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Caution urged in wake of RSA security breach

No need for panic, but keep eye on RSA products, analysts say

March 19, 2011 08:00 AM ET

Computerworld - The relatively scant information released by EMC's RSA security group on Thursday in connection with the theft of SecurID authentication technology code is fueling considerable speculation about the nature of the breach and its impact on enterprises.

Several security analysts today urged companies that are using SecurID to review their authentication measures and to shore them up if necessary. Until RSA releases further details on the breach it is best to assume that SecurID is vulnerable, they added.

"Don't panic," said Rich Mogull, an analyst with Securosis. "Until we know the attacker, what was lost, the vector of a potential attack," and the extent to which SecurID may have been compromised, it's hard to make a risk assessment, Mogull said.

But for the moment at least, enterprises should assume that SecurID is no longer an effective second factor of authentication, he said. "Review passwords tied to SecurID accounts and make sure they are strong," Mogull said. "Consider disabling accounts that don't use a password or PIN and set password attempt lockouts."

In an embarrassing admission for a security company, RSA said on Thursday that unknown intruders had stolen information relating to its SecurID technology in what it described as "extremely sophisticated cyber attack against RSA".

The company expressed confidence that the stolen information would not enable a direct attack against SecurID. But it added that the information could potentially be used to reduce the effectiveness of the technology.

SecurID is used for two-factor authentication purposes. The technology is available from RSA in the form of hardware and software tokens that are capable of generating random one-time passwords every 60 seconds.

The technology is designed to be used in conjunction with passwords to deliver a second layer of authentication for accessing systems and networks. Over 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.

Though RSA has not disclosed which or how much SecurID information was stolen, the mere fact that the company is warning of reduced effectiveness is troubling, said John Pescatore, an analyst with Gartner.

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That statement guarantees that the breach is a "big deal for SecurID users," Pescatore said.

"SecurID tokens are very expensive and users dislike them, but they have always been a strong replacement for reusable passwords," he said. "[But] if the security provided is at risk, the pain may be more than the gain."

Pescatore dismissed RSA's claim that it was the victim of a sophisticated Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) attack, a kind of low, slow highly targeted attack most commonly associated with Chinese hackers.



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