Yahoo's Zimbra e-mail program exposes passwords

Enterprising Canadian programmer exposes privacy issue for people using Zimbra to access Yahoo Mail during Yahoo university hack event.

Elinor Mills
Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.

Passwords used to access Yahoo mail through the Zimbra client are sent over the Internet in clear text, a Canadian programmer says.

Holden Karau stumbled upon this problem while participating in the Yahoo University Hack Day at the University of Waterloo last week.

"The Yahoo imap server's used by the Yahoo Desktop don't support SSL and the password was being transmitted in plain text," Karau wrote in a blog post on Friday.

"What does this mean for you? If you use Zimbra to access your Yahoo mail, you almost certainly need to change your password and stop using Zimbra immediately (especially if you've ever done so over wireless)," he writes.

Not surprisingly, his hack didn't place in the competition. "In retrospect it probably wasn't the best forum to bring up the security defects, but it was the most convenient," Karau says.

He notified Yahoo about the problem during his presentation, but no one seemed concerned, he wrote in a post on Zimbra Forums.

A Zimbra representative wrote in a different post in that forum thread: "This problem has already been addressed in code, and fix is in the next release."

A Yahoo spokeswoman said she would check into the matter.