Don’t Trust Third Party Apps and Services to Provide Perfect Security

We all are a little overwhelmed by the complexity and difficulty of securing our private information against attackers such as cybercriminals and nefarious nation states. It seems that attacks come at us from all sides on a regular basis. One way we cope with this is to outsource our cybersecurity needs to third-party organizations that have staff who perform such services as network monitoring or security patching for a number of client organizations. Another way is to employ third-party security applications that provide such services as email security and data loss protection. We trade our money for their time and expertise.

And there is nothing wrong with that in a lot of ways. The people that form and work for these organizations are able to concentrate their efforts on specific aspects of information security, and often have a great depth of understanding of their particular subjects. Using them or their applications certainly will save you time and can also save you money. However, it is ironic that the very act of allowing such organizations and applications to connect to your networks is a great risk to your private information and systems in and of itself. So, in a way, by trying to simplify your risk management problems, you are actually increasing the attack surface available to cybercriminals, thereby making your cybersecurity problems even more complex and unwieldy.

A big problem is that, despite our best efforts, risk can never be totally eradicated; risk can only be lessened. This is the result of Order and Chaos and the very nature of reality. So even when a cyber-service provider is conscientious and diligent in their security efforts, they can still be compromised. And when they are, there is a good chance that their clients will be compromised as well. Unfortunately, no matter who was responsible for the compromise, you or your organization have the ultimate responsibility for the security of your own information or assets. This creates a no-win situation; you lose, your customers lose, and the service provider loses.

A current example of this is the LastPass hack that occurred sometime in August according to the company. Although details are sketchy, the latest information shows that the breach was massive and exposed encrypted password vaults as well as other user data. The company announced that hackers were able to copy a backup of customer vault data from the encrypted storage container. This means that these hackers have had months to try to guess the master passwords for these vaults. With time, cracking these passwords becomes more and more likely. This creates a huge hassle for clients who now have to change all their passwords and ensure that two-factor authentication is enabled wherever possible. It also has created a huge reputational hit for LastPass. Many information security professionals are even recommending that their clients dump LastPass.

So, what can we do to protect ourselves from the dangers of service provider compromise? The answer is that there is no perfect solution. The best thing we can do is be constantly aware of the situation and put no trust in our hope that the service providers we employ will not be compromised. We need to examine each service provider we use and ask ourselves if we really need the app or service. If we can get by without, then dump that provider. The less service providers we have, the smaller the attack surface we present to the outside world. We also need to do risk assessment of our current and prospective service providers to see how competent and stable they are, and to determine the impact we would experience if compromise did occur. In addition, we need to develop incident response procedures to help us minimize negative impacts that we can foresee, and practice our responses so that we are quick and competent if the incident occurs. Forewarned is forearmed!