What Is a Security Misconfiguration?

What Is a Security Misconfiguration

Software security threats can range from complex to simple. Security misconfigurations were the fifth-most serious OWASP Top 10 Web Application Vulnerabilities for 2021.

NASA and other organizations were left vulnerable by an Atlassian JIRA authorization misconfiguration that allowed hackers to gain entry to their sensitive files.

What Is a Security Misconfiguration?

Misconfigurations occur when security settings are incorrectly or incompletely set. From simple errors to extensive data breaches, misconfigurations are one of the primary cybersecurity vulnerabilities exploited by attackers. They typically result from improper controls within your business – for instance if web server permissions or an Active Directory (AD) account are misconfigured then unauthorized hackers could gain access to sensitive information about you and gain entry.

Misconfigurations may also arise from software applications and frameworks not having the appropriate security options enabled by default, or tools not having signature files installed correctly, or when ports remain open by default.

As such, they can lead to serious repercussions, from data leakage and disruption of services to increased future risk. Unfortunately, this vulnerability category was named #5 on OWASP 2021’s Top Ten web application security risks list; thankfully there are solutions available for businesses to address such weaknesses within their operations.

Why do security misconfigurations occur?

Security misconfigurations are a serious threat that hackers use to gain unauthorised entry and steal sensitive data or disrupt business operations. Misconfigurations account for over 20% of cyberattacks and represent one of the top sources of data breaches; as they provide attackers an entryway into networks and systems it’s vital that security professionals detect them quickly in order to address them quickly.

One of the primary sources of security misconfigurations lies within organizations themselves; often resulting in overlooked settings like default configurations on network equipment. Relying on outdated systems without updating to enable newer security features also increases risk.

These issues are easy to address, thanks to automated processes that detect and prevent vulnerabilities before they enter production. By adopting automated solutions that detect vulnerabilities before they impact production, organizations can eliminate human error and safeguard themselves against costly data breaches. Security misconfigurations may affect any layer in an application stack – including cloud services, the network layer, web and application servers, databases, custom code storage and pre-installed virtual machines.

Human error

One of the primary causes of security misconfigurations is due to human error, leading to lost productivity, downtime and even production halting due to misconfiguration breaches.

Employees frequently make errors with passwords, system modifications and access control settings. Even the most qualified and trusted employees may make a misstep at times; to protect against such possible disasters, organizations must implement policies covering password management, patching and access controls.

Employees also tend to use multiple third-party SaaS tools in their day-to-day work, which opens up a wide variety of attack surfaces. A common collaboration tool, Jira, was left vulnerable after one default authorization misconfiguration made many organizations vulnerable and exposed users’ names, email IDs, projects, and data to third parties. Administrators might make temporary configuration changes during testing or troubleshooting without realizing it afterwards, while temporarily disabling anti-virus protection only to forget reenabling it later.

Poor or weak encryption

Misconfigured encryption leaves data vulnerable, giving attackers the chance to intercept and manipulate it without anyone knowing. This can result in issues such as account takeover, man-in-the-middle attacks, denial of service attacks and the exposure of sensitive information.

Software and hardware products often ship from the factory with overly permissive factory default configurations intended to make them user-friendly and reduce support time, but leaving these settings enabled after installation creates avenues for attacks to exploit them.

Utilizing weak cryptography – such as encryption algorithms with known vulnerabilities or lacking salting and/or shuffling features – can leave passwords vulnerable to attack, which is why they should be hashed and salted to create nearly impossible to crack cipher texts.

Poor or weak encryption includes using unencrypted protocols (such as HTTP) for uploading and downloading data and the absence of SSL/TLS in web applications and cloud storage solutions, which allows hackers to view or manipulate files or tamper with encrypted data in transit – potentially opening themselves up for cyberextortion, such as phishing attacks and ransomware infections.

Excess privilege

Privilege, according to IT professionals, refers to any authority that grants users, applications and system processes elevated rights within a computing network or system to bypass security restrictions and bypass restrictions on certain functions or applications. Though privileges provide important functions, they also present significant vulnerabilities which attackers could exploit by exploiting these privileges for malicious gain.

Problematically, keeping track of privileged access can be challenging as more users, systems, and applications gain additional permissions over time. This becomes even more of a difficulty in larger organizations with many user and machine identities to monitor.

