Three Steps to Prevent a Sony-Scale Breach of Your SAP Systems

The recent attack experienced by Sony Pictures Entertainment may well prove to be the most significant breach of the year. By all measures, the impact has been devastating for the organization, leading to the loss of almost 40GB of data to attackers. This includes not only proprietary intellectual property such as digital media, blueprints and schedules, but also social security numbers, bank accounts and payroll information. The loss of some of this information has led directly to several lawsuits against the company. It has also severely damaged and undermined the Sony brand. The attack has illustrated the vulnerability and unpreparedness of organizations in the face of sophisticated, targeted cyber threats.

The most surprising fact about the breach is that it is the second time in three years that Sony has been the victim of such a destructive attack. Therefore, the company has drawn has a great deal of criticism for alleged security practices that arguably should have been stamped out following the previous breach in 2011. In terms of the monetary impact of the recent attack, many experts estimate that impairment charges could range between $70M-$80M for Sony. Some place the cost closer to $100M.

The attackers compromised digital certificates used to authenticate Sony’s servers and released information related to over 1600 Linux/ Unix and 800 Windows servers at the company, as well as IP and MAC addresses and computer names of over 10,000 PCs within its network. This includes many SAP servers. An analysis of the leaked data performed by Joris van de Vis available on the SAP Community Network revealed that the data includes SAP server hostnames, IP addresses, SAP System IDs (SIDs), and version information for operating systems and databases. It also includes username and password combinations stored in unencrypted files. However, the most damaging revelation is that the leaked data includes the results of security assessments performed for SAP systems at Sony. Such reports could provide attackers with insights into vulnerabilities impacting these systems.

This particular revelation leads to the first recommendation for how to prevent a Sony-scale breach of your SAP systems. It is suspected that the attackers targeted security groups and users at Sony in order to access information that could be used to aid their attack. Therefore, it is imperative to secure such information within your network. The use of desktop-based tools to audit SAP systems and the circulation of the output from such tools in common file formats such as Excel and PDF can pose a serious security risk. You can remove this risk by ensuring that security-related data never leaves your SAP systems. This can be achieved by avoiding the use of third-party tools. A more secure option is to leverage vulnerability management components in Solution Manager such as Configuration Validation. This will ensure that access to security-related data on managed systems is secured using the SAP authorization concept directly within SAP systems.

The second recommendation is to reexamine your current cost-benefit calculations or risk-reward ratios when determining resource requirements and spend levels for security countermeasures. Sony’s experience has illustrated that traditional assumptions no longer apply. The impact of a breach is not just technical or even financial but strategic and can cause far-reaching harm to your organization. Security is no longer a question of ‘just enough’. It’s all or nothing.

Our final suggestion is not to focus exclusively on your network security. The most effective strategies are designed from inside-out rather than outside-in. According to a recent survey published by the Ponemon Institute, most organizations allocate 40% of their security budget to network security. In contrast, database security receives an average of just 19%. These ratios should change to reflect a greater emphasis at the application, host and database level for defense in depth.

In the view of McAfee Labs, we can expect to see more headline-capturing attacks next year. The research group’s 2015 Threat Predictions report forecasts an increase in cyber attacks as state-affiliated, criminal and terrorist actors grow in number and employ ever more sophisticated and stealthier techniques against their targets. You can read the report at McAfee for Business.

 

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