A mis-configured Amazon Web Storage (AWS) instance has once again exposed millions of private customer records to the public Internet. Is it time for companies to re-think the way they're building their AWS buckets?
This time, unified communications provider <href="https://www.databreaches.net/broadsoft-inc-left-millions-of-partners-customer-data-records-exposed/" target="new">BroadSoft exposed millions of records belonging to the customers of Time-Warner Cable (TWC). According to ThreatPost.com, one file alone contained more than 4 million records featuring, "…user names, Mac addresses, serial numbers, account numbers, service, category details and transaction ID."
BroadSoft's vulnerability is just the latest in a series of private data disasters stemming from mis-configured Amazon S3 buckets. While it's difficult to draw sharp conclusions from a handful of high-profile problems amongst hundreds of thousands of customers, it's quite reasonable to use these cases as the basis for a question: Is there some major flaw either in the mechanism AWS provides for setting up storage buckets or in the process customers use to configure those buckets?
Amazon has pointed out that the default setting for AWS S3 storage is for the bucket to be private -- not advertised on or accessible to the public Internet. In order for breaches of the sort seen lately to occur, someone has to "flip a switch" in the configuration to make the bucket public. There's a step in the process that allows or requires a positive step to be taken -- a step that makes many company and personal secrets not very secret, at all.
Researchers found the two vulnerable buckets when they began test runs after the WWE AWS S3 data breach announced in July. The researchers speculate that engineers set the flag to "public" for testing and never set it back to "private" after testing was completed.
This type of vulnerability has struck, and continues to strike, organizations that may otherwise have very strong data protection procedures in place. In a written statement provided to SecurityNow.com, Virsec Systems Chairman and CEO Atiq Raza said, "It's far too easy for anyone to fire up an Amazon server, select minimal security controls and populate it with sensitive data." He continued, "Well-run organizations with strong internal governance, often share sensitive data with partners, with little assurance that the data will be adequately protected. Enterprises must increasingly accept that they are liable for the actions of their partners, and take a much broader view of information protection."
These recent breaches illustrate just how easy it is for a careless individual or a process that doesn't include positive double-checks on critical settings to leave massive amounts of corporate data exposed. The question for enterprise IT departments is how to protect against these simple, but massively damaging, problems while maintaining the advantages of the cloud.