Security Misconfiguration: Origin, Impact, and Prevention

Security Misconfiguration: Origin, Impact, and Prevention

Security misconfigurations occur when crucial security measures are implemented with errors or not implemented at all. These misconfigurations create security gaps leaving the applications, network, and data vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

Typical misconfiguration vulnerabilities appear in the network due to deprecated protocols, encryption, open database incidents, misconfigured cloud settings, and directory listing. Here are a few insights on how the security misconfigurations originated, their impact on businesses, and mitigation strategies.

Origin of Security Misconfiguration

Configuration errors predominantly occur as system administrators miss changing a device’s or application’s default configuration. As many automated attacks on the platforms arise due to the default settings, it is essential to change the settings to decrease the attack probability. Here are a few other common causes of security vulnerabilities.

  • Unpatched Flaws and Unnecessary Services

Threat actors often target unpatched or outdated software to acquire unauthorized access to the system’s functions or data. This open vulnerability compromises the entire system compromise. Unnecessary pages, services, and features allow attackers to gain access. When breached into these underused resources, severe issues like command injections, brute force, and credential stuffing attacks occur.

  • Unsecured Files and Directories

When unprotected by robust security controls, files, and directories are the most vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Attackers can actively determine the applications and platforms with familiar names and locations to procure valuable system information and initiate targeted attacks. Probable file names and locations can also expose the administrative interface to gain configuration details and privileged access, allowing cyber-attackers to add, eliminate or amend the system functionalities.

  • Weak Coding Practices and Vulnerable XML Files Utilization

Most security misconfigurations in XML files happen due to customized error pages, SSL misconfigurations, and missing codes from web-based access controls. Coding errors enable attackers to assess sections of web applications and launch hijacking attacks via non-SSL. At the same time, utilizing URL parameters for tracking sessions and not setting a timeout is a significant reason for the rise in misconfigurations. Simultaneously, cookies without the HttpOnly flag can accelerate the cross-site scripting (XSS) attack possibilities.

  • Mis-managed Hardware and Inoperative Antivirus

Cyber-attackers utilize devices like routers, switches, and endpoints to access the data. They actively exploit unsecured ports, inadequately patched hardware, and overly permissive network traffic rules. More importantly, users sometimes temporarily disable the antivirus if it overrides an action. Once the installation is completed by the user and not activated, the sensitive data is vulnerable to breaches leading to massive data loss.

  • Too Much Privilege

Excess administrative rights for employees in an organization are one of the significant causes of security misconfigurations. Giving them access controls as per the job roles is recommended. This area remains unattended when an employee has switched or moved functions within an organization, during new hires, or the ones who left the organization. Misconfigurations happen when their access promptly isn’t revoked.

Impact of Security Misconfigurations

Security misconfigurations give rise to poor security and allure attackers to enter the vulnerable infrastructure. Here are a few similar errors that adversely impact businesses.

  • Exposes Sensitive Data and Directory Traversal Attacks

Configuration errors give attackers control of sensitive information, often exposing sensitive data and causing breaches in systems and services. This way, the attackers exploit the weaknesses in the business infrastructure and further initiate other activities like session hijacking and SQL injections.

Furthermore, the web application’s directory listing enables cyber-attackers to browse and access the file’s structure and discover its weakness and security vulnerabilities. They leverage these weaknesses to modify the application’s parts to reverse-engineer it.

  • Mobile Application Attacks and Remote Attacks

Misconfigurations are a critical issue with mobile applications since business layers are not readily deployed under the organization’s control on a proprietary server. Instead, the threat actor can physically access, re-engineer or amend when the code is deployed on a mobile device.

At the same time, critical misconfigurations serve access to remote servers and disabled network and information security controls like firewalls and VPNs. Cyber-attackers utilize these underused open administration ports and exploit the application for remote attacks.

  • Unauthorized Connections and Errors in Cloud Misconfigurations

Since traditional and outdated applications communicate with hypothetical applications, this causes a security gap allowing the attackers to build a connection with an organization’s IT environment.

Increasing cloud misconfiguration errors have created multiple security challenges for businesses. These errors expose mission-critical information leading to loss of business data, regulatory fines, and vast financial harm directly affecting the reputation of the companies.

Also Read: 3 Ways CISOs Can Effectively Evaluate Security Awareness Training

Prevention of Security Misconfigurations

Security configuration occurs in any network, system, device, or application. Hence, businesses must prevent or reduce their occurrence. Here are a few prevention methods businesses must follow.

  • Assess the IT Infrastructure

Security misconfiguration gives warning signals that the IT team must watch out for and assess. Red flags like these include notifications of multiple login attempts, self-installed software, and users’ web searches redirecting to questionable and insecure websites. Evaluating the IT environment will enable users to reduce errors compromising the devices and applications.

  • Patch Devices/Software and Scrutinize Remote Access Controls

Regular updates and security patches are essential to track, monitor and fix misconfigurations. Admins can also patch and deploy it to the entire environment. At the same time, a multi-layered security approach with VPNs, firewalls, permission zones, and intrusion detection systems can hugely limit the vulnerabilities established by remote users. Businesses must ensure that all the files and directories in both on-premise data centers and cloud environments have solid access controls.

  • Practice Security Coding

Following secure coding practices are vital to avoid security misconfiguration issues. Developers must ensure adequate input/output data validation in the code and set a session timeout. Additionally, they must configure custom error pages and avoid bypassing authentication and authorization procedures.

  • Employee Cybersecurity Training

Lack of cybersecurity knowledge and training within the organization creates unsecured practices. Therefore, businesses must educate employees about crucial cybersecurity practices like the dangers of shadow IT, sensitive data handling rules, and the criticality of solid password usage. A robust security culture is vital to enhance security threat awareness and station appropriate threat responses against suspicious activities.

Cyber-attacks are inevitable. Hence, businesses must proactively anticipate, track, and monitor misconfigurations early. More importantly, regular training is essential to teach employees the best cybersecurity practices.

Furthermore, regular re-assessment of the business IT infrastructure helps businesses to find the origin of security misconfigurations and will enable them to eliminate and manage the vulnerabilities safeguarding the business data.

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