Companies should maintain direct control of their keys, said cybersecurity experts.
Companies should maintain direct control of their keys, said cybersecurity experts.

OneLogin is reporting its recent data breach was made possible when a hacker obtained access to a set of Amazon Web Service keys through a third-party vendor. With this, the hacker was enabled entry into its U.S. data center compromising all its records.

The password management firm said the stolen keys gave the intruder access through the AWS API, something industry experts say could have been averted if OneLogin maintained control of its keys. There could possibly be a design flaw, some say.

“This risk could have been averted,” said Simon Hunt, EVP and chief technology officer at WinMagic. "Maintaining exclusive enterprise control of a business's keys isn't a nice-to-do. Emerging hypervisor vulnerabilities create a real security gap, and cloud-based key management solutions can leave keys open to theft or transfer of authority."

John Bambenek, Fidelis Security's threat systems manager, said what happened to OneLogin is not in line with what a password manager should be. Nothing, he said, should be recoverable.

"There is probably a design problem here," he said.

OneLogin said the first few illegal entries into the system took place on May 31 at 2 a.m. PST. These initial forays were described by OneLogin as reconnaissance missions, but were quickly followed up by the real attack. This was detected six hours later and OneLogin was able to quickly staunch the attack and block the AWS keys.

“A silver lining in the OneLogin breach is that they were able to identify the suspicious database activity quickly and take the appropriate action to arrest the threat,” said Ken Spinner, vice president of field engineering at Varonis Systems. "Many organizations simply don't monitor critical data and undoubtedly suffer breaches that go undiscovered for years – like Yahoo! – or never get discovered at all."

Bambenek credited OneLogin with quickly noticing and reacting to the issue, but added it is a mistake to use a third-party vendor as that is the prime attack point for most cybercriminals citing what happened with Target as an example.

The results of the attack were quite serious with OneLogin admitting a host of sensitive data was accessed.

“The threat actor was able to access database tables that contain information about users, apps and various types of keys,” the company stated. "While we encrypt certain sensitive data at rest, at this time we cannot rule out the possibility that the threat actor also obtained the ability to decrypt data."

Bambenek said the question now is what were the cybercriminals able to get away with. "We will have to see if they were able to offline the data," Bambenek said, noting this is not an easy task to do in the AWS environment.

The company is not saying how many of its customers were affected by the incident. An up-to-date figure on the number of customers served by OneLogin is not available, but in a 2013 press release the company noted it had just signed its 12 millionth customer, including many at the corporate level.

“Businesses really need a solution that grants them full and sole control of their encryption keys at all times, so that keys and data can never be exposed to government agencies, privileged insiders, or hackers during a breach,” Hunt said.