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Southwest Airlines iPhone App Unencrypted, Vulnerable To Eavesdroppers 139

Posted by timothy
from the one-more-path-to-id-theft dept.
New submitter davidstites writes "I am a masters computer science student at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and in November I performed a security audit of 230+ popular iOS applications because I wanted to know how secure apps on smartphones and tablets really are. I made a shocking discovery. The largest single potential security breach was with the Southwest Airlines application. Southwest Airlines' iPhone app leaves a user's information vulnerable to hackers. When you login to the application on your phone using your Rapid Rewards account, the app submits your username and password information as plain-text (unencrypted) to a Southwest remote server (mobile.southwest.com). A potential attacker can simply sniff for the data on the network and steal it. This situation is a hackers dream! If a victims credentials were captured, a hacker could use those credentials to login to that particular account and they would have access to anything the victim would have access to, such as addresses, birthdays, e-mail, phone and credit cards. They could even book a flight in the victims name." (Read on below for more details.)
davidstites continues: "This not only obviously worrisome from the standpoint of a potential attacker fraudulently using a victims account and credit card information, but also due to the possibility of terrorist threats in air travel.

The possibility of being able to capture this data is especially probable since Denver International offers free WiFi and it is an unencrypted network. The probability that a Southwest passenger would login to their account is also quite high since they have an entire terminal to themselves (C concourse). However, this could occur on any unencrypted or encrypted network.

Consider the possibility of a person who is currently (and rightfully) on the Department of Homeland Security's 'No-Fly' list. If this person were able to capture a victim's credentials and create a fake ID, he could pass through TSA security without being stopped.

I don't know how Southwest Airlines let this happen, but sometimes companies have to decide between security and the bottom line. Companies rush to get products out, the engineering dollars are not there to complete the project, so security falls to the back. Usually, security is not thought of as a benefit, until it fails.

I contacted Southwest when the vulnerability was found in early December and they still have not released a patch as of today and they have never contacted me back about the vulnerability. Until the security flaw is fixed, the best solution is to not use the application.

A full list of applications with vulnerabilities can be found here. Additionally, some local NBC and ABC news stations and the Denver Post covered this story."
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Southwest Airlines iPhone App Unencrypted, Vulnerable To Eavesdroppers

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  • So it goes (Score:4, Funny)

    by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @12:35PM (#39011439) Journal
    So "Rapid Rewards" becomes "Raped Rewards". So it goes.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by davester666 (731373)

      Why did the summary leave out child pornographers? If you are going to take the time to describe how terrorists are going to use this vulnerability to fly, you also need to describe how child pornographers will also use this vulnerability to either fly to their victims or get their victims to fly to them.

  • by Skapare (16644) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @12:39PM (#39011463) Homepage

    ... because I'm just looking for someone else to blame, too. But there is this big WTF:

    The possibility of being able to capture this data is especially probable since Denver International offers free WiFi and it is an unencrypted network.

    It doesn't have to be unencrypted to be free.

    • by hawguy (1600213) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @01:25PM (#39011781)

      ... because I'm just looking for someone else to blame, too. But there is this big WTF:

      The possibility of being able to capture this data is especially probable since Denver International offers free WiFi and it is an unencrypted network.

      It doesn't have to be unencrypted to be free.

      Well, if you want a secure encrypted network, it's probably not going to be free.

      There's only moderate additional security gained by having a WPA encrypted network where everyone has the same PSK since it's trivial to capture the association handshake (by forcing them to reassociate if neccessary) and steal the session key from anyone's session - Wireshark will do this for you. Alternatively, you can set up a hotspot on your laptop called "SouthwestAirlines" and nearby clients will connect to your laptop instead of the real Southwest network and you can capture all of their packets.

      To make a secure encrypted network, they'd need to implement something like 802.1x security with unique username/passwords for each user and with Wifi clients configured to authenticate the network's 802.1x certificate (to prevent someone from setting up a rogue SouthwestAirlines access point).

