MAJOR SECURITY HOLE IN AIRTABLE: Any collaborator (even read-only collaborators) can steal 100% of your data with one click

This thread made me realize that we should probably have an option to PREVENT collaborators (particularly read-only collaborators) from being able to easily duplicate an entire base.

When we share read-only links to bases or views, we have that option that we can uncheck that says: “Allow viewers to copy the data in this base” or “Allow viewers to copy data out of this view”.

But it would be nice if we had that same feature for collaborators.

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Yes, 110%. It doesn’t make sense to me why Airtable wouldn’t include this simple feature when it’s clearly already available with link sharing. All they need to do is add the same checkmark functionality either per-user or make it default that only the ‘creator’ role has permission to CREATE a copy :wink:

I feel like this would be a big :triangular_flag_on_post: for any organization that has any form of sensitive information or proprietary nature to how they do business. Their current solution is “copy and paste” any data you want someone to have access too but not have access to copying all your data… yikes.

I suppose an alternative solution could be… If they had a way to ‘mirror data from a view or table to a separate special-use base’ that kept up with all the updates and didn’t require constant upkeep, I suppose that would work too… but at that point, why not just link bases :wink: to me, there is no simpler (obvious) solution then just to implement the feature above. Creators should be able to create, period.

Hopefully, they get this implemented sooner than later because as a marketing agency we can’t afford for someone to just walk away with our ‘agency in a box’ we’re trying to build. So it makes our lives very clunky currently having to avoid that and I’m even considering moving away from air table to a custom solution if the pain continues to increase as we grow, because it’s lacking this one simple feature!! So hopefully they fix it sometime soon, so we can continue to remain a loving user :slight_smile:

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Totally agree with you. This is actually a really big security hole in Airtable, and in my personal opinion, it should be addressed ASAP.

The proprietary data of a business is often its most important core asset. The fact that Airtable makes 100% of this data instantly 100% copyable in its full 100% entirety to even the lowest level of employees (read-only employees) is one of the biggest security risks, security holes, and :triangular_flag_on_post::triangular_flag_on_post::triangular_flag_on_post: of the Airtable platform.

But the fact that Airtable allows any level of collaborator to instantly duplicate THE ENTIRE COMPANY’S DATA IN ONE CLICK is just as misguided as letting the lowest level employee be able to do it.

As a business owner, none of my employees should be able to run off with all of my company’s data with one click of one button.

This security hole could potentially make Airtable a non-starter in organizations that are more than a solopreneur — or more than a mom & pop organization run by LITERALLY a husband & wife who implicitly trust each other (and who do not foresee divorce in their future).

Another example to build upon your marketing example above: could you imagine a gym where one of the personal trainers could grab all of the gym’s customers with one click?

There is no other database platform that makes it possible or this easy for ANY USER OF THE SYSTEM (including read-only users) to copy the ENTIRE SYSTEM with one click of a button.

And, of course, giving users the ability to select all the records in an entire table with one click, and then being able to press command-c to copy all of those records (immediately prior to pasting those records into an external text editor) is also a deal-breaker. It’s actually the exact same problem as duplicating an entire base. Copying entire records — particularly copying all the records in an entire base — is never allowed (by default) in other database systems.

So this security hole applies to 3 areas of the product, in order of importance:

  1. Duplicating an entire base.
  2. Exporting a CSV file of an entire table.
  3. Selecting an entire record — or all of the records — in an entire table and being able to press command-C to copy all of the table’s data with one click. (And then, instantly being able to paste all of that data into an external text editor.)

All 3 of these options are available to all collaborators, including read-only collaborators.

I already predict that somebody might try to make this point:

“Well, if someone can SEE all of your data, then they already have access to all of your data anyways!”

Well, yes, that’s “technically“ true… and it would be amazing someday to have record-level permissions built into Airtable.

But there is a night-and-day difference between one-click duplication of an entire company’s data vs. forcing someone to scroll through 5,000 records and individually taking screenshots of each record… or forcing someone to manually scroll through 5,000 records to manually copy data out of each field one field at a time — and then having them manually repeat that process for every record in every table.

The task of stealing all of your company’s data should be as difficult & unwieldy as possible, which acts as a deterrent.

The “partial” good news here is that this security hole can be solved by having your users interact with Airtable entirely through Stacker… but that’s a pricey solution and your users will end up losing the overwhelming majority of the features of Airtable (blocks, interacting with Airtable’s user interface, all the different types of views, instantly updating data in real time, etc.). Stacker is really best-suited as a customer portal for customers to see their own customer data, not for internal employees to interact with an entire database.

@Jason @Kasra @Aron @Adam_Minich @Katherine_Duh @VictoriaPlummer How can I best escalate this security issue to the internal engineering team at Airtable?

Again, this security hole applies to 3 different areas of the product:

  1. Duplicating an entire base.
  2. Exporting a CSV file of an entire table.
  3. Selecting an entire record — or all of the records — in an entire table and being able to press command-C to copy all of the table’s data with one click.

All 3 of these options are available to all collaborators at all times, including read-only collaborators.

Thanks! :slight_smile:
Scott

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p.s. This large security risk also sort of ties into the much smaller security risk here, which is that collaborators can share the base with anyone, without the other collaborators being alerted to it.

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I love and support your response! Thank you for helping voice this concern. Hopefully that solve the security risk sooner than later :slight_smile:

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Disappointingly, I just had an email conversation with Airtable Support (whom I do not believe is very good, because they seem to have less of an understanding of the product than most of the people in this community), and they couldn’t even understand the problem that I was describing to them. I even linked them to this thread.

They were like, “Just make your collaborators read-only”, and I was like “No, you’re not understanding the problem — the problem still crops up with read-only collaborators. ANY collaborator can steal all of the data from a system by just duplicating the base, exporting the base, or copying/pasting all the records. One-click theft of an entire system."

And they were like, “Well, we offer the ability to turn off creation of new records for users." And I was like, “No, you’re not understanding.”

:man_facepalming:t2::man_shrugging:t2::man_facepalming:t2::man_shrugging:t2:

I’m not sure if my frustration could get much higher, but I’m sure it probably could. Lol! :joy:

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I’m typically blocked by the community for using metaphors and I can think of three Dennis-Miller-isms that would be ideal right about now.

In any case… who thinks this is a good idea?

I believe the creator of a base copied by a read-only user has no idea that a 3rd party has full access to the content. I think this is possible today despite the recent security updates, and I think it’s really problematic.

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That’s a fantastic illustration!! :slight_smile:

It will be completely 100% lost on Airtable Support. :cry:

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Perhaps. But management? That’s a different story. Let’s hope they boost this up to clear and present danger.

The argument that many will make is that in any trusted network of people, content can be copied and shared without authority and without notification. That’s a fine argument for a chart image you just shared with another person in your company in confidence. It was shared with a read-only intent and that trusted person decided to make it known to another person whom the creator had no intention of ever sharing.

It’s a violation of trust concerning a digital artefact; happens all the time and no one – not even with the vast resources of Microsoft – can prevent this from happening.

image
This is an entire database shared without authorization in a few clicks. It ostensibly provides the thief with a fully gassed truck, the keys, a lift-gate, and a prepaid FastPass for the HOV lane.

Airtable … this is not your best work. You have a duty to make this as hard as possible. And even when it approaches the difficulty of a daylight break-in at Fort Knox, you have to notify base creators of the breach in real-time.

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Upvote. Huge security hole.

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Right, I’ve already addressed this argument above:

Again, this security hole applies to 3 different areas of the product:

  1. Duplicating an entire base.
  2. Exporting a CSV file of an entire table.
  3. Selecting an entire record — or all of the records — in an entire table and being able to press command-C to copy all of the table’s data with one click.

All 3 of these things can be done instantly, with one click of the mouse button, and can be done by read-only collaborators.

This makes Airtable a complete non-starter for most businesses. Airtable might not take security seriously, but security risks are a huge concern to most of the businesses that I work for.

The suggestions in this thread are a feel-better bandaid, but don’t actually plug the hole that worries you. And, I wouldn’t call this a security flaw. This is the way read-only access works. If someone can access data, they can copy it — that’s true in any database system. Some systems might add some hoops to jump through so it isn’t as easy to do, but at the end of the day it’s always possible for a determined viewer.

(Go to one of those shared no-copy-allowed views, right click somewhere and choose “Save As” to download your own, local copy of the entire page… in just two clicks. There is absolutely no way Airtable can stop anyone from doing that, or a number of other technical tricks.)

Never let someone view data when copying that data is an unacceptable risk.

A far better solution would be granting individual collaborators access to some, but not all bases/tables/views. The best way to do this now is to use multiple workspaces, and keep sensitive data in one with only “trusted” collaborators.

I’d love to see a “collaborator groups” feature within a workspace, so we could choose between allowing all collaborators to access a base, or only allowing group A/B/C to do so… even better if read/edit permissions could be assigned similarly. That would open up a lot more use cases for Airtable.

Go to one of those shared no-copy-allowed views, right click somewhere and choose “Save As” to download your own, local copy of the entire page… in just two clicks

The read-only shared link pages aren’t really a part of this security problem, because those read-only shared link pages can already be restricted to only showing certain records. And doing “Save As” from those read-only shared link pages doesn’t save any data. Although you can “Print” those pages and save as PDF. But again, those pages can already be restricted to certain records.

