Written by Pete Corey on Aug 23, 2015.

You’re in your neighborhood Starbucks scarfing down an Everything With Cheese Bagel while browsing the web, and you decide to visit your favorite Meteor application. You go to the website, type in your authentication credentials, and hit “Log In”, paying no mind that the application is running over http, not https.

Unbeknownst to you, sitting in a dimly lit corner closest to the restrooms, someone is sniffing the public wifi. As you hit “Log In”, they see your authentication credentials fly across the wire.

In its raw form, a login attempt over DDP using the account-password package looks like this:

["{\"msg\":\"method\",\"method\":\"login\",\"params\":[{\"user\":{\"email\":\"joe@schmoe.com\"},\"password\":{\"digest\":\"5e884898da28047151d0e56f8dc6292773603d0d6aabbdd62a11ef721d1542d8\",\"algorithm\":\"sha-256\"}}],\"id\":\"9\"}"]

The attacker sees the website you’re connected to, your email address and a hash of the password you provided. Now that he has all of this information, hijacking your account is as simple as navigating to the Meteor application and running the following in his browser console:

Accounts.callLoginMethod({
    methodArguments: [{
      user: {email: "joe@schmoe.com"},
      password: {digest: "5e884898da28047151d0e56f8dc6292773603d0d6aabbdd62a11ef721d1542d8", algorithm: "sha-256"}
    }]
});

And just like that, someone was able to catch your login credentials as they flew unencrypted across the network, and use them to take control of your account.

Smells Like Hash

But how can this be? You know that when you call Meteor.loginWithPassword on the client, the password you provide is hashed before it’s sent to the server. How can an attacker log in without access to the actual password string?

The accounts-password package hashes the provided password before sending it across the network in an attempt to prevent attackers from being able to see the raw password. The server then compares the user-provided hash with the hash it keeps the users collection. If the two hashes match, the server assumes that the user provided the correct password, and logs them into the application.

This means that the hash is effectively being treated as a password. If you send the right hash, you will be logged into the associated account, regardless of whether you know what the actual password is. Because this hash, or pseudo-password, is being sent in plain text over the network, anyone who intercepts it can easily replay the message and send their own login request.

SSL To The Rescue

People often ask me if they should be using SSL/TLS (https) with their Meteor applications. My answer is always a resounding, “Yes!” At its core, DDP is a plain text protocol that offers no protection against inspection, tampering or replay over the network. This means that all of your users’ potentially private data is being broadcast to the slice of the world between the client and the server.

So how does SSL save the day? By adding and correctly configuring SSL and navigating to your Meteor application over https, you’re creating a secure connection between the client and the server. All network communications are completely encrypted and protected from replay attacks.

Using SSL is an easy way to ensure that private data stays private, even when it’s being shipped back and forth between the client and the server.