html

window the next time they run the application explaining the use

of the Automatic Update feature but also including information on

how to disable it.

2) Added a top-level item on the help menu "About Automatic Update,"

which displays a secondary page used for the previously described html

window, and also provides detail about the Automatic Update

feature.  This is more complete than in the previous help index.

3) All, rather than most, html links to Internet sites are now marked

with a lightning bolt.  However, users are not told clearly what this

means unless they click on the relevant help link.  We've suggested

putting this information in a splash screen on startup, or a one-time

notification on clicking such a link, and Intuit has said it will

include information about the html links in the welcome pages in its

next version of QuickBooks.

4) Instead of sending serial numbers in readable text to their

redirect server, they now perform a two-way hash of the information

using a proprietary algorithm.  This is basic obfuscation.  This is

not optimum, but Intuit acted to protect against transient sniffing

and will use an MD5 one-way hash in the next version of QuickBooks.

5) We found that when running the installer for the update, a

connection to Intuit's Castanet server was made if that option was

enabled in QuickBooks 2000.  This appears to be an unintentional side

effect of installing the Automatic Update software itself.  As the

software installs itself into Windows, it starts itself up the default

way; i.e., to check for available updates.  However, after installing

itself, the software quits, which will terminate any connection it may

have initiated.  Intuit believes that it's unlikely that, even on a

slow computer, any such connection would remain open long enough for

any content to actually be downloaded to the computer.

6) Intuit is planning to switch to the industry standard, highest

security level SSL for all Castanet updates beginning with the next

version of QuickBooks.  The Castanet SDK software embedded in

QuickBooks 2000 currently supports SSL enablement and provides other

security features.  However, Intuit believes that updating

QuickBooks 2000 to enable SSL would risk key functionality in the

product and risks adversely affecting existing users.

7) We're still not happy with the auto-update feature, although

Intuit has taken steps to inform users of it and gives them the option

to turn it off.  Initially, we believed there was too much power in the

Castanet client that can be turned on by the server.  Based upon

information provided by Intuit, this was found to be inaccurate.

QuickBooks 2000 does not install any software to customers' PCs that

would allow their hard drives to be scanned or their hard drive file

listings to be hijacked by a rogue server.  In addition, Intuit was told

by Marimba that the hard drive scanning capability in the full feature

Castanet product (i.e., not the Castanet SDK used in QuickBooks 2000) is

of limited scope.  Since this does not affect QuickBooks, which uses

only the Castanet SDK, we did not pursue this avenue to find out what

scanning is available in the full version.  We assume that such a

version would be used by an enterprise network administrator for whom

full drive scanning capabilities for client machines would be acceptable.

We found that while Intuit is ultimately responsible for

what their software does, they seemed genuinely concerned about user

privacy and security.  For more information on Intuit's fixes, and for

upgrade information, refer to http://www.quickbooks.com/support/updates.html

- -----------------------------------------------------------

Quick Solution/Workaround:

- ------------------------------------------------------------

Turn off the Automatic Update feature.  Information about

how to do this is found in the help menu of QuickBooks 2000.

Or, use Intuit's QuickBooks 2000/QuickBooks Pro 2000 on a

computer that is a dedicated, standalone computer with no modem or

network interface.  The computer should not have Internet connectivity

capability at any time.

Paul English of Intuit says that Intuit feels that they offer a

number of beneficial services via the web such as payroll and online

banking and ask that users read their response document to make an

informed decision.

- ------------------------------------------------------------

Long-term Solution:

- ------------------------------------------------------------

Customers should contact Intuit through their web site

at http://www.intuit.com/corporate/quickbooks2000privacy/

and request that this issue be resolved immediately.

The customer service or pay-per-use support representative you speak

with may try to tell you that no method other than the Castanet

automated updates is available for software updates, or that they are

not sure.  We received such a response from both departments.  However,

an additional phone call to their customer service department

led to the confirmation that the updates are available via FTP on the

Internet and they do indeed mail software updates via diskette to

customers if requested.

The quick solution of using QuickBooks on a dedicated computer with

no Internet capability is also sufficient for the long-term.  Intuit

will also be introducing additional security and privacy enhancements

in the next version of the software.

- ------------------------------------------------------------

Additional Information:

- ------------------------------------------------------------

Contacting Tyger Team:

E-Mail: Steve Birnbaum 

        Patrick Naubert 

Phone:  +1 613 294-2390

Postal address:  4130 Baseline Road RR2

                 Gloucester, Ontario

                 K0A 2Y0



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