A Federal court struck down Lavabit’s appeal today, affirming contempt of court sanctions against the now-shuttered secure email provider that was forced to release its SSL keys to the FBI last year.
Those keys could have decrypted emails belonging to the company’s founder Ladar Levison along with Lavabit’s entire user base, a collective of 400,000 that reportedly included former National Security Agency contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden. Levison ultimately shut Lavabit down in August 2013 before disclosing the keys.
According to the ruling, issued today by the Unites States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, (.PDF) one of Lavabit’s biggest missteps is that it failed to raise its arguments before the District Court after it was initially held in contempt last year, something that “significantly alters the standard of review.”
Lavabit specifically argued against the Pen/Trap Statute, an order that allows the placement of a pen register and a trace-and-trap device on its system. Pen/Trap orders are court-ordered surveillance mechanisms that give the government access to all “non-content dialing, routing, addressing and signaling information” on a real-time basis for 60 days.
Lavabit’s appeal contended that the government overstepped the bounds of the Pen/Trap order when the FBI asked the firm to release its SSL keys.
Apparently Levison only made one statement in his appeal that related to the order and that was back in July when he objected to turning over the private keys, insisting the move would “compromise all of the secure communications in and out of his network.”
Levison’s argument was not comprehensive enough, in the eyes of the court, which called the remark “vague,” and simply a reflection of his personal angst at the time over having to comply with the order.
“Lavabit never challenged the statutory validity of the Pen/Trap Order below or the court’s authority to act. To the contrary, Lavabit’s only point below alluded to the potential damage that compliance could cause to its chosen business model,” Judge G. Steven Agee, who authored the decision, wrote in the ruling today.
Agee’s opinion – joined by Judges Paul Niemeyer and Roger Gregory – was that the Pen/Trap Order levied on Lavabit always covered the encryption keys.
“If Lavabit truly believed the Pen/Trap Order to be an invalid request for the encryption keys, then the Government’s continuing reliance on that order should have spurred Lavabit to challenge it,” the decision reads, adding that the company should have acted after the district court issued the order on Aug. 1.
“Lavabit failed to make its most essential argument anywhere in its briefs or at oral argument,” Judge Agee said.
Lavabit brought up a handful of other arguments – that the case should be viewed as a matter of “immense public concern,” that the firm was unrepresented during some of its proceedings, etc. – but the court found no merit in these arguments, choosing not to rule on these claims.
“We reiterate that our review is circumscribed by the arguments that Lavabit raised below and in this Court. We take this narrow course because an appellate court is not a freestanding open forum for the discussion of esoteric hypothetical questions,” Agee wrote regarding Lavabit’s claims.
“The district court did not err, then, in finding Lavabit and Levison in contempt once they admittedly violated that order,” the ruling says of Lavabit’s actions, in closing.
The 10-year-old encrypted email service used a single set of SSL keys for all of its users that would unlock all traffic coming in and out of the company’s network.
Levison publicly maintained in an interview last fall that the FBI was exceeding its statutory authority in demanding Lavabit’s keys and claimed he was being forced by law to keep quiet about the case.
Refusing to become a “listening post” for the FBI Levison elected to shut down the service in August amid looming legal threats that would have given the government access.
After filing his appeal Levison gave users a brief five day window of time in October to download their email archives and account data in October.
As Snowden is clearly tangled up in an ongoing criminal investigation his name isn’t directly mentioned in today’s ruling, but it’s common knowledge that it’s his information the FBI was seeking when it initially imposed the Pen/Trap Statute on Lavabit last year.
In a talk at February’s TrustyCon conference, one of Levison’s lawyers, former Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Marcia Hofmann, said that the Lavabit case could prove to be just the beginning and that the incident should help prompt other outfits to reconsider how to handle government requests.
“We need to update our threat models. Ladar was worried about data at rest, not data in transmission. The threats are different than we thought. Security and privacy enhancing services are really in the crosshairs. To the extent that you design a service like Lavabit, you should be thinking about how you’re going to deal with government requests,” Hofmann said.
Software maker and database management company Oracle yesterday released its quarterly Critical Patch Update. The release resolves more than 100 security vulnerabilities, many of which received high common vulnerability scoring system base scores and should be applied as soon as possible.
Products affected by the patch include but are not limited to Oracle Database, Fusion Middleware, Hyperion, Supply Chain Product Suite, iLearning, PeopleSoft Enterprise, Siebel CRM, Java SE, and Sun Microsystems Products Suite, including Oracle Linux and Virtualization, and Oracle MySQL.
Among the patches that should be prioritized are two bugs in Oracle’s database products. The more severe of these two issues could lead to a full compromise of impacted Windows systems, though exploitation would require that an attacker authenticate him or herself. Other platforms like Linux and Solaris are less affected because the database does not extend into the underlying operating system there.
The update also closes off 20 Fusion middleware vulnerabilities, the most critical of which is remotely exploitable without authentication and could lead to a wide compromise of the WebLogic Server.