      Few providers of free Wifi service are going to be willing to run a helpdesk to assist all of the users with setting this up - it's not always trivial (depending on the device). So it's probably better to not provide the illusion of a secure encrypted network when it's not. The users that are sophisticated enough to set up 802.1x authentication on their device are probably also sophisticated to use a VPN to secure their data.

      When I connect via an open Wifi network, I always VPN to my company or my home internet router so all of my wifi traffic is encrypted.

    • by ganjadude (952775)
      On the one hand I do agree with you, it would be trivial to add encryption, but on the other hand, they dont HAVE to really offer wifi at all do they? The blame is solely with southwest in my eyes there is NO reason that user information should ever be sent in plain text when it concerns anything financial.
    • by tibit (1762298)

      Please correct me if I'm wrong, but encryption doesn't mean much: if you can connect, you can sniff others, unless they'd use a ystem that can encrypt each user's connection with a key that's locally negotiated and not subject to sniffing. I don't know much about WPA2 to know if it provides such capability, but then note that there probably are devices that don't support WPA2.

    • Generally, yes it does.
    • Parse error?
      I had no problems with that sentence as it stands- It was well formed grammatically as far as I saw it. I split it as the following.
      Denver uses unencrypted wifi - hence data can be accessed. Denver offers free Wifi - so many are likely to use it and this makes capture of data especially probable.
      I do not see how that sentence implies that all free networks are unencrypted.
    • ...they would have access to anything the victim would have access to, such as addresses, birthdays, e-mail, phone and credit cards. They could even book a flight in the victims name.

      If this is really true (I don't know if it is, I don't have a Southwest account), he should really get their PCI certification revoked. Once Southwest is barred from processing credit cards, I can bet you they'll turn off that mobile login feature in 30 minutes flat (patch or no patch).

  • by spac (125766) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @12:39PM (#39011465) Homepage

    It's a pain in the behind to distribute apps with encryption code (even if all your app does is use SSL!) on the app store.

    You need to go through hoops registering with the US government for an export license for every app you publish. When we built our software, we got hit with these requirements and had to go through a bunch of paperwork that really slowed us down and gave us a headache all because we communicate with only communicate with our web service via SSL.

    It's ridiculous that there's no exemption for SSL usage on US export controls. It's just a pain in the ass for everyone in the process and you can't honestly claim that it prevents awfully dangerous tech from getting into the enemy's hands.

    • by MoonBuggy (611105)

      Just to check I'm interpreting this correctly: a well-defined algorithm in daily use across the globe is 'export controlled' if it happens to be implemented by a US company?

      • Yep. You can't even preconfigure a server with openssl and ssl enabled if it is sold outside of the U.S. Pretty funny huh?

        • by wwphx (225607)
          I wonder if you could set up a shell office in another country and have them 'work on your code' to implement SSL.
          • by sgt scrub (869860)

            It would be cheaper to ask one of the core openssl developers to "work on your code". None of the are in/from the U.S.

            Mark J. Cox UK
            Ralf S. Engelschall DE
            Dr. Stephen Henson UK
            Ben Laurie UK

            How is that for irony? Or you could do like Debian's install of Apache. By default the install doesn't enable the "default-ssl" config. The user simply creates a link and it is "installed". Of course the user should buy/create a legit cert and replace the "snakeoil" one first.

      • by benjamindees (441808) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @01:06PM (#39011637) Homepage

        You're interpreting it correctly. The rest of the world, including terrorists living in caves, are perfectly capable of implementing encryption on their own. And instead of helping or protecting Americans, so-called "export controls" are aimed squarely at the US populace. US companies are prevented from taking basic steps to protect online privacy for exactly the same reason that mild external threats are hyped and used as justification to strip other rights from US citizens -- the US is a fascist, occupation government with absolutely no regard for the rule of law.

        • by tqk (413719)

          US companies are prevented from taking basic steps to protect online privacy for exactly the same reason that mild external threats are hyped and used as justification to strip other rights from US citizens -- the US is a fascist, occupation government with absolutely no regard for the rule of law.

          Maybe it's just me, but I see the US as a bloated red giant star that's just finished burning up its fuel. It's about to collapse into itself going nova but has so far been held up by sheer momentum. It's already dead but doesn't realize it yet. I thought this silliness had gone the way of the dodo soon after the FBI wised up to what Phil Zimmerman was really doing.

