Friday, July 1, 2011

RSA SecurID Update

I continue to believe that the public relations surrounding the recent breach of RSA's systems is the worst since Watergate. In any case, it is far worse than the breach. Every pronouncement on their part to make it better has only raised more fear, uncertainty and doubt.

I would like to try to distill some signal from all this noise.

Let me say from the start that the sky is not falling. Fear is not justified. Strong authentication is not falling apart. SecurID is not broken. While the cost of attack for one adversary, perhaps a nation state, against some targets of choice has fallen marginally, for most SecurID users, their risk is approximately the same today as it would be had their been no breach.

As I noted in my first report on this subject, I am glad that RSA is not my client. They are truly between a rock and a hard place and the water is rising.

So there are all sorts of good reasons why RSA is less than forthcoming about their breach. First, they probably have limited knowledge about what actually happened. They do not want to compromise the investigation. They do not want to leak any information that might be useful to the perpetrator in exploiting the product of the breach. They do not want to do anything that might make a bad situation worse.

However, their lack of candor has done just exactly that.

[Of course the perpetrator of the breach probably knows what he got and how to use it. After all, RSA was a target of choice, not opportunity; if the attacker had not known what he was looking for and what he would do with it if he got it, he would not have bothered.]

The lack of candor of their customer, Lockheed-Martin, only added to the FUD. What evidence did Lockheed have that it was under attack? What evidence that it was related to the RSA breach? What was the method of attack? To what extent was the attack successful? Security professionals would like to know. Instead, after all of this, the only thing that we know with confidence is that RSA was breached by a resourceful and patient adversary. Almost all else is speculation, not to say hype.

Given the little we know, what should we do? Which among us should do it?

If you are not already using strong authentication, start. Can you say "replay attack?" Account takeover? Identity fraud? Zeus? SpyEye? Start with privileged users. Start with users at systems that you do not control. Can you say customers? Trading partners? Home workers?

While I still have a high regard for EMC and RSA security, needless to say, it is diminished. So, if you want to use token-based, you may want to consider a different vendor. I am increasingly a fan of out-of-band. I like the use of mobile devices, devices that people carry anyway, for both token-based and out-of-band. I use my iPhone for token-based with PayPal.

If you are the average SecurID user, do nothing. Your risk has not changed enough to justify the cost of any changes, let alone the cost of distributing new tokens, even free ones.

Any attack exploiting the leak and that does not involve the use of a known token ID, or at least a user ID and PIN, will be noisy. Therefore, risk averse organizations may wish to:

1. Listen. Monitor your ACE server for failed logon attempts.

2. Resist bait attacks and other "social engineering attacks seeking token IDs, user IDs and PINs. (See rule 1.)

3. Resist exhaustive attacks against PINs, for example by increasing the content. However, since the most efficient attacks against PINs will involve "social engineering," see rule 2.

The Canadian Cyber Incident Response Center published "advice," this week, further muddying the water. Their advice included a target list in the context of the RSA breach.

· high-profile international events participants (e.g., Olympics, FIFA)

· legal organizations, namely those involved in international contracts, mergers and acquisitions (e.g., Clifford Chance)

· organizations involved in international affairs, economics and finance (e.g., IMF, World Bank)

· security and defense organizations (e.g., Lockheed-Martin, Northrop-Grumman)

· natural resources and energy sector organizations (e.g., FMC, Exxon-Mobil, AramCo)

· research and development organizations (e.g.,

· information management / information technology organizations (e.g., Intel, Apple, IBM, EMC, Verisign,

· political activist groups (e.g., ACLU, the RNC)

While these are all high value targets, taken collectively, their risk did not change as a result of the RSA Breach. The list is too long and embraces far more enterprises than even a resourceful adversary is capable of getting to. For most on this list, there is safety in numbers. Having drawn the list and thereby suggesting that all on it are peer targets, the CCIRC stopped short of recommending that they all issue new tokens. Government, in an abundance of caution, has cast its net so broadly that no recommendation is possible.

You should issue new tokens if, and only if, you might be a target of choice for those who breached RSA and attacked Lockheed-Martin. You should know who you are. You do not need the CCIRC to tell you. Your risk may have changed enough to justify issuing new tokens. Expect RSA to pay for them. Still in doubt? Call me.

Whoever you decide that you are and whatever you decide to do, write it down. Professionals document their decisions and communicate them to their principals. Be prepared to be second-guessed; it goes with the job.

We need to watch for any evidence that those who breached RSA have been successful in exploiting it. One way this will show up is as evidence of efficient attacks; we should watch for this. Another way that it will show up is in sale of RSA intellectual property to others; these transactions will probably take place on the Internet and we should watch for them.

Discerning intelligence, information that we can act on, from all this noise is difficult. That is why we are called professionals and are paid the big bucks. Fortunately, for most of us, the default, doing nothing, is the right choice. Write it down.

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