Millions of Artifacts, Misconfigured Enterprise Software Registries Are Ripe for Pwning

Researchers find 250 million artifacts and 65,000 container images exposed in registries and repositories scattered across the Internet.

4 Min Read
Programming code abstract technology background
Source: whiteMocca via Shutterstock

Many organizations, including some of the world's largest companies, are at heightened risk of compromise and data theft from misconfigured and poorly secured software registries and artifact repositories, a new study has shown.

Research that cloud-security vendor Aqua Security recently conducted uncovered some 250 million software artifacts and more than 65,000 container images lying exposed and Internet-accessible in thousands of registries and repositories. Some 1,400 hosts allowed access to secrets, keys, passwords, and other sensitive data that an attacker could use to mount a supply chain attack, or to poison an enterprise software development environment.

Wide Registry Exposure

Aqua discovered 57 registries with critical misconfigurations, including 15 that enabled an attacker to gain admin privileges with just the default password; 2,100 artifact registries offered upload permissions, which potentially gave anonymous users a way to upload malicious code to the registry.

In all, Aqua found nearly 12,800 container image registries that were accessible over the Internet of which 2,839 permitted anonymous user access. On 1,400 hosts, Aqua researchers found at least one sensitive data element such as keys, tokens, and credentials; on 156 hosts the company found private addresses of endpoints such as MongoDB, Redis, and PostgreSQL.

Among the thousands of affected organizations were several Fortune 500 companies. One of them was IBM, which had exposed an internal container registry to the Internet and put sensitive data at risk of access. The company addressed the issue after Aqua's researchers informed it of their discovery. Other notable organizations that had potentially put their data at similar risk included Siemens, Cisco, and Alibaba. In addition, Aqua found software secrets in registries belonging to at least two cybersecurity firms exposed to the Internet. Aqua's data is based on an analysis of container images, Red Hat Quay container registries, JFrog Artifactory, and Sonatype Nexus artifact registries.

"It's critical that organizations of all sizes around the world take a moment to verify that their registries — whether public or private — are secure," advises Assaf Morag, lead threat intelligence and data analyst at Aqua Security. Organizations that have code in public registries or have connected their registries to the Internet and allow anonymous access should ensure their code and registries don't contain secrets, intellectual property, or sensitive information, he says.

"The hosts belonged to thousands of organizations around the world – ranging by industry, size, and geography," Morag notes. "That means the benefits for an attacker could also range."

Risky Registries & Repositories

Aqua's research is the latest to highlight the risks to businesses from data in software registries, repositories and artifact management systems. Development teams use software registries to store, manage, and distribute software, libraries, and tools and use repositories for centrally storing and maintaining specific software packages from within the registry. The function of artifact repositories is to help organizations store and manage the artifacts of a software project such as source code, binary files, documentation, and build artifacts. Artifact management systems can also include Docker images and packages from public repositories such as Maven, NPM, and NuGet.

Often, organizations using open source code in their projects — an almost ubiquitous practice at this point —connect their internal registries and artifact management systems to the Internet and allow anonymous access to certain portions of the registry. For instance, a software development team using JFrog Artifactory as an internal repository could configure external access so customers and partners can share its artifacts.

Threat actors seeking to compromise enterprise software development environments have increasingly begun targeting software registries and repositories in recent years. Some of the attacks have involved attempts by threat actors to introduce malicious code into development and build environments directly or via poisoned packages planted on NPM, PyPI, and other widely used public repositories. In other instances, threat actors have targeted these tools to gain access to the sensitive information such as credentials, passwords, and APIs stored in them.

Aqua's research showed that, in many cases, organizations are inadvertently making it easier for attackers to carry out these attacks by mistakenly connecting registries containing sensitive information to the Internet, posting secrets in public repositories, using default passwords for access control, and granting overly excessive privileges to users.

In one instance, Aqua uncovered a bank with an open registry featuring online banking applications. "An attacker could have pulled the container, then modified it and pushed it back," Morag says.

In another instance, Aqua discovered two misconfigured container registries belonging to the development and engineering team of a Fortune 100 technology company. Aqua found the registries to contain so much sensitive information and afford so much access and privileges for doing damage, that the company decided to halt its research and inform the technology company of the issue. In this case, the security snafu resulted from a development engineer opening up the environment while working on an unapproved side project.

About the Author(s)

Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer

Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year career at Computerworld, Jai also covered a variety of other technology topics, including big data, Hadoop, Internet of Things, e-voting, and data analytics. Prior to Computerworld, Jai covered technology issues for The Economic Times in Bangalore, India. Jai has a Master's degree in Statistics and lives in Naperville, Ill.

Keep up with the latest cybersecurity threats, newly discovered vulnerabilities, data breach information, and emerging trends. Delivered daily or weekly right to your email inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights