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The Toyota Data Breach: What Could Have Been Done to Prevent It
Aaron Valentine February 17, 2023
6 minutes read
A recent data breach at Toyota highlights the importance of cybersecurity for all companies, no matter their size or industry. Information belonging to customers and employees was compromised. This demonstrates the constant threat of cyberattacks and the need for companies to remain vigilant in protecting their data. The Toyota data breach is a prime example of how even the largest and most established companies can fall victim to cybercriminals.
In this blog, we're looking at the details of this breach by providing a comprehensive analysis of what other companies can learn from this unfortunate incident. From understanding the latest cyberattack methods to implementing robust data protection measures, we will provide actionable insights to help companies keep their sensitive information safe and secure.
In 2014, the automobile manufacturer Toyota introduced a navigation app called T-Connect. The Toyota website describes the app as "a smartphone app that connects you to your vehicle. It enhances your driving experience with a range of functions." It allows remote starting and control over dashboard metrics, among many other services.
In December 2017, a Toyota subcontractor uploaded part of T-Connect’s source code to a public GitHub repository. Inside was an access key to T-Connect's data server that contained the customer information of over 296,000 customers.
On September 15, 2022, the public GitHub repository was discovered. Toyota moved quickly to make the repository private, as well as to invalidate and replace customer credentials. Two days after the incident was discovered, Toyota also changed the access key to the data server.
Toyota said in a blog (in Japanese) that "personal information that may be leaked is the email address and customer management number, and other information such as name, phone number, credit card, etc, is not affected." Toyota didn't detect that the information had been accessed by any third parties but couldn't confirm this.
A special form was set up on Toyota's website for customers to check if their data was part of the breach.
The breach resulted from a combination of source code being published to a public GitHub repository, but perhaps more crucially, the inclusion of hardcoded credentials (the access key) within that source code. The hardcoding of secrets was an essential ingredient in why this case was considered a breach of customer data, as it provided direct access to the underlying data server.
The storage of source code within a public repository, albeit without the hardcoded credentials, is likely to continue to cause Toyota problems. For example, the potential compromise of company intellectual property, or offering malicious individuals an opportunity to analyze the code for further vulnerabilities in the application. However, the compromise of customer data would have been far less likely.
However, Toyota did stress that there was no sign that the breach would allow bad actors to do more than email harvesting and getting hold of customer management numbers. This information could also be used to craft personalized phishing emails that look like genuine communications from Toyota. The company has since warned customers to scrutinize their emails.
What steps could Toyota have taken to prevent the breach?
The use of GitHub repositories should be tightly controlled, and public repositories only used where appropriate. There are two main ways to prevent the compromise of source code in this way: policy-based controls that dictate and restrict the use of public repositories and software-based controls, such as using the access controls on GitHub itself. Even so, it isn’t always possible to prevent code from being put into public code repositories, so organizations should seek to detect code leaks alongside preventing them. An example of code leak detection is the GitGuardians HasMyCodeLeaked tool.
It is likely that this breach would have been less severe had the access key for the data server not been hardcoded into the source code. Developers must prevent secrets from ending up in repositories. A recent Verizon DBIR report stated that stolen credentials are used in 80% of web application breaches. Secret detection is strongly recommended, and developers must avoid hardcoding them. This is an ongoing problem, and as a result, GitHub itself scans published code for secrets and blocks code containing authentication keys. But GitHub can’t always stop it. It's up to developers to be the ones to keep their code secure.
Advantio continues to invest in advanced technology, implement robust security policies, and educate its clients about disaster recovery. Find out how you can strengthen your company’s cybersecurity measures and data protection.
Aaron is a recent graduate of the University of Gloucestershire, where he studied cybersecurity. He is a cyber security consultant at Advantio, using his expertise to help clients secure their systems and protect against cyber threats. In his free time, Aaron enjoys traveling and long walks.