Enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications from vendors such as Oracle and SAP are under attack and the critical data living inside them is vulnerable to both criminal and nation-state hackers. That's the warning by US-CERT today, referencing a new report by Digital Shadows and Onapsis.
The Digital Shadows/Onapsis report is a detailed look at how the software that form the central pillar of many organizations' application infrastructure has been targeted by cybercriminals in patterns that go back years.
"The key findings fold into three things," says Michael Marriott, research analyst at Digital Shadows. "First of all there's still a worrying number of Internet-facing applications. Second, there's an increasing amount of exploits for these applications. And finally, threat actors know this," he explains.
Years of development have gone into many of the exploits referenced in the report. The US-CERT bulletin references both the new Onapsis and Digital Shadows report, ERP Applications Under Fire, and a previous bulletin from 2016.
"Attackers do not need to go and really use one of their zero days or advanced techniques," says Juan Pablo Perez-Etchegoyen, CTO of Onapsis. "A weak user password exploited by a well-known vulnerability that has been out there for five, 10, or even more years can lead to a successful breach."
And those older breaches are finding new success in ERP. "They can leverage the current state of ERP applications because they are harder to maintain, hard to patch, and harder to keep up," Perez-Etchegoyen says.
ERP's complex and critical status within the enterprise makes it uniquely subject to attack. "Anyone who analyzes enterprise critical software will surely discover that cyber criminals are targeting them and that they will find vulnerabilities or existing, ongoing cyber campaigns," says Joseph Carson, chief security scientist at Thycotic.
"Access to such ERP systems typically means security has been weak in other parts of the business, for example, securing systems and privileged access to critical business applications," he says.
Complexity has always been one of the characteristics of ERP software, and modern versions of the applications that can reach into every corner of a company's operations are no exception. "The key part of this is that the footprint of course is so big. If you analyze an ERP application, for example, it has millions of lines of code — way more than any modern operating system," says Perez-Etchegoyen.
The legacy ERP providers covered in the report are juicy targets, according to Joseph Kucic, chief security officer at Cavirin. That's because they traditionally were internal applications only and later acquired "bolt-on components."
"Since these firms are growing by bolt-on acquisition, strategic components there are extensive publicly exposed elements, and those vendors lacked the focus that cloud-born applications have had in place since day one," he says.
Perez-Etchegoyen notes that both SAP and Oracle are pushing customers toward cloud deployments from their traditional on-premise architectures. And for some, that shift could bring benefits.
"In some cases it's even more secure to be in the cloud. For some specific use cases, organizations will enjoy the benefits of more secure systems just by going to a cloud, he says. "But that doesn't apply to all of the cases, especially where you have impressive service implementations or with multiple different products interfacing."
The complexity that comes with integrating the many different layers of cloud applications brings particular security concerns, according to Kucic.
"Another major enterprise application weakness is middleware and it could provide a richer target area that could cross multiple applications and be more difficult to detect," he says. "In some cases, I have found separation of Dev, UAT, and production on middleware to be the greatest weak link in enterprises and the least understood."
One of the most concerning aspects of ERP deployments is the number of user interfaces that face the Internet, says Perez-Etchegoyen. Simply moving an interface of the Internet is not a sovereign panacea for security woes, though: "We hear a lot from ERP customers that they believe that because their SAP applications are not Internet-facing they are fine," but that is not enough, he says.
The three key steps an organization can take to reduce their attack exposure are to carefully review configurations for known vulnerabilities; change default passwords and require strong passwords for administrators and users; and try to reduce the exposure of ERP applications to the Internet.
"This [report] is kind of a warning that the real actors are interested in various different things that are held by our applications, and there is stuff we can do about it to reduce our attack surface," Digital Shadows' Marriott says.
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