          Wow. Can we possibly get this over with before the presidential election? I'd like to avoid all of that if possible. I'm going to miss you

        • by X0563511 (793323)

          Nope. It's leftover cold war bullshit, back when considering encryption a munition made sense.

          But you can't be seen weakening our nation these days, can you? Hence it hasn't been killed yet.

      • by Fnord666 (889225)

        Just to check I'm interpreting this correctly: a well-defined algorithm in daily use across the globe is 'export controlled' if it happens to be implemented by a US company?

        Yes. See the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations [gpoaccess.gov] (eCFR), Part 774 (Commerce Control List), Category 5, Part 2 (Information Security).

        What I do wonder with regards to SSL or TLS is if you can get away with using it as long as your limit the key length? Is it possible to limit key lengths used to encrypt the data traffic on an SSL or TLS connection?

        • by LurkerXXX (667952)

          It's not export controlled if the algorithm is created/published in another country that doesn't restrict those type of exports. Which is why a bunch of guys from the U.S. fly up to Canada regularly when the work on new encryption types for OpenBSD.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Yes, this is what it's like to live in a joke of a country.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Fuck that. Just ship with the code. What's more likely to happen, your obscure app being noticed by bureaucrats or hackers?

      • by tqk (413719)

        Fuck that. Just ship with the code. What's more likely to happen, your obscure app being noticed by bureaucrats or hackers?

        The problem with that is you forgot to take into account the legal system and lawyers. Bottom feeders love potential victims like you. They're patient, and they'll eventually find you.

    • Does the operating system not provide the SSL libraries? Or do you actually have to code the encryption routines into each application on iOS?

      I would have thought the export restrictions would only apply to the SSL libraries, not the application that uses them.

      • by spac (125766) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @01:55PM (#39011991) Homepage

        It seems that if you let the user transmit or receive encrypted data (even if it's just a login!) you need to get a license.

        We use the built in iOS classes for HTTP requests that support SSL transparently. The US government still required us to register for export compliance. It's really senseless.

        • by tqk (413719)

          We use the built in iOS classes for HTTP requests that support SSL transparently. The US government still required us to register for export compliance. It's really senseless.

          I think you misspelled "insane."

          And, I wonder when the tsunami of refugees pouring across the 49th parallel into Canada, and the Rio Grande into Mexico, is going to start. Good luck containing that, DHS.

          • by ArsonSmith (13997)

            especially if you consider that that data is likely encrypted somewhere along the line anyway. Just transmitting something over the internet probably has an encrypted hop somewhere.

          • by frisket (149522)

            And, I wonder when the tsunami of refugees pouring across the 49th parallel into Canada, and the Rio Grande into Mexico, is going to start. Good luck containing that, DHS.

            Why would they want to contain it? Those people would be leaving the sink^H^H^H^Hcountry, wouldn't they?

            • by tqk (413719)

              And, I wonder when the tsunami of refugees pouring across the 49th parallel into Canada, and the Rio Grande into Mexico, is going to start. Good luck containing that, DHS.

              Why would they want to contain it? Those people would be leaving the sink^H^H^H^Hcountry, wouldn't they?

              THEY'D BE TAKING THEIR CDs, DVDs, AND BLUERAYS WITH THEM! USA IP would be leaving Hollyweird's sphere of influence. ICE would have no control over it! The horror! *Napster, redux!!!111* Canadians or Mexicans deciding whether Megaupload's legal or not! Aiieeee!

              :-)

              • by Pope (17780)

                Just make sure you have some Celine Dion or Anne Murray CDs when you come north, and we'll let you in, eh?

    • It's ridiculous that there's no exemption for SSL usage on US export controls.

      There is an exemption for Free Software. I agree that the controls are asinine, though.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      This may be true, but cannot be considered an acceptable excuse for a multibillion dollar corporation like Southwest.

