The Impact of Security Misconfiguration and How to Avoid It?

In  Development

Security misconfigurations aren’t usually thought of as significant as other types of attacks, such as phishing, ransomware, malware, etc. However, the recent security breaches involving Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have shown just how serious these issues can be. Bad actors can take advantage of the potential misconfigurations and cause a major data breach that results in financial losses and legal actions. Verizon’s Data Breach Investigations Report puts the spotlight on misconfiguration vulnerabilities present across every industry. Even though a wrong configuration is not on top of the cybersecurity mindsets, they can mitigate the effects by having a solid security policy and a patch management process system in place.     

Follow along for more information about the impact of security misconfiguration, how to avoid it, and what security solutions you can implement for your business. 

What Is Security Misconfiguration?

What Is Security Misconfiguration

The term security misconfiguration refers to a vulnerability that can arise at any level of an application stack, including network services, platforms, servers, custom code, storage, containers, framework and pre-installed virtual machines. From failing to implement the security controls for a server or web application to implementing security configurations that allow errors to happen, misconfiguration flaws will give attackers unauthorised access to the system data and functionalities. However, security misconfiguration vulnerabilities can also occur when default settings are left unchanged.       

Whenever security settings are left on default, insecure or inaccurately configured, it can lead to serious issues such as compromising the whole system, stealing sensitive data, and even stopping a business from working. No matter the size of the impact, every company must protect its web application and data. 

Why Does Security Misconfiguration Occur?

Security issues might arise when security configuration settings are not correctly defined in the configuration process, and your web app and data are maintained or deployed with the default settings. They can impact every application stack layer, network devices, and cloud storage. Any potential security misconfiguration can cost companies millions of dollars.  

Let’s see when security misconfiguration can occur: 

  • When you set your security on the default configuration. This includes default passwords, default credentials, certificates and installation. 
  • Not implementing other security protocols and encryptions across any part of your application. 
  • Using open database instances
  • Enabling directory listings. 
  • Error messages that reveal sensitive information to users. 
  • Enabling or installing unnecessary features such as ports, command injection, pages, services, accounts and privileges. 
  • Poorly configured permissions on cloud services. 
  • Security features not being enabled or flawed configuration for upgraded systems. 
  • When your application server, frameworks, libraries, database server, etc., are not secured. 
  • When the server directory and server software are not secured.
  • When your software is out of date or vulnerable. 

What Are the Impacts of Security Misconfiguration?

Impacts of Security Misconfiguration

Security misconfigurations might seem harmless, but they put your business at risk. A top concern that leads to data breaches is security misconfiguration with cloud production environments. This is because of the complexity of the environment, human errors, insufficient security team members, and lack of training and knowledge for staff members.   

A former Amazon engineer took advantage of Capital One’s misconfigured firewall and stole over 100 million customer applications for credit. Because of this configuration error, the hacker gained access to backend resources and got unnecessary S3 bucket permissions, which allowed her to access and download sensitive data. 

Capgemini exposed millions of personal data because of a misconfigured database on a provider’s development server, enabling easy access to sensitive data if millions of job seekers.  

Security misconfiguration attacks are hackers’ favourites because they can be easily exploited using automated tools. Cloud native applications are a popular target. In the State of Cloud Native Application Security Survey, Snyk reveals that 69% of developers and security professionals deal with security vulnerabilities such as misconfigurations and lack of security software patches within their web or mobile application.  

Attackers can abuse your application’s structure and modify software components. This attack type is hard to control if your app is delivered to mobile devices because your business and presentation layers are deployed on a device, not a server. 

The impact of enabling default accounts or passwords: sticking to the vendor-supplied defaults for user accounts and passwords will allow hackers to gain access to your system. This is a common security misconfiguration and will leave your app in the hands of malicious actors.    

The impact of not implementing a secure password policy is that bad actors will use brute force attacks to gain unauthorised access to your system. They will run a series of standard usernames and passwords until they will successfully authenticate in your application.  

The impact of your software being out of date or flaws not being fixed will allow hackers to use code injection attacks to inject malicious code. The patch management process is mandatory to avoid any injection techniques and prevent your application from executing any wicked lines of code. 

The impact of leaving your files and directories unprotected will allow bad actors to gain unauthorised access to restricted or sensitive files. The technique used in this situation is forced browsing. 

