GitHub has a Permission Problem.


TL;DR: Thousands of developers are giving 3rd parties write access to their github repos. This is even more irresponsible than giving out your email password or your computer's password since your github repos are often used by more than just you. The tokens given to 3rd parties are just like passwords. A hacker that breaches a company that has that info will suddenly have write access to every github repo the breached company had tokens for.

github should work to stop this irresponsible practice.

I really want to scream about security on a great many fronts but today let's talk about github.

What the actual F!!!

How is this not a 2000 comment topic on HN and Github not shamed into fixing this?

Github's permission systems are irresponsible in the extreme!!

Lots of sites let you sign up via github. Gatsby is one. Here's the screen you get when you try to sign up via your github account.

Like seriously, WTF does "Act on your behalf" mean? Does it mean Gatsby can have someone assassinated on my behalf? Can they take out a mortgage on my behalf? Can they volunteer me for the Peace Corps on my behalf? More seriously can they scan all my private repos on my behalf? Insert trojans in my code on my behalf? Open pull requests on other people's projects on my behalf? Log in to every other service I've connected to my github account on my behalf? Delete all my repos on my behalf? Add users to my projects on my behalf? Change my password on my behalf?

This seems like the most ridiculous permission ever!

I bought this up with github and they basically threw up their hands and said "Well, at least we're telling you something". No you're not. You're effectively telling me absolutely nothing except that you're claiming if I click through you're giving that company permission to do absolute anything. How is that useful info?

But, just telling me isn't really the point. The point is each service should be required to use as small of permissions as is absolutely necessary. If I sign up for a service, the default should be no permissions except getting my email address. If a service is supposed to work with a repo (like gatsby is) then github should provide an interface such that gatsby tells github "Give me a list of repos the user wants me to use" and github present the UI to select an existing one or create new ones and when finished, only those repos are accessible and only with the minimal permissions need.

This isn't entirely github's fault though, the majority of the development community seems asleep as well.

Let's imagine your bank let you sign in to 3rd party services in a similar manner. How many people would click through on "Let ACME corp act on your behalf on your Citibank Account". I think most people would be super scared of permissions like that. Instead they'd want very specific permission like, only permission to deposit money, or only permission to read the balance, or only permission to read transactions, etc...

Github providing blanket permissions to so many companies is a huge recipe for disaster just waiting to happen. If any one of those companies gets hacked, or has insider help, or has a disgruntled employee, suddenly your trade secrets are stolen, your unreleased app is leaked, your software is hacked with a trojan and all your customers sue you for the loss of work your app caused. It could be worse, you could run an open source library so by hacking ACME corp the bad guys can hack your library and via that hack everyone using your library.

I get why github does it and/or why the apps do it. For example check out Forestry. They could ask for minimal permissions and good on them for providing a path to go that route. They ask for greater permissions so that they can do all the steps for you. I get that. But if you allow them blanket access to your github (or gitlab), YOU SHOULD ARGUABLY BE DISQUALIFIED FROM BEING A SOFTWARE DEVELOPER!!!

The fact that you trusted some random 3rd party with blanket permissions to edit all of your repos and change all of your permissions is proof you don't know WTF you're doing and you can't be trusted. It's like if someone asked you for the password to your computer. If you give it out you're not computer literate!

boy: "Is it ok I set my password to your birthday?

girl: "Then your password is meaningless!"

Here's the default permissions Forestry asks for if you follow their recommended path.

First let's explain what Forestry is. It's a UI for editing blog posts through git so you can have a nice friendly interface for your git based static site generator. That's great! But, at most it only needs access to a single repo. Not all your public repos! If you click through and picked "Authorize" that's no different then giving them the password to your computer. Maybe worse because at least your hacked computer will probably only affect you.

Further, the fact that companies like Forestry even ask for this should be shameful! Remember when various companies like Facebook, Yelp, when you signed up they'd ask for your the username and password for your email account? Remember how pretty much every tech person on the planet knew that was seriously irresponsible to even ask? Well this is no different. It's entirely irresponsible for Forestry to ask for these kind of blanket permissions! It's entirely irresponsible for any users to give them these permissions! How are all the tech leaders seemingly asleep at calling this out?

Like I mentioned above, part of this arguably lies at Github's feet. Forestry does this because github provides no good flow to do it well so Forestry is left with 2 options (1) be entirely irresponsible but make it easy for the user to use their service, (2) be responsible but lose sales because people can't get setup easily.

Instead it should be a sign they're an irresponsible and untrustworthy company that they ask for these kinds of permissions at all. And further, github should be should also be ashamed their system encourages these kinds of blanket permissions.

Think of it this way. There are literally millions of open source libraries. npm has over a million libraries and that's just JavaScript. Add in python, C++, Java, C#, ruby, and all the other projects on github. Hundreds of thousands of developers wrote those libraries. How many of those developers have given out the keys their repos so random 3rd parties can hack their libraries? Maybe they gave too broad permissions to some code linting site. Maybe they gave too broad permissions to some project monitoring site. Maybe they gave too broad permissions just to join a forum using their github account. Isn't that super irresponsible? They've opened a door by using the library and they're letting more people in the door. That can't be good.

I don't blame the devs so much as github for effectively making this common. Github needs to take security seriously and that means working to make issues like this the exception, not the rule. It should be the easiest thing to do to allow a 3rd party minimal access to your repo. It should be much harder to give them too much access. There should be giant warnings that you're about to do something super irresponsible and that you should probably not be trusting the company asking for these permissions.

Call it out!

I don't mean to pick on Forestry. 100s of other github (and gitlab?) integrations have the same issues. Forestry was just the latest one I looked at. I've seen various companies have this issue for years now and I've been seriously surprised this hasn't been a bigger topic.

Don't clutter the UX with meaningless info

Look above at the Github permissions. Reading public info should not even be listed! It's already obvious that all your public info can be read by the app. That's the definition of public! There's no reason to tell me it might read it. It doesn't need permission to do so.

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