Starbucks vows to beef up security on its iPhone app

Barista dismisses concerns about plain-text passwords for payment process

Starbucks today promised to update its iOS app to calm a storm of interest in a report this week that claimed criminals could easily nab the app's credentials from a stolen iPhone.

At the same time, Starbuck's CIO dismissed concerns raised by the report, but declined to go into specifics about the steps it has, and would, take.

Starbucks iPhone app
Starbucks' iPhone app stores payment credentials in plain text, making it easy for someone with physical access to the device to make purchases. (Image: Apple.)

"We have added several safeguards to protect the information you share with us," wrote Curt Garner in an open letter published on Starbuck's website Thursday. "To protect the integrity of these added measures, we are unable to share technical details, but can assure you that they sufficiently address the concerns raised in the research report."

The research Garner referenced surfaced yesterday after Computerworld columnist Evan Schuman reported that Daniel Wood, a Minneapolis, Minn. security researcher, had found that Starbuck's iOS app stored the customer's username and password in plain text. Sans encryption -- and with the app's practice of not asking for a password after it has been entered initially to activate the payment process -- a lost or stolen iPhone would give up the credentials.

Security experts Schuman spoke to criticized Starbucks for storing the passwords in the clear.

Garner also said that Starbucks would beef up the security of its iPhone app in a future update, but again did not go into details.

"Out of an abundance of caution, we are also working to accelerate the deployment of an update for the app that will add extra layers of protection," Garner wrote in the letter. "We expect this update to be ready soon and will share our progress here."

Starbucks' iOS app was last updated May 1, 2013, according to Apple's App Store.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is

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