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What is a Security Bypass Vulnerability?

Definition, Impact, and Best Practices for Patching

Security bypass vulnerabilities, also known as authentication bypass vulnerabilities, refer to endpoint security weaknesses that can be exploited without needing authentication. 

Despite advances in modern security protocols which have strengthened defenses against many common bypass vulnerabilities, they continue to remain a threat in the realm of cybersecurity. 

These protocols, while robust, are not immune to more sophisticated attacks. Hackers are continuously developing and deploying innovative techniques to exploit security gaps that may exist in even the most secure systems. The complexity and cloud-based nature of today's digital environment make it difficult to identify and mitigate potential vulnerability points, leaving systems open to potential bypass security breaches.

Understanding and identifying security bypass vulnerabilities within your infrastructure is an essential first step toward preparing your ITOps team to effectively address security bypass vulnerabilities before they can be exploited. 

This article explores what a security bypass vulnerability is, the various types we are seeing, their consequences, and offers advice on how your team can block bad actors from exploiting them.

What is a security bypass vulnerability?

Think about it like this— you've got a high-tech security system in place, right? It's got all the bells and whistles — passwords, biometric scans, the works. But what happens if a crafty intruder finds a secret passage, a loophole that lets them waltz right in? 

They skip all the security checks, no need for passwords or scans. That's what happens when attackers bypass authentication. They sneak into the system and get access to all the stuff they're not supposed to see. And the worst part? The system will view that no authentication ever took place. Scary, isn't it?

According to the Common Attack Pattern Enumeration and Classification (CAPEC™), authentication bypass is defined as a situation where attackers successfully evade the authentication process and bypass the standard security checkpoints.

This can mean checking credentials and multi-factor authentication by utilizing unconventional access procedures. These methods enable them to gain unauthorized entry into internal systems. How is this different from authentication bypass vulnerability?

Broadly speaking, authentication bypass is a subset of security bypass vulnerabilities, although you could argue the former tends to take a lion’s share of the spotlight. 

If you can imagine all the authentication bypass vulnerabilities for users, services, and all endpoints involved, we can begin to create a comprehensive definition of security bypass vulnerabilities. 

Since the exploits and methods employed by attackers remain largely the same, authentication bypass mechanisms are often used synonymously with security bypass throughout the industry.

Types of security bypass vulnerabilities

According to the OWASP Security Testing Framework, four main security bypass methods can circumvent established security and authentication methods. These methods deceive an application into believing that the access request has already been authenticated.

Direct request to an internal page

  • Direct request vulnerabilities occur when access control is restricted to certain sections of internal portals, such as the login module. These vulnerabilities occur when an attacker possesses intimate knowledge of the available URLs, such as admin-access URLs, and can directly access internal protected pages.

Session identifier manipulation

  • Session identifier manipulation refers to a vulnerability where the application follows a predictable pattern in generating session identifiers. These identification tokens can be manipulated and exploited by attackers to gain unauthorized access to the application.

SQL injection and parameter manipulation

  • SQL injection or parameter manipulation refers to the act of attackers manipulating access requests. This can be done by tweaking the URL, form submission parameters, or by exploiting SQL injection vulnerabilities. 

Impact of a security bypass vulnerability

Due to their ability to bypass security checkpoints, these vulnerabilities may not always be logged in detail, potentially leading to undetected security breaches. 

The 2020 Microsoft Secure Boot Security Feature Bypass Vulnerability (CVE-2020-0689) is one example of a security bypass vulnerability. This vulnerability allowed attackers to gain access to the bootloader and load untrusted applications. Such a vulnerability on a global install base at a firmware level had severe security implications. Microsoft issued a series of updates to patch the vulnerability and connected applications such as Bitlocker.

Other attack vectors include gaining access to critical data assets, elevating access levels to execute system-level code, and modifying admin-level privileges.

Best practices to mitigate security bypass vulnerabilities

Our earlier Automox blog offered steps on how to prepare for authentication bypass vulnerabilities. There, we found the path to prepare your ITOps team against broader security bypass vulnerabilities follows our previously highlighted guidance and recommendations, such as:

Eliminate legacy security controls

  • Replacing outdated security measures with modern solutions is critical in protecting against security bypass exploits. Implementing robust access policies and token-based authentication, such as multi-factor authentication (MFA), can help to deter malicious actors from targeting your organization.

Deploy encryption to the furthest extent possible

  • Encrypting session IDs and cookies can be effective prevention for potential authentication bypass exploits. This security measure acts as a significant deterrent to bad actors by safeguarding sensitive information and ensuring a more secure system.

Patch diligently, patch often

  • Let’s face it, regularly and diligently patching your apps, servers, and endpoints is critical to minimizing vulnerability exposure. Many common exploits can be effectively remediated by staying up to date with the latest operating system, firmware, and critical software updates. 

There's no free pass for security bypass vulnerabilities

Bad actors don’t care about the size of your operation. If you have assets, you’re a target. Unpatched vulnerabilities make the target even larger and easier to strike. 

Whether your ITOps team manages a vast infrastructure with thousands of employees or you run a small to medium-sized company, implementing automated endpoint patching, robust security controls, and encryption can establish a formidable defense against such vulnerabilities. 

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