03 Mar, 2023

Information Leakage

Vulnerability Assessment as a Service (VAaaS)

Tests systems and applications for vulnerabilities to address weaknesses.

What is sensitive information? 

In cybersecurity, sensitive information refers to any data or information that, if compromised or leaked, could cause harm to an individual or organization. Some examples of sensitive information that require protection in cybersecurity include:

1. Personal Identifiable Information (PII) such as names, addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers, and financial information.

2. Intellectual Property (IP) such as patents, trade secrets, and copyrights.

3. Health Information such as medical records, insurance information, and other sensitive healthcare data.

4. Payment Card Information (PCI) such as credit card numbers and bank account details.

5. Credentials such as usernames and passwords that could be used to access systems or data.

6. Confidential business information such as financial reports, sales data, and strategic plans.

7. National Security information such as classified information, military secrets, and critical infrastructure information.

It is important to protect these types of sensitive information to prevent them from being accessed by unauthorized individuals, which could lead to identity theft, financial fraud, reputational damage, or other negative consequences.

What is Information leakage?

Information leakage, also known as data leakage or information disclosure, is a type of cybersecurity threat where sensitive information is unintentionally or deliberately exposed to unauthorized parties. It can occur due to various reasons such as human error, weak security controls, software vulnerabilities, or cyber attacks.

Information leakage can take many forms, such as:

1. Unauthorized access to confidential files or documents

2. Accidental sharing of sensitive information through email, social media, or other communication channels

3. Exploitation of software vulnerabilities or system misconfigurations to gain access to sensitive data

4. Inadequate data protection measures such as weak encryption or insecure storage methods.

The consequences of information leakage can be severe, including financial losses, reputational damage, loss of intellectual property, legal penalties, and regulatory compliance violations. Therefore, it is essential for organizations to implement robust security measures to prevent information leakage and ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of their data. This includes implementing data protection policies, conducting regular security audits, training employees on data security best practices, and using advanced security technologies such as encryption, access controls, and intrusion detection systems.

Types of information leaks in cybersecurity

There are several types of information leaks in cybersecurity, including:

Accidental leaks: Accidental leaks occur when sensitive information is accidentally disclosed by an individual or an organization. For example, an employee may accidentally send an email containing sensitive information to the wrong recipient or misplace a USB drive containing confidential data.

Insider leaks: Insider leaks occur when an individual who has authorized access to sensitive information intentionally or unintentionally leaks it. For example, an employee with access to sensitive data may leak it to a competitor or use it for personal gain.

Hacking: Hacking refers to unauthorized access to computer systems or networks with the intention of stealing or leaking sensitive information. Cybercriminals may use techniques such as phishing, malware, and social engineering to gain access to systems.

Physical leaks: Physical leaks occur when sensitive information is physically stolen or leaked, such as through theft of documents, hardware, or storage devices.

Cloud leaks: Cloud leaks occur when sensitive information stored in the cloud is accessed or leaked due to misconfigured or poorly secured cloud storage.

Social media leaks: Social media leaks occur when sensitive information is unintentionally shared on social media platforms. For example, a user may post a photo containing sensitive information, such as a credit card or passport.

Ways of provoking information leakage

Social Engineering: Attackers may use social engineering techniques to trick individuals into disclosing sensitive information, such as passwords or other credentials. This can include phishing emails, pretexting, or baiting, where attackers create a fake scenario to gain access to sensitive information.

Exploiting Software Vulnerabilities: Attackers may exploit software vulnerabilities to gain access to sensitive information. This can include exploiting zero-day vulnerabilities, which are unknown to the software vendor, or using malware to exploit known vulnerabilities.

Physical Attacks: Attackers may use physical attacks, such as stealing laptops or storage devices containing sensitive information, or using shoulder surfing to gain access to passwords or other sensitive information.

Insider Threats: Insiders with authorized access to sensitive information may intentionally or unintentionally leak the data. This can include employees, contractors, or other individuals with access to sensitive information.

