Cloud Services Credentials Easily Stolen Via Google Code Search
Public cloud services are not safe for storing sensitive data, researchers say
By Tim Wilson
Nov 09, 2011
The access codes and secret keys of thousands of public cloud services users can be easily found with a simple Google code search, a team of security researchers says.
Researchers at Stach & Liu, a security consulting firm that develops Google hacking tools, first revealed the results of their cloud services research (PDF) at the Hacker Halted conference last month in Miami. Now the team is offering one word of advice to companies that are considering storing critical information on the public cloud: Don’t.
“It is not a good idea to put sensitive data out in the cloud right now — at least not until there are intrusion-detection systems that would let users see these types of searches on their cloud services,” says Fran Brown, managing director at Stach & Liu. “Companies are pushing forward on the cloud because they want the functionality, but they’re not seeing the risk.”
In an online demonstration, Brown showed how an attacker who knows Google and some simple facts about cloud services authentication can easily find the access codes, passwords, and secret keys needed to unlock data stored in public cloud services environments such as Amazon’s EC3.
Such data is routinely stored by application developers and system administrators who don’t know that their simple text files might be indexed by search engines and discoverable with a simple Google code search, Brown says.
“We found literally thousands of keys stored this way, any one of which could be used to take control of computers in the cloud, shut them down, or used to launch attacks on other computers on the same service,” he states.
The problem, according to Stach & Liu, is not necessarily the service provider, but the developers and administrators who store their credentials carelessly in text files and applications code that might be exposed to the Web, particularly in Web-based cloud environments. “All you need is one careless developer who puts his credentials in a text file — and you’re hosed,” Brown says.
Stach & Liu has developed a cloud-hacking tool — another in its Diggity line of Google hacking tools, which were first unveiled at Black Hat USA in July – that seeks out and finds exposed cloud credentials via a simple Google code search.
While cloud services authentication might require multiple pieces of information in order to gain access to stored data, Stach & Liu was frequently able to find all of the credentials required to access corporate data stored on the cloud, Brown says.
In many cases, cloud services agreements state specifically that the provider is not responsible for such credentials leaks, Brown observes. “If you look closely at the agreements, you’ll see that the provider makes no guarantee that the data stored in the service will stay safe,” he notes. “The security industry needs to broker a better deal with the Amazons and the other cloud service providers out there.”
In its Hacker Halted presentation, Stach & Liu also presented several other Google hacking tools and vulnerabilities, including tools that identify malware as well as flaws in Flash and data leak prevention applications.
“Flash files are another easy attack,” Brown says. “It’s very easy to find login pages built on Flash, decompile the files, and look for vulnerabilities.” In the demonstration, Brown was able to use Google search results to gain access to a Web-based account in less than 30 seconds.