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Potential Vulnerability from Hardcoded API Credentials

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When developers hardcode secret data like API keys into mobile apps, it’s easy for unauthorized users to access backend systems and cloud services. Symantec’s study in 2022 of 1,800 apps found: 77% had valid AWS keys for private cloud access. 47% of those also had valid AWS tokens, granting access to numerous private files on […]

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When developers hardcode secret data like API keys into mobile apps, it’s easy for unauthorized users to access backend systems and cloud services. Symantec’s study in 2022 of 1,800 apps found:

  • 77% had valid AWS keys for private cloud access.
  • 47% of those also had valid AWS tokens, granting access to numerous private files on Amazon S3. Additionally, over half of the apps (53%) used the same tokens as others, highlighting a vulnerability in the chain.

Misused API keys are a threat to the supply chain

Symantec’s study showed that 53% of apps were using the same tokens as other apps, even though they came from different companies and developers. This could spell trouble for the supply chain.

But how does this happen?

These access tokens often come from shared libraries, third-party modules, and other bits used to build apps. Imagine developers copying code from StackOverflow or pasting examples from API docs without really knowing what they’re doing.

The issue is, even with good instructions, developers sometimes just blindly copy and paste code, leaving the door wide open for attackers.

When API publishers make it easy for developers to use their services, it’s essential to limit the sharing of authentication tools like API keys. When they don’t, it’s like giving attackers an open invitation.

How do hackers exploit these vulnerabilities?

When API keys are mixed with sloppy setups and weak logging, it’s like leaving the front door wide open for hackers. Here’s the scenario: Sometimes, people accidentally leave their keys where anyone can grab them. Similarly, when authentication tokens end up in places like GitHub, they become easy targets for anyone browsing.

As a result, hackers can exploit these security gaps to infiltrate API endpoints, cloud storage, and other sensitive areas that should be well-protected.

Moreover, hackers can execute sophisticated attacks that evade detection. It’s like trying to catch a sneaky thief when everyone’s using the same keys and no one’s watching closely. Additionally, without clear error messages, it becomes challenging for authorities to even recognize the existence of a problem.

The exposure of sensitive data by shared libraries in APIs

Sensitive information, like biometric data, was leaked to a large number of banking users due to a widely-used third-party digital identity SDK.

This shows how important it is for developers to be careful about the tools they use and how they handle sensitive data. As attackers, we pay close attention to these third-party tools when planning API attacks.

Real-life examples of API attacks

1. Resource Exhaustion and Denial-of-Service:

Imagine an API that does more than just move data around—it’s like the engine that powers heavy-duty tasks on the server, similar to how mobile apps send tough jobs to the cloud.

Now, think about how the traffic flows. Can you mess with the requests to make the server work too hard? For example, could you flood it with requests to make instant reports, causing a jam before it sends out the data?

Also, take a close look at how the API deals with authentication keys. If it’s not careful, it could put too much strain on the website’s resources.

Case study:

About a decade ago, there was an exploit in the Google Maps API due to poor asset management. A leaked API key allowed unauthorized use of mapping data on external sites without needing a Google account. This highlighted Google’s neglect of old system parts. Eventually, the key owner got suspended for overusing their quota, cutting off user access—a significant service disruption, like a big traffic jam.

2. Cloud Overspending & Lack of Cloud Cost Management:

After the incident, there’s more than just server strain to worry about—it’s also about money.

The person with the hacked API key got charged for every request. Then, someone else copied the API and used it on their platform without permission, avoiding the usual access rules. This shows big problems with how APIs are secured and raises questions about keeping track of cloud costs.

Even though these issues aren’t usually part of hacking plans, they’re worth looking into, especially during thorough testing.

Prompt detection and removal of hardcoded API keys

Tools like Locker Secrets Manager assist developers in detecting leaked API keys, identifying API keys stored in hardcoded formats, and removing them. Additionally, the secrets management tools provide secure and convenient storage for API keys and other types of secrets.

1. Detecting and Eliminating Hardcoded APIs Solution:

Secure Storage and Access Control: A secret manager like Locker securely encrypts and stores API keys and sensitive data, tightly controlling access through robust authentication and authorization mechanisms. This prevents unauthorized users from accessing or altering the keys, thereby reducing the risk of unauthorized access to backend systems and cloud services.

Dynamic Secret Rotation: Secret management tools often support dynamic secret rotation, automatically refreshing API keys at regular intervals or in response to security events like suspected breaches or leaks. This limits the exposure window of compromised keys, as the tool generates and deploys new keys automatically.

Secret Versioning and History: Administrators can track changes to secrets over time, including access and modifications, with secret manager tools. This audit trail provides visibility into secret usage to in identify security incidents or compliance breaches.

2. Convenient solution for API key storage:

  1. Secrets Injection for Applications: Secret manager tools integrate with application deployment pipelines, allowing developers to securely inject secrets into their applications at runtime. This prevents sensitive information such as API keys from being hardcoded into application code or configuration files, minimizing the risk of inadvertent exposure.
  2. Role-Based Access Control (RBAC): These tools support role-based access control (RBAC), enabling administrators to define granular access policies based on user roles and responsibilities. This ensures that only authorized individuals have access to specific secrets, mitigating the risk of insider threats or unauthorized access.
  3. Secrets Revocation and Expiry: In addition to rotation, secret manager enable manual revocation or expiration of secrets in response to security incidents or policy changes. This invalidates compromised or obsolete keys, preventing malicious use.
  4. Compliance and Regulatory Compliance: They also often include compliance management features, helping organizations enforce security policies and meet regulatory requirements such as PCI DSS, HIPAA, GDPR, etc. This ensures that sensitive data is handled in accordance with industry standards and legal obligations.

Explore Locker Secrets Manager to eliminate your API key storage hassle now!

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