Developers can’t seem to stop exposing credentials in publicly accessible code

Enlarge (credit: Victor De Schwanberg/Science Photo Library via Getty Images)

Despite more than a decade of reminding, prodding, and downright nagging, a surprising number of developers still can’t bring themselves to keep their code free of credentials that provide the keys to their kingdoms to anyone who takes the time to look for them.

The lapse stems from immature coding practices in which developers embed cryptographic keys, security tokens, passwords, and other forms of credentials directly into the source code they write. The credentials make it easy for the underlying program to access databases or cloud services necessary for it to work as intended. I published one such PSA in 2013 after discovering simple searches that turned up dozens of accounts that appeared to expose credentials securing computer-to-server SSH accounts. One of the credentials appeared to grant access to an account on, the repository that stores the source code for Google’s open source browser.

In 2015, Uber learned the hard way just how damaging the practice can be. One or more developers for the ride service had embedded a unique security key into code and then shared that code on a public GitHub page. Hackers then copied the key and used it to access an internal Uber database and, from there, steal sensitive data belonging to 50,000 Uber drivers.

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