As Businesses Go Remote, Hackers Find New Security Gaps

Improper access control, information disclosure, and SSRF are among the most impactful, and most awarded, security flaws found this year.

Kelly Sheridan, Former Senior Editor, Dark Reading

November 2, 2020

4 Min Read

Organizations are rethinking vulnerability disclosure programs to match a mostly remote staff and increasingly cloud-based infrastructure. As hackers take aim at new targets, they're finding more improper access control, information disclosure, and server-side request forgery flaws.

Awards to white-hat hackers for improper access control jumped 134% year over year to reach just over $4 million, HackerOne reports in its new list of most impactful and most-awarded vulnerabilities of 2020. Information disclosure rewards increased 63% to reach $3.52 million. Companies spent nearly $3 million mitigating server-side request forgery (SSRF) this year — a 103% change from the year prior, researchers report.

"We've had quite a few of our programs that have expanded scope to include their remote access infrastructure and freshly migrated cloud applications," says HackerOne co-founder and CTO Alex Rice in an interview with Dark Reading. 

Most organizations with vulnerability disclosure programs focus on their core applications, not the tools their employees use to access them, Rice explains. Remote access infrastructure is historically out of scope for most. "Post-COVID, there's a lot more scrutiny on that," he notes.

Businesses have been forced to quickly move core applications, which previously required employees to use a VPN or be on-premises for access, to cloud environments or remotely accessible environments. Many have authorized hackers to hunt for bugs in things like their VPN infrastructure or zero-trust environments, and researchers are finding their ways around.

The organizations soon learned their enterprise applications that hadn't been "Internet battle-hardened" over the years now provide attackers with multiple routes in, Rice continues.

"If you've opened up more remote access infrastructure, or you made applications remotely accessible that weren't previously remotely accessible, and you haven't done deep security diligence into it, there's probably things you're missing," he adds. 

Improper access and information disclosure vulnerabilities can potentially expose sensitive data such as personally identifiable information. While they range in severity, these types of flaws could cause serious damage, and they're common because they're hard to find with automated tools.

The increase in SSRF vulnerabilities is a trend HackerOne noticed last year but has increased, Rice says. It's a trend somewhat related to the pandemic but more broadly driven by the broad migration to cloud environments.

"These vulnerabilities aren't very exploitable in on-prem or local environments but have massive impacts when redeployed to shared multitenant cloud environments. … We're seeing the impact of them spike pretty dramatically," he says.

As researchers explain in a blog post, SSRF bugs were previously "fairly benign" because they only enabled internal network scanning and sometimes access to internal admin panels. Now, the growth of cloud architecture and unprotected endpoints has made them more critical. 

"Theoretically, those vulnerabilities also always existed, they just weren't remotely accessible … so that is brand-new attack surface that's been exposed to our community and also largely attributed to COVID-19," Rice explains. Many applications that have been moved to the cloud previously would have not been moved to the cloud this quickly, or ever, he points out.

SQL injection, historically one of the most common vulnerability types, has been decreasing year over year, HackerOne reports. Rice attributes the change to modern security methods and frameworks. SQL injection tends to happen when businesses don't monitor which apps are mapped to a database and how they interface. Now, more teams are proactive about this and many public cloud environments are protected by default.

"We're seeing new applications that are being developed … are being developed with this top of mind, both from the people building the applications but also the cloud providers providing modern database frameworks that make it much harder to use these kinds of vulnerabilities," says Rice.

The pandemic has, unfortunately, increased the amount of time it takes organizations to address these bugs once they're discovered. The time to remediate vulnerabilities is 15% to 18% slower than it was in March, Rice points out, noting that security teams are struggling with fewer resources and work-from-home environments. 

These, combined with an increase in vulnerabilities, is slowing down remediation times — a big concern for severe bugs. The median remediation time for critical vulnerabilities had trended down to about 16.5 days in March; now, it's trending back up to 19.6 days, or an 18% increase.

Even companies normally quick to remediate are feeling the effects. The top 25% of HackerOne programs slowed from 4.5 days to remediation in March to 5.2 days in October. The drop, while small, is still meaningful because at that level of performance, point increases are hard to come by. "Those days add up when it's a race," Rice says.

About the Author(s)

Kelly Sheridan

Former Senior Editor, Dark Reading

Kelly Sheridan was formerly a Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focused on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial services. Sheridan earned her BA in English at Villanova University. You can follow her on Twitter @kellymsheridan.

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