Attackers broke into the Web site by exploiting an unpatched security vulnerability in the software that runs SpreadFirefox.com, the Mozilla Foundation said in an e-mail alert to registered users of the site late Thursday. Mozilla coordinates Firefox development and marketing. The authenticity of the e-mail was confirmed Friday by a Mozilla representative.
The attack actually occurred on Sunday but was not discovered until Tuesday, according to the e-mail alert. The SpreadFirefox.com was subsequently taken down for a few days to investigate the attack, according to a notice posted on the site.
The necessary patches have now been applied to the software that runs SpreadFirefox.com, Mozilla said. According to its e-mail, the group has also "reviewed our security plan to determine why we didn't previously apply those fixes in this case, and have modified that plan to ensure we do so in the future." The exploited flaw was a vulnerability in PHP, the language in which Drupal, the content management system that Spread Firefox uses, is written.
Mozilla believes the machine was hacked to use it to send spam, according to the e-mail. However, it is possible that attackers obtained usernames and passwords and any other information people may have provided to the site, such as e-mail and home addresses, birth dates and instant-messaging names, Mozilla said.
The hack is an embarrassment to Mozilla, which uses security as the main selling point for the Firefox Web browser.
SpreadFirefox is the online Firefox marketing hub. Mozilla has successfully used the site to mobilize volunteers to popularize the browser through free marketing techniques such as Web site buttons and by collecting money for an.
As a result of the attack, Mozilla is urging the estimated 100,000 SpreadFirefox users to change their passwords. If those people use the same passwords for other Web sites, they should be changed there too, Mozilla advises.