Unpatched SAP Applications Expose Enterprises to Cyber-Attacks

More than 95 percent of companies running SAP applications are failing to apply software patches on a timely schedule, leaving them vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

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More than 95 percent of companies running the SAP business application platform are vulnerable to security breaches due to unpatched software flaws that could allow attackers to compromise their systems, security firm Onapsis reported in an analysis released May 6.

The results, based on hundreds of assessments conducted by the firm, found three common vectors through which attackers used vulnerabilities in SAP systems to compromise business systems.

First, attackers looking to breach corporate SAP systems will often create new users in a management engine for Java to gain access to internal systems. They also use flawed proprietary protocols to change business information and exploit connections between systems to jump from a lower security SAP component to a higher security component.

“Breaches are happening every day but still many CISOs don’t know because they don’t have visibility into their SAP applications,” Mariano Nunez, CEO and co-founder of Onapsis, said in a statement.

More than 290,000 companies use SAP systems to automate their business processes and collect data and metrics on business goals. The company, and its rival Oracle, focus on analyzing operational data to help businesses run more smoothly.

Yet, despite SAP’s “Run Simple” branding campaign, SAP implementations can be very complex. Moreover, because SAP systems tend to be critical to business operations, companies are hesitant to update the application servers.

As a result, most companies delay patching by more than 18 months, despite the fact that hundreds of patches are released each year—391 in 2014 alone, according to Onapsis.

While nearly half of the patches where rated as high priority by SAP, “the truth is that most patches applied are not security-related, are late or introduce further operational risk,” Nunez said.

In 2014, SAP ranked fourth on the list of vendors with the most vulnerabilities, behind Microsoft, HP and Advantech, according to the latest HP Cyber Risk Report released last month.

SAP’s platform for next-generation applications and analytics, HANA, has become a focus on a large number of patches, according to Nunez.

“With SAP HANA positioned in the center of the SAP ecosystem, data stored in SAP platforms now must be protected both in the cloud and on premise,” he said.

Onapsis analyzed the data from hundreds of assessments conducted by the firm to find the top-three vectors of attacks against SAP systems. The top attack pattern consisted of creating backdoor accounts in the SAP system for handling Java users and exploiting critical flaws to obtaining access to other connected systems.

Attackers also focused on the company’s proprietary communications and control protocols to access sensitive data in the platform’s database.

Finally, by compromising a lower security system, attackers can move laterally within the network to more critical systems, Onapsis said.

The company recommended that SAP users continuously monitor and maintain their systems by applying software patches as promptly as possible.

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos is an award-winning freelance journalist who has covered information security, cybercrime and technology's impact on society for almost two decades. A former research engineer, he's...