Zaarly Security Glitch Exposes Private Messages, Phone Numbers

Another day, another startup security glitch.

This time the startup affected is Zaarly, the service that lets you buy or sell anything with people nearby.

A bug in a recent code push created a security hole that revealed phone numbers and private messages between buyers and sellers.

To exploit the bug, you’d need only access Zaarly’s listings.JSON file, specifying the lat and long coordinates for the area you wanted to view. The site would spit out its listings as usual (“Used iPhone 4”, “Mechanic to do a Saab engine swap”, and so on) along with relevant descriptions.

But those listings would also include private variables, like user ID, phone number, and private messages. Someone who wanted to actively exploit the bug could plug in additional lat/long coordinates and view all Zaarly listings for any region.

Zaarly CEO Bo Fishback says that the flaw was live for a week and was fixed within fifteen minutes after the company was alerted to the bug’s existence. He also emphasizes that while the bug exposed some user data, it did not leak anything related to transactions — so credit card numbers and transaction details are all safe. And he believes that it’s highly unlikely that anyone would have stumbled across the bug accidentally.

Will this evening’s glitch have severe repercussions for the startup? Unlikely. Most of the messages being exchanged through the service probably aren’t that sensitive, and while having phone numbers leak is certainly irritating (and unacceptable), it pales in comparison to the credit card and online storage breaches that are becoming the norm. It’s sad, but it’s almost like we’re getting used to this sort of thing.

Update: Zaarly has written a blog post about the issue here.

Update 2: Fishback says he was originally mistaken and that the damage isn’t quite as bad as this post originally stated: email addresses were not exposed and while user ID numbers were, the names were not (in other words, you’d see a string of numbers as opposed to someone’s name). However, phone numbers and direct messages were available.

Disclosure: TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington is an investor in Zaarly. You can read about his investment policy here.