000webhost, which implores users to “forget the stereotype that free hosting is unreliable” on its homepage, may need to re-think that bit of copy.
The free web host, which was both storing and transferring user information in plaintext, has been compromised. Users’ email address, passwords, and IP addresses are all being bought and sold by hackers. Passwords have been reset by the host, but anyone who used their passwords for other sites should change those as well.
This took a lot of work to get to the bottom of, hard to fathom hard bad this 000webhost breach is on many levels: https://t.co/xzRxvSTfiZ
— Troy Hunt (@troyhunt) October 28, 2015
The leak was made public today in an extensive blog post written by web security expert Troy Hunt, who runs the site HaveIBeenPwned. The site lets anyone search a database of known leaks to find out if their personal information has ever been compromised, and occasionally people email him about unknown leaks.
“Hey,” a message Hunt received said, “approximately 5 months ago, a certain hacker hacked into 000webhost and dumped a 13 million database consisting of name, last name, email and plaintext password,”
Hunt looked into the claims, found out they were legitimate, then attempted to contact 000webhot to fill them in (Hunt doesn’t want HaveIBeenPwned to be a service that announces leaks).
Getting in touch with 000webhost, however, proved impossible –he basically got back only generic helpdesk advice. Eventually Hunt asked Forbes journalist Thomas Fox-Brewster for help getting in touch with the company, but they didn’t get back to him either. They did, however, change users’ passwords en masse – without informing anyone why.
Only after Fox-Brewster published an article about the breach, and Hunt published his blog post, did anyone at 000webhost publicly acknowledge the breach. A Facebook post informed users, along with a small note on the company’s website.
“Due to security breach, we have setwww.000webhost.com website on maintenance until issues are fixed,” the homepage currently says. FTP access is reportedly cut off until November 10.
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So, is free hosting reliable? Hunt, for his part, thinks you should be skeptical.
“When you see free or really cheap hosting and wonder why AWS / Azure / et al seem expensive, think of what corners they may be cutting,” he tweeted.
Probably good advice.