As such, administrators often end up receiving more permissions than necessary in order to fulfill their responsibilities – this can pose a security risk over time. Former employees often retain access credentials after leaving an organization; such permissions could act like ticking timebombs that lead to data breaches, system disruptions, compliance violations and more. It is essential that privilege creep is monitored closely and any unnecessary privileges removed regularly.

Misconfigured logging

Misconfigured logging can provide attackers with access to error messages and internal data. For instance, when developers enable verbose logging for debugging purposes in development environments, errors often contain stack traces that contain sensitive information that gives hackers an inside look into how an application operates.

Unsafe log settings also present attackers with an entryway to sensitive information by scanning for vulnerable servers, pages, services, accounts and privileges. This type of security misconfiguration often stems from applications not properly secured with appropriate configuration settings and often results from lack of application coding best practices such as improper data validation practices.

Maintaining an awareness of security misconfiguration risks will help your organization avert costly, reputational-impactful outcomes from security misconfigurations. From breaches that expose customer data, to systems going offline and productivity being hindered due to system downtime – every misconfiguration allows malicious actors the chance to exploit your network and cause considerable costs. Educating employees on the potential dangers associated with misconfigurations as well as automating management tools will assist with mitigating them more easily and reduce costly vulnerabilities in your network.

Improper versioning

Unsecure software applications can be exploited to gain access to sensitive data through various attacks such as cross-site scripting, code injection and buffer overflow exploits. Furthermore, improperly configured security controls allow attackers to gain entry to unapproved accounts, administrative interfaces or databases.

Misconfiguration vulnerabilities pose a significant security threat, yet can be difficult to locate and remedy without automated tools. That is why it is vital to have visibility across your entire software bill of materials (SBOM) so you can identify and prioritize risks effectively.

Security misconfigurations may seem harmless at first, but they pose a real danger to any business. Mistakes like these could expose confidential data and cost your organization time and money in downtime costs. That’s why having a comprehensive security strategy including monitoring for security misconfiguration vulnerabilities as well as vulnerability assessments is so essential. By taking these precautions you can prevent many of the errors which lead to security misconfiguration vulnerabilities allowing you to focus on running your operations instead of worrying about cyberattacks.

Insecure services

Insecure services refers to protocols or ports which pose security threats due to lack of control over confidentiality and integrity. Common examples of insecure services are ports which pass usernames and passwords unencrypted across networks or allow access through default or misconfiguration; many older protocols such as FTP, Telnet, POP3 IMAP or SNMP V1 or V2 fall into this category. Encrypting services to protect data is the best way to prevent unauthorized access; turning off unnecessary services will reduce exploits that attackers could exploit against your systems.

Numerous industry standards provide guidelines for system configuration, such as those provided by the Center for Internet Security (CIS) and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Understanding these issues and following these guidelines can help organizations reduce risks associated with insecure configuration; however, regular audits should take place in order to identify vulnerabilities which could result in unauthorized access, loss of intellectual property or data, brand reputation damage and legal or financial penalties – so regular reviews and audits of system configuration are absolutely critical for safeguarding an organization.

Security Misconfiguration is one of the top five vulnerabilities on the OWASP Top 10, having brought down numerous giant companies over time and should be avoided at all costs.

One simple misconfiguration can lead to data breaches that impact lost business, financial losses and legal consequences. To combat these vulnerabilities effectively, educating developers, users and managers on security misconfiguration risks is an effective strategy.

Security Misconfigurations can wreak havoc on an organization, leading to downtime and reduced productivity, customer dissatisfaction, revenue losses due to customer discontentment and potential legal implications should customer data become compromised.

As long as there’s one vulnerable system on your network, an attacker can exploit it and access or steal data, breach it and cause breaches. Hackers target these vulnerabilities because they offer quick and easy opportunities.

Education of developers, IT professionals and executives about the threats that exist in this space is one of the best long-term initiatives. Utilizing automated configuration management tools can also help prevent vulnerabilities from emerging by providing secure configuration templates and guidelines specific to every type of system in your infrastructure.

Using out-of-the-box settings

Security misconfigurations refers to any technical issue with an app’s settings that places data or systems at risk, from improper default settings and poorly documented configuration changes, through to unneeded services, outdated options, exposed ports and pages and many other forms of misconfigurations that expose sensitive information and beyond.

Attackers with knowledge of what they’re searching for and how to exploit it may find openings in operating systems, web/app servers, databases, frameworks and code libraries that they exploit without detection by patching systems or updating patches as soon as they become available.

Errors may exploit unused accounts, services and privileges. Errors like these account for many of the top data breaches on OWASP Top 10, and may result in costly impacts such as lost business opportunities, regulatory fines or damage to customer trust.

Why Do Security Misconfiguration Occur?

Security misconfigurations can arise for various reasons. Modern network infrastructures are vast and ever-evolving, making it easy to overlook key security settings. New network equipment may retain default configurations or software may not receive updates with new patches.

Errors of any sort can have devastating repercussions for companies. From exposing confidential data to allowing hackers to take over entire servers and web pages with applications – such issues have crippled numerous firms over time.

Safeguard Against Security Misconfiguration

Misconfiguration errors may result from simple oversights, yet their consequences can be catastrophic. They could include lost revenue and customer trust damage. Misconfigurations could even expose data which leads to fines or legal action from regulators.

However, these misconfigurations can often be avoided by following best practices and implementing security processes. This includes setting up change management processes and regularly reviewing configurations to detect misconfigurations quickly; education and training personnel is also important; additionally a vulnerability assessment provides valuable insight into uncovering security misconfigurations before eliminating them from attack surfaces; additionally one-time pentests may help detect misconfigurations before they cause significant damage.

Types of Security Misconfiguration

Writing an article takes time and dedication; writing one on an unfamiliar subject matter can be even more demanding.

Security misconfigurations represent a considerable threat to organizations, ranking fifth on the OWASP Top 10. They can occur within software applications, cloud services and infrastructure environments.

1. Default accounts / passwords are enabled

Misconfigured settings enable attackers to gain unauthorized access to networks, systems and data – creating vulnerabilities responsible for many successful cyber attacks and data breaches.

These vulnerabilities range from minor to serious; leaving default passwords enabled, giving admin privileges by default and failing to implement secure authentication protocols are all vulnerabilities that hackers can take advantage of to gain entry to your business and compromise security, potentially exposing sensitive information.

Software frameworks have greatly simplified programming, yet often include default configurations that are insecure by design. Hackers could exploit these weaknesses to gain entry to your system – yet often get overlooked during testing.

At the core of all cloud and network services is security; any time out-of-date software, open ports, and failure to follow secure configuration practices is exploited by attackers, posing an unacceptable risk for businesses and putting customer data at risk. Therefore, regular vulnerability scans and web application penetration testing is necessary in detecting common vulnerabilities as soon as they arise – the sooner this can happen the quicker your business can recover quickly from potential disaster.

2. Secure password policy is not implemented

Password policies need to be implemented properly for optimal system security, or else security misconfigurations may make systems susceptible. Without password protection, attackers have no difficulty entering systems and accessing files they’re looking for; this can create disruption, decrease productivity and damage the company’s reputation; in addition, any breach compromising sensitive customer data could incur legal consequences as well as reputational loss.

Security misconfigurations can be caused by speed, incompetence or human error – often leading to cyber attacks and data breaches. They are present across computer applications, cloud servers and network infrastructure as well as web apps and servers – and could even include frameworks, libraries, web servers and applications that contain sensitive data that need protecting from being misconfigured by users or bots.

If these vulnerabilities are misconfigured, they can leave your business exposed to attacks that gain entry to its systems and networks without permission, alter data manipulation, change functionality of applications or cause fines or lost revenue for fines and revenue lost. Therefore, protecting yourself against misconfigurations through improved visibility, regular vulnerability testing and having processes set in place to identify and fix such flaws is crucial for cybersecurity of any business.

3. Software is out of date and flaws are unpatched

Programmers frequently comment that just a few lines of code can create whole worlds, yet it is easy to overlook how those same few lines can leave systems vulnerable to attacks and breaches, when critical security safeguards around web apps, networks or clouds are overlooked due to speed, confusion or human error.

Attackers could exploit default or sample files left accessible, which attackers could then exploit to identify vulnerabilities and gain unauthorized access. Other threats might be leaving ports exposed on a firewall that are unnecessary, or not updating software and security tools with updated signature files for optimal operation.

Misconfiguration errors can have severe and costly repercussions for businesses, including data breaches that compromise customer trust and result in revenue losses. Businesses could also face legal action for any personal data exposed as well as remediation efforts, fines and compensation payments to affected customers. A data breach also threatens future prospects of their company and its brand name – this is why having a consistent vulnerability assessment process such as Balbix Risk Based Vulnerability Management (RVBM) helps detect and prioritize imminent threats so they can be addressed before bad actors find them!

4. Files and directories are unprotected

Directory listing on servers should always be disabled for security reasons; otherwise, attackers could view all directories and files within your web application, potentially revealing sensitive data, providing them with an opportunity for a reverse shell or discovering custom code that gives them even more ways to exploit attacks.

Security misconfigurations can be extremely dangerous because they can occur at every step in your application stack – from platforms and web servers, databases and apps, through to databases themselves and applications themselves. They can often result from seemingly innocuous oversights which leave sensitive data vulnerable, giving attackers entry for unauthorised access or exploit.

Make sure your IT staff follows best practices when it comes to protecting hardware, software and network systems – this will prevent misconfigurations that lead to data breaches, unauthorised access, service disruptions and legal ramifications.

Visibility into your Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) is also essential in understanding which devices and software are running within your environment. A solution like Balbix allows for this visibility, automatically detecting vulnerabilities that threaten security misconfigurations before they become threats, creating repeatable automated security hardening processes, as well as making sure software patches remain current.

5. Unused features are enabled or installed

Security misconfiguration refers to any issue with a system’s configuration settings that leaves open paths for hackers – from leaving unnecessary ports open, not removing default or sample files, not updating security protocols and encryptions, failing to implement hardening measures across applications stacks, or improperly configured permissions on cloud services.

These misconfiguration errors can have serious repercussions, leading to data breaches exposing sensitive information or even stopping production altogether. They also increase future risks by making the breached system an attractive target for attackers, and lead to significant financial costs due to remediation efforts, regulatory fines or compensation payments to affected parties.

Understanding why misconfiguration errors happen is critical to their prevention. One key cause may be inadequate employee cybersecurity awareness or an outdated security infrastructure, while rushing projects along in order to meet digital transformation or customer demands may also play a factor.

6. Security features not maintained or configured

Security misconfigurations expose systems, applications and data to attack. Attackers exploit them as they provide easy entry points into systems, applications or networks.

Misconfigurations can arise for various reasons. For instance, using flexible frameworks and tools to build software may introduce insecure default settings that make it easy for attackers to take advantage. Furthermore, open source code may expose your organization to vulnerabilities found within it.

Errors can lead to all kinds of issues for your business, from exposing confidential data and disrupting operations to shutting down an entire system. Their effects depend on what was exposed but any vulnerability should be rectified immediately.

To reduce the risk of errors, you need visibility into your security configurations and device/application software inventory. Centraleyes from Balbix can help reduce these risks by offering a real-time Software Bill of Materials (SBOM), with information to prioritize and manage detection/mitigation of misconfigurations – particularly important if moving towards DevOps model.

7. Directory traversal

Directories and files that should only be accessible by authorized personnel may become accessible to bad actors, resulting in all sorts of damage being done to systems and data. From sensitive data exfiltration to complete server takeovers to remediation costs and regulatory fines incurred as a result of breaches like these, the damage done can range widely.

These vulnerabilities usually arise when an application fails to properly sanitize user input or search recursively through directory paths in an effort to access protected files or directories. Attackers can utilize “directory traversal sequences” – strings of characters which bypass intended directories – in order to navigate their way around the system file hierarchy and gain unauthorized entry.

These attacks often target applications built using preexisting frameworks that have not been configured properly, or when developers rely on libraries which haven’t been thoroughly checked for security vulnerabilities. It is therefore vital that developers test and sanitize user input before processing it, and ensure the appropriate library is being utilized by their application. Automated vulnerability scanners can help mitigate risks related to directory traversal attacks while protecting organizations against threats like directory traversal vulnerabilities and directory traversal.


Misconfigurations provide cybercriminals with access to an organization’s critical systems, potentially exposing sensitive data and disrupting business operations. They may also incur considerable financial costs associated with remediation efforts, fines and compensation payments to affected parties.

Utilizing a repeatable security hardening process and micro-segmentation approach can prevent security misconfiguration, and gaining visibility into your environment will allow you to detect and assess risk more accurately.

Attackers take full advantage of default configurations, outdated options and unpatched flaws to gain entry. Therefore it is imperative that businesses understand these vulnerabilities and implement the appropriate controls to create a secure IT landscape. Furthermore, having the proper mindset and monitoring system in place are equally vital.

Sam is an experienced information security specialist who works with enterprises to mature and improve their enterprise security programs. Previously, he worked as a security news reporter.