How to Reduce ERP Security Risks

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems are among the most critical enterprise applications that an organization operates and as such, they represent a lucrative target for attackers.

In a session at the RSA Conference last week, Onapsis CTO JP Perez-Etchegoyen outlined what’s behind ERP breaches and provided additional insight in an interview with eWEEK. Perez-Etchegoyen said that ERP is a class of business-critical applications that many organizations are legally required to protect against data loss. ERP applications are developed by multiple vendors, though the largest deployments are from SAP and Oracle.

“Nation-states are targeting ERP applications to extract financial reports; they are targeting different types of internet-facing portals and applications to get data from those systems,”Perez-Etchegoyen told eWEEK.

Onapsis is a provider of ERP security technology and has been actively engaged in research to identify vulnerabilities in recent years. In April 2018, the company reported a 13-year-old vulnerability in SAP that could expose all SAP implementations to exploitation by attackers. In July 2018, Onapsis partnered with dark web intelligence vendor Digital Shadows to identify how ERP systems are being exploited. Perez-Etchegoyen said Onapsis has expanded on its research in recent months to better understand what attackers are doing.

When looking at ERP breaches, there are two things to consider: how the threat actor got into the organization and what they do once they have access, according to Perez-Etchegoyen.

“We have lots of different examples of breaches actually involving internet-facing portals, with attackers going through that and then expanding to other SAP applications,” he said. “But even if the breach didn’t start with an SAP application, eventually that’s where the the most valuable data is, so that’s where they go to.”

According to Perez-Etchegoyen, most organizations will not notice an ERP breach after an attacker has already gained a foothold within the organization. He noted that once an attacker has some level of access within the organization that enables access to the ERP systems, few organizations have additional controls in place to restrict activity.

How Attackers Are Getting In

While some attackers might be making use of really advanced malware, using sophisticated techniques to bypass defenses, that’s not an attack vector that represents most of what Onapsis sees in the field.

“The reality is that organizations are struggling with getting up to speed around implementing the bare minimum security controls within ERP applications,” Perez-Etchegoyen said.

He added that attackers are able to exploit known vulnerabilities and misconfiguration within ERP systems, as well as abusing known default configurations that organizations have not changed. While the majority of ERP attacks involve organizations that have neglected to protect their systems with the bare minimum of security controls, Perez-Etchegoyen said that over the course of 2018 his firm did see an uptick in nation-states building tools to exploit ERP.

How to Improve ERP Security

There are a number of things that organizations can and should do to help limit the risk of attacks and improve ERP security, according to Perez-Etchegoyen. Among the steps he outlined are:

  • Basic hygiene. There are a number of known vulnerabilities within ERP systems that organizations need to be aware of and fix, either through patching or configuration changes.
  • Define secure configurations. It’s important for organizations to have secure implementation and configuration policies for ERP deployment.
  • Repeatable processes. Having repeatable processes in place that automate best practises for ERP updates and access reduces the risk that ad hoc changes might introduce.
  • Manage and monitor the environment. Perez-Etchegoyen suggests that organizations have a quantifiable process in place that can detect changes and monitor the ERP environment.

There are also technology platforms, like those from Onapsis and its competitors, that can help to provide the structure and knowledge needed to secure ERP systems. Perez-Etchegoyen said that while organizations can lock down and harden ERP systems on their own, the question that they need to answer is always how much risk they are willing to live with.

“There are things like basic hygiene that you need to do, but if you really want to reduce and manage and govern risk within ERP applications, then you need the right technology to help you with that,” he said.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.