Understanding Broken Access Control Attacks: A Real-World Example in Cybersecurity

In the ever-evolving field of cybersecurity, one pressing concern that experts grapple with is the issue of Broken Access Control. Understanding what this entails is crucial for everyone, from programmers, network administrators, to systems analysts. This blog post seeks to delve into this complex subject by examining a practical 'broken access control attack example', thereby offering insights into how such attacks occur, their potential impact, and strategies for thwarting them.

Defining Broken Access Control

Access control forms the bEDRock of security in computer systems, enforcing policies that dictate which users or processes can access information or resources. When this control is disrupted or 'broken', unauthorized parties get unbridled access to confidential data or functionalities – broken access control unfolds in this scenario.

A Broken Access Control Attack Example

Let's delve into an illustrative case of a 'broken access control attack example'. Assume a banking website manages its accounts and transactions by assigning a unique URL to every account. If a legitimate user changes a part of that URL (specifically, the account number part), and the system doesn't react by verifying whether the user has sufficient privileges to access the different account, it signifies a breach in access control.

In this scenario, any malicious user can access and perform transactions on any account by simply changing this part of the URL. This deviation is a typifying example of a broken access control attack, where unauthorized users are privy to confidential data and can manipulate it due to flawed access control protocols.

The Technical Perspective

Exploring the technical side of this 'broken access control attack example' reveals why such breaches occur. In most systems, access control involves managing duties such as authentication (verifying who you are) and authorization (verifying what you can do). A breakdown in either of these facets can lead to broken access control.

In web development, for instance, mechanisms like sessions and cookies are employed to maintain a user's identity after authentication. If irregularities crop up in managing these mechanisms, they become an exploitable weakness. Similarly, on the authorization front, if the system insufficiently validates the user's privileges for each request, it paves the way for such attacks.

Understanding the roots of broken access control requires familiarity with concepts such as Horizontal and Vertical Access Control, Missing Function Level Access Control, and Insecure Direct Object References (IDOR). These could all play a role in culminating a broken access control attack.

Strategies to Prevent Broken Access Control

Preventing such threats necessitates careful design and consistent management of access control mechanisms. Regularly reviewing and upgrading your access control policies, adopting the principle of least privilege (POLP), and maintaining a centralized access control mechanism are a few effective strategies against such attacks.

Employing Penetration testing to unearth vulnerabilities, utilizing Access Control Lists (ACLs) and Role-Based Access Control (RBAC), and mitigating IDOR are other effective measures to stave off broken access control attacks.

In conclusion, the importance of understanding and preventing broken access control attacks cannot be overstated in the cybersecurity terrain. Armed with the knowledge of how a 'broken access control attack example' transpires, one can appreciate the importance of well-crafted and well-maintained access control mechanisms. Staying ahead in the cybersecurity game requires constant learning, rigorous training as well as regular updating and testing of system controls. Remember, a robust and planned cybersecurity defence strategy is the best offence against the threat of broken access control attacks.

John Price
Chief Executive Officer
October 6, 2023
6 minutes