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PayPal donation form reveals beneficiary's email address
From: Eitan Caspi <eitancaspi () yahoo com>
Date: Fri, 1 May 2009 12:27:59 -0700 (PDT)
Suggested severity level: Low-to-Medium.
Type of Risk: Information Disclosure (PayPal account authentication (partial) and private email address).
Local / Remote activated: Remote.
Affected Software: PayPal web site, Donation form.
Access was tested and verified using Internet Explorer 8.0, Firefox 3.0.10 and Opera 9.64.
Summary: By clicking a recent version (so I believe, I can't trace and test various versions) of a PayPal Donation
button, the beneficiary's primary email address is displayed in the header of the donation form, and of course, in the
form's source code.
This email address is also the one used by the beneficiary to login into its account in PayPal and manage it
operatively and financially.
The email address is displayed although in the process of creating the donation button – PayPal enable to choose an
option to hide the email address, and this option is not working even if used (see the following "Self Reproduction"
section for details).
Possible Abuses: Phishers may use the beneficiary's email address to send him/her an attack email to try and break
into this person's PayPal account using a phishing email and a malicious web page.
Other attackers can simply use the email address to brute force the beneficiary's PayPal account since the PayPal
authentication is based on two values – the beneficiary's email address and a password, so now only the password is the
Spammers may simply harvest the beneficiary's email address to add it to the list of their spamming targets.
1. Perform a search of any newly created donation buttons on web sites. For example search using Google for "donate via
PayPal" or "donate using PayPal" pages indexed by Google in the last month (you may also try this queries without time
limitation, it may also work):
2. Find in the search results sites which ask for a donation and click any link that leads to such site.
3. At the donation request page you landed at – click the donation button or link (If you use the Firefox security
add-on "NoScript" (http://noscript.net) – turn it off (or temporary allow the beneficiary's site) before clicking the
PayPal button or link, or you will be redirected away from the donation form to a main PayPal page).
Prefer pages with a more recent donation icons originated from https://www.paypal.com/en_US/i/btn/btn_donateCC_LG.gif
(with logos of credit card firms) or https://www.paypal.com/en_US/i/btn/btn_donate_LG.gif (without the credit card
4. Read the beneficiary's primary email address at the top of the donation form in PayPal (located in the "h1" section
of the HTML code of the form).
Self Reproduction (making your own button and clicking it):
1. Create a PayPal account at https://www.paypal.com/us/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_registration-run . A "Personal" account
type will do.
2. After completing the creation of your account at PayPal, browse to a page made for creating the donation button -
3. At this page, at the "Email address to receive payments" field, click the "Log in" link. You will go via the regular
PayPal authentication process and then will be redirected back to the button creation page, this time as an
authenticated PayPal customer.
4. In the "Merchant ID for purchase transactions" field choose the option of "Secure merchant account ID".
Next to this field there will be a link titled "Why is this secure?"
(https://www.paypal.com/il/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=xpt/Merchant/popup/BDSecureMerchantId) which states: "A secure merchant
account ID is a number that only PayPal can match to your real email address in your profile. Your primary e-mail
address is never displayed, so it cannot be used by spammers.
If you choose a plain text e-mail address, however, it will be displayed in the button code. Anyone, including
spammers, can copy this address for their own use."
5. Click "Create Button" and then copy the code created for the donation button and place it as part of the HTML code
of any web page you own.
6. Load the web page you just created to be displayed using a web browser and click the "Donate" button (see the above
note about "NoScript"). You will be directed to the PayPal donation form where you will be able to read the primary
email address of your PayPal account on the top of form (located in the "h1" section of the HTML code of the form).
Exploit Code: There is no need for an exploit code.
Direct solution: Not any that I am aware of at the time of writing this advisory. I guess the solution can only be made
by PayPal since its their web site form.
Workarounds: Not any that I am aware of at the time of writing this advisory.
I can only advise PayPal donation users to stop using the donation button until PayPal solves this issue, and thus to
remove any PayPal donation buttons and links from their site until this issue is fixed.
PayPal was notified by email on the 25-April-2009 (sitesecurity () paypal com , found at
Two days later, after some email exchange, the following final response was given by PayPal:
I’ve discussed with the product team and there is probably some language cleanup needed on the signup forms. The
intent of the feature is not to prevent showing the email address during a payment flow, but to prevent the harvesting
of the email address from the site hosting the donation button. The bug, if any, is in the language describing the
feature not in the feature itself. Thank you for bringing it to our attention. The product team is filing a change
request to adjust the language and make it clearer.
So the mentioned above security option is for making a more secure button code for the beneficiary's web site, but
still PayPal did not answer about the issue of their own form exposing the beneficiary's email address at their own web
Email: eitancaspi (at) yahoo (dot) com
Past security advisories:
Security blogs (Hebrew) - http://security.caspi.org.il
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- PayPal donation form reveals beneficiary's email address Eitan Caspi (May 01)