Joint Advisory on Top Cyber Misconfigurations Highlights Urgency for Software Manufacturers to Incorporate Secure by Design Principles


By Eric Goldstein, Executive Assistant Director for Cybersecurity 

Damaging cyber intrusions are far too common, causing harm to public and private organizations across every sector. While some of these intrusions use novel methods to gain access or move across a network, many exploit common misconfigurations. By ensuring strong configurations, we can significantly reduce the prevalence and impact of cyber-attacks.  

Over the past several years, red and blue team operators at CISA and NSA have assessed organizations to identify how a malicious actor could gain access, move laterally, and target sensitive systems or information. These assessments have shown how common misconfigurations, such as default credentials, service permissions, and configurations of software and applications; improper separation of user/administration privilege; insufficient internal network monitoring; poor patch management, place every American at risk.  

Today’s report, “NSA and CISA Red and Blue Teams Share Top Ten Cybersecurity Misconfigurations,” provides clear guidance to drive down these misconfigurations. While enterprises can and must take steps to identify and address these misconfigurations, we know that scalable progress requires urgent action by software manufacturers, particularly by adopting Secure by Design practices where software is designed securely from inception to end-of-life and by taking ownership to improve security outcomes of their customers.

Every software manufacturer should urgently adopt the practices below to reduce the prevalence of common misconfigurations by design and every customer should demand adoption of these practices by every vendor.  

  • Embed security controls into product architecture from the start of development and throughout the entire software development lifecycle (SDLC) by demonstrating adoption of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Secure Software Development Framework (SSDF).  
  • Eliminate default passwords. 
  • Design products so that the compromise of a single security control does not result in compromise of the entire system. 
  • Provide high-quality audit logs to customers at no extra charge. 
  • Take steps to eliminate entire classes of vulnerabilities, such as by using memory-safe coding languages and implementing parameterized queries. 
  • Provide sufficient detail in audit records to detect bypass of system controls and queries to monitor audit logs for traces of such suspicious activity.  
  • Mandating multifactor authentication (MFA) for privileged users and making MFA a default rather than opt-in feature for all users. 

The misconfigurations described in the advisory are too commonly found in assessments, hunts and incident response conducted by our teams and the TTPs are standard methods used by multiple cyber actors that have led to numerous compromises.  

Last week, CISA announced a new national campaign, Secure Our World, and one of the key elements is for technology providers (i.e., software manufacturers) to secure their products – protecting customers by making products secure by design. Technology providers know that individual and business consumers use the products they create every day. These products and systems are under constant attack by threat actors seeking to disrupt our way of life and steal data. 

As America’s Cyber Defense Agency, CISA is charged with safeguarding our nation against ever-evolving cyber threats and to understand, manage, and reduce risk to the cyber and physical infrastructure that Americans rely on every hour of every day. Ensuring software is secure by design will help keep every organization and every American more secure.   

We know that neither the government nor industry can solve this problem alone, we must work together. We continue to call on every software company to commit to secure by design principles and take that critical next step of publishing a roadmap that lays out their plan to create products that are secure by design “out of the box”.