Instagram is growing quickly—and with the most popular social media network in the world after Facebook, the photo-sharing network absolutely dominates when it comes to user engagement and interactions.
Despite having advanced security mechanisms in place, bigger platforms like Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, and Instagram are not completely immune to hackers and contain severe vulnerabilities.
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Some vulnerabilities have recently been patched, some are still under the process of being fixed, and many others most likely do exist, but haven't been found just yet.
Details of one such critical vulnerability in Instagram surfaced today on the Internet that could have allowed a remote attacker to reset the password for any Instagram account and take complete control over it.
Discovered and responsibly reported by Indian bug bounty hunter Laxman Muthiyah, the vulnerability resided in the password recovery mechanism implemented by the mobile version of Instagram.
The "password reset" or "password recovery" is a feature that allows users to regain access to their account on a website in case they forgot their password.
That means, one out of a million combinations can unlock any Instagram account using brute force attack, but it is not as simple as it sounds, because Instagram has rate-limiting enabled to prevent such attacks.
However, Laxman found that this rate limiting can be bypassed by sending brute force requests from different IP addresses and leveraging race condition, sending concurrent requests to process multiple attempts simultaneously.
"Race hazard (concurrent requests) and IP rotation allowed me to bypass it. Otherwise, it wouldn't be possible. 10 minutes expiry time is the key to their rate limiting mechanism, that's why they didn't enforce permanent blocking of codes," Laxman told The Hacker News.
As shown in the above video demonstration, Laxman successfully demonstrated the vulnerability to hijack an Instagram account by quickly attempting 200,000 different passcode combinations (20% of all) without getting blocked.
"In a real attack scenario, the attacker needs 5000 IPs to hack an account. It sounds big, but that's actually easy if you use a cloud service provider like Amazon or Google. It would cost around 150 dollars to perform the complete attack of one million codes."
Laxman has also released a proof-of-concept exploit for the vulnerability, which has now been patched by Instagram, and the company awarded Laxman with $30,000 reward as part of its bug bounty program.
To protect your accounts against several types of online attacks, as well to reduce your chances of being compromised where attackers directly target vulnerable applications, users are highly recommended to enable "two-factor authentication," which could prevent hackers from accessing your accounts even if they somehow manage to steal your passwords.