Insecure cryptographic storage refers to the weakness in the way applications store and secure sensitive data. It is among the most common vulnerabilities in applications, falling under Cryptographic Failures, one of the top 10 web application security risks identified by the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP).

Insecure cryptographic storage occurs when the wrong data point is encrypted or the encryption algorithm is outdated and insecure. Failure to use industry-standard encryption falls under this vulnerability.

When threat actors exploit this vulnerability, they can access sensitive user data, such as passwords, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, phone numbers, and email addresses.

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When you sign up for a mobile banking or any online account, you trust that the application securely stores your username, password, bank account number, and all other sensitive information. You may imagine your data getting encrypted or turned into random strings of characters while stored in the company’s database. The only way to make sense of them is by having the encryption key.

Even if hackers manage to log in to the financial application’s database, they still can’t decipher the data if they don’t have the key. But when the application has insecure cryptographic storage, they may be able to crack the encryption and see the actual user data. The video below shows how insecure cryptographic storage works.

How Can Insecure Cryptographic Storage Be Exploited?

Malicious insiders like disgruntled employees may take advantage of insecure cryptographic storage and steal sensitive data. It may take a while to detect this malicious activity, especially if the employee has access to the data.

Outside attackers may exploit other vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access to the database. For instance, they can use brute force, a trial-and-error tactic to guess login information.

What Causes Insecure Cryptographic Storage?

There are several reasons behind insecure cryptographic storage, including:

  • Failure to encrypt data: Companies usually encrypt data while in transit or traveling from one user to another. However, some may fail to implement encryption algorithms while the data is at rest or stored. When this happens, it only takes a hacker to successfully access the company’s database to expose all sensitive data.
  • Failure to encrypt the correct data: If your bank’s application security is designed to encrypt usernames and passwords but not bank account details and phone numbers, this is already a type of insecure cryptographic storage. Threat actors can perform a social engineering attack by contacting the account owners over the phone.
  • Using DIY encryption algorithms: Some developers may be brilliant enough to create their encryption algorithm. While the process could be fun, it’s not very secure. For one, the algorithm may not completely follow industry requirements.
  • Using obsolete encryption algorithms: At present, Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is the algorithm standard used by large companies and government agencies. It is one of the recommended algorithms, and using outdated ones may be risky.

What Are the Effects of Insecure Cryptographic Storage?

The most obvious repercussion of having insecure cryptographic storage is the increased vulnerability to data breaches. When cryptographic storage is done correctly, hackers won’t be able to use any of the data even if they can access the database.

The data will remain gibberish and invaluable. However, if one type of sensitive data is not encrypted, if the encryption used is weak, or if the encryption key is not stored correctly, hackers may have a huge payday. 

The resulting data breach can have less quantifiable effects, such as loss of customer trust and reputational damage to the company.

How Can Insecure Cryptographic Storage Be Prevented?

To avoid exposing data to insecure cryptographic storage, it’s important to define data security during the software development process. This process includes discussing what data to encrypt, what encryption algorithm to use, and all other pertinent details in securing sensitive information.

Regularly scanning the application or software for vulnerabilities is also vital in early insecure cryptographic storage detection and prevention.

When you think about it, insecure cryptographic storage is similar to keeping cash in your sock drawer. You know the money is relatively safe as long as nobody breaks into your home. However, thieves can easily open the drawer and find the hidden cash when they get past your front and bedroom doors