Log4j Vulnerability – What do Tech Flaws Mean for Your Business?

Explore Log4j- breaking down what the exploit is in simple terms

It’s not every day that a singular exploit in one platform causes governments, leading tech companies, and cybersecurity firms from around the world to flock into action. Back in December of 2021, the Log4j vulnerability did just this, creating a wave of media attention and driving the brightest minds in the field in search of a fix.

In this article, we’ll be exploring Log4j, breaking down what the exploit is in simple terms, suggesting the possible impacts for your business, and recommending the best practices that your enterprise can take to evade the most harmful effects of the vulnerability.

Let’s get right into it.


What is Log4j?

At its core, Log4j is a method that computer systems use to record events, follow the daily operations of a network, and watch for errors. If a problem is present within the system, Log4j is the thing that will catch it and relay information about the said problem to the administrators of the system.

On the internet, Log4j is incredibly easy to spot, with 404 webpage not found errors being an example of this message being relayed to users. When someone navigating the internet receives this error, the administrator of the website will also get an update in the format of an additional line within the Log4j system log.

Log4j is a fairly universal method of recording events, being used within everything from website maintenance to video game error messages. Anything that uses Java, which is the language Log4j is written in, most likely deals with this form of the logging system. While its use lies in the versatility of the program, this is also where a vulnerability within this system is so disastrous, as it would allow hackers to gain entry into essentially anything.


What vulnerabilities does Log4j have?

On December 9th, 2021, just a month shy of 21 years from its release date, the Alibaba Cloud Security Team published knowledge about a vulnerability in the system. This vulnerability, named Log4Shell by the team, sought to abuse a feature that was built into Log4j, which allowed users to enter code to format a log entry.

This code-entry field was used to allow logs to become more complex, permitting system administrators to gather more information about users that we’re logging in, for example. But, it was also the site of one of the biggest vulnerabilities that software development, in general, has ever seen.

The director of the U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), Jen Easterly, named this flaw in Log4j the “most serious” vulnerability that she has seen over her entire career. Instead of presenting solutions to the problem, Easterly’s initial reaction was to warn businesses that they must begin to take drastic measures to defend against the flaw.

Log4Shell involves a hacker submitting code into the custom code field that was intended for log formatting, and entering code on foreign computers that gives them complete control over actions performed on the system. What was only meant to allow easy formatting quickly became the entry point for nefarious users to steal personal information, upload ransomware, and disrupt communication between the device and their own network?

What’s particularly disastrous about this vulnerability, alongside the wide usage of Log4j across the world, is that the flaw is very easy to exploit. Making use of this vulnerability is not a particularly advanced feat, leaving the door wide open for mass abuse of this fundamental system.


What does Log4Shell mean for my business?

Within the vast majority of applications, systems, servers, and storage facilities, Log4j is an incredibly common part of software development. Allowing users to log what’s going on within their systems is vital, meaning that this program is more than just an irrelevant program. Due to this, it’s highly likely that your business could be under target by people exploiting Log4Shell.

A person with nefarious intentions could use this vulnerability to gain entry to your organization’s systems, easily then farming any data that’s stored on or connected with the system. This includes everything from directly reading and then storing all the usernames and passwords associated with your systems, as well as tertiary information, like any results of the data analysis processes your business goes through.

Equally, with the ability to run code, hackers are able to upload files to the system in question, which has led to ransom attacks on a scale that has never been seen before. While ransomware was already a huge problem for businesses, rising by 92.7% from 2020 to 2021, this has now reached a new level. In fact, 31% of all ransomware attacks over the last four months (since the vulnerability was discovered) have been due to this exploitation, demonstrating the extent of the risk involved.

With the chance of ransomware being easily injected onto your system rising, personal information being leaked, and customer documents being vulnerable, it’s no wonder that the world of business has reacted quickly and drastically to this exploitation.

To further contextualize the severity of this vulnerability, on a global scale, the scandal that surrounds this exploit is due to the fact that the majority of tech giants, as well as governments, rely on Log4j in their daily processes. From Amazon and Microsoft to Twitter, Google, Cisco, and more, massive companies are open to exploitation due to this vulnerability.

In simple terms, Log4Shell is an enormous problem.


What can my enterprise do about Log4Shell?

With the severity of the potential damages inflicted by this system, it’s no wonder that business owners around the world have started to panic. Considering that 60% of small businesses that experience even a minor data breach will go bankrupt within six months, the stakes are certainly high.

However, the only option is far from sitting there and doing nothing. Here are four pathways that you should take to ensure your business is as protected as can be from this exploit:

  • Follow government guidance
  • Protect your system
  • Update your system
  • Backup your data

Let’s break these down further.


