Cyberattacks fuel concerns about RSA SecurID breach

Lockheed Martin and L-3 were reportedly attacked using cloned SecurID tokens

Recent attacks against two major defense contractors are fueling concerns about the extent to which RSA's SecurID two-factor authentication technology may have been compromised in a breach the company acknowledged in March.

Lockheed Martin on Saturday said it had suffered a "significant and tenacious" cyberattack on May 21. The company, which is the largest U.S. defense contractor, said it was forced to shut down remote access to deal with the attack, but it maintained that no data was compromised.

Lockheed itself has offered few details about the breach. But Reuters, which first reported the intrusion last Thursday, cited unnamed sources as saying the compromise involved the use of cloned RSA SecurID tokens.

Wired on Wednesday reported that L-3 Communications was similarly attacked in April. L-3 is a major supplier of communication, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance technology to the Department of Defense.

Wired cited an internal email that it obtained from an L-3 employee warning that the company was actively targeted by attackers using cloned SecurID tokens. It's not clear from the email whether any intruders managed to break into L-3's networks, or if they were detected while attempting to do so.

L-3 did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The reported incidents are again stoking concerns that first surfaced in March when RSA, which is now owned by EMC, disclosed that it had been the victim of a sophisticated cyberattack.

RSA said that attackers had accessed code related to its SecurID two-factor authentication technology. While the stolen information could be used to reduce the effectiveness of SecurID, it would not enable a direct attack on SecurID customers, RSA said.

SecurID tokens are used in conjunction with passwords to deliver a second layer of authentication for system and network access. The technology is available from RSA in the form of hardware and software tokens that are capable of generating unique, one-time passwords every 60 seconds. More than 25,000 enterprises, many of them in the financial sector and government, currently use SecurID tokens to protect access to high-value applications and data.

RSA's refusal to publicly disclose what exactly was compromised -- combined with the attacks on Lockheed and L-3 -- are raising questions about how badly compromised SecurID really is.

"It seems like right now a lot of rumors are floating around," said Aleksandr Yampolskiy, director of security and compliance at Gilt Groupe. "If enterprises like Lockheed Martin are reporting that SecurID tokens were involved, then it's possible that some seeds plus details of the algorithm got revealed."

At this point, SecurID tokens' security is reduced to a single factor -- the pass code that users know. That makes them only as effective as regular passwords, Yampolskiy said.

Based on the reports suggesting that the RSA token was successfully emulated, "one can only assume that the breach of RSA leaked sufficient data to predict the number displayed by a particular token," Johannes Ullrich, CTO at the SANS Institute, said in a blog post. "It may also have leaked which token was handed to what company (or user)," Ullrich said.

RSA's silence probably makes the situation appear worse than it is, said Jeremy Allen, principal consultant with Intrepidus.

Even if the RSA attackers managed to steal more information on SecurID than might have earlier been thought, they would still need to have crucial information to exploit it, Allen said. For an attacker to successfully use a cloned SecurID token, he or she would still need to know the token user's username and pass code to access a particular network service, he said.

For someone to break into Lockheed using the RSA token, the attacker would need at least one Lockheed employee's username and pass code and would have to know which services that person could access.

Other enterprises using SecurID technology need to pay attention to these breaches, analysts said. Until RSA offers more details, companies should keep a close eye on their authentication measures.

"RSA tokens are just one factor of a two-factor authentication scheme," Ullrich wrote. "You will have to enter a PIN or a password in addition to the token ID."

Enterprises should be watching for attempts at guessing passwords and pass codes, he said. "Monitor for brute force attempts and lock accounts if someone attempts to brute force them," he said.

"Enterprises also need to keep an eye on any attempts to log into enterprise systems from unknown or unusual IP addresses," Ullrich warned.

So far, at least two other major defense contractors have already switched from SecurID to other technologies, said Alan Paller, director of research at SANS.

"Both Raytheon and Northrop Grumman made massive changes to their remote security systems immediately upon learning what was taken" from RSA, Paller said. "A senior officer of one of those companies told me that they replaced all of their SecureID tokens with tokens from a different vendor. At the time, this seemed like overkill to some observers, but it now turns out to have been prescient."

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

FREE Computerworld Insider Guide: Five IT certifications that won’t break you
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies