The what, why, and how of securing storage and backup (PART 2)

Defining the Risks: Where Hackers Enter

In part 1 of this series, we discussed securing storage and backup infrastructure. Here we analyze the risk, show how storage attacks can happen, and discuss the lagging industry maturity. Most organizations do not do enough to secure their storage.


Your organization’s data is a lucrative target for hackers. Whether cybercriminals exfiltrate sensitive information, demand a ransom, or commit fraud, a successful attack could do irreparable damage.

“You have to remind your board, that it can take 20 years to build a strong reputation in your industry. It can take five minutes of a cybersecurity event – and enough press – to tear it all down.”
Endré Jarraux Walls – CISO

Unlike traditional data-centered attacks that target endpoints and servers, modern attacks focus on storage and backup infrastructure—which many organizations do not secure—to get to core data.

A successful compromise at those levels enables attackers to wreak havoc “under the radar” of detection by any of your security measures or monitoring systems. Here are the risks of such attacks:

  • Criminal hackers duplicate sensitive environments (e.g., Active Directory, protected databases, your source code repositories), investigate them for weaknesses, and do reconnaissance. They do it with stealth, leaving no Indicators of Compromise.
  • Cybercriminals destroy your data and its backup copies to prevent recovery.
  • Attackers commit fraud by manipulating the storage plane without compromising operating systems or database servers, leaving no trace.
  • The ability to bypass the software supply chain (internal or external)

A new research report on the state of storage security (due out in July) paints a grim picture: the average storage device or service (e.g., a storage array, a Fiber Channel Switch, or Virtual SAN) has 15 security misconfigurations, with at least 3 that are highly to critically severe. The report outlines the two most prevalent issues and the less common though risky ones.

Your Attack Surface

The storage attack surface is broader and deeper than most organizations suspect. It is tempting to think that you could solve your storage security concerns by patching clients (Host Operating Systems) and making sure there’s a backup solution in place. This thinking is misguided. Criminal hackers breach storage infrastructure in many exotic ways:

  • They do it via protocols that clients and storage devices use.
  • They do it through management consoles.
  • Attackers leverage local admin APIs or the control endpoints that each device provides (which organizations often have not hardened)
  • They ravage weak storage security hygiene:
    • Not closing default device accounts; using local accounts instead of centrally managed ones
    • Not restricting access to sensitive data (you should enforce such restrictions end-to-end—at the storage device, on the network, and at the client level, using strong authentication)
    • Not securing admin sessions
    • Poorly configured (or overlooked) encryption
    • And so much more

NIST’s Special Publication (SP) 800-209 “Security Guidelines for Storage Infrastructure” is a great place to learn more about storage security.

Here are a few examples of how criminal hackers exploit poorly secured storage and backup environments:

  • They discover a Domain Controller or DNS server IP address through a weakness in your environment. If you have not hardened your storage, attackers can abuse your APIs (or hijack insecure admin sessions, exploit unpatched storage CVEs) to find out what storage objects (e.g., LUNs, Shares) those services use. They can leverage the APIs to create copies, mount them on unmonitored development servers, or smuggle them out via OneDrive, public S3 buckets, or similar tools.
  • They discover how you backup your data and—if you have not segregated your administration planes—destroy the backups (e.g., array-based snapshots, disk, and tape copies). Then they encrypt your data for ransom.
  • Even if you secured your backups, without enough isolation of duties, cybercriminals can “poison” any future backup (e.g., change the backup job, remap the LUNs in your backups).
  • Criminal hackers map volumes that critical servers use (for source code, databases, build environments) to other compromised servers. Then they read or alter the content (e.g., financial data, personal information) “out of band,” leaving no evidence.
  • They can “kill” an entire storage array (including its snapshots), crippling hundreds of servers for days.

Now’s the time to evaluate your storage security IQ, processes, and controls.

Book your Storage Risk Assessment

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