GitHub’s new search reveals passwords and private keys

GitHub, the popular online source code repository, has unveiled on Wednesday a new search infrastructure that should help coders find specific code within the millions of the individual repositories GitHub hosts.

But, as helpful as this tool promises to be, it can still be misused. And unfortunately, it didn’t take long to prove that, as only hours later a number of individuals realized that quite a few careless coders inadvertently published their private encryption keys or their passwords in their repository.

Searching for terms such as “BEGIN RSA PRIVATE KEY” and “PASSWORD” revealed the extent of that carelessness. Luckily, the ElasticSearch cluster powering the search tool initially buckled under the pressure of the multitude of search queries, making the tool unavailable for a while, and then GitHub decided to keeping it offline while they “perform some additional maintenance.”

“It’s important to note that this is NOT a Github security issue. This is a BONEHEAD security issue. If you upload security information (keys/passwords etc) to a public repository, they will be discovered. All that Github search is doing is exposing what is already there – it isn’t creating the problem,” noted Sean Michael Kerner over at Internet News.

Users are advised to comb through their repository to check whether they made this critical mistake, and to follow GitHub’s instructions on thoroughly removing sensitive data from the repository and its history.