Soccer league's online shoppers get kicked by security breach

February 8, 2008

By Jaikumar Vijayan

A series of SQL injection attacks on servers hosted by a third-party service provider has compromised the personal data of an unspecified number of individuals who had shopped on Major League Soccer's Web site.

The compromised information included names, addresses, credit and debit card data, and passwords, MLS President Mark Abbott said in a letter sent to affected individuals on Feb. 1. is the soccer league's official online store.

The incident was first reported by, a blog that tracks data breaches. The blog site also posted a link to a notice that was sent by to the office of New Hampshire's attorney general, informing the AG of the breach and saying that it affected 169 New Hampshire residents (download PDF).

The notice was signed by Michael Sapherstein, MLS's deputy general counsel. Sapherstein noted that a forensic audit conducted at the behest of Visa and MasterCard showed that the SQL injection attacks appear to have occurred between January and August of last year. The attacks were directed at third-party servers that were hosting the MLS customer data, Sapherstein said.

"We have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to protection of our customers' personal information and consequently, we are terminating our relationship with that e-commerce provider," Sapherstein wrote. An identical comment was included in Abbott's letter to customers, which was attached to the notice from Sapherstein.

Sapherstein added that MLS had taken further steps to strengthen the "already stringent measures" that were in place for protecting customer data, but he didn't offer any details on what those steps were. He also said that the MLS had contacted the FBI about the breach and that it is working with Visa, MasterCard and Chase Paymentech, which processes its credit card transactions.

MLS officials didn't immediately return a phone call today seeking comment about the security breach.

SQL injection attacks are targeted at the databases that sit behind Web applications. A malicious attacker uses so-called input validation errors to send a malformed SQL query via a Web page to its underlying database, in order to break into the database or alter the information stored in it.

Security analysts expect such attacks to become increasingly common because a large number of Web sites are vulnerable to them. In recognition of that, the major credit card companies in July will begin requiring retailers and other merchants that accept payment cards to either install a firewall in front of all Web-facing applications or submit custom application code to an outside security firm for a vulnerability review.

Those two steps currently are detailed as suggested best practices in Section 6.6 of the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (download PDF). But the credit card companies decided last year to make them mandatory.

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