Cloud Storage Misconfiguration: Misconfigured cloud storage can lead to accidental exposure of sensitive data. Attackers may exploit this vulnerability to gain access to sensitive information.

Social Engineering techniques

Phishing: Phishing is a technique in which attackers send emails or messages that appear to be from legitimate sources, such as banks or other trusted organizations. The messages typically contain a link to a fake website that looks like the real one, and the user is prompted to enter sensitive information, such as login credentials, credit card numbers, or personal information.

Baiting: Baiting is a technique in which attackers offer something of value, such as a free download or a gift card, in exchange for sensitive information or access to a system.

Pretexting: Pretexting is a technique in which attackers create a fake scenario to gain the trust of the target. For example, an attacker may pretend to be a bank employee and call a customer to request sensitive information.

Spear phishing: Spear phishing is a targeted phishing attack in which the attacker targets a specific individual or group of individuals, such as a company’s executives. The attacker may use information about the target obtained through social media or other sources to make the phishing email or message more convincing.

Impersonation: Impersonation is a technique in which attackers pretend to be someone else, such as a colleague or a support technician, to gain access to sensitive information or systems.

Dumpster Diving: Dumpster diving is a technique in which attackers rummage through an organization’s trash to find sensitive information, such as passwords or financial documents.

Exploiting Software Vulnerabilities techniques

Zero-Day Exploits: Zero-day exploits are vulnerabilities in software that are unknown to the vendor. Attackers can exploit these vulnerabilities to gain access to sensitive information or to take control of a system.

SQL Injection: SQL injection is a technique in which attackers exploit vulnerabilities in web applications that allow them to inject malicious code into the SQL database. This can allow attackers to access sensitive information stored in the database.

Cross-Site Scripting (XSS): Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) is a technique in which attackers inject malicious code into web pages viewed by other users. This can allow attackers to steal sensitive information, such as login credentials or credit card information.

Buffer Overflow: Buffer overflow is a technique in which attackers exploit vulnerabilities in software that allow them to overwrite memory beyond the allocated buffer. This can allow attackers to execute malicious code and gain access to sensitive information.

Malware: Malware is a type of software designed to exploit vulnerabilities in systems to gain access to sensitive information or to take control of a system. Malware can be delivered via email, websites, or other means.

Cloud Storage Misconfiguration techniques

Publicly Accessible Storage Buckets: Cloud storage providers, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure, allow users to create storage buckets to store data. If the storage bucket is set to be publicly accessible, anyone can access the contents of the bucket without authentication. Attackers can use tools like Shodan to find publicly accessible storage buckets and then access and download the data stored within them.

Unsecured APIs: Cloud storage providers offer APIs to allow developers to programmatically access storage buckets. If these APIs are not properly secured, attackers can exploit vulnerabilities in the APIs to gain access to sensitive information stored in the buckets.

Weak Access Controls: Access controls are used to restrict access to cloud storage buckets to authorized users. If access controls are not properly configured or are too weak, attackers can gain access to sensitive information stored in the buckets.

Misconfigured Encryption: Cloud storage providers offer encryption features to protect data stored in storage buckets. If encryption is not properly configured, attackers can access the data stored in the buckets without the need for decryption.

How companies can prevent information leaks? 

Employee Training: Provide regular cybersecurity awareness training to employees to help them understand the risks of information leaks and how to avoid them. This can include topics such as password security, phishing awareness, and data handling procedures.

Access Controls: Implement access controls to restrict access to sensitive information to only authorized personnel. This can include using role-based access control, two-factor authentication, and encryption.

Data Classification: Classify data based on its sensitivity level and apply appropriate security controls based on the classification. This can include access controls, encryption, and monitoring.

Regular Auditing and Monitoring: Regularly audit and monitor systems to detect and prevent any unauthorized access or information leaks. This can include implementing intrusion detection and prevention systems, monitoring access logs, and performing vulnerability assessments.

Encryption: Use encryption to protect sensitive information both in transit and at rest. This can include using strong encryption algorithms and enforcing encryption policies.

Software Updates: Keep software up to date with the latest security patches and updates to prevent known vulnerabilities from being exploited.

