Dow Jones Data Leak from an AWS Error

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Security professionals expect to see more incidents such as the Dow Jones leak, which exposed customers ‘ personal information after a public cloud configuration error.
A data leak at Dow Jones & Co. it exposed the personal information of millions of customers after a public cloud configuration error. This marks the fifth major public cloud leak in recent months after similar incidents affected Verizon, WWE, US voter registrations and Scottrade.

This error compromised millions of customer names, account information, physical and email addresses, and the last four digits of credit card numbers. It also affected 1.6 million entries in Dow Jones Risk and Compliance, a collection of databases used by financial companies for compliance with anti-money laundering regulations.

All of this information was left exposed in an Amazon Web Services S3 bucket, which had its permission settings configured to allow any authenticated AWS user to download data using the bucket URL. Amazon defines “authenticated user” as anyone who has a free AWS account, meaning that the data was available to more than one million users.

Chris Vickery, director of cyber risk research at Upguard, discovered that the information was accessible to authenticated AWS users under the subdomain “dj-skynet” on May 30, 2017. UpGuard informed Dow Jones of the unprotected repository, which was secured on June 6.

Dow Jones has confirmed that 2.2 million people were exposed. Based on the size and composition of the repository, Upguard “conservatively estimates” that up to four million people could have been affected, although it indicates that duplicate subscriptions may explain some of the difference.

The publisher “has no reason to believe” that any of the data has been stolen, a spokesman told the WSJ. The information exposed did not include full credit card numbers or login information that could pose a “significant risk” to customers or require notification, he said.

Security experts anticipate an increase in such leaks as more companies move their data to the cloud and adopt different cloud services. Upguard calls this “an all too common story” that unnecessarily leaves customer data vulnerable to exploitation. Even if no threat actor accessed the Dow Jones data, it’s clear how they could have done it.

“It’s a problem we’ve seen since these public cloud providers started offering their services to organizations, but it’s become infinitely more complex now that many organizations operate their own multi-cloud environments,” says Dome9 CEO Zohar Alon.

While he expects Amazon to add more controls so businesses understand their exposure, businesses are responsible for knowing how their information is available online. Companies moving data to the cloud will need to invest in tools to monitor its accessibility.

“We’re seeing a lot of ‘I can do it myself’ mentality when we talk to big companies, ” Alon says. Many organizations attempt to develop their own security teams internally when they lack the expertise to protect their information from increasingly sophisticated threat agents.

“As more and more companies embrace the public cloud, they need to be aware that the difference between having their information private, versus public exposure, is simply the click of a button,” says Jason Lango, CTO of Bracket Computing.

After all, he adds, the public cloud is designed for sharing. Many basic Amazon Services are designed to put more information on the Internet. The Dow Jones leak might have been the simple mistake of someone misinterpreting authenticated users, but the problem is actually much bigger than people are giving you credit for.

“The problem of complexity, which allows security around the cloud infrastructure goes beyond S3 to other data assets stored in the cloud, “” says Lango.” Things like app images or data volume snapshots saved for backup purposes, can be easily shared between Amazon accounts.

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He advises security administrators to ensure that S3 controls are properly established and that they encrypt all business data in the public cloud. The only way to maintain control over information is by encrypting it, he says, and only allowing decryption in very specific circumstances.

IT teams should also think about how to separate responsibilities between people who set security policies and those who deploy workloads or manage cloud applications. The goal should be to maximize the use of the public cloud while maintaining control over your assets, he notes.

“This kind of exposure is going to happen more and more,” Lango says. “I think we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg … enterprise adoption of the public cloud is still in its early stages.”

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