Coming under attack were applications that handled enterprise resource planning, supply chain management, human capital management, product lifecycle management and customer relationship management, the 26-page report said.
This was important as 92% of the Forbes Global 2000 had standardised on SAP to power their operations. "With more than 400,000 organisations using SAP, 77% of the world’s transactional revenue touches an SAP system," the report said.
"These organisations include the vast majority of pharmaceutical, critical infrastructure and utility companies, food distributors, defence and many more. An orchestrated and successful attack on unprotected SAP systems could have far-reaching consequences."
It said the window for defenders was significantly smaller than previously thought, with examples of SAP vulnerabilities being weaponised in less than 72 hours since the release of patches, and new unprotected SAP applications provisioned in cloud (IaaS) environments being discovered and compromised in less than three hours.
Successful exploitation of a vulnerable SAP system would allow an attacker to perform several malicious activities, including:
- Steal personally identifiable information from employees, customers and suppliers;
- Read, modify or delete financial records;
- Change banking details (account number, IBAN number, etc.);
- Administer purchasing processes;
- Disrupt critical business operations, such as supply chain management, by corrupting data, shutting down processes completely or deploying ransomware;
- Perform unrestricted actions through operating system command execution; and
- Delete or modify traces, logs and other files.
"Observed exploitation could lead in many cases to full control of the unsecured SAP application, bypassing common security and compliance controls, and enabling attackers to steal sensitive information, perform financial fraud or disrupt mission-critical business processes by deploying ransomware or stopping operations,"the report said.
"These threats may also have regulatory compliance implications for organisations that have not properly secured their SAP applications processing regulated data."
The data captured was claimed to represent clear evidence of malicious activity across different threat actors and levels of operational capability:
- Threat actors possess the domain expertise to carry out sophisticated attacks specific to mission-critical SAP applications – directly targeting sensitive data and critical processes;
- Over 300 successful exploitations were observed over the course of this study, targeting vulnerabilities specific to SAP systems;
- Attackers attempted accessing SAP systems to modify configurations and users and exfiltrate business information;
- Exploit attempts have been observed in as little as 72 hours from the release of a patch, proving diligent and rapid patch prioritisation is required or countermeasures applied if patches cannot be applied in a timely manner;
- New unprotected SAP applications provisioned in cloud (IaaS) environments were discovered and attacked in less than three hours, stressing the need to “shift left” and ensure new mission-critical applications are provisioned securely from day one;
- Regulatory compliance for financial (Sarbanes-Oxley), privacy (GDPR) and other mandates may be at risk as unpatched and misconfigured SAP systems present a deficiency in IT controls that would result in audit and compliance violations and penalties;
- Multiple brute-force attempts were made by attackers targeting high-privilege SAP user accounts—this observation showed that maintaining secure system configurations and monitoring for drift is important and must go hand-in-hand with patch management to keep SAP systems protected;
- Sophisticated threat actors have been observed chaining together multiple vulnerabilities to target specific SAP applications to maximise impact and potential damage;
- Although Internet-exposed systems are more likely to be exploited and compromised, threats have been observed that were equipped to compromise SAP systems from the inside in the past (not in the scope of this report);
- With remote access to SAP systems and mission-critical applications, the need for lateral movement is nearly eliminated, enabling attackers to reach and exfiltrate business-critical data more quickly.
Scott Caveza, research engineering manager at security shop Tenable, said: "A recent advisory from CISA warns that unpatched or misconfigured SAP systems are actively being targeted by threat actors. SAP software is used by organisations to manage critical business functions and often used to store sensitive data.
"By leveraging known unpatched vulnerabilities, attackers can disrupt critical processes, steal financial or otherwise sensitive data, or deploy malicious code which can lead to a major impact on affected organisations.
"Over the last year, we have continued to see reports from US Government agencies warning of the threat of unpatched software and known vulnerabilities being targeted by threat actors.
"Despite patches being available for months and even years, attackers are still finding and exploiting unpatched SAP systems. This serves as a reminder to administrators of sensitive data and applications that applying patches, mitigations, or workarounds are paramount to thwarting malicious actors looking to exploit well known vulnerabilities."