Top 4 Security Vulnerabilities to Sensitive Data in AWS Message Queues and Tips to Protect it

Jul 5, 2023
May 15, 2024
Cyera Labs
Top 4 Security Vulnerabilities to Sensitive Data in AWS Message Queues and Tips to Protect it
Message queues play a vital role in modern cloud architectures. However, their widespread use leads to sensitive information exposure often overlooked by security teams. 

What are SQS and SNS?

Amazon Web Services (AWS) messaging queues, encompassing Amazon Simple Queue Service (SQS) and Amazon Simple Notification Service (SNS), have emerged as fundamental components in strengthening the resilience and performance of cloud applications.  

SQS is a fully managed message queuing service that transmits messages between software components. It enables decoupling of application components so that they can run independently and strengthen resilience against failure. 

SNS is a fully managed messaging service designed to send messages or notifications directly to users or services in a highly available and scalable manner. SNS makes it simple to coordinate the delivery of messages to subscribing endpoints or clients with an emphasis on real-time notification. 

What are the Everyday Uses of Messaging Queues?

The use of messaging queues is pervasive. They ensure online experiences work seamlessly that go unnoticed by us almost everyday. For example, messaging queues send sensitive personal data such as critical diagnosis information to doctors and healthcare providers for better patient care. Similarly, messaging queues improve eCommerce UX experience by sharing visitor interests to personalize online shopping for consumers.

While AWS message queues help cloud applications run smoothly, the messages they contain may be vulnerable to security breaches due to their sensitive nature. 

Why is Data Security in AWS Messaging Queues Critical?

Messaging queues handle vast amounts of data, including patient, financial, and other highly sensitive data. These queues often store unencrypted data and may fail to log events that can change the path of data. This makes it tough to tell if there's been an exfiltration attempt.

If malicious insiders or attackers have the necessary permissions to access data queues, they can easily exfiltrate sensitive data, such as personally identifiable information (PII), financial data, confidential business information, and more, in the queue. Unauthorized access or exposure of these types of data could lead to severe consequences, including identity theft, fraud, and breaches of confidentiality.

Industry-specific regulations like GDPR, HIPAA, and PCI DSS make sure companies protect their data.  Ensuring that data in AWS messaging queues is secure is part of achieving and maintaining compliance with these regulations. It’s not just about compliance, however. Customers, partners, and stakeholders need to trust that your organization will handle their data responsibly, including the data in your AWS messaging queues. 

Data breaches can cause business problems like downtime, lost productivity, and financial loss. They can also harm a company's reputation. Depending on the nature of the breach, the type of data involved, and compliance considerations, there may also be legal consequences, including fines and lawsuits.

What are the Potential Threats to Data in AWS Messaging Queues?

  1. Exposure of Sensitive Information – The possibility of sensitive data being exposed to anonymous or unauthorized entities poses a significant risk, as data might be intercepted, viewed, or altered during transmission. This could occur when SQS are configured to allow access over the internet. Another area of risk is when resource-based policy enables anonymous access to data within SQS. Robust IAM policies and encryption may not be sufficient as IAM entities without direct data access can still access the same underlying data through SQS.
  1. Toxic Data Combinations – Put together, even seemingly innocuous data can be combined to reveal sensitive information and create a potential hazard that increases risk for your organization. Often, these pieces of data are stored separately. However, they may end up in the same message queue, thereby reintroducing the risk you were trying to avoid by storing them separately. 
  1. Data Exfiltration – As with any other technology, attackers target areas where they can extract data. The ubiquitous use of messaging queues, combined with the volume of data stored and transmitted, makes it a valuable target. Attackers may extract sensitive data from a compromised queue and exfiltrate the information or enable access from an external account.
  1. Queue Tampering – Attackers may inject messages and alter the messages’ metadata, thereby tampering with the messaging queue. These injected messages may seem to be random or harmless and appear to originate from a legitimate source. Unfortunately, tampered messages could trigger unplanned events in the services they touch. They could influence business decisions, cause services to slow down or restart, or even open an attack path to a target system by overwhelming a critical security service.

What is the Best Way to Secure Sensitive Information in AWS Messaging Queues?

Considering the vast quantities of data — and how much of it is sensitive — it’s important to manage risks in AWS messaging queues. The following are four recommended steps to manage risks and secure sensitive information in AWS messaging queues:

  1. Evaluate existing permissions assigned to queues to make certain that sensitive data is not unduly exposed by default
  1. Follow the principle of least privilege by providing access to only those who need it
  1. Audit your encryption policy implementation to ensure that your most sensitive data is protected in the event of a breach
  1. Audit your data access policies to ensure that they are applied consistently across queues and datastores that handle the same types of sensitive data

Secure Your Sensitive Data in Messaging Queues

Sensitive data is constantly moving across cloud environments, and the AWS messaging queues are a rich source of such data. Different queues have different risk exposure levels, and many organizations may not realize why it is critical to have visibility into the types of sensitive data moving through the queues. To protect your data from potential exposure and exfiltration, it’s important to secure sensitive data from potential attack in AWS messaging queues.

To learn more about what messaging queue vulnerabilities and threat scenarios and how to protect your organization, read the white paper.