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Hundreds of organisations have been detected running dangerously vulnerable versions of SAP that are more than seven years old.
Thousands more have placed their critical data at risk by exposing SAP applications to the public internet.
SAP is among the most popular business applications, used by some 180,000 customers worldwide, including three quarters of Forbes 500 companies.
Vulnerabilities in the platform have been targeted in a range of attacks including those to modify paychecks. They are also increasingly popular in the whitehat and blackhat exploit trade.
Research to be released next month has found companies around the world, including those in Australia, have placed their SAP deployments at risk by exposing to the public internet portals and supplier and customer relationship management software.
ERPScan chief technology officer and ZeroNights founder Alexander Polyakov found more than 4000 servers hosting publicly-facing SAP applications during web searches using Google (700 servers) and Shodan (3741 servers).
"You need to do your HR and financials with SAP, so [if it is hacked] it is kind of the end of the business," Polyakov said. "If someone gets access to the SAP they can steal HR data, financial data or corporate secrets … or get access to a SCADA system."
Ployakov said it was a common misconception that SAP systems were not publicly-facing and remotely-accessible, noting that many Asian countries experiencing a wave of new SAP deployments were exposing their critical systems.
Thirty-five percent of those SAP systems found were running NetWeaver version 7 EHP 0 which was last updated in November 2005. A further 23 percent ran a version last updated in April 2010 and 19 percent ran a version unpatched since October 2008.
Roughly the same findings were uncovered for versions of SAP NetWeaver J2EE, which contained holes in critical services that without authentication could allow attackers to create users and assign roles, execute commands and turn the engine on and off.
In further research to be published in full next month, Polyakov found one in three companies had SAP routers publicly accessible by a default port. About 15,000 servers had been scanned so far using Amazon clusters.
Of the 5000 exposed routers, 15 percent lacked access control lists which risked granting attackers access to the internal network; 19 percent contained information disclosure holes leading to possible denial of service; and five percent had dangerous insecure configuration leading to authentication bypassing.
Exposed SAP systems which Polyakov said should not be publicly accessible included Dispatcher, MMC, Message Server, Hostcontrol, ITS Agate, and Message Server httpd.
One in 40 organisations were found to be remotely exploitable via exposed SAP Management Console, which allowed remote control of SAP systems, while one in 120 organisations were remotely exploitable via vulnerable HostControl, which allowed for command injection.
The SAP Dispatcher service for client-server communications was publicly exposed in one in every 20 organisations scanned. It contained default accounts that could be used to fully compromise SAP systems.
But companies have made significant inroads to fix information disclosure holes that would reveal version and patch data. Last year Polyakov found 59 percent of servers were affected by the flaws, which had dropped to 6 percent this year.
Scans of the public internet revealed that since 2009 severe vulnerabilities including remote code execution were becoming more common, while less dangerous bugs had tapered off.
Some 2600 vulnerabilities have been discovered since 2001 with the vast majority uncovered since 2010. About 150 security holes were reported each year.
Fifty two vulnerabilities have been found already this year of which all but a handful were reported by external researchers.
Security research into SAP too has spiked with technical presentations demonstrating successful hacks against " almost every service used by SAP".
Polyakov demonstrated five dangerous vulnerabilities his company found including a server side request forgery in SAP NetWeaver's DilbertMsg servlet and HostControl command injection.
Polyakov's presentation slides are available online. (pdf)
Darren Pauli travelled to Singapore as a guest of RSA.
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