Also included in its April release are 37 Java vulnerabilities. Four of those received the highest possible CVSS ratings of 10.0. Oracle urges all user – home users in particular – to apply these patches immediately.
The patch update also fixes five vulnerabilities affecting Oracle Linux and Virtualization products. The most severe of these vulnerabilities could affect certain versions of Oracle Global Secure Desktop.
“Due to the relative severity of a number of the vulnerabilities fixed in this Critical Patch Update, Oracle strongly recommends that customers apply this Critical Patch Update as soon as possible,” wrote Oracle security assurance manager, Eric Maurice.
Earlier this month, researchers from Security Explorations disclosed more than two dozen outstanding issues with the company’s Java Cloud Service platform. There is no mention of that line of products in the update, so it appears that the company did not resolve those bugs. At the beginning or March, researchers at the London-based computer security firm Portcullis claimed to uncover four bugs in the Oracle’s Demantra Value Chain Planning suite of software. The update makes no mention of these vulnerabilities either.
The rush to revoke and replace digital certificates on Heartbleed-vulnerable Web servers seems to be no rush at all.
Internet research and security services firm Netcraft reports today that of the more than 500,000 servers it knows of that are running vulnerable versions of OpenSSL, only 80,000 certificates have been revoked so far. The urgency to do so was ramped up on Friday when four unrelated security researchers each were able to take advantage of the TLS heartbeat vulnerability to steal private SSL keys in a challenge set up by vendor CloudFlare.
Also, the first public reports of exploits against websites resulting in stolen data were reported against the Canada Revenue Agency and Mumsnet of the U.K.
“While some companies quickly recognized the need to issue new certificates in response to the Heartbleed bug, the number of revocations has not kept up,” wrote Paul Mutton. “This is a mistake, as there is little point issuing a new certificate if an attacker is still able to impersonate a website with the old one.”
Heartbleed is a dangerous Internet-wide bug that can be exploited to steal sensitive information such as user credentials, and also private encryption keys if the attack is replayed often enough. One researcher in the CloudFlare Challenge, Russian Fedor Indutny, replayed his attack 2.5 million times before he was able to steal a key from a nginx server running an unpatched instance of OpenSSL set up by CloudFlare.
Researchers had speculated it was incredibly difficult and unlikely to steal private keys by exploiting Heartbleed, but that was proven incorrect as by Saturday morning there were four reported winners of the challenge, including Indutny who was the first. Making matters more challenging is that Heartbleed attacks do not leave a log entry, for example, and are undetectable.
The process of revoking old certificates and reissuing new ones involves working closely with a certificate authority, many of which offer self-service tools or APIs that help facilitate the process. The problem is that the wonky code was introduced into OpenSSL in December 2011 and there have been public reports that it has been exploited as far back as last November.
“You have to get your infrastructure patched so that any future damage will not be incurred because of the vulnerability, and the second priority is replacing or reissuing certificates to mitigate the risk from private keys stolen while the vulnerability existed in the wild,” said Marc Gaffan, cofounder of Incapsula. Users, for example, should make sure that sites on which they’re changing credentials have been patched, otherwise an attacker could continue to exploit an unpatched site stealing new credentials in the process.
Netcraft, meanwhile, estimates the cost of replacing compromised certs with new ones at more than $100 million; some CAs, however, are allowing customers to reissue and revoke certificates free of charge, Netcraft said. It points out also that many sites are buying new certificates rather than reissuing.
“Perhaps in the haste of resolving the problem, this seemed the easiest approach, making Heartbleed a bonanza for certificate authorities,” Mutton said.
Netcraft also points out that some companies—including large sites such as Yahoo’s mobile log-in page, the U.S. Senate large file transfer system, and GeoTrust’s SSL Toolbox—have deployed new certs but have yet to revoke old ones. Some of those not yet on a Certificate Revocation List are still sending OCSP responses that those certificates are “good,” Netcraft said.
Revocation may not help in some cases, Netcraft cautions, saying that four percent do not specify a URL for an OCSP responder and can only be revoked through a CRL.
“This makes the certificates effectively irrevocable in some browsers — for example, the latest version of Mozilla Firefox no longer uses CRLs at all (previously it would fall back to checking a CRL if an OCSP request failed, but only for Extended Validation certificates),” Mutton said.
There are still other certificates, Netcraft said, that may have been compromised and do specify either a OCSP or CRL address and cannot be revoked until they expire.
“These certificates are therefore completely irrevocable in all browsers and could be impersonated until their natural expiry dates if an attacker has already compromised the private keys,” Mutton said.
Threat modeling has been part of the security culture at Microsoft for the better part of a decade, an important piece of the Security Development Lifecycle that’s at the core of Trustworthy Computing.
Today, Microsoft updated its free Threat Modeling Tool with a number of enhancements that bring the practice closer to not only large enterprises, but also smaller companies with a growing target on their back.
Four new features have been added to the tool, including enhancements to its visualization capabilities, customization features older models and threat definitions, as well as a change to it generates threats.
