Based on the 2021 OWASP Top 10 Web Application Vulnerabilities, a Broken Access Control went from fifth to first in just four years. OWASP, or the Open Web Application Security Project Foundation, is a non-profit organization that regularly produces free and open resources focused on cybersecurity. In their most recent list of top 10 web application vulnerabilities, Broken Access Control went from ranking fifth back in 2017 to first in 2021. 

Given the fact that it became the most common weakness of web applications after network penetration tests, it only makes sense that those tasked to create solid cybersecurity protocols, such as our readers here at SecureBrain, know precisely what it is, how it happens, and the best way to prevent it. 

This article will provide a concise but comprehensive look at Broken Access Control Vulnerabilities and why they quickly jumped up to become the number one threat against web applications. 

What is a Broken Access Control Vulnerability? 

In its simplest explanation, a Broken Access Control Vulnerability is when attackers can hack a system and perform actions outside its intended or authorized policies, parameters, and permissions. One primary example of a Broken Access Control is when users with view-only access can conduct what should have been Admin-Only features of specific software or platform. A Broken Access Control will allow hackers to modify, steal, or even destroy classified data or information. 

Common Broken Access Control Vulnerabilities

There are many broken access control scenarios that web applications typically experience from attackers; these are Vertical and Horizontal Privilege Escalation.

Vertical Privilege Escalation

In a Vertical Privilege Escalation, broken access control happens when a hacker attempts to access a higher or more “privileged” permission using an existing compromised account. The example we provided earlier falls under this category. With most systems being designed with access control hierarchies, cyber aggressors will typically try to gain administrative permissions or even root access to get complete visibility or control over information and where it’s housed. 

Horizontal Privilege Escalation

On the other end of the spectrum of Broken Access Control Vulnerabilities is what we call a Horizontal Privilege Escalation. In this scenario, improper ID controls are executed by attackers, which enable them to view or modify resources that belong to other users with the same access. For instance, a user’s hospital records are confidential, and each is given specific credentials to access that information. However, with a Horizontal Privilege Escalation, that user can see or even change another user’s data. 

How to Prevent Broken Access Control Vulnerabilities

While advancements in cybersecurity have become more and more accessible, there are still a significant number of organizations that rely on the traditional method of detecting Broken Access Control Vulnerabilities. It’s not to say that manual testing does not work, but it definitely takes a lot of time and resources to complete. Without an entirely automated, continuous detection and testing of web application threats, data systems and software will continue to be vulnerable to access-related attacks. And if you think it’s not something to worry about, then you should know that most data breaches begin with Broken Access Control Vulnerabilities. 

So how do we prevent it?

Session Management

A deny-by-default approach is a best practice to avoid experiencing access control attacks. Users are automatically denied permission to view or modify information by implementing minimum privileged functions. What can be done then is to perform real-time session managements where certain users that require higher permission access are only granted at time-specific or time-bound parameters. 

Server-Side Authentications

Developing templates for different access levels are also a great way to prevent Broken Access Control Vulnerabilities. With this approach, organizations will be forced to only trust server-side authentication and authorization that are engineered to respond to role-specific requests. 

Continuous Testing

As previously stated, continuous testing and auditing will ensure access control systems and mechanisms work as intended. Investing in an automated vulnerability assessment tool like SecureBrain’s GRED Web Security product will allow you to take full advantage of redundant security solutions. From daily website vulnerability scanning and verifications to early threat detection and mitigation, your team will be able to minimize, if not protect, your assets promptly. 

Interested? Our cybersecurity experts are here to help you create and plan a strong defense against the most common cyber threats, including Broken Access Control Vulnerabilities. Contact us now to get started or to schedule a free demo.