Capital One Data Breach - 2 security controls you should review - Onica blog

On July 19th, Capital One announced that an attacker gained access to over 100 million American and Canadian customer records, containing sensitive data such as social security numbers, names and dates of birth. A lot of attention is being paid to the fact that the stolen data was stored in a Capital One AWS S3 bucket. This attack was not specific to the AWS infrastructure and could have occurred in an on-premise deployment. 

The US court complaint states that the breach began with a misconfiguration on a Capital One Web Application Firewall (WAF), allowing the attacker to use the WAF to attempt to access data in over 700 of the company’s S3 buckets. At least one of these S3 buckets allowed the WAF to list and extract the stolen sensitive data. This is known as a Server-Side Request Forgery (SSRF) attack. The diagram below offers a high-level overview of the attack process.

Capital One Data Breach - Onica blogCapital One has a well-regarded security program in place, which was displayed during their incident response. Their security team maintains an email address for responsible disclosure of vulnerabilities and incidents, which is how the breach was identified. A key lesson from this incident is that even organizations with well-run security programs are susceptible to breaches and they must be planned for in advance. 

Onica believes that solid security fundamentals should be applied on all information technology, regardless of its physical location. After any breach announcement, we recommend that companies examine their current security practices to ensure that they are not vulnerable to the exploits. While examining this incident we would like to focus on two security controls: misconfigurations and access rights.


Using a WAF to protect web traffic is considered a best practice. Having misconfigurations of these devices is a predictable scenario. Configuration error risks can be mitigated in multiple ways. Having a solid change management program in place will help minimize errors, while having a continual compliance monitoring solution in place will allow misconfigurations to be identified and corrected quickly. Regularly scheduled vulnerability scans and penetration tests will help identify issues that occur due to misconfigurations.

Access Rights

Creating an IAM role intended for a WAF with access rights to one or more S3 buckets containing sensitive customer data is a major concern.  While a WAF may have a legitimate reason for accessing S3 buckets (e.g. logging), it is unlikely that a WAF role would require specific access to this S3 bucket considering the data it contained. This may have been an oversight in the access review process or an overall architectural issue. Onica recommends that companies should examine their existing IAM roles to ensure that the principle of least privilege is being followed. This should be followed by an ongoing review process periodically. Finally, having behavioral detection technologies in place will alert you to abnormal access activities, such as a WAF role attempting to access 700 S3 buckets.

Greg Peterson

About Greg Peterson

Greg Peterson is a Certified Cloud Security Professional with more than 10 years of information security architecture experience securing solutions for customers in cloud and on-premise environments. Skilled in compliance, security architecture and cloud design, Greg is passionate about and all things security and cloud!