Compromising a Mail Client


Your entire work life is in your work mail client.
All the people you communicate with – co-workers, friends, family, vendors, customers, colleagues.
Every email you send. Every email you receive. Any files you attach or receive.
If someone can compromise your mail client, they can see all that.
They can save copies of all your emails, data-mine them and use them for whatever purpose they like. They can build a view of your social network, based on who you exchange emails with, and a model of who you are, based on what you talk about.
That companies like Google do this for “free”, advertising supported webmail shouldn’t be much of a surprise by now – but your corporate email system and your work email is secure, right?
What if an attacker were to set up a man-in-the-middle attack on your employees? Install malware on their iPhone, such that all traffic were transparently routed through a proxy server controlled by the attacker?
Or they could use a more email-centric approach, configuring the compromised mail client to fetch mail from an IMAP server controlled by the attacker that took the employees credentials and passed them through to their real corporate IMAP server – that would let the attacker completely control what the compromised user saw in their inbox. As well as being able to read all mail sent to that user, they could silently filter mail, they could deliver new mail to the users inbox directly, bypassing any mail filters or security. They could even modify the contents of email on-the-fly – adding tracking links, redirection URLs or injecting entirely new content into the message.
Similarly, the attacker could route all outbound mail through a man-in-the-middle smarthost that copied the users credentials and used them to send mail on to their real corporate smarthost. As well as being able to read and modify all mail sent the attacker could also use that access to send mail that masqueraded as coming from the user.
Sounds like the sort of thing you’d expect from criminal malware? Not quite. What I’ve just described is Intro, a new product from LinkedIn.
LinkedIn will be asking your users to click on a link to install a “security profile” to their iPhones. If they do, then LinkedIn will have total control over the phone, and will use that to inject their SMTP and IMAP proxies into your users mailstreams. The potential for abuse by LinkedIn themselves is bad enough – I’ve no doubt that they’ll be injecting adverts for themselves into the mailstream, and their whole business is based on monetizing information they acquire about employees and their employers. But LinkedIn have also been compromised in the past, with attackers stealing millions of LinkedIn user credentials – if they can’t protect their own users credentials, I wouldn’t trust them with your employees credentials.
You might want to monitor where your employees are logging in to your servers from – and suspend any accounts that log in from LinkedIn network space.
Edit: Bishop Fox has looked at Intro too, and come to similar conclusions. TechCrunch too.

About the author


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Nice blog entry! You mention corporate email systems, however, as far as I can see, linkedin require the user to select a specific email account to be “enhanced” (ie. hijacked), and this has to be (currently) a GMail/Yahoo/AOL/iCloud account. This according to:
    Indeed, my own attempts to try it against a corporate IMAP server fail with an error to this effect.
    But I may well have missed something obvious!

  • Update – sounds like linkedin’s original publicity suggested it would work for corporate servers. But they may have back-peddled slightly (for now…)

  • The entire claimed use case of the thing is to provide popup professional information about people you’re exchanging email with so it’s really only useful in a “work” context. That they’ve mostly pulled back to supporting consumer ISPs (though google apps is commonly used by small businesses) is interesting.

By steve

Recent Posts


Follow Us