Follow Government Guidance

Considering the scope of this problem, there has been a range of government responses to Log4Shell, with different pools of advice based on the jurisdiction in that specific country. While the majority of people look to America, as the loudest voice in the media, when problems like this arise, they are far from the only government that has responded.

The American response has been by CISA, with a page of recommendations being published that directly target this problem. If you’re a business that’s located in the States, we suggest this is a great place to start with defending your enterprise. They mainly outline the technical side of the problem, pointing to actions for any organization that is running products with Log4j.

Europe was also a huge responder to the incident, with 27 E.U. countries responding to the Log4Shell developments. Some countries, like Belgium, even shut down large portions of their online network in order to protect themselves from the event.

Depending on where your business is based, the personalized response that you will receive will vary. Here are some links to some prominent and helpful government announcements:

Be sure to read your own government’s advice for more details.


Protect Your System

Log4Shell is a sophisticated form of attack,  meaning that a standard Web Application Firewall (WAF) is unable to monitor or prevent it from happening. Instead of hoping for web traffic profiling and detection, companies have had to turn to innovative solutions to the problem, instead of using post-infection detection tools.

One such case of system defense comes from Check Point Software, with the company providing a cloud-driven smart solution. Offering a three-phase approach that both detects and prevents attacks of this nature, Check Point CloudGuard AppSec is one of the most advanced solutions to the problem.

By analyzing the nature of the Log4j exploitation, they have pinpointed how it appears within the system, then retroactively targeted the parameters associated with detecting any alterations. From there, they’re able to monitor any potential attack indicators, presenting a score of confidence based on how certain they are that the system is currently under attack.

Finally, Check Point Software moves into preventing and derailing the attack attempt, helping to keep your business safe. By leveraging contextual AI, this platform can pre-emptively protect your system, stopping entry into the system and ensuring that your platform remains entirely safe. As this is an automatic system, it also provides this support without the need for human interaction, furthering how useful the product can be for businesses.


Update Your System

Apache, the company behind Log4j, is obviously also aware of the problem. Due to this, they’ve been working on creating a patch that prevents nefarious users from exploiting the vulnerability.

While not a completely universal fix, depending on the system you’re running, a strong method for preventing this exploitation is to simply update your software. By moving to the most up-to-date release of Log4j, you should be able to receive the latest implementation of Log4j and prevent the problem.

Unfortunately, this is not an option for all systems, which is why we’ve documented these other three potential ways that you can protect yourself from the most harmful effects of Log4Shell.


Backup Your Data

This final suggestion is more of a precautionary defense tactic than anything else. Considering that ransomware injection is much easier than before, it’s a good idea to backup your company data in several different formats. While the majority of people will move towards using a cloud data backup, we would advise that you create several different data backups.

Although this process takes time, it will save your company thousands of dollars. In fact, considering the average ransomware payment of $170,404 in 2020, by doing this, you’ll be keeping your business out of harm from severe ransom payments.

You should ensure that you have at least three data backups:

• External hard drive – The good, old-fashioned way of backing up data is by using an external hard drive. With the size of your business in mind, you may need to invest in a large data storage object. Just be sure that this is something you can keep offline, so it will be completely away from the possibility of falling into the wrong hands or being kept ransom.

• Local, internal storage – While this is technically the most vulnerable, it’s always good to expand the amount of different backup storage locations you have. Equally, creating a local backup will by far be the easiest method of doing so.

• Cloud data warehouse – In the modern age, where 91% of businesses use cloud computing in their daily processes, it’s no wonder that we recommend you turn to a cloud data warehouse provider. As you can directly scale the amount of money your business pays for their services, you’ll be able to get exactly the amount of space that you need for the backup.

By expanding your data backups to cover all three of these bases, you create a very strong foundation upon which your company data rests. If your system falls prey to ransomware, you’ll have the upper hand, considering that you can distribute your backup and continue working while smugly pointing out that the ransomware won’t be effective.

Despite the Log4Shell threat, creating backups is also just generally good business practice, meaning that you’ll be killing two birds with one stone.


Final Thoughts

Described as the “most critical vulnerability of the last decade”, it’s unsurprising that the Log4Shell exploit has taken the world by such storm. From leading to the release of private business documents to ushering in a surge in cases of ransomware, Log4j has caused chaos in the tech world.

While leading IT firms are developing fixes to the problem, you should still be sure to take steps to protect your business as much as possible. Start by backing up your systems to help defend against the severity of ransomware, and then move to more significant defense ideas.

Due to the sheer scope of this vulnerability, the global response has been huge, with both governmental and cybersecurity firms providing pathways to keep your enterprise safe. While the potential repercussions could be drastic, the faster you take action, the more probable your chance of evading the worst of this historic exploit.

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