4 min read

Last week the DefCon security conference, which was held in Paris and Las Vegas, revealed that companies, govt and startups are inadvertently leaking their own files from the cloud.

Ben Morris, a senior security analyst at cybersecurity firm Bishop Fox presented at DefCon on finding the secrets in publicly exposed EBS accounts. “You may have heard of exposed S3 buckets — those Amazon-hosted storage servers packed with customer data but often misconfigured and inadvertently set to “public” for anyone to access. But you may not have heard about exposed EBS snapshots, which poses as much, if not a greater, risk” Morris said.

“Did you know that Elastic Block Storage (Amazon EBS) has a “public” mode that makes your virtual hard disk available to anyone on the internet? Apparently hundreds of thousands of others didn’t either, because they’re out there exposing secrets for everyone to see.

I tore apart petabytes of data for you and have some dirty laundry to air: encryption keys, passwords, authentication tokens, PII, you name it and it’s here. Whole (virtual) hard drives to live sites and apps, just sitting there for anyone to read. So much data in fact that I had to invent a custom system to process it all.” he added.


Ahead of his talk at DefCon, Morris also spoke to a TechCrunch reporter and said that these elastic block storage (EBS) snapshots are the “keys to the kingdom”. “They have the secret keys to your applications and they have database access to your customers’ information.”

“When you get rid of the hard disk for your computer, you know, you usually shredded or wipe it completely,” he said. “But these public EBS volumes are just left for anyone to take and start poking at.”

He said that all too often cloud admins don’t choose the correct configuration settings, leaving EBS snapshots inadvertently public and unencrypted. “That means anyone on the internet can download your hard disk and boot it up, attach it to a machine they control, and then start rifling through the disk to look for any kind of secrets,” he said.

Amazon EBS

Source: TechCrunch, Morris’ Def Con slides explaining how EBS snapshots can be exposed.

Morris built a tool using Amazon’s own internal search feature to query and scrape publicly exposed EBS snapshots. He then attached it, made a copy and listed the contents of the volume on his system.

“If you expose the disk for even just a couple of minutes, our system will pick it up and make a copy of it,” he said. It took him two months to build up a database of exposed data and just a few hundred dollars spent on Amazon cloud resources. Morris validates each snapshot and then deletes the data.

Morris found dozens of snapshots exposed publicly in one region alone, it included application keys, critical user or administrative credentials, source code and more. He found data from several major companies, including healthcare providers and tech companies, exposed publicly.

He also found VPN configurations, which could allow him to tunnel into a corporate network.

Among the most damaging things he found a snapshot for one government contractor that provided data storage services to federal agencies. “On their website, they brag about holding this data,” he said, referring to collected intelligence from messages sent to and from the so-called Islamic State terror group to data on border crossings.

Morris estimated the figure to be approximately 1,250 exposures across all Amazon cloud regions.

An Amazon spokesperson said to TechCrunch, customers who set their Amazon EBS snapshots to public “have been notified and advised to take the snapshot offline if the setting was unintentional.”

Morris plans to release his proof-of-concept code in the coming weeks. “I’m giving companies a couple of weeks to go through their own disks and make sure that they don’t have any accidental exposures,” he said.

On Hacker News users are astonished to know about this fact and some of them say they have never come across such a situation after working on AWS for years. While some agree that the exposure of Amazon EBS snapshots it could be accidental or due to management pressure. One of the comments read, “I’ve been working almost exclusively in the AWS space for about 10 years now. Clients anywhere from tiny little three-person consultancies to Fortune 100. Commercial, govcloud, dozens of clients.

Never once have I ever found a use case for making public EBS snapshots.

Who on Earth is thinking that it is a good idea to take an EBS snapshot and make it public?

Note, several of those engagements did involve multiple accounts, and the need to share / copy AMIs and/or snapshots between accounts. But never making them public.”

Another user responded to this, “Laziness in attempting to share data with someone in another org?

“Nope, can’t access it” …

“Nope, still can’t access it”…

“My manager is harassing me to get access now”…

“Look, just make it public then change it back after I get it copied”…

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Being a Senior Content Marketing Editor at Packt Publishing, I handle vast array of content in the tech space ranging from Data science, Web development, Programming, Cloud & Networking, IoT, Security and Game development. With prior experience and understanding of Marketing I aspire to grow leaps and bounds in the Content & Digital Marketing field. On the personal front I am an ambivert and love to read inspiring articles and books on life and in general.