Posts tagged Twitter

Someone has posted a Github Gist with all of the client identifiers and secret keys for the official Twitter clients on various platforms.

This just highlights why it is imperitive that you don’t screw up like Facebook did by allowing wildcard client redirect URIs.

The client redirect URIs must be absolute and stored on the authorisation server.

So what can Twitter do about this?

They could release new binarys for all of their clients with new keys and invalidate the old keys, but clients that haven’t been updated will suddenly stop working and leave users confused and frustrated. Also it will be trivial for the new keys to be leaked too.

Alternatively they could come up with some sort of mechanism to allow the official clients to download new keys on the fly but then these could be captured with a man-in-the-middle attack.

But is it actually a problem?

First, it is important to recognise that this is really only a problem for desktop/mobile app clients (assuming that is that web server based clients themselves keep their keys secure – the differnece being that someone would have to break into a web server to get to them).

Therefore as long as Twitter aren’t giving their own applications additional functionality that 3rd party clients can’t replicate then there isn’t too much of a problem because with this equal playing field scenario it could be Tweetbot or MetroTwit we’re talking about.

Having said that, the official iOS mobile client at least does allow you to register a new account, so these leaked keys could be used to create spam accounts.

With 3rd party Twitter clients being limited to 100,000 access tokens this could tempt some to make use of these keys however if they were caught then they risk being named and shamed by the media and that in turn could also result in developer accounts being banned by Apple and Google from their app stores.

Is OAuth to blame?

No, the OAuth protocol is behaving as it designed to here. That is, if a 3rd party client presented a correctly formed request with these valid keys and the correct redirect URI then, assuming Twitter doesn’t have some extra security in place to validate requests using their keys (such as validating user-agent strings for example), the authorisation server will assume the request is genuine.

The OAuth website describes OAuth as:

An open protocol to allow secure API authorisation in a simple and standard method from desktop and web applications.

Essentially OAuth is a security protocol that enables users to grant third-party access to their web resources without sharing their passwords.

OAuth grew out of discussions between developers from Twitter and Ma.gnolia who wanted to authorise desktop applications to access their services. A working group was formed in 2007 to draft a proposal for an open standard. Developers from both Google and Yahoo also contributed to this work.

The first OAuth Core 1.0 draft was released in late 2007. In 2008 it was decided that the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) would adopt the specification to allow wider discussion and further standardisation work.

A minor revision (OAuth 1.0 Revision A) was published in June 2008 to fix a security hole. The OAuth 1.0 Protocol was published by the IETF OAuth Working Group in April 2010 as RFC 5849.

A number of Internet companies and services adopted OAuth 1.0 but it was considered too much of a pain in the arse to work with by developers because it involved complicated signatures being passed around and there were too many requests between clients and services.

In May 2010 work began on version 2.0 of the OAuth protocol. Version 2.0 is not backwards compatible with OAuth 1.0a and focuses on developer simplicity. It also features more flows to allow the use of OAuth in more situations, as well as extensions to the core protocol to enable interoperability with assertion based protocols such as SAML.

OAuth has been adopted by many large Internet services and companies, here are some to name a few:

  • Google (v2.0)
  • Yahoo (v1.0a)
  • Twitter (v1.0a and v2.0[1]))
  • Github (v2.0)
  • Microsoft (v2.0)
  • Foursquare (v2.0)
  • Salesforce (v2.0)
  • Facebook (v2.0)

We have been using OAuth 2.0 here at the University of Lincoln since late 2011 where we investigated using it for the Total ReCal project so that students here at the university could access their event data. Our implementation was based on some work I’d already been doing in the area based in my own time.

We currently have over 30 application using OAuth to interact with our data sets including the Student Union website, the staff directory, Orbital, and four 3rd year student final projects.

In October 2011 I spoke at EduServ’s Federated Access Management conference about how OAuth works and how we are using it. The slides for this presentation can be found at https://speakerdeck.com/u/alexbilbie/p/introduction-to-oauth.

During the Linkey project I’m going to be redeveloping my CodeIgniter OAuth 2.0 server to a be a framework-agnostic Composer package. I’m also going to be adding support for the bearer extension and the assertions extension.


  1. Currently on Twitter Connect supports OAuth 2.0 using the XXX flow.  ↩