8 Reasons Perimeter Security Alone Won't Protect Your Crown Jewels

Most firewalls and security devices effectively protect systems and data, but are they enough to safeguard business-critical applications?

Juan Pablo Perez-Etchegoyen, CTO, Onapsis

September 16, 2020

5 Min Read

Today, the world's biggest organizations rely on specific technology to run their daily business operations, which are supported by mission-critical applications. These applications are represented by vendors like SAP and Oracle that deliver applications such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), supply chain management (SCM), and customer relationship management (CRM). These applications handle the most sensitive, valuable, and regulated data within the organization. They are truly hosting the crown jewels.

Organizations running mission-critical applications likely have multiple firewalls deployed across the network. These protect the infrastructure and provide a foundational level of security for all applications; however, mission-critical applications are so complex that organizations need to implement specialized processes and technology to adequately protect them.

The current landscape with initiatives such as digital transformation or cloud migration pushes customers to expose their crown jewels to the outside world, making them available to a broader user base, like mobile-enabled applications and integrated multicloud environments. In many cases, this level of accessibility also makes these applications available from untrusted networks — typically, the Internet.

Considering the current situation, let's look at the top eight scenarios that could expose business applications, even when they sit behind a firewall. 

1. Malicious Employees/Insider Threats
Employees will typically have access to mission-critical applications by nature, executing processes that range from travel expenses to creating a vendor. These users have an advantage over other attackers because they are already authorized to perform certain tasks. They have the opportunity to leverage these authorizations to escalate and perform other activities for which they are not authorized. This scenario becomes even more critical for users that have some level of specialized authorizations in the system (that is, development authorizations, system admin authorizations, etc.).

2. Compromised Accounts and Credentials
Users will typically use a single sign-on mechanism to authenticate into business applications daily. If an attacker compromises credentials, access to mission-critical applications will also be granted with all the benefits of having an initial set of credentials. Attackers will try to compromise users with extensive privileges, such as system administrators, with the intention of immediate escalation.

3. Compromised Endpoints
Across the organization, users will connect to business applications from endpoints. Organizations are already addressing endpoint security due to the high number of attacks that directly target the endpoint's operating system through malware or malicious code that executes in the endpoint and can help attackers compromise user accounts. Once the endpoint is compromised, the attacker has a direct connection to the mission-critical application with the potential of compromising multiple user accounts in the process.

4. Phishing Attacks
Mainly delivered through email, phishing attacks are one of the most successful ways that attackers deliver malicious code into an organization and trick internal users to perform activities they are not aware of. This method is used by attackers to ultimately compromise endpoints or user accounts and, after that, to connect to internal applications.

5. Integrations and Multicloud Environments
Business processes are executed across multiple systems, requiring consolidation and data integration. Mission-critical applications are typically interconnected to other applications and organizations through interfaces. An attacker could leverage these interfaces to move laterally and target other systems and applications to compromise the most critical applications. Additionally, with the progression of cloud migrations and digital transformation initiatives, many mission-critical applications are being migrated to cloud environments. In some cases, these applications are available over the Internet, adding another layer of complexity and potential attack surface that could ultimately be leveraged to access business-critical applications.

6. Business Partners and Vendor Access
In most cases, organizations provide VPN connections or access to partners, vendors, or external contractors. Additionally, due to organizations' strict requirements regarding the constant availability of mission-critical applications, vendors need to have a mechanism to monitor the status of the technology that supports these applications. An example of this is the SAPRouter, which is often unknown to IT teams but provides a connection between the Internet and the organization's SAP applications. If misconfigured or outdated, it could be abused to provide a connection to the business application itself. Currently, passive searches through SHODAN show approximately 11,000 exposed SAPRouters to the Internet.

7. Mobile-Enabled Applications
Most business applications will now support some form of mobile access. These range from purpose-built mobile apps to mobile-enabled user interface frameworks, such as SAP Fiori. This further expands the attack surface because not only can the mobile application be targeted but also the mobile device.

8. Internet-Facing Applications
In many cases, an organization's IT security team believes that its mission-critical applications are not exposed to the Internet, yet IT security teams are typically blinded to how SAP Applications operate or are secured. The SHODAN search engine shows tens of thousands of business applications directly connected to the Internet, significantly increasing the attack surface and the risk these applications are exposed to. These applications could be used as a direct entry point. The first US-CERT alert about cyberattacks to SAP applications, released in May 2016 (TA16-132A), is an example of this situation, as is this recent US-CERT alert released: Critical Vulnerability in Netweaver AS Java.

What Should Organizations Do?
In today's environment, mission-critical applications are more exposed and connected to multiple networks and applications. Even if your mission-critical applications are completely behind a firewall, they are not fully protected because of risks involving many other attack scenarios, which can be leveraged by attackers to ultimately compromise your organization's crown jewels. This further proves the need for specialized technology that understands mission-critical applications and provides the right level of visibility, plus detective and preventive controls to ensure that the most important information and processes within your organization are protected.

About the Author(s)

Juan Pablo Perez-Etchegoyen

CTO, Onapsis

Juan Pablo leads the research & development teams that keeps Onapsis on the cutting-edge of the business-critical application security market. He is responsible for the design, research and development of Onapsis' innovative software solutions, and helps manage the development of new products as well as the SAP cyber-security research that has garnered critical acclaim for the Onapsis Research Labs. He is regularly invited to speak and host trainings at global industry conferences including Blackhat, HackInTheBox, Troopers, and SAP TechEd/DCODE. Prior to joining Onapsis, Juan Pablo led many Information Security consultancy projects for Companies in Latin America, EE.UU. and Europe. His strongest experience is in the field of Penetration Testing, Web Application Testing, Vulnerabilities Research, Information Security Auditing's and Standards.

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