      And to get back to OP's findings...I hesitate to downplay this since it's fundamentally bad security, and I love a good public flogging as much as the next security nerd, but calling this "shocking" and speculating on how it could facilitate terrorism is a little bit extra.

      • by Khyber (864651)

        "I love a good public flogging as much as the next security nerd, but calling this "shocking" and speculating on how it could facilitate terrorism is a little bit extra."

        Well, while I'm draining your bank and credit lines to fund weapons purchases and false identification, you keep thinking terrorists aren't going to get this info and use it.

    • Yet another perfect example of something being a little hard to do, so security is just pushed to the side in order to ship a POS application. SDLC is around for a reason, just because it is a "free" or "consumer" application doesn't mean all security should be given up on. damn!
    • by Bogtha (906264) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @03:43PM (#39012727)

      Chiming in here to agree with spac.

      This is another annoying grey area with Apple's rules. When you submit an app to the App Store, it asks you if you use encryption, and if you do, you have to have an export license from the USA government. I don't believe there's anything that specifically addresses SSL/TLS in Apple's documentation. If you contact Apple, they usually tell you that you need a license for it, even if you use the features built into iOS. If you don't contact Apple and say that you don't use encryption, sometimes you can get through the approval process. I think it's a case of the Apple employees who you contact playing it safe while reviewers can be a bit sloppy.

      I've personally been involved with an app that transmits personal information including GPS coordinates, names and telephone numbers, and it does so without using SSL/TLS for precisely this reason - the company wanted to release as quickly as possible without waiting to get an export license. I didn't like that, but unfortunately, the decision was out of my hands.

      I think the best thing Apple could do, assuming that there is no way around the law, is to make it more clear to developers that this is required in their rules, to automatically scan apps for SSL/TLS use to reject apps without a license consistently, and to reject apps that don't use SSL/TLS to transmit personal information.

    • As a user I don't much care what you have to do. If you don't do it right, and in this case we're talking about keeping my confidential information secure, then you shouldn't publish the app.

    • Doesn't the app store have geographic-based restrictions, so you can offer a program for download only in the USA?

      In this particular case that would be fine, since Southwest doesn't fly internationally.
    • It's a pain in the behind to distribute apps with encryption code (even if all your app does is use SSL!) on the app store.

      Which is why I ask why they are even using an application at all when a web page would be just as effective? All you need to do is code a new version of the page formatted for mobile devices, plenty of airlines do it.
      Malaysian Airlines [flymas.mobi]
      Thai [thaiairways.com]
      Air Asia [airasia.com]
      These are three airlines off the top of my head.

      If you've got a site, you can do SSL easily and know its secure. The added advantage is that you've got one site to maintain for multiple systems (IOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone).

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      It's ridiculous that there's no exemption for SSL usage on US export controls. It's just a pain in the ass for everyone in the process and you can't honestly claim that it prevents awfully dangerous tech from getting into the enemy's hands.

      I thought the whole export thing went away a long time ago - I mean, back in the days when you had to either pick the "US High Encryption" versus "Export" version of a web browser (back when it was 128bit RSA vs. 40bit RSA). Given that I don't think Safari, Chrome (not Ch

  • You realize that you're about to be sued into oblivion right?
  • This is so reassuring when state and Federal governments are so busy forcing us to use electronic cash. One day some hackers or a rogue nuke are going to scramble the system.
  • New Slogan? (Score:4, Funny)

    by A10Mechanic (1056868) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @12:51PM (#39011545)
    You are now free to have your identity stolen
  • by mr_lizard13 (882373) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @12:51PM (#39011547)
    Strictly from a non-technical, user's point of view, this stuff shouldn't happen precicely because of the app review process. That screening process is supposed to give the user the confidence that the app is going to be a good actor, and not do a bunch of stuff its not supposed to. It essentially tells the user "trust Apple to keep a look out for you".

    I don't expect to hear that a vetted app throws my login credentials out there in plain text for all to see. Things like this, along with finding out that iOS gives up my entire address book to an app without asking me first, leaves a bad taste in my mouth and makes me question that review process.
    • by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @01:00PM (#39011611) Homepage Journal
      The app review process is about making sure the application conforms to Apple's prettiness standards and is free of sex, controversy, or 4-letter words.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        SAFE is a 4 letter word which they seem to exclude from apps.

