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Panera Bread blew off breach report for 8 months, leaked millions of customer records

Apr 03, 20184 mins
Data BreachInternet SecuritySecurity

As many as 37 million customer records were exposed thanks to a security vulnerability that Panera Bread chose to ignore for eight months.

Panera Bread’s website leaked millions of customer records in plain text for at least eight months, which is how long the company blew off the issues reported by security researcher Dylan Houlihan. Houlihan finally turned to Brian Krebs who ran with the story. From there, it turned into a real cluster flub.

Houlihan shared copies of email exchanges with Panera Bread CIO John Meister – who at first accused Houlihan of trying to run a scam when he first reported the security vulnerability back in August 2017.

According to Houlihan’s post on Medium, as well as one on Pastebin, the website had an “unauthenticated API endpoint that allows anyone to access the following information about anyone who has ever signed up for an account to order food from Panera Bread: username, first and last name, email address, phone number, birthday, last four digits of saved credit card number, saved home address, social account integration information, saved user food preferences and dietary restrictions.”

Exactly eight months after reporting the issue to Panera Bread, Houlihan turned to KrebsOnSecurity. Krebs spoke to Meister, and the website was briefly taken offline. Less than two hours later, Panera said it had fixed the problem.

The company claimed to take “data security very seriously” and added “following reports today of a potential problem on our website, we suspended the functionality to repair the issue.” That might sound good except the security issue had been reported eight months before Krebs went public with the information, so it’s not like the problem was first known “today.”

Even worse, within minutes of Krebs publishing the story, Meister also told Fox News, “Our investigation to date indicates that fewer than 10,000 consumers have been potentially affected by this issue, and we are working diligently to finalize our investigation and take the appropriate next steps.”

To that portion, Houlihan asked, “A company is incompetent enough to leave a gaping hole like this trivially open for eight months after initial notification, yet it’s competent enough to review it logs definitively within two hours of the publicity?”

Panera Bread’s ‘fix’ wasn’t really a fix

Plenty of people were poking around into the potential “fix” by then. Hold Security told Krebs that “Panera had basically ‘fixed’ the problem by requiring people to log in to a valid user account at in order to view the exposed customer records.”

After some more poking, Hold Security reported to Krebs that Panera didn’t just leak plain text records of 7 million customers; “the vulnerabilities also appear to have extended to Panera’s commercial division, which serves countless catering companies. At last count, the number of customer records exposed in this breach appears to exceed 37 million.”

At that point, was taken offline and was still offline at the time of writing.

You know how upsetting it is when a vulnerability is publicly disclosed before a company has time to resolve the issue? Yet Panera’s choice to be unresponsive to Houlihan’s disclosure of the security vulnerability is why some researchers won’t play this game and choose to disclose publicly.

“Originally I was content to wait eight months for Panera to fix this on their own. But this is ridiculous,” Houlihan wrote. “I’m not going to stand for reporting that sweeps all of this under the rug. While Panera Bread’s website remains down due to several specific examples demonstrating the ‘resolution’ didn’t resolve anything, news reports are not updating this fact. Until we start holding companies more accountable for their public statements with respect to security, we will continue to see statements belying a dismissive indifference with PR speak.”

ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.