Heroku: Cyberattacker Used Stolen OAuth Tokens to Steal Customer Account Credentials

The same attack that allowed a threat actor to steal data from private Heroku GitHub repositories also resulted in the compromise of customer credentials, the company now says.

Laptop computer displaying logo of Heroku
Source: monticello via Shutterstock

Salesforce subsidiary Heroku on Thursday said that the threat actor that stole Heroku GitHub integration OAuth tokens in April also accessed an internal database containing hashed and salted passwords belonging to the company's customers.

The discovery prompted Heroku to force a reset of all compromised user passwords and rotate internal Heroku credentials as well. In a security notification, which the company has been constantly updating since April 15, Heroku said it had also put additional detection mechanisms in place to mitigate future issues, without elaborating on what they were.

"We continue to work diligently in response to this Heroku incident first announced on April 15, 2022," the platform-as-a-service vendor said. "We worked with GitHub, our threat intelligence vendors, other industry partners, and have been in touch with law enforcement to assist in our investigation."

Refresher: The Original GitHub Repo Breach
GitHub on April 13 disclosed to Heroku that it had detected a threat actor downloading a subset of Heroku's GitHub private repositories, including source code, on April 9. Heroku said GitHub had notified it about the threat actor gaining access to OAuth tokens issued to the company and using them to enumerate customer accounts. Heroku described the tokens as giving the threat actor read and write access to private customer GitHub repos connected to Heroku.

In an April 15 blog, GitHub CSO Mike Hanley said the threat actor used OAuth user tokens issued to Heroku and another third-party integrator, Travis-CI, to download data from repositories belonging to dozens of organizations, including npm, the node package manager used by millions of developers worldwide.

Hanley said GitHub's investigation showed the attackers also mined the contents of the downloaded GitHub private repositories for data that could be used to attack other infrastructure. He added that the attacks appeared highly targeted because of the way the attackers used the stolen OAuth tokens: First, they listed all the impacted organizations, then selected private repositories of interest and cloned them.

Heroku's investigation of the incident showed that the threat actor had used a stolen OAuth token associated with an internal "machine account" to access a Heroku database containing OAuth tokens that are used for customer GitHub integration.

The threat actor gained access to the Heroku database on April 7 and downloaded the stored tokens — then used them to download customer data two days later, Heroku said. Following that discovery, Heroku revoked all its GitHub integration OAuth tokens to prevent customers from deploying apps via GitHub using Heroku's dashboard or automation.

Broader Impact Than Initially Assumed
Heroku on Thursday said that its ongoing investigation of the breach showed the attacker had used the same machine-account OAuth token to access the internal database containing the hashed usernames and passwords belonging to the company's customers.

The incident has highlighted why organizations need to pay close attention to the security of their OAuth authentication mechanisms, security experts say.

Casey Bisson, head of product and developer relations at BluBracket, says an attack using OAuth tokens can interact with the service that issued the tokens using all the permissions that were granted to the original client. "People and companies depend on OAuth integrations to securely allow another service to access code in private repos, as is needed to support CI tests and run code coverage reports," he says, pointing to two examples.

OAuth: Better Account Protection, As Long as Tokens Are Safe
Compared to the alternative of sharing passwords between services, OAuth tokens enable more secure data sharing. For example, if it had been passwords that were stolen, the level of access the attackers might have gained would likely be even greater. And the initial mitigation and long-term fix would become more complex, Bisson says.

However, OAuth tokens are commonly used to automate cloud services such as code repositories and DevOps pipelines, notes Ray Kelly, fellow at NTT Application Security. So, a malicious actor with a stolen token can steal corporate IP or modify source code in repositories such as GitHub. Or they could use it to spread malware or steal sensitive data from organizations, he says. "Special care should always be taken when it comes to protecting tokens. They should never be publicly available or shared outside of the organization," Kelly says.

GitHub itself has said that starting the end of 2023, it would require all developers who contribute code to the repository to use multifactor authentication to access their accounts. The company described it as a move designed to bolster the security of code and IP stored in GitHub repositories amid a surge in attacks targeting the software supply chain.

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.

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