Sensitive data exposure has a prominent place in the OWASP Top 10 list. This type of security risk has previously been quite damaging, as a single flaw in leaving data unencrypted can result in massive losses.. Data breaches include intentional attacks against confidential or otherwise protected data. Data breaches occur when individuals, groups, or atrocious applications illegitimately launch into personal or private IT perimeters.
On the other hand, Sensitive data exposure happens when sensitive data is mistakenly exposed due to not sufficiently protecting the database. Exposures can result from weak encryption, software flaws, or human error.
What is Sensitive Data Exposure?
Sensitive information Exposure happens an organization inadvertently exposes sensitive information or when a security incident ends up in the accidental or unlawful destruction, loss, alteration, or unauthorized disclosure of or access to sensitive information. Such data exposure could occur due to inadequate protection of information, misconfigurations when bringing up new instances of data stores, inappropriate usage of data systems and a lot more.
Sensitive Data Exposure is of the following three types:
Confidentiality Breach: Where there’s unauthorized or accidental disclosure of, or access to, sensitive information.
Integrity Breach: There’s an unauthorized or accidental alteration of sensitive information.
Availability Breach: There’s an unauthorized or accidental loss of access to or destruction of sensitive information. This will include both permanent and temporary loss of sensitive data.
Methods in Which Sensitive Data Can Be Exposed
Sensitive data exposure in transit
These days, most websites and web applications are accessible via secure SSL/TLS connections. Many go as far as implementing such links using HTTP strict transport security (HSTS). As a result, several web application designers assume that it’s safe to transmit sensitive data between the client and server using cleartext.
This mindset is the primary explanation for sensitive data exposure in transit. Unfortunately, despite the fact that SSL/TLS provides a high degree of protection, there are cases when a man-in-the-middle attack (MITM) on network traffic is feasible. Suppose the attacker somehow manages to access data transmitted between the web application and the user, and this data includes, for instance, credit card numbers or clear text passwords. In that case, the attack finally ends up in sensitive data exposure.
As a result, the attacker could store the intercepted data and later attempt to break the encryption using powerful GPUs. Therefore, the most effective way to protect your web application against sensitive data exposure is never to transmit any sensitive data using clear text and use cryptographic algorithms to secure them. Note that these should not be weak algorithms.
Sensitive data exposure in storage
Storing sensitive data securely is as necessary as transmitting it securely. If the database contains any sensitive information that hasn’t been encrypted. Suppose an attacker exploits a vulnerability and gains access to your website or web application, for instance, with the help of SQL injection. In that case, they may be able to access the content of your entire information.
When storing sensitive data, using renowned, secure, and robust encryption algorithms is even more necessary than in the case of transit. A weak algorithm will let the attacker quickly run brute force attacks on the stolen encrypted information and decrypt the original data.
Attacks That Expose Sensitive Data
Application attacks can expose sensitive information in a variety of ways. These are some of them:
SQL Injection Attacks
SQL injection attacks are the most common application attack. Applications with exploitable vulnerabilities experienced SQL injection attacks most of the time. Malicious actors manipulate SQL requests that execute malicious commands during an SQL injection attack. If servers don’t have a strict line of defense against identifying manipulated code, attackers could successfully manipulate commands into retrieving access to sensitive information. Depending on the strength of the command or request programmed into the malicious code injection, attackers could gain persistent access to unauthorized areas of the application.
When a network is breached, all data is at risk of being exposed. This can be true if attackers hold a constant yet silent presence, common in attacks like session hijacking. The time users are logged in is called a session, labeled with a session ID. If attackers access this ID, they can access cookies that hold onto activity and credentials across completely different websites. With exploitable vulnerability, malicious actors will launch attacks, leaving few indicators of compromise (IOCs). If left unobserved, cybercriminals have data at their disposal, leaving users at risk of sensitive data exposure.
Broken Access Control Attacks
Networks and applications come programmed with limits that users can and can’t access. Once this access is broken, users gain authentication to areas out of those limits, some of which house sensitive data. Their commonality comes from their ability to bypass security scanning tools and dynamic application security testing (DAST) that takes a deeper understanding of how data works within an application. The false-negative result created by DAST tools leaves a vulnerability unpatched and might result in a successfully broken access control attack. This leaves user confidentiality and servers at risk of exposure or complete takeover.
Ransomware is a variant of malware that encrypts files on the infected device. Malicious software is frequently installed on devices via an attachment or a link that users believe comes from a reliable source. Ransomware is downloaded after a click, and files are decrypted into unreadable code that attackers use to demand a ransom. Attackers hold the key to decrypting information, sending an email demanding money or information for decryption. Because the key to decryption is in the hands of the attackers, they have access to all information on the computer system and can do whatever they want with it.
Phishing attacks often fool users by believing they are visiting or logging into a trusted website. Attackers posing as legitimate organisations commonly contact targets via email or text message. If victims believe the attack is coming from a trusted source, they are more likely to provide sensitive information that bad actors can use to hack into their accounts, steal their credit card information, or obtain their Social Security numbers.
How to Prevent Sensitive Data Exposure?
You plan to safeguard this data from (e.g., insider attack, external user). Ensure you encrypt all sensitive data at rest and in transit to defend against these threats.
- Don’t store sensitive data unnecessarily. Discard it as soon as possible.
- Ensure strong standard algorithms and keys are used and correct key management is in place.
- Ensure passwords are stored with an algorithmic program specifically designed for password protection,
- Disable autocomplete on forms grouping sensitive data and disable caching for pages that contain sensitive information.
- Consult Security consultants for elaborated and thorough checks of all sensitive web applications.
- Consider investing in DLP solutions or, for internet Applications, a Web Application Firewall with custom rules with targeted policies to prevent sensitive data exposure to clients.