Incident Response Plan: Develop an incident response plan to quickly respond to any security incidents, including information leaks. This can include steps such as isolating affected systems, notifying relevant parties, and conducting forensic analysis.

Checklist for Information leakage vulnerability

Access Controls

Have access controls been implemented to restrict access to sensitive information to only authorized personnel?

Are access controls enforced through two-factor authentication or other means?

Are access logs regularly monitored for any suspicious activity?

Data Handling Procedures

Are data handling procedures in place for employees to follow when working with sensitive information?

Have employees been trained on these procedures and do they understand their responsibilities?

Encryption

Is sensitive information encrypted both in transit and at rest?

Are strong encryption algorithms used to protect the information?

Security Software

Are security software, such as firewalls and intrusion detection systems, in place to monitor and protect against potential threats?

Are these security software regularly updated with the latest security patches and definitions?

Third-party Vendors

Do third-party vendors have access to sensitive information and, if so, are appropriate security controls in place to protect the information?

Are third-party vendors required to follow the same security procedures as employees of the organization?

Incident Response

Is an incident response plan in place to respond to security incidents, including information leakage?

Has the incident response plan been tested and updated to ensure its effectiveness?

Compliance

Is the organization complying with relevant data protection regulations and standards, such as GDPR or HIPAA?

Are regular compliance audits and assessments conducted to ensure continued compliance?

By regularly reviewing and updating these checklists, organizations can identify vulnerabilities related to information leakage and implement appropriate security measures to protect against these risks.

Real world examples of information leakage in cybersecurity

Equifax Data Breach: In 2017, credit reporting agency Equifax suffered a data breach that exposed the personal information of 147 million consumers. The breach occurred due to a vulnerability in the company’s web application software, which allowed hackers to gain access to sensitive information, including social security numbers and credit card details.

Yahoo Data Breach: In 2013 and 2014, Yahoo suffered two separate data breaches that affected over one billion user accounts. The breaches were caused by hackers who gained access to Yahoo’s user database, which contained sensitive information such as email addresses, dates of birth, and security questions and answers.

Cambridge Analytica Scandal: In 2018, it was revealed that data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica had obtained data from millions of Facebook users without their consent. The data was used to create targeted political advertisements during the 2016 US presidential election. The scandal highlighted the risks of data harvesting and the importance of data privacy.

Target Data Breach: In 2013, US retailer Target suffered a data breach that affected 110 million customers. The breach was caused by hackers who gained access to the company’s payment processing system, which allowed them to steal credit and debit card information.

Dropbox Data Breach: In 2012, cloud storage provider Dropbox suffered a data breach that affected over 68 million user accounts. The breach occurred due to a security vulnerability in the company’s system, which allowed hackers to gain access to user email addresses and encrypted passwords.

CWE references for information leakage 

CWE (Common Weakness Enumeration) is a community-developed list of software and hardware weaknesses that are often exploited by attackers. Here are some CWE references for information leakage:

CWE-200: Information Exposure. This weakness involves the exposure of sensitive information to unauthorized parties, which can occur through various means, including unsecured network connections or lack of proper access controls.

CWE-201: Information Exposure Through Sent Data. This weakness involves the transmission of sensitive information in an unencrypted or unsecured format, allowing attackers to intercept and view the information.

CWE-202: Exposure of Sensitive Data Through Data Queries. This weakness involves the use of unsecured data queries, which can allow attackers to obtain sensitive information from databases or other data sources.

CWE-203: Information Exposure Through Discrepancy. This weakness involves discrepancies between different parts of a system, which can allow attackers to gain access to sensitive information or bypass security controls.

CWE-215: Information Exposure Through Debug Information. This weakness involves the exposure of sensitive information through debug information or error messages that provide too much detail about the system or its operations.

CWE-598: Information Exposure Through Query Strings in GET Request

CWE-2000: Information Exposure Without Explicit Consent. This weakness involves the exposure of sensitive information without the explicit consent of the user, which can occur through various means, including hidden functionality, third-party services, or weak security controls.

