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Business Logic Vulnerabilities Are the Hidden Menace in Modern Software

The first things that usually come to mind when talking about software development risks are bugs and security issues that have not been detected or those that have been discovered but left unaddressed. Some may also point out poor code quality reviews and the use of third-party components and dependencies laced with malicious code.

Not many would mention the issue of business logic flaws. Only a few even know what business logic is. This is a serious cyber threat, though, that can result in serious adverse consequences to those who rely on an affected app. Thus, it requires the same attention most organizations give to other forms of cybersecurity concerns.

Hidden menace

In the context of cybersecurity, business logic is not about financial activities, investment decisions, or how a business runs. It is the set of processes and rules that determine how an app functions and interacts with its users and other apps or software systems. It governs the task implementation, data processing, and decision-making in an app in relation to inputs from a user. This is why it is widely regarded as the core or backbone of an application.

Also known as application logic, business logic is doubtlessly vital in how an application operates, so it should not come as a surprise that it is being targeted by cybercriminals. It is being threatened by both external and internal factors. Threat actors actively seek out business logic vulnerabilities that have not been properly resolved to gain access to critical information and functions.

The seemingly obscure nature of business logic and the threats surrounding it make it a serious concern for two main reasons.

First, because not many are familiar with it, it is difficult to keep track of the vulnerabilities and instances of attacks. The only people who will likely be able to oversee these details are those in the cybersecurity team, and even they may not be up-to-date with what is happening in the application logic.

Secondly, many conventional cybersecurity solutions do not highlight the risks that are attributable to application logic issues. Traditional web application firewalls, for example, are mostly designed to address vulnerabilities and attacks that have already been identified. They have difficulties detecting threats that do not match existing threat signatures, attack patterns, and scope of attack surfaces (for example: attacks that span multiple API calls).

As such, many organizations that have business logic problems may not be aware of them. Those who may be suspecting that they have the issue may have a hard time spotting and resolving it because of the lack of appropriate security tools and proficiency.

Discreetly damaging

Business logic attacks can result in data compromises, disruptions in operations, reputational damage, and financial impact. It can also create legal woes, as organizations that have been subjected to application logic attacks are likely to have violated data security regulations. Discussed below are some of the examples of how such attacks happen and the unwanted consequences that befall the targeted organization.

Price manipulation in e-commerce sites – The e-commerce software used by an online shop may have a business logic vulnerability that makes it possible to modify the price details of the products being sold. By exploiting this weakness, threat actors can send a company’s operations into chaos and result in significant losses. This attack is a form of function misuse or abuse of functionality, wherein legitimate functions in an application become accessible to an attacker, who then uses these functions for malicious or felonious intentions.

Reservation system manipulation – Businesses in the travel and hospitality sector typically employ an interconnected system to handle reservations and customer data. Similar to those in e-commerce apps, the reservation software they use may have function misuse vulnerabilities that can grant unauthorized access to the app and result in operational disruption, financial losses, and loss of customer trust.

Private data leaks in the healthcare industry – The digitalization of health records has afforded significant conveniences to those working in the healthcare industry. However, this has also created opportunities for business logic attacks. Hospitals and clinics that use record-keeping systems are affected by application logic issues that allow cybercriminals to bypass data protection controls. Hence, they may be unwittingly allowing cybercriminals to steal sensitive patient data that is legally required to be kept confidential.

Use of stolen credentials in retail businesses – Another cyber attack that tends to be difficult to detect is credential stuffing aimed at the web forms of businesses that specifically serve retail customers. These include financial service providers, gaming sites, and subscription services. Apps with business logic faults may not have other means of user authentication except for the username and password pair (login credentials). In such cases, a cross-user data leakage attack may be undertaken, wherein login data is inputted to APIs in a session to gain access to sensitive data or online accounts.

These are just some of the common examples of business logic vulnerability exploitation. There are many other forms of attacks that focus on abusing functionalities, bypassing security controls, and using stolen data. Business logic attacks are difficult to reverse or rectify, making it crucial to ensure that vulnerabilities do not exist in the first place and attacks should not make it through the cyber defenses.

Mitigating business logic vulnerabilities

To address the emergence and exploitation of business logic vulnerabilities, organizations need to be particular in their software development process (if they build their own apps), deployment, maintenance, and security.  It is important to have a holistic and proactive approach, which includes the following measures and mechanisms.

  • Comprehensive and continuous testing – The apps developed by and/or deployed should be free from security issues. It is advisable to conduct scenario-based testing and continuous security validation, including continuous API security protection.
  • Robust access controls – Strong role-based authorization systems and access controls are a must to make sure that users only access the data and functions they need to perform a specific task. Implementing a zero-trust security policy is recommended.
  • Input validation – To prevent threat actors from exploiting vulnerabilities involving the input validation component of an application, it is crucial to undertake input validation before an app is deployed or made available to customers. Inputs need to be sanitized to avoid instances of function manipulation.
  • Continuous logging and monitoring – All apps should be constantly monitored (especially with the help of logs) to make sure that business logic vulnerabilities are addressed as promptly as possible. The logs are highly useful in tracking issues, diagnosing the problem, and implementing the necessary remedial actions.
  • Multi-layered security – Organizations should consider multi-layered solutions, which include cloud-native web application firewalls, advance bot protection,and API security. Cyber defenses are more effective and efficient if used together to address threats at different levels.

No app can ever be perfect and free from bugs and security issues, so it makes sense to presume that business logic vulnerabilities can be present in all of the apps used in an organization. Business logic threats are typically difficult to detect and address and their impact can be serious and devastating. Being characterized as a hidden menace does not mean that it is impossible to find and resolve. It only means it may be necessary to exert extra effort and use more suitable security solutions.

By Evan Morris, Network Security Manager

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