What’s Hard To Digest About The Zomato Hacking

by Prasad Krishna last modified May 19, 2017 09:22 AM
Yet another day, yet another major security breach. But, this time it’s not a presidential candidate in the U.S. or the U.K.’s National Health Service. Instead. it’s Zomato, the popular Indian online food delivery and restaurant search service.

The blog post by Aayush Ailawadi was published by Bloomberg Quint on May 19, 2017. Pranesh Prakash was quoted.


The company disclosed that data from 17 million user accounts was stolen in a security breach. It said in its blog that no financial details were at risk and only user IDs, usernames, names, email addresses and password hashes had been compromised.

Throughout the course of the day, the company kept updating its blog post and offered different sets of advice to its users. In an earlier post, it only recommended changing one’s password on other sites if you are “paranoid about security like us”. Later, that post mentioned that the passwords were “salted” and hence had an extra layer of security but it still “strongly advises” customers to change passwords.

In an emailed response, the company explained to BloombergQuint, “We made our disclosure very early, soon after we discovered that it happened. We wanted to be proactive in communicating to our users. As we found more details about the leak, we updated the information”

But, that wasn’t the only problem. The data was put up on the dark web for sale by the hacker, and the seller was apparently charging 0.5521 bitcoins, or $1001.45, for the data. According to the post, the passwords were stored by Zomato using MD5 encryption, which according to security experts is antiquated and unsuitable for password encryption.

Late on Thursday night, the story took an interesting turn when the company updated its blog post yet again. It said that it had gotten in touch with the hacker who was selling the data on the dark web and that apparently the hacker had been very cooperative and helpful. “He/she wanted us to acknowledge security vulnerabilities in our system and work with the ethical hacker community to plug the gaps. His/her key request was that we run a healthy bug bounty program for security researchers,” the company said.

Usually, when hackers around the world attack with ransomware, they demand a massive amount of bitcoins as ransom. But, in this case the company claims that all the hacker wants is the assurance that the company will introduce a bug bounty program on Hackerone soon. In return, the hacker has agreed to destroy all copies of the stolen data and take the data off the dark web marketplace.

But, while it may seem like the storm has passed for Zomato, cybersecurity experts like Pranesh Prakash at the Centre for Internet & Society believe that a lot more could have been done by the company in such a case.

Disclose To Confuse?

Concern #1: Prakash feels that Zomato got it all wrong by issuing multiple disclosures and not addressing the problem at hand, which was to clearly explain what happened and immediately request customers to change similar passwords on other websites.

What’s So Scary About The Zomato Hacking?

Concern #2: BloombergQuint reached out to Zomato to confirm whether the passwords were encrypted with “MD5”, a hashing algorithm that Prakash and other Twitter users who accessed the seller’s page on the dark web believe was used by the company. But, the tech company didn’t respond to that specific question.

What’s worse is that Prakash adds that not only is this algorithm antiquated but it is also highly unsuitable for password encryption, as it can be cracked quickly.

Genuine Disclosures Vs False Promises

Concern #3: Prakash suspects that the company wasn’t honest and forthright with its users during this episode. According to him, the company could learn a thing or two about honest disclosures from companies like CloudFlare and LastPass, which fell victim to similar attacks in the past year.

Where’s My Privacy And Security?

Concern #4: According to Prakash, it’s not just about privacy, but also one’s security that has been compromised in this instance. He says that the Zomato hack is like a reminder that an odd section in the Information Technology Act is not sufficient when it comes to data protection. Instead, India needs a robust data protection law where bad security practices can actually be prosecuted and companies can be penalised if they don’t follow standard and reasonable security practices.

Zomato also told BloombergQuint that it has understood how the breach happened but couldn’t share exact details at the moment. The company said, “Our team is working to make sure we have the vulnerability patched. All we can say right now is that it started with a password leak on some other site. We will share more details on our blog over the next few days.”

Document Actions