CWE-2004: Information Exposure Through Notification Message. This weakness involves the exposure of sensitive information through notification messages that are displayed to the user, which can reveal too much detail about the system or its operations.

CWE-2006: Information Exposure Through Information Leakage. This weakness involves the exposure of sensitive information through information leakage, which can occur due to software bugs, configuration errors, or other vulnerabilities.

CWE-2011: Information Exposure Through Session Timing. This weakness involves the exposure of sensitive information through session timing, which can allow attackers to determine user behavior patterns or obtain sensitive information through timing attacks.

CVE references for information leakage 

CVE (Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures) is a list of publicly disclosed cybersecurity vulnerabilities and exposures that have been assigned a unique identifier. Here are some CVE references for information leakage:

CVE-2014-0160: Heartbleed. This vulnerability in the OpenSSL cryptographic software library allowed attackers to obtain sensitive information from the memory of affected systems, including private keys, user credentials, and other sensitive information.

CVE-2017-5638: Apache Struts2. This vulnerability in the Apache Struts2 web application framework allowed attackers to execute arbitrary code on affected systems and obtain sensitive information, including user credentials and other sensitive data.

CVE-2017-7525: Symantec Endpoint Protection. This vulnerability in the Symantec Endpoint Protection security software allowed attackers to obtain sensitive information from affected systems, including user credentials and other sensitive data.

CVE-2019-19781: Citrix ADC. This vulnerability in the Citrix Application Delivery Controller (ADC) and Gateway software allowed attackers to obtain sensitive information from affected systems, including user credentials and other sensitive data.

CVE-2019-11510: Pulse Secure VPN. This vulnerability in the Pulse Secure VPN software allowed attackers to obtain sensitive information from affected systems, including user credentials and other sensitive data.

Automatic tools for testing information leakage

OWASP Zed Attack Proxy (ZAP): ZAP is an open-source web application security testing tool that can be used to identify information leakage vulnerabilities in web applications. It has a wide range of features, including automated scanners for detecting common information leakage vulnerabilities.

Burp Suite: Burp Suite is a popular commercial tool used for web application security testing, which includes several modules for detecting and exploiting information leakage vulnerabilities.

Nmap: Nmap is a powerful network scanning tool that can be used to identify open ports and services on a network, which can help identify potential information leakage vulnerabilities.

Wireshark: Wireshark is a free and open-source packet analyzer tool that can be used to monitor network traffic and detect potential information leakage vulnerabilities.

Checkmarx: Checkmarx is a commercial static code analysis tool that can be used to identify potential information leakage vulnerabilities in source code.

Veracode: Veracode is a commercial application security testing tool that includes features for identifying information leakage vulnerabilities in software applications.

Netsparker: Netsparker is a commercial web application security scanner that can be used to identify information leakage vulnerabilities in web applications.

Acunetix: Acunetix is another commercial web application security scanner that includes features for detecting information leakage vulnerabilities.

Nessus: Nessus is a commercial vulnerability scanner that can be used to identify information leakage vulnerabilities in software applications and systems.

AppSpider: AppSpider is a commercial dynamic application security testing (DAST) tool that includes features for detecting information leakage vulnerabilities in web applications.

Fiddler: Fiddler is a free and open-source web debugging proxy tool that can be used to monitor and analyze web traffic, which can help identify potential information leakage vulnerabilities.

Conclusion 

In conclusion, information leakage is a serious cybersecurity risk that can result in the unauthorized disclosure of sensitive data. Information leakage can occur through a variety of methods, including social engineering, software vulnerabilities, and cloud storage misconfiguration. Organizations must take a proactive approach to prevent information leakage by implementing appropriate security controls, such as access controls, encryption, and monitoring. Regular security assessments and vulnerability testing can help identify and mitigate information leakage vulnerabilities. Organizations should also stay up-to-date on the latest security threats and vulnerabilities to ensure they are prepared to respond to emerging risks. By taking a comprehensive approach to information leakage prevention, organizations can minimize their cybersecurity risk and protect their sensitive data from unauthorized disclosure.

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