Among those browser users affected are those who synced passwords to third-party sites.
Norwegian browser maker Opera Software has urged some 1.7 million of its users to change passwords to their Opera accounts and to third party websites after a hacker breached one of the company’s sync servers.
In an alert, Opera said that some data, including the login names and passwords of users of its sync account service, might have been compromised in the incident. Emails have been sent to all Opera sync users notifying them about the breach and urging them to reset the passwords to their accounts, the company said.
In an “abundance of caution,” similar emails were also sent to Opera users who store passwords to third party websites, Opera said.
Users who do not use the Opera sync feature are not affected by the breach. According to the browser maker, about 350 million users worldwide currently run Opera. The breach affects about 1.7 million — or less than 0.5 percent — of that base. “We take your data security very seriously, and want to sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this might have caused,” the company said.
Opera sync is a feature that lets users synchronize their browsing data across all the devices they use to access the Internet. The feature synchronizes things like the user’s favorite sites on Speed Dial, open tabs from all devices, browsing history, and passwords.
The goal behind sync is to give users a way to pick up their browsing exactly from they left off when switching between a desktop, a smartphone or a tablet. With the feature, a user would be able to leave off reading a webpage on one device, for instance, and open up the browser to exactly the same spot on the page or tab on another device.
To enable the feature, users are simply required to create an Opera account and log into it on all their devices. The browser maker recommends that users create a strong password for protecting access to their account. All passwords that are used for authenticating access to the Opera sync account are hashed and salted.
Password, Device Sync At Risk
Last June, Opera introduced a new password synchronization feature that allows users to store passwords to third party websites in their Opera accounts. The idea is to make it easier for users to sign into online services using multiple devices.
All third-party passwords are encrypted with the user’s account password. Opera also gives users the option of encrypting synchronized passwords using their own master passphrase. The passphrase is not sent to or stored by Opera Software and is the only that can be used to decrypted synchronized passwords stored in Opera.
Tod Beardsley, senior research manager at Rapid7, says Opera’s decision to require a password reset for all users of its sync service is a good one and something that indicates its willingness to take the breach seriously.
“Users should change their passwords for the sites they stored in Opera’s password sync, especially for high-value accounts like web mail,” he says, “If an adversary has access to your Gmail account, they have every other account that supports a “I forgot my password” button that sends password resets to that Gmail account.”
The incident also highlights some of the limitations of browser-managed password storage, he says. “Browser-based storage necessarily requires browser access, which exposes users to universal cross-site scripting attacks that can pick up all stored passwords.”
In contrast, stand-alone password managers typically tend to let users opt out of direct browser integration, thereby minimizing this risk, he adds.
Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year … View Full Bio