The impact of installing or enabling unused features increases your application security risks of misconfiguration and vulnerabilities. If you do not remove unnecessary features, samples, documentation and components, you allow attackers to inject malicious code through the code injection technique. 

The impact of lack of security maintenance and improper configuration will allow bad actors to exploit the application vulnerabilities and attacks

The impact of user-accessible unpublished URLs will leave your application at risk when hackers scan for unpublished URLs. Blocking these types of URLs and not giving the user access to them is the best practice, as these URLs are not planned to receive traffic from typical users.

The impact of bad code and deficient coding practices open the door for code injection attacks. The inadequate coding techniques, such as a lack of precise input and output data validation, will leave your application vulnerable to security misconfiguration attacks.  

The impact of lack of security hardening on directory listing will allow attackers to access your directories, files and commands outside the root directory. These are common issues, especially for web applications built on off-the-shelf frameworks such as WordPress. Cybercriminals can access your app’s source code, app configurations and system files. They can also modify URLs making your app execute and deliver random files on the server. Devices and apps that have HTTP-based interfaces are a possible target of directory traversal attacks. 

Security misconfiguration can expose a web application to attacks. Common vulnerabilities, if overlooked, can cause severe damage to a business. From sensitive data exposure because of absent or misconfigured security controls to losing access to your app can be avoided with security hardening.  

How To Prevent Security Misconfigurations?

Security Misconfigurations Prevention

To prevent security misconfiguration, you should reevaluate your security hygiene practices. We recommend checking if users in your network are still using the default passwords, who get admin privileges by default, if you meet the requirements of enforced secure authentication protocols, etc. One minor weakness, such as poor passwords, can be used as leverage by a hacker to hinder your security efforts. No matter the size of your business, you can be a victim of a cyberattack. The biggest data breaches have exposed millions of sensitive data and have caused financial losses. 

We strongly advise you to implement automated processes to detect any vulnerabilities during the development stage and fix these vulnerabilities before going live. With automated processes, you eliminate human error from the start and can stop any security misconfiguration attack before it becomes an issue. Moreover, scanning every software application component to identify security vulnerabilities or misconfigurations across every application layer. By doing so and fixing glitches from the get-go, your developers can learn how to commit to secure development and configuration practices. Continuously improving security and checking the health of your app is a must. Otherwise, you leave your application susceptible to cyber attacks.         

Vulnerabilities are the gateway to an organisation, and the misconfigurations are the open door, the targets for hackers to access your application. The good news is that misconfigurations are easily fixable but are unavoidable and hard to locate. They can be found across any component in a business system, such as servers, browsers, operating applications and systems.  

Besides implementing automated processes to find any irregularity with your application security, you can also implement the following practices to prevent any further security misconfigurations:

  •  A repeatable security hardening process will make the deployment of your app to a more secure environment fast and easy. The development, testing and production environments must be identical configurations, but you must use different credentials in each environment. You can automate this process to minimise the effort needed to set up a new and secure environment. 
  • Use a minimal platform that runs only features, documentation, samples and components that you need. Any other unused features and frameworks should be removed. 
  • Review and update configurations of security patches, updates and notes. This should be part of your patch management process. Also, do not forget to review cloud storage permissions, such as the S3 bucket permissions.  
  • Segment your application architecture. 
  • Send security directives to clients so browsers can make it harder for hackers to exploit the vulnerabilities from the client side. Security headers are directives used by web applications that help configure security defences in web browsers from cross-site scripting and clickjacking attacks. 

Our Advice

We understand the importance of application security and keeping your business and your customers safe. The only way to find security misconfigurations within your systems is to look for them. Start by looking if any accounts use default credentials, analyse your options for better security in your framework, and remove everything unnecessary, including accounts, privileges and ports. Make sure that errors do not reveal any sensitive information to users, as this is one of the most common issues.

We strongly recommend you not cut down the security budget and hire the best experts you can find. Even the tiniest misconfiguration is an opportunity for bad actors to exploit your application. Do you need a professional team to take care of your web app? Contact us now, and let’s make sure your business is protected!    

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some examples of security misconfiguration?

Default accounts and passwords, unused features, samples, documentation, revealing sensitive information to users through error messages.

What can be done to mitigate security misconfiguration?

Implement automated processes, remove unused features, review and update configurations, etc.

Which layer of the application stack could a misconfiguration affect?

All of them.

How to detect security misconfiguration?

Use intelligent and automated security misconfiguration scanners.