      • by mr_lizard13 (882373) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @02:10PM (#39012083)
        We both understand that, because we both take more of an interest in this stuff than the average joe.

        But from the non technical user's POV, they trust Apple to look out for them. They see the app right there in the store, and rightly make an assumption that Apple have made all the neccessary checks of that app to ensure the user is kept out of harms way.

        The curated environment Apple has crafted gives the impression of safety, security and trustworthiness. Incidents like this make people question that trust.
    • I don't expect to hear that a vetted app throws my login credentials out there in plain text for all to see. Things like this, along with finding out that iOS gives up my entire address book to an app without asking me first, leaves a bad taste in my mouth and makes me question that review process.

      FWIW, Bruce Schneier has said, on multiple occasions, that he doubts that Apple's "walled garden" approach will do anything much to improve computer security. I think this is one good illustration of why he's probably right.

    • by tqk (413719)

      Things like this, along with finding out that iOS gives up my entire address book to an app without asking me first, leaves a bad taste in my mouth and makes me question that review process.

      I wonder how people who do this sort of thing got the job in the first place.

      WTF?!? Why are people like this even being hired?!? Is SouthWest's management really this ignorant? How the !@#$ did they get their jobs?!? How do their planes even take off if this is the sort of thinking they do in that company?

      "Eh, that's just IT, and IT's just a "cost centre"." Gaaahhd!

  • When you login to the application on your phone using your Rapid Rewards account, the app submits your username and password information as plain-text (unencrypted) to a Southwest remote server (mobile.southwest.com). A potential attacker can simply sniff for the data on the network and steal it.

    Wouldnt it be quite difficult to sniff data from a GSM network?

    • iPhones connect using WiFi, too.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Yes, intercepting data over a 3G network is difficult, but not too difficult [computerweekly.com]. The scenario of the free and unencrypted WiFi at the Denver airport is a totally different matter as firesheep [wikipedia.org] demonstrated time ago.

  • By now something like this is obviously grossly negligent and should have drastic negative legal ramifications for them. The time where you do this the elCheapo way is past.

  • a ton of programs and websites transmit your stuff in clear text. this isnt new.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    >> This situation is a hackers dream!

    No, not really. A hackers dream usually involves a game of Global Thermonuclear War or a nice game of Chess.

    • Actually it involves computers and Angelina Jolie [imdb.com]. Unless you're more on the "make new stuff" side of hacking, in which case creating Kelly LeBrock [imdb.com] is in the mix.
    • He really wrote "hackers dream"??
      I stopped reading at "leaves a user's information vulnerable to hackers".

      I don't even know what the current politically correct phrase is for people with skin two shades darker than mine (no, I don't live in the USA). Yet terms "hacker" and "nerd" are kosher. I just don't grok that country.

      • by jo_ham (604554)

        I stopped reading due to his clear lack of ability regarding the possessive apostrophe... oh wait, this is on slashdot were speling and grammer dont mater at al.

  • There is no economic incentive for them to build security into the app. Until we have mandatory fines for shit like this, it means nothing.
    • There is no economic incentive for them to build security into the app. Until we have mandatory fines for shit like this, it means nothing.

      Mandatory fines? Issued by whom? We don't need some new governmental agency for this. The free market is already working. The consumers are in control. This story is now getting out and Southwest will be forced to do the right thing to quell the outrage that is starting to hit them.

  • Let's be honest! Most people are going to find that they have a phone security problem through the news, through becoming a victim, or not at all! We need an app written by this University of Colorado - Colorado Springs Student that checks the security of our phone and other apps on a regular basis. There's a real possibility for a successful business here. I hope that I will be buying a security APP in the near future!! Keep up the good work, anonymous UoC student!!
  • by wbr1 (2538558) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @01:19PM (#39011745)
    Southwest needs to recoup money lost from free checked bags, so they will now start to charge you to keep your data secure. The board meeting where they decided this was a doozy.
  • They could even book a flight in the victims name.

