Common secrets security misconfigurations you need to steer clear of

Adam Cheriki, Co-founder & CTO, Entro
February 15, 2024

In modern cybersecurity, the term ‘security misconfiguration’ might not evoke the immediate tension of a notorious virus or the dramatic flair of a cyber-attack. Yet, these misconfigurations are like quiet anomalies in the vast and complex digital infrastructure, often overlooked yet holding the power to unravel systems in subtle and profound ways.

Misconfigurations are key players in the narrative that demand a nuanced understanding and a meticulous approach. This exploration is more than a technical briefing; it’s an invitation to understand the undercurrents that shape our digital defenses and to learn how vigilance in the minutiae can fortify our most crucial barriers. Join us as we navigate the subtleties of securing the digital domain, where every detail counts.

What is security misconfiguration?

At its core, a security misconfiguration is no less than an unlocked door in a fortress specifically designed to keep intruders at bay. It’s not the dramatic breach through fortified walls you might imagine; rather, it’s an oversight, a lapse in the rigorous protocol governing digital systems’ secure operation. These misconfigurations occur when settings for software, hardware, or processes aren’t tightened down or tailored according to best security practices. They’re the defaults left unchanged, the unnecessary services left running, and the permissions too broadly cast.

This might sound deceptively simple, but a misstep can disrupt your IT orchestra’s melody. One of the major real-life security misconfiguration examples from 2023: DarkBeam’s misconfigured Elasticsearch and Kibana interfaces, led to the year’s biggest data breach, exposing 3.8 billion records. It’s unclear how long the data was exposed, but we know there’s a heightened need for monitoring systems for misconfigurations.

Common secrets security misconfigurations

Understanding secrets security misconfigurations requires a keen understanding of where vulnerabilities typically arise, especially concerning secrets management, API interactions, and credentials handling. Here are some of the common secrets security misconfigurations:

  • Default accounts/passwords enabled: Often, systems and applications come with default settings, including user accounts and passwords, for easy initial setup. Not customizing these settings can give attackers easy access, especially to sensitive secrets stored within these systems.

  • Unprotected files and directories: Storing secrets in unsecured locations (like public directories or unencrypted files) makes them easily accessible. Effective secrets management requires secure storage solutions with controlled access.

  • Unused features enabled: Features or services that are unnecessary but left enabled can create unintended security gaps. Attackers may exploit these features to gain access to or decipher secrets, particularly if these features have vulnerabilities that haven’t been addressed.

  • Poor application coding practices: Coding practices that don’t prioritize security can lead to vulnerabilities such as injection attacks. For instance, if an application exposes secrets through insecure API endpoints or lacks proper validation checks, it becomes susceptible to exploitation.

  • Directory traversal: This attack allows unauthorized users to access directories that store sensitive data, including secrets. Protecting against directory traversal involves ensuring that applications have proper validation checks to prevent navigating outside designated directories.

  • Inadequate encryption: Encryption is key in protecting secrets, but using weak or outdated encryption methods can be almost as bad as having no encryption. Using strong, current encryption standards goes a long way to safeguard secrets from being intercepted and deciphered.

Excessive privileges: Granting more access rights than necessary can be risky. If a user or application with extensive privileges is compromised, it can lead to broader exposure of secrets. Implementing the principle of least privilege, where access is limited to what’s strictly necessary, can mitigate this risk.

API misconfigurations

API misconfigurations involve various aspects. For instance, they may arise out of insecure endpoints with insufficient authentication and authorization, leading to data exposure; inconsistent request handling across the HTTP server chain, creating exploitable gaps; and improperly configured or absent CORS policies, increasing Security misconfiguration vulnerability to cross-domain attacks.

Exposing sensitive information through detailed error messages and failing to implement TLS for data encryption can significantly compromise API security. These misconfigurations often stem from oversight or a lack of comprehensive security strategies during API design and implementation.

Credentials misconfigurations

Like API misconfigurations, credential misconfigurations can come from several lapses: using default account credentials, which attackers often easily guess; failing to promptly apply updates or patches, leaving systems with exploitable vulnerabilities; and not securing sensitive files and directories where credentials are stored.  These issues frequently arise from inadequate training or awareness among staff responsible for system security. This leaves the system open to unauthorized access and potential data breaches, emphasizing the necessity for robust cybersecurity policies and continuous education on best practices for credential management. Integrating tools that specifically scan for GitHub secrets can ensure that credentials aren’t inadvertently committed, maintaining the sanctity of your repositories.

