Perimeter
8/20/2015
11:45 AM
Sekhar Sarukkai
Sekhar Sarukkai
Commentary
Connect Directly
LinkedIn
RSS
E-Mail vvv
50%
50%

Beware The Hidden Risk Of Business Partners In The Cloud

Enterprises vastly underestimate the cyber risk from digital connections to vendors, suppliers, agencies, consultants -- and any company with which employees do business.

As more details emerge about the recent mega breach affecting CVS, Costco, Walmart, RiteAid, and Tesco, security experts are zeroing in on an often overlooked element in a company’s cyber defenses: its business partners.

The common thread between these companies is a third-party vendor called PNI Digital Media that provides photo processing websites and services for 19,000 retail locations. Similar to the massive 2013 Target breach in which hackers gained access to the company’s network via an unsecured heating and cooling vendor, it appears hackers leveraged trusted digital connections PNI had to these retailers to compromise their systems.

This recent data breach that began with PNI puts an often-neglected but ubiquitous area of exposure under the spotlight: the partner environment. Enterprises vastly underestimate risk from business partners, which can include vendors, suppliers, agencies, consultants, and any company with which employees do business. One common example is an airline that has a trusted digital connection to a company’s employee travel portal. While many companies perform in-depth analyses of their cybersecurity posture and harden their own internal systems against attack, the scale of connections to business partners and their risk is often unknown.

Consider the behavior of all your organization’s employees online, and then add to that surface area all of your company’s business partners. Even companies with the strictest security and data governance requirements deal with vendors who pay much less diligence to security. This is compounded by the ease of connecting to partners via cloud services.

Skyhigh recently analyzed the partner ecosystem for 400 large enterprises. We identified the cloud as the hub by which modern businesses connect and exchange information. This shouldn’t be a surprise; when was the last time you used a fax machine? The sheer volume of connections, however, is astounding: The average enterprise connects to 1,586 partners via the cloud. This figure is a key data point validating the rapidly maturing cloud economy, but it also points to a vector of attack that many organizations today may not be equipped to defend against.

Image Source: Skyhigh Networks
Image Source: Skyhigh Networks

 

To quantify the risk of these connections, we found that 8% of partners were high-risk. This seemingly reassuring statistic is misleading. Companies sent a disproportionally large amount of data to high-risk partners, with this 8% minority receiving 29% of all shared data. The horror stories among this risky bunch are (almost) enough to make CISOs pull out the fax machine and the USB drive again. We found an partner airline that had 9,717 login credentials for sale on the darknet and 209 devices infected with malware; an advertising agency had 1,565 compromised identities for sale across 29 darknet sites. The risky partners include businesses that potentially deal with sensitive data. The provider of financial services technology had 1,216 compromised identities for sale on the darknet. All three of these businesses had websites still vulnerable to POODLE.

Certain types of partners are particularly dangerous liabilities for enterprises. The nature of PNI’s business highlights the value to hackers of a foothold within a B2B vendor’s network. Large enterprises dwarf PNI in organizational size and security infrastructure, but a breach at a B2B company can also affect its customers’ customers.

Analysis of enterprise cloud usage points to a trend of “super partners” – specifically 58 businesses that act as major cloud hubs. Companies in this tiny minority are extremely “popular” with each super partner connected to over 50% of enterprises. This means a breach within one of these companies could put a large number of enterprises at risk. Worse, the group is less secure than the general partner environment, as 12.5% of super partners are considered high-risk.

While many question the inherent security of the cloud, the risk from business partners shows how factors outside the security capabilities of cloud providers can impact the threat landscape for many organizations. In fact, much of the threat to data in the cloud can be attributed to the enterprise itself, through risky user behavior or insider threat. But what I consider the true security blindspot is the prospect of exfiltration of corporate data through unsanctioned cloud services or high-risk usage by employees of sanctioned, secure cloud services like Box and Office 365. 

Cloud services enable thousands of organizations to share data and collaborate, revolutionizing the way we do work. A new way to work warrants a new security model. Expect a shift to data security as companies become aware of the extent of enterprise cloud adoption and the concomitant webs of cloud traffic.

Sekhar Sarukkai is a co-founder and vice president of engineering at Skyhigh Networks, where he is responsible for engineering and operations. He brings more than 20 years of experience in enterprise networking, security, and cloud services development. Prior to founding ... View Full Bio
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
JuliaNorma
50%
50%
JuliaNorma,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/25/2015 | 3:06:41 AM
abit risky
Really interesting review. The high risk is pretty big anyway but the cloud is really interesting for most of really huge businessess anyway... You'll just have to deal and anticipate these risks
Hacked IV Pumps and Digital Smart Pens Can Lead to Data Breaches
Dawn Kawamoto, Associate Editor, Dark Reading,  12/4/2017
The Rising Dangers of Unsecured IoT Technology
Danielle Jackson, Chief Information Security Officer, SecureAuth,  12/4/2017
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: This comment is waiting for review by our moderators.
Current Issue
Managing Cyber-Risk
An online breach could have a huge impact on your organization. Here are some strategies for measuring and managing that risk.
Flash Poll
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2017-0290
Published: 2017-05-09
NScript in mpengine in Microsoft Malware Protection Engine with Engine Version before 1.1.13704.0, as used in Windows Defender and other products, allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary code or cause a denial of service (type confusion and application crash) via crafted JavaScript code within ...

CVE-2016-10369
Published: 2017-05-08
unixsocket.c in lxterminal through 0.3.0 insecurely uses /tmp for a socket file, allowing a local user to cause a denial of service (preventing terminal launch), or possibly have other impact (bypassing terminal access control).

CVE-2016-8202
Published: 2017-05-08
A privilege escalation vulnerability in Brocade Fibre Channel SAN products running Brocade Fabric OS (FOS) releases earlier than v7.4.1d and v8.0.1b could allow an authenticated attacker to elevate the privileges of user accounts accessing the system via command line interface. With affected version...

CVE-2016-8209
Published: 2017-05-08
Improper checks for unusual or exceptional conditions in Brocade NetIron 05.8.00 and later releases up to and including 06.1.00, when the Management Module is continuously scanned on port 22, may allow attackers to cause a denial of service (crash and reload) of the management module.

CVE-2017-0890
Published: 2017-05-08
Nextcloud Server before 11.0.3 is vulnerable to an inadequate escaping leading to a XSS vulnerability in the search module. To be exploitable a user has to write or paste malicious content into the search dialogue.