    That's OK, the TSA's security is so good that the crackers could never actually do anything with the false booking.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 12, 2012 @01:28PM (#39011813)

    That's nothing. The very popular note taking app Evernote syncs in the clear.

    I was going to use it to store my big list of passwords, bank account numbers, etc. Lucky for me, I checked it out using Wireshark - it syncs everything in the clear! Anybody on the WiFi network with a packet sniffer can see all your stuff!

    I posted about this on by blog way back in 2009... http://nerdfever.com/?p=311

  • At least to me, the way this post comes across is a bit.. attention seeking?

    Ok, while sending your data unencrypted (and this is apparently the worst thing he found looking at 230+ apps.. I am surprised none of these apps store credentials unencrypted on the phones, etc?), we are looking at a few more hurdles than just getting a fake id.

    Especially if you consider international flights, if you can get a hold of a passport that checks out in customs _and_ in the name of the southwest account holders name, the

  • The only portion they encrypt is when you're entering your credit card number.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Oddly enough, I remember discussing web and credit card security with southwest back in the early 94-95...
    My boss at the time told me to drop it, after he took them to dinner... told me a great story about it:

    After discussing the issue over dinner, I dropped my credit card on the table to pay. The Southwest guy asked me "Do you know what you just did?"
    I replied "I'm paying for our dinner!"
    Southwest guy chuckles and said "you just handed your credit card to a 19 year old girl who probably has a crack head biker boyfriend waiting behind the restaurant to take your credit card number. Do you feel at risk?"
    Boss man chuckles and said "not really, no"
    Credit card companies take the heat when you expose CC info.

    Not saying Southwest is right here, but there are security risks and business risks. If southwest thinks soaking the credit card companies vs spending money on something that isn't going to be on them in the first place makes sense, thats what they are going to do, and all the scary security talk in

  • by qualityassurancedept (2469696) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @02:30PM (#39012183) Journal
    If a "hacker" can log in to your airline account and book a flight in your name, then all they need is to present a fake drivers license in your name to take the flight... and so once again we see that the TSA is actually only a ludicrous theatrical production being staged in Airports nationwide. Thanks for nothing.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      If a "hacker" can log in to your airline account and book a flight in your name, then all they need is to present a fake drivers license in your name to take the flight... and so once again we see that the TSA is actually only a ludicrous theatrical production being staged in Airports nationwide. Thanks for nothing.

      Fake driver's license? Screw that. All they need is a fake boarding pass with their real name on it. Then they pull out the real boarding pass in your name and get on the flight.

  • Many people will be using their mobile devices (I'm assuming these vulnerabilites aren't secific to iOS) on 3G even if there is a wifi network because it's cheaper, more reliable, just plain lazy or don't know there is wifi present.

    So is 3G well encrypted? Or are there a lack of 3G scanning tools?

    • by TeddyR (4176)

      Except that now in order to save money, 3G bandwidth, or "conveniance for users" many locations have "automatic free wifi connections" to attwifi/Wayport_Access hotspots (mcdonalds, starbucks, and many airports, etc) for ipad 3g and iphone users. The only recourse is to MANUALLY turn off wifi if you only want 3G

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This kind of sloppiness is really quite common. Go try to upgrade you trial Pandora account to a paid Pandora One account in a normal desktop browser. Before you put your credit card number in, look for the SSL lock. Oh, wait, it's not there... *sigh*

  • Soon after the iOS App Store debuted and apps became the latest tech fad, I wondered about encryption standards in apps. I always felt a bit weird about logging in to places remotely using apps, wondering to what extent encryption wasn't being used. I'm glad the research was done and that on the plus side only one app was found to be sending logins out in clear. I haven't flown Southwest in years and won't in the future - I've upgraded my standards, up yours! As others have pointed out, any commercial app t

  • Ding! Your data(and money) is now free to move about the country.

  • All right, Miss Mack. You're confirmed on Southwest's flight 114 leaving Chicago's O'Hare Airport at 8.15am on 18 August. Do we need a rental car? No.

He keeps differentiating, flying off on a tangent.

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