Access control is a crucial security mechanism that governs what data or resources a user can access within a system. However, when access control is not implemented correctly or is misconfigured, it can result in broken access control.
Broken access control occurs when users are able to access data or perform actions that they are not authorized to do so, essentially granting them unauthorized privileges. This security vulnerability is a common target for attackers looking to exploit system weaknesses and gain access to sensitive data or perform malicious actions.
Understanding broken access control is critical for any organization or individual responsible for securing computer systems and data. Failure to properly implement access controls can lead to serious consequences, including data breaches, financial losses, reputational damage, and legal liabilities.
That is why in this article, we will delve into the topic of broken access control in depth, exploring its causes, consequences, and practical examples.
How does access control get broken (With Examples)
There are multiple ways that access controls get broken, but here are few common ones:
Insufficient Authentication: This occurs when a system does not properly verify the identity of a user before granting access. For example, if a website only requires a username and password for login, an attacker could easily guess or crack weak passwords and gain access to sensitive information.
Authorization Flaws: This happens when a system grants more access than necessary to a user or fails to revoke access when it is no longer needed. For example, a user who was once authorized to access sensitive information but has since changed roles or left the organization may still have access to that information.
Misconfiguration: This happens when a system is not properly configured to enforce access control policies. For example, if a web server is configured to allow directory listing, an attacker could easily access files and directories that were not intended to be publicly accessible.
Broken Cryptography: This occurs when encryption is not implemented properly, making it possible for attackers to gain access to sensitive data. For example, if a website uses weak encryption or stores passwords in plain text, an attacker could easily steal those passwords and gain access to sensitive information.
Session Hijacking: This happens when an attacker steals a user’s session ID, allowing them to impersonate that user and gain access to sensitive information. For example, if a user logs into a website over an unsecured Wi-Fi network, an attacker could intercept the session ID and use it to gain access to the user’s account.
What is the impact of broken access control
The impact of broken access control can be severe and far-reaching. It can compromise the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of sensitive data, allowing unauthorized individuals to gain access to restricted resources, perform unauthorized actions, and steal, modify, or delete critical information.
Here are some of the potential consequences of broken access control:
- Data breaches: When attackers are able to bypass access controls, they can steal sensitive information such as personally identifiable information (PII), financial data, trade secrets, and intellectual property. This can lead to reputational damage, legal liabilities, and financial losses for organizations.
- Unauthorized access: Broken access controls can enable unauthorized users to access sensitive resources or perform actions that they should not be able to, such as altering or deleting critical files, stealing confidential information, or modifying system settings.
- Compliance violations: Organizations that handle sensitive information are subject to various regulations and compliance standards, such as HIPAA, PCI DSS, and GDPR. Broken access control can lead to violations of these regulations and fines.
- Reputation damage: A data breach or other security incident resulting from broken access control can damage an organization’s reputation and erode customer trust.
How common is broken access control
Broken access control is a prevalent issue in the world of cybersecurity, and it’s a problem that affects a wide range of organizations. According to a study conducted by the cybersecurity company Imperva, broken access control is one of the most commonly exploited vulnerabilities, with over 20% of all cybersecurity incidents involving this type of flaw .
Another report by Verizon also found that access control was a significant factor in data breaches, with misconfigured access controls accounting for 21% of breaches . The prevalence of broken access control highlights the importance of addressing this issue and implementing proper access control measures.
In addition to the above studies, several high-profile data breaches have been attributed to broken access control. For example, the Equifax data breach in 2017, which affected 147 million people, was a result of a vulnerability in the company’s web application framework that allowed hackers to gain access to sensitive data . Similarly, the Capital One data breach in 2019, which impacted over 100 million people, was caused by a misconfigured web application firewall that allowed an attacker to access customer data .
In conclusion, broken access control is a serious vulnerability that can lead to unauthorized access, data breaches, and other security incidents. It is caused by various factors such as poor coding practices, misconfigured permissions, and inadequate user authentication mechanisms. The impact of broken access control can be severe and can lead to financial losses, damage to reputation, and legal consequences.
Unfortunately, this vulnerability is still prevalent in many systems and applications today. It is therefore important for organizations and developers to understand the risks associated with broken access control and take proactive measures to mitigate them. This includes regular security assessments, implementing secure coding practices, and staying up-to-date with the latest security best practices.
By following these steps, organizations and developers can help protect themselves and their users from the potential consequences of broken access control. As the threat landscape continues to evolve, it is essential that we remain vigilant and proactive in our approach to security.
 Imperva. “2019 Cyberthreat Defense Report.” 2019. https://www.imperva.com/resources/resource-library/reports/2019-cyberthreat-defense-report/
 Verizon. “2021 Data Breach Investigations Report.” 2021. https://enterprise.verizon.com/resources/reports/dbir/
 Equifax. “Equifax Announces Cybersecurity Incident Involving Consumer Information.” 2017. https://www.equifax.com/personal/news/2017/09/07/equifax-announces-cybersecurity-incident-involving-consumer-information/
 Capital One. “Capital One Announces Data Security Incident.” 2019. https://www.capitalone.com/facts2019/