OWASP Top 10

The 2023 edition of the OWASP Top 10, as outlined on their official site, includes the following key security issues:

  • API1:2023 – Broken Object Level Authorization: Issues with object identifiers leading to access control problems.
  • API2:2023 – Broken Authentication: Incorrect implementation of authentication mechanisms.
  • API3:2023 – Broken Object Property Level Authorization: Not checking the right boxes when deciding who can change or see things.
  • API4:2023 – Unrestricted Resource Consumption: Weak spots that could lead to service crashes or burning cash fast.
  • API5:2023 – Broken Function Level Authorization: Slip-ups in who gets to do what, giving people access they shouldn’t have.
  • API6:2023 – Unrestricted Access to Sensitive Business Flows: Letting your business secrets out without enough cover.
  • API7:2023 – Server Side Request Forgery (SSRF): Dangers when you grab data from elsewhere without checking it’s legit.
  • API8:2023 – Security Misconfiguration: Issues due to complex or overlooked configurations.
  • API9:2023 – Improper Inventory Management: Challenges in managing and documenting API endpoints.
  • API10:2023 – Unsafe Consumption of APIs: Hazards linked to using APIs from other parties.

Here, “Security Misconfiguration” (API8:2023) has been highlighted as one of the major risks. It points to vulnerabilities arising from unpatched flaws, insecure default configurations, or unprotected files, which can lead to unauthorized access and system compromise. The emphasis is on the complexity of APIs and supporting systems, which often contain intricate configurations prone to being overlooked or improperly managed, leading to various types of attacks. This highlights the need for rigorous security practices and a comprehensive understanding of the system configurations to mitigate these risks effectively. So, how do we remediate these risks?

How to prevent and remediate secrets security misconfigurations

Preventing and remediating issues highlighted in the OWASP Top 10 requires a multifaceted approach. Here are a few things you can do to fix these concerns or prevent a secrets security misconfiguration from happening in the first place:

  • Automate security audits: Employ automated tools to regularly scan for security misconfigurations in APIs and credential management, identifying vulnerabilities early. These audits should include advanced secrets detection capabilities to identify exposed or hard-coded secrets before they can be exploited.

  • Secrets management integration: Implement robust secrets management solutions to securely store, access, and manage sensitive data such as API keys and credentials.

  • Continuous education on secrets security: Offer targeted training programs on the latest threats and best practices in secrets security, emphasizing the importance of secure storage and access management.

  • Regularly update security protocols: Ensure that security protocols for handling sensitive data are regularly updated and aligned with the evolving threats highlighted in the OWASP Top 10.

  • Customize patch management: Focus on a patch management strategy that addresses vulnerabilities specific to secrets management and API security.

  • Enhance authentication and access control: Enhance the robustness of authentication methods, especially when accessing confidential information, and apply stringent access restrictions adhering to the least privilege principle.

Best practices for avoiding misconfigurations

To maintain robust security, certain best practices should be routinely followed:

  • Routine vulnerability scanning: Implement regular, comprehensive scanning of your systems to detect new vulnerabilities beyond typical misconfigurations.

  • Advanced secrets protection: Utilize state-of-the-art secrets management tools, focusing on advanced encryption methods and secure secret lifecycle management. Furthermore, adopting a routine secrets rotation policy can prevent prolonged exposure of sensitive information and help maintain a secure, evolving system.

  • Dynamic access control: Regularly review and adjust access controls, ensuring they adapt to changing roles and situations.

  • Proactive threat intelligence integration: Incorporate real-time threat intelligence into your security strategy to stay ahead of emerging risks.

  • Continuous compliance monitoring: Keep track of compliance with industry standards and regulations, ensuring your security practices meet all necessary requirements.

  • Security drills and simulations: Conduct regular drills and simulations to test and improve your incident response strategy.

  • Behavioral analysis: Set up tools to keep an eye on how folks use the system and spot any odd behavior that might hint at someone sneaking around or messing with login details.

Entro’s approach to secrets management

Wrapping up, the journey through secrets security misconfigurations is not an easy one but one that we must make. It’s about turning potential vulnerabilities into stepping stones for a more secure future — and that brings us to Entro.

Entro’s approach to secrets management is quite unique in terms of how it addresses vulnerabilities within API and credentials misconfigurations. By providing a comprehensive map of which application uses which secret and its associated cloud service, Entro brings to light the context required for secret rotation.

Its ability to discover all secrets, enrich them with vital metadata, and continuously monitor for anomalies ensures that secrets are not only secure but also compliant. This out-of-band, agentless approach seamlessly integrates into existing workflows, offering a robust solution to the inherent challenges of managing secrets in a dynamic, cloud-native environment.

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