If someone can access data, they can copy it — that’s true in any database system.

Yes, this is technically true. But as I mentioned above, there is a huge difference between:

  1. Instant theft of an entire company’s data. (With 3 different ways of performing this instant theft.)
    vs.
  2. Forcing someone to scroll through 5,000 records and individually taking screenshots of each record… or forcing someone to manually scroll through 5,000 records to manually copy data out of each field one field at a time — and then having them manually repeat that process for every record in every table.

Deterring theft is the best way to prevent the majority of thefts. You don’t want to hang the key on the doorknob. Right now, they’re hanging the key on the doorknob.

So while all the other solutions you outlined are absolutely the correct long-term approach to solving this problem, the dangling key needs to be removed first.

Then, we can start getting into the other solutions that you outlined. The other solutions that you outlined are absolutely necessary for any secure database system, and would be very much welcomed in Airtable, but — let’s remove the key hanging on the doorknob first!

Then, after the dangling key is gone, we can start adding in all of the excellent security measures that you are talking about! :slight_smile:

But yes, what you suggested as the solution is how all other database systems have solved this problem. We need Airtable to take this same approach.

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No one can argue this point; as @Andron_Ocean indicates, it’s the vast nature of systems that put data in front of eyeballs and along side a variety of copy tools that create risks. But I think it’s also wise to ponder the subtle difference between copying, replicating, and replication awareness.

Let’s all agree that copying should be set aside in this conversation because there are so many ways to make copies that we’d be wasting energy and time debating the undebatable. Copying is a risk that is virtually unavoidable.

Replicating

Almost without exception, the vast majority - perhaps north of 90% - of the database systems available as modern SaaS solutions make it almost impossible to replicate a database or to do so without someone knowing about it. This is not the case with Airtable - they are (unfortunately) in the top 90+ percentile of this category; clearly not something you want to be good at.

Replication Awareness

If you’re going to make it really easy for read-only users to swipe a fully functioning copy of a database app, you might want to at least let the creator/administrator of that database know that it has been replicated and access automatically extended to that original creator.

Far Worse than Copy Risks

Replication is in a vastly different class from copying. The ability to make a “copy” of a fully functioning base represents an outcome unlike any definition or notion of simply copying the data. It is fundamentally different because it comes pre-installed with a completely new security context that the replicator can use to inflict harm, cause misleading conclusions, modify, and misrepresent as an authoritative version of the original base.

Replicated Airtable bases are virtually indiscernible replicas that can be used for nefarious purposes both inside and external to an organization without so much as more than a few clicks. It is no different than printing counterfeit currency without the need for paper, ink, or design templates.

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The absolutely amazing thing is that Stacker has fixed every single security issue that is broken in Airtable. Every single issue. All fixed with Stacker.

In my opinion, Stacker is actually what people are hoping to get when they sign up for Airtable… until they realize that they don’t get ANY of it with Airtable. None of it available in Airtable.

If I ran Airtable, I would purchase the entire Stacker team & Stacker product today… and I would integrate it natively into Airtable by tomorrow morning.

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Personally, I find it scary to collaborate in Airtable. Airtable should really take these securities stuff seriously. They should also add the ability to make specific tables, custom fields, and even specific records private. ClickUp is not a fully-featured database like Airtable but the permission features there are pretty good. Airtable should really copy its permission features.

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Yes. Luckily, we have all of these permissions built into Stacker, but it’s a VERY expensive add-on. It’s a minimum of $120 per month, and that’s if you pay for a year in advance.

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Indeed.

Um, yeah - notwithstanding the massive legal risks of doing so.

As consumers, we tend to assume that everything anyone else has implemented is available for the taking. This is simply not the case and companies that fail to innovate along the pathway to meeting specific customer requirements often get sideswiped with costly litigation. We should be careful what we encourage any vendor to do. :slight_smile: And this is why acquisitions sometimes occur the likes of which @ScottWorld has suggested.

I’m not suggesting Airtable is constrained by any specific IP high-ground to improve its security and on the flip side, Airtable has likely been a target of flagrant intellectual property infringement. Does anyone see the resemblance?

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Yes, I have checked Stacker and the permissions are very good. As you have mentioned, it’s very expensive and we don’t get all the good things that Airtable provides. Hope Airtable purchase them right away and implement the features right into Airtable.

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Yeah, what I meant was be inspired by it.:yum:

Is Microsoft even allowed to do this? They totally copied everything and are not shy about it as well.