Major companies have publicly exposed messages containing sensitive information due to a user-controlled configuration error in Google Groups.
Researchers at RedLock Cloud Security Intelligence (CSI) discovered Google Groups belonging to hundreds of companies inadvertently exposed personally identifiable information (PII) including customer names, passwords, email and home addresses, salary compensation details, and sales pipeline data. Internal messages also exposed business strategies, which could create competitive risk if in the wrong hands, explains RedLock cofounder and CEO Varun Badhwar.
The Weather Company, the IBM-owned operator of weather.com and intellicast.com, is among the companies affected. Fusion Media Group, parent company of Gizmodo, The Onion, Jezebel, Lifehacker, and other properties made the same mistake.
"The RedLock CSI team only looked for a sample of [Google Groups] cases and found dozens," says Badhwar of this research. "Extending that, there are likely hundreds of companies affected by this misconfiguration."
Google Groups is a G Suite chat application organizations use to create and participate in email-based group chats and online forums. During the configuration process, admins can set the sharing option for "Outside this domain - access to groups" to make messages public or private.
The companies that leaked data accidentally chose the sharing setting "public on the Internet," which enabled anyone on the Web to access all information contained in their messages. RedLock advises all companies using Google Groups to ensure "private" is the sharing setting for "Outside this domain-access to groups."
RedLock's CSI team routinely checks various cloud infrastructure tools for threat vectors, and monitors publicly available data to detect misconfigurations that could cause security incidents, explains Badhwar. To date, the team has found more than 4.8 million exposed records resulting from cloud misconfiguration problems.
This is the latest example of organizations mistakenly exposing data by failing to properly configure their public cloud settings.
Shortly before RedLock announced its findings, a data leak at Dow Jones & Co. exposed millions of customers' personal information due to a configuration error in an Amazon Web Services S3 bucket. The repository had its settings configured to let any AWS authenticated user access its data, making it available to any of the one million users with a free AWS account.
Dow Jones confirmed 2.2 million people were exposed; however, Upguard, which discovered the leak, places that number around four million based on the bucket's size and composition. While Dow Jones has "no reason to believe" any of the data was stolen, its incident is one of many signs that companies are struggling to securely adopt cloud services.
Earlier this year, Upguard discovered Deep Root Analytics accidentally leaked millions of voter records from an unsecured public storage account. Exposed data included phone numbers, birthdates, home and mailing addresses, party affiliation, and self-reported racial background.
The analytics firm, working on behalf of the Republican National Committee, had set its S3 storage bucket files to public instead of private. Most records had permissions to be downloaded and files could be accessed without a password.
"The public cloud can be highly secure when configured correctly, but what we're seeing is there's an overarching learning curve when it comes to how organizations should properly secure cloud applications and public cloud infrastructure," says Badhwar.
Unfortunately, many companies are struggling with basic security. Badhwar says the RedLock CSI team found 40% of organizations have exposed a public cloud resource by incorrectly configuring sharing settings, leading to the recent series of major leaks.
"Simple misconfiguration errors -- whether in SaaS applications or cloud infrastructure -- can have potentially devastating effects," he adds, citing instances of similar mistakes at WWE and Booz Allen Hamilton.
It's important for businesses to teach employees about security practices and tools they can use to automate the process of securing applications, workloads, and systems. Until this education happens, he anticipates we will continue to see these problems.