Last Updated on June 2, 2011
With the alleged Northrop Grumman Cyber-attack, we have experienced three attempts, unleashed in few days, to leverage the compromised RSA seeds in order to steal data from U.S. Contractors.
Albeit the above mentioned events are characterized by two evident points in common: all the targeted companies are U.S. Defense Contractors, and all of them use RSA tokens; there is a point that seems confusing, and it is the timeline with which the attacks were carried out and subsequently unleashed (we will see that the two are very different and somehow confusing).
Analyzing the timeline: the first attack unleashed was the one led against Martin Lockheed. According to the sources, remote access to internal resources was disabled late on Sunday, May, the 22nd, just immediately after the attack was detected. The first details, although the target was not immediately revealed, were given few days after, on May, the 26th.
The second cyber-attack targeted L-3 and was unleashed few days after , on May, the 31st. According to the information revealed, the event occurred at the beginning of April (more exactly on April, the 6th, that is more than a month and a half before) and described into an e-mail sent by an executive to the 5000 group’s employees belonging to the division affected. Nothing strange apparently: the late disclosure was unintended for the target company and probably a consequence of the huge echo raised after the Lockheed Martin affair which led an anonymous source to reveal details to Wired.
On June, the 2nd, an alleged third attempt to attack a U.S. Defense Contractor using compromised seeds was unleashed, this time against Northrop Grumman. According to the revealed timeline, this attack was held on May, the 26th, that is nearly in contemporary (4 days after) the event of Lockheed Martin.
So definitively although the three attacks were revealed nearly in contemporary, only two of them were (i.e. the ones towards Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman), while the second one, to L-3 happened a couple of weeks after the RSA Breach and almost one month and half before the others. This sounds not clear to me.
If I had been in the attackers’ shoes, I would have attacked all at once in order to prevent the spreading of the information, and definitively to avoid the possibility for the others victims to organize themselves, for instance immediately replacing the tokens as made by Raytheon immediately after the RSA Breach.
Let us suppose (as it seems clear) that the alleged theft of the seeds was only the first step of the “perfect plan” to attack the U.S. Defense contractors, let us also suppose that the attackers took some time to obtain the missing pieces of the puzzle, that is to link the tokens to users, and eventually to obtain the PINs, by mean of keylogger trojans or phishing e-mails as suggested by by Rick Moy, president of NSS Labs. Do you really think that they would have left one month and a half between one attack and the other? Honestly speaking I do not think so. Of course I can imagine that obtaining all the PINs or user to token mappings at once was simply impossible, for reasons of time because it is impossible that all the victims to a specific targeted phishing campaign could reply simultaneously, but also because a massive “vertical” campaign of phishing targeting all the U.S. Contractors (and aimed to obtain information about RSA tokens) would have probably raised too much attention, so that I do not exclude that the necessary information to perform the attack had to be obtained with “evasion” techniques.
Nevertheless, provided the above depicted scenario is real, even if it is unlikely the attackers could attack all the target simultaneously, one month and half between one wave and the other seems actually too much: I doubt they already knew that the information concerning the first alleged attack to L-3 would have been revealed only many days after, of course it is easy to predict that L-3 and the eventual other victims would not have been happy to do it immediately after; but if they really had the perfect plan, relying on a similar occurrence would have been a huge hazard capable to put at risk the entire operation.
I seriously fear the truth is different. Of course this is a mere personal speculation, but I am more and more considering the hypothesis that a first wave of attacks was really held at the beginning of April (more or less in contemporary with L-3), that is after a short interval the original breach, short enough to catch the most part of the victims unprepared, most of all in case of very big companies. The consequence could be that many others attacks have not been revealed or simply were not detected at all, since, as I said a couple of days ago:
I wonder if military contractors are really the only targets or if they have been the only ones capable to detect the attempts because of their strict security protocols and policies.
How to explain the alleged second wave of May? It might be that the attackers have tried once, since the result was successful (it is not clear if they were able to steal sensitive data, but for sure the information was not immediately revealed) so they decided to try a second and a third chance (and who knows how many others). Otherwise, it might be that after the first wave they decided to sell the seeds on the black market (probably at a lower price since at that point the seeds would have been considered a good of second choice), and this could explain the late attack to Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman (and who knows who else). In this case I am afraid we will see many other attacks, unless other potential targets (that so far refused to comment the events) will not decide to follow the example of Raytheon and replace the tokens.
- Another Breach In The Wall (paulsparrows.wordpress.com)
- (IN)SecureID (paulsparrows.wordpress.com)
- More Random Thoughts on the RSA Breach (paulsparrows.wordpress.com)
- Some Random Thoughts On RSA Breach (paulsparrows.wordpress.com)