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Home > Security > More Random Thoughts on the RSA Breach

More Random Thoughts on the RSA Breach


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Probably it was a quite easy prediction, however it looks like what I suggested on my random thoughts on the RSA Breach has definitively come true: RSA was not the target, probably its customers were.

On this front, the last two days were quite turbulent, and what seemed initially a simple speculation of an attack using compromised SecureID seeds targeted to “a very large U. S. defense contractor”, is revealing to be one of several attacks towards military contractors of U.S. Defense, using the data stolen during the famous breach of March.

According to a source with direct knowledge of the attacks, quoted in the above linked Reuters article:

The hackers learned how to copy the security keys with data stolen from RSA during a sophisticated attack that EMC disclosed in March, according to the source.

In any case EMC, the parent company of RSA, and the other main U.S. defense contractors possibly involved refused to comment.

I was not surprised by these details, more than one month ago I delineated a possible attack scenario which seems to be very close to what happened, at least for Lockheed Martin. Since the token on its own it is not enough to carry on a successful attack (it must be linked to the owner and very often the real password is also combined with a PIN), other combined actions must be performed to obtain the missing pieces of the puzzle.

I suggested a possible scenario of exploiting the weakness of software tokens, for instance by mean of specific keylogger malware to grab user details and the PIN. It is not exactly what happened in case of Lockheed Martin, but the real attack scenario is quite close since a keylogger was involved as well and used to access the intranet and consequently to get access to the internal network: as a matter of fact, for security reasons many companies use a double layer of authentication for remote access and internal resources. In this case the company forced 100.000 users to reset their passwords.

In reality, as stated by Rick Moy, president of NSS Labs, the initial RSA attack was followed by malware and phishing campaigns seeking specific data that would link tokens to end-users, suggesting that the current attacks may have been carried out by the same hackers. And the game is not over.

Unfortunately the use of phishing to lure the users (and to attack an organization for cybercrime purposes) is not surprising as well. Nowadays this technique, to initially target the users with phishing, leading them to download malware, is the “main engine” of APTs (Advanced Persistent Threats) and it is revealing to be the common denominator of the main breaches and huge scale attacks of this annus horribilis for Information Security. The fact that in this circumstance it was used in combination with the duplicated key of SecureID is only the last unedited variant, and I am afraid it will not be the last.

Fortunately, in any serious situation there is always a flash of humor: according to this article of NYT, the intruders had been detected as they were trying to transfer data by security software provided by NetWitness Corporation, a company that provides network monitoring software. Does NetWitness Corporation sound familiar to you? Of course It does indeed! In April, just after the breach, NetWitness was acquired by RSA’s parent company, EMC.

As Morpheus stated: “Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony”, and this is worthwhile for Information Security as well.

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