Featuring in OWASP’s top ten list of application security risks, misconfiguration is an issue that continues to unsettle even the most sophisticated organizations. According to a McAfee study, up to 99 percent of cloud misconfigurations remain unnoticed, placing many systems at greater risk of external influence.
Security misconfigurations result when safeguards designed to protect an application are not properly implemented, leaving the system vulnerable to attacks. If a system developer or administrator fails to configure the security framework of the particular application or website appropriately, costly data breaches can ensue. For instance, the Atlassian JIRA security misconfiguration led to a significant data breach in which a security researcher, Avinash Jain, accessed sensitive user information.
The misconfiguration can occur at any level of the application stack, including databases, storage networking, and platform development. Sometimes, a simple search query can reveal a system’s security misconfiguration.
Why Avoiding Security Misconfigurations is Important
Configuration errors leave system gaps that hackers and cybercriminals can utilize to harm your organization in multiple ways. For instance, an attacker can use security misconfiguration to gain unauthorized access to an institution’s sensitive data or services.
Remote attacks in which hackers access servers and disable networks remotely can also occur with configuration errors. An attacker will access and disable an application’s security controls like VPNs and firewalls if the security framework is not configured appropriately.
Cloud misconfiguration issues are usually catastrophic to enterprises as they often result in associated reputational harm, regulatory penalties and exposure of critical information that can be damaging. Sometimes, attackers use security misconfiguration to launch directory traversal breaches and even attempt to modify sections or reverse-engineer the application.
Moreover, configuration errors allow attackers to establish unauthorized connections with an enterprise’s IT ecosystem if the application attempts to communicate with other non-existent apps.
Five Surefire Ways to Prevent Security Misconfigurations
Security configuration error is a rife issue that can occur at any stage of the system, device or application development. You can adopt these tested practices to protect your organization against the potentially damaging effects of security misconfigurations.
1. Education and training on cybersecurity
Training your employees on the current security trends and practices is vital for proper decision-making/successful adoption of safe cybersecurity practices. Consider educating the staff on the need to use strong passwords, handling of sensitive information, and detection of suspicious activity.
2. Regular software and device updates
Using cheaper, outdated software is a significant contributor to security vulnerabilities. While it might seem less costly, outdated programs put the organization at risk of losing its reputation, investors and assets. You should create a regular security patch schedule to ensure your software are up-to-date, and threat vectors are minimal. You can also deploy a correctly configured virtual machine, golden image, to help find and fix configuration issues. Such strategies are crucial when you want to identify and limit potential security misconfiguration concerns.
3. Strong access controls
Users should have access only to data they require to fulfil particular operations. For instance, data compartmentalization can help ensure administrators only have administrative privileges when they use specific accounts distinct from general user accounts. Implementing strong password use and two-factor authentication is another simple strategy for controlling access. You can also adopt a layered remote security strategy with firewalls, permission zones, intrusion detection systems and VPNs to limit the threat by remote users.
4. Safe coding practices
System developers must adopt secure coding practices to avoid configuration errors. You need to ascertain the use of appropriate input/output data validation in codes, custom error page configuration and authentication. Setting session timeout and running the static code through a scanner is necessary before integrating it into the production environment.
5. Data encryption
Avert data exfiltration by using the data at rest encryption scheme and applying strict access controls to access files and directories. If your customers’ sensitive information, such as credit card numbers’ ends up in the wrong hands, the losses and damages can be distressing.
Vulnerabilities — the Gateway to the Network
Malicious actors leverage the misconfigurations to find entry-points to their intended targets. Some of these misconfigurations are somewhat unavoidable in an organization operating at scale. That said, they’re not hard to fix.