People are getting numbed to constant ‘bla’-ther about data privacy/cybersecurity, but here is one BLA that cannot be ignored.

Being cyber diligent, your software development teams work harmoniously with your IT teams to plug every security risk; update every firmware and software regularly; micro-segment the network to limit any blast radii; and educate all staff constantly of their stake in your organization’s cybersecurity posture.

Keeping cyber vigilant really calls for a lot of repetitive nagging, advisories, reminders and best practices… until people start reacting to the friendly advice with a half-serious retort: “bla bla bla!”

Ironically, that “bla”ther could now actually refer to something that could help savvy cybercriminals bypass all your teams’ best cybersecurity efforts and steal information or inflict damage to your organization… right under your noses.

Chillingly, “bla” is now the short form of the term “Business Logic Attack”. Just by observing any illogical or potentially breakable processes in your organization’s forms, operational protocols and/or software, cybercriminals can patiently nip at them until something breaks. Cybercriminals can then analyze how the system handles the error, and from there, deduce other potential coding/logic flaws that can be exploited.

Repeat this with automation (and generative AI), and cybercriminals can eventually build up a good profile of your business logic vulnerabilities (BLVs) and then worm through even the most “insignificant” bugs to get past the system’s main defenses.

BLA cases of interest

In 2018, the United States Postal Service had a business logic vulnerability that cyberattackers exploited to expose 60m user records to the public. Flaw vector: broken access controls in their Application Programming Interface (API). The business logic flaw allowed any authorized user to gain access to other people’s sensitive data. Talk about cyber-securely scoring an own-goal!

Then, in a case of “excessive data exposure” in HealthEngine’s API, where 59,000 patient records were made accessible to other patients. Flaw vector: Developers of the API made certain assumptions and mistakes that cause unnecessary (and highly sensitive) data to be exposed to API clients. Examples of assumptions could include: thinking that the API will be accessed only by legitimate users who will graciously ignore the extra “unrequested” information supplied; improper authentication methods; automatically leveraging programming functions to convert internal API data into responses without checking for appropriateness of output data.

Finally, researchers have uncovered a logic flaw in the way email servers handle email forwarding. This has been affecting the integrity of email sent from tens of thousands of domains, including the majority of US cabinet email domains, including, as well as security agencies. Even financial service firms such as Mastercard, and major mass media organizations were exposed to the vulnerability. Flaw vector: Email security protocols are “distributed, optional and independently configured components — “This creates a large and complex attack surface with many possible interactions that cannot be easily anticipated or administrated by any single party,” according to researchers.

Mind your business logic!

Just a single misconstrued lapse of logic can remain undetected and insignificant in an organization’s API or business processes — until an inadvertent leak or deliberate (albeit unrelated) cyberattack exposes a business logic vulnerability.

What developers and business leaders can do to minimize room for such logic lapses is to observe the following best practices and review outcomes regularly:

    1. Security testing:
      Regularly perform comprehensive security testing, including manual and automated testing, to identify business logic flaws. Use penetration testing to simulate real-world attacks and assess the resilience of the application.
    2. Code reviews:
      Conduct these with a focus on business logic, ensuring that developers are following secure coding practices. Use static code analysis tools to automatically identify potential security issues in the codebase.
    3. Input validation:
      Implement strict input validation for all user inputs and data processed by the application. Validate data types, lengths, and formats to prevent injection attacks and other manipulation attempts.
    4. Access controls:
      Enforce the principle of least privilege, ensuring that users and processes have only the minimum permissions necessary to perform their tasks. Implement proper access controls and authorization mechanisms to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive functionality.
    5. Session management:
      This has to prevent session hijacking or session fixation attacks. Use secure session tokens, implement session timeouts, and regenerate session identifiers upon login.
    6. Transaction integrity:
      Implement mechanisms to ensure the integrity of transactions, preventing tampering or unauthorized modifications. Use cryptographic techniques to sign and verify critical transaction data.
    7. Monitoring and logging:
      Implement robust logging mechanisms to capture and analyze user activities, especially those involving critical business processes. Set up monitoring systems to detect abnormal or suspicious behavior that may indicate business logic attacks or attempts to sniff out logic flaws.
    8. User behavior analysis: Implement this to detect anomalies in user activity, helping identify potential BLAs and BLV reconnaissance. At a generic cybersecurity level, monitor for unusual patterns in transaction volumes, user access times, and other relevant metrics.
    9. Threat modeling:
      Conduct regular threat modeling sessions to identify potential BLVs during the design phase. Prioritize and address high-risk areas in the application based on the threat model.
    10. Security training and awareness:
      Provide this to developers, QA teams, and other stakeholders to raise awareness of business logic flaws and anti-BLA best practices. Foster a security-conscious, data-privacy-first culture within the development and operations teams.
    11. BLA-aware incident response planning:
      Develop and regularly test an incident response plan that includes specific steps for responding to and mitigating business logic attacks. Ensure that the plan includes communication strategies and collaboration with relevant stakeholders.
    12. Keep software updated:
      At the generic cyber hygiene level, regularly update and patch all software components, libraries, and frameworks to address known code vulnerabilities. Monitor regular security advisories related to third-party dependencies.
    13. Regulatory compliance:
      Ensure compliance with relevant data protection and privacy regulations to safeguard user information and maintain trust.

By keeping BLAs in these best practices, organizations can strengthen their defenses in ways that even cybersecurity protocols cannot. Approach business logic security as an ongoing process and continually reassess and adapt strategies based on emerging threats and vulnerabilities, especially when cybercriminals will be using generative AI to uncover BLVs at breakneck speeds!