API10:2019 Insufficient Logging & Monitoring

By Tanya Janca on May 9, 2023

In the previous post we covered API9:2019 Improper Assets Management, which was the 9th post in this series. If you want to start from the beginning, go to the first post, API1:2019 Broken Object Level Authorization. You can see the formal document from the OWASP API Security Top Ten Team, here.

Photo by Ales Krivec on Unsplash

Years ago, I worked at Microsoft, as a developer advocate. A few of us were working together, creating demos, for ‘Microsoft Ignite The Tour’. I recall two of my colleagues asking me why Azure couldn’t detect an SQL injection attack they had done as part of their demo. I checked their settings and explained that logging and monitoring was turned off. If monitoring is off, that means there was no observation of the application. How would an attack be noticed if they had removed Azure’s ability to watch what as happening? I also explained that since they had also turned off logging, that would mean that an incident responder would have nothing to investigate. They would not only miss the attack happening, but they would also never be able to find out later what had happened if they investigated. It had been turned off to save money (we didn’t want to spend a small fortune just on demonstrations, we had a budget). They turned both logging and monitoring back on, tried the attack, and immediately Azure went into red alert. All was well for the developer advocates and our demos.

Imagine finding your data on the dark web for sale, and not even knowing how it got there. Obviously, this has never happened to me before at a client site… If it had, I would tell you how incredibly frustrating it is not to be able to explain what happened, and therefore ensure it could never happen again. You can’t do that if you have no logs AND no monitoring. Again, this is totally hypothetical and definitely did not happen to me or any of the clients that I have worked with.

– Not me

Back when I was a full-time developer, I remember asking to turn on logging. I had asked the client during the requirements phase, explaining why I wanted it (so we could provide better reliability, and investigate any outages, there was no security slant for me, at the time). The client had agreed immediately. Then we got into the costing phase, trying to calculate how much the final project would be. When the client saw how much logging was going to cost, it was cut immediately. I had this happen several times as a dev, always being told it was a cost-saving measure. Although I didn’t love this decision at the time, it wasn’t a hill I was going to die on.

Fast forward 8 years to when I got my first AppSec job. I recall us having a security incident, and me being able to search through the logs and find the attack in about 30 minutes (the logs were HUGE, and I didn’t have log viewing software, that’s why it took so long). I learned powershell that day, or, the basics of powershell, and wrote a script to de-obfuscate, so then I could see the exact attack commands. It took me quite bit longer to figure out a perfect timeline, and where our AppSec program had broken down to allow this vulnerability into prod…  But that said, I realized that logs were so incredibly valuable for investigating a security incident, there’s just no other way you can find our exactly what happened without them!

Over the years I have learned that 1) working in incident response is absolutely fascinating and 2) I become far, far too stimulated to do incident response work on a regular (full-time) basis. I have a lot of respect for people who do that type of work full time.

– Tanya’s Thoughts on Incident Response
Photo by Charlotte Harrison on Unsplash

Around this time, I also learned that sometimes attackers will modify the logs, erasing their tracks as part of the attack. One of the ways that logs can be manipulated is via attacks against user input fields, where the attacker bypasses the input validation, that input is logged, and that type of attack is referred to as “log injection”. Attacks against the integrity of our logs is the reason I always go on and on about why we need to protect our logs, and back them up to a secure location. Ideally logs should be protected because they are *sensitive information*, they are literally evidence that could be used one day in court. We should treat them as the precious resource they are, a living record of all that has happened to our applications.

When an API, or any other IT system, has logging and monitoring turned off, or have improperly configured or insufficiently protected their logs, this vulnerability applies. It can apply to any IT system, but APIs are the focus of this blog series, and thus we shall concentrate on how to find, avoid, and solve this problem in APIs specifically.

Let’s talk specifics!

  1. Turn on monitoring. Give your monitoring system contact info for the correct people (it should not go to an unmonitored inbox, or phone number that no one answers). Someone needs to receive the alerts, otherwise why bother to pay for monitoring…
  2. You should log every activity that has to do with a security control, even failed ones. Logins, log outs, changes to privilege, account creation or deletion, password changes, authentication and authorization, input validation, system errors (especially if the global exception handler gets called), changing the contact info for the account, etc.
  3. Do not log sensitive info. Examples of sensitive info: complete credit card numbers, name + home address, name + date of birth, SIN/SSN, the text entries for failed password attempts (those are often typos that would allow you to guess the password), anything that could identify the person (PII) from the log data alone, personal health data + name or other identifying info, anything else that qualifies for your specific organization, system or customers.
  4. Do log: user ID, time stamp, what the user was trying to do, if they succeeded or not, their IP address and any other identifying information you can get about the user’s computer.
  5. Ideally your logs would be formatted so that your SIEM is able to consume them. It’s not very common for organizations to feed their custom app logs into the SIEM, but I hope this changes over time. It’s incredibly helpful.
  6. Your logs should not be stored on the web server or whatever your app lives on. It should be in a different place, inside/behind the firewall/perimeter. That location should not have execution privileges (read only), and only the incident response team should have access to this system.
  7. Monitor where your logs are stored. If an inappropriate account attempts to access this file server, initiate the incident response process immediately. Part of this process should be stopping whoever is accessing it, but then also investigating if these logs of been previously disturbed or altered in any other way. This might not be the first attempt to mess with your logs.
  8. Backup your logs! In a geographically differing place than your app server.

Download a PDF with more specifics for logging, error handling, and logging, here.

Advice straight from the OWASP API Security Top Ten Project Team:

  • Log all failed authentication attempts, denied access, and input validation errors.
  • Logs should be written using a format suited to be consumed by a log management solution and should include enough detail to identify the malicious actor.
  • Logs should be handled as sensitive data, and their integrity should be guaranteed at rest and transit.
  • Configure a monitoring system to continuously monitor the infrastructure, network, and the API functioning.
  • Use a Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) system to aggregate and manage logs from all components of the API stack and hosts.
  • Configure custom dashboards and alerts, enabling suspicious activities to be detected and responded to earlier.

This concludes the We Hack Purple blog series on the OWASP API Security Top Ten! Thank you to the volunteers of that project for all of their hard work to create this list and share this information with the world. Hopefully soon they will release the next version, and we can write more posts about their amazing research!

Categories: AppSec

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