“More and more of the customers I have been talking to have been leveraging threat modeling as a systematic way to find design-level security and privacy weaknesses in systems they are building and operating,” said Tim Rains, a Trustworthy Computing manager. “Threat modeling is also used to help identify mitigations that can reduce the overall risk to a system and the data it processes. Once customers try threat modeling, they typically find it to be a useful addition to their approach to risk management.”
The first iteration of Microsoft Threat Modeling Tool was issued in 2011, but Rains said customer feedback and suggestions for improvements since then have been rolled into this update. The improvements include a new drawing surface that no longer requires Microsoft Visio to build data flow diagrams. The update also includes the ability migrate older, existing threat models built with version 3.1.8 to the new format. Users can also upload existing custom-built threat definitions into the tool, which also comes with its own definitions.
The biggest change in the new version is in its threat-generation logic. Where previous versions followed the STRIDE framework (Spoofing, Tampering, Repudiation, Information disclosure, Denial of service, and Elevation of privilege) per element, this one follows STRIDE per interaction of those elements. STRIDE helps users map threats to the properties guarding against them, for example, spoofing maps to authentication.
“We take into consideration the type of elements used on the diagram (e.g. processes, data stores etc.) and what type of data flows connect these elements,” Rains said.
At the RSA Conference in February, Trustworthy Computing program manager Adam Shostack said that there is no one defined way to model threats; that they must be specific to organizations and their particular risks.
“I now think of threat modeling like Legos. There are things you can snap together and use what you need,” Shostack said. “There’s no one way to threat model. The right way is the way that fixes good threats.”
Researchers published a video this week demonstrating how Samsung’s latest entry in the smartphone arena, the Galaxy S5, is vulnerable to a hack that involves lifting and copying fingerprints to trick the phone’s biometric sensor.
Much like the Apple iPhone 5S, the smartphone, which first hit the market last week, boasts a fingerprint scanner as an added layer of security.
Now the same research outfit that was able to hack the iPhone’s 5S’s Touch ID feature last year, Germany’s Security Research Labs (SRLabs), has managed to bypass a similar feature on the Galaxy S5. Like the iPhone hack the Galaxy hack relies on the attackers using a mold of a fingerprint; or in this case a lab-manufactured wood glue replica of a print, to carry out their attack.
In a video posted Tuesday the researchers claim their method allows for “seemingly unlimited authentication attempts without ever requiring a password.”
While this may sound like a pretty farfetched exploit vector – a user would have to have the Finger Scanner set up on this exact brand of phone and an attacker would have to go through the trouble of creating the fingerprint replica – as the folks from SRLabs note, it could have implications for those who use the new fingerprint scan feature on PayPal’s Android app.
That app allows users to transfer funds using their fingerprint as a biometric authenticator, meaning that if an attacker had access to your phone, and one of these fingerprint molds, they’d be able to make purchases and unsolicited money transfers from the account.
In the video the researchers demonstrate how an attacker could wire himself money via PayPal from a person’s debit account. Using the fingerprint replica it takes three swipes for PayPal to recognize the bogus fingerprint, but according to the researcher, attackers could be allowed “multiple attempts to make a successful swipe with this spoof.”
In a statement released by the company this week PayPal downplayed the issue, claiming they were taking SRLabs’ findings seriously but were confident that its app is still “easier and more secure” than using passwords or credit cards. PayPal added that it could simply deactivate cryptographic keys associated with fingerprints on accounts from lost or stolen devices and allow users to make a new one.
The company added that in the unlikely occurrence that one of its users gets duped by an attacker with one of these phony fingerprint scans, it will reimburse any losses they incur.
To use the S5’s fingerprint scanner, the phone requires users to swipe a finger eight times over the home button. The user can then use that fingerprint to lock their screen, verify their Samsung account or authenticate their PayPal account.
A number of critics have been vocal against using fingerprints as a biometric authentication measure for years now. Some of those voices, including researchers from the Chaos Computer Club (CCC) and SRLabs, have pointed out that whenever a fingerprint gets stolen, there’s no way to change it and that it’s easy to lift users’ fingerprints off of items, including their personal devices.
Still though, fingerprint spoofs, known in some circles as ‘fake fingers’ are not easy to produce. CCC hacker Starbug, who was famously the first to break Apple’s TouchID last fall, used a high resolution image of a fingerprint with latex to produce his.
“This demonstrates—again—that fingerprint biometrics is unsuitable as [an] access control method and should be avoided,” the CCC said in September.
The after effects of the OpenSSL heartbleed vulnerability continue to spread through the technology industry, nearly two weeks after the details of the flaw were disclosed. One of the latest repercussions is a huge increase in the number of SSL certificates being revoked, as site owners and hosting providers go through the process of replacing vulnerable certificates.
Certificate authorities and other organizations maintain certificate revocation lists that browsers can use to determine whether a certificate on a given site has been revoked. Site owners will revoke certificates for a number of reasons, including security problems. Those revocations typically go unnoticed, unless a high-profile site is involved or there’s some event that causes a large number of sites to need to replace their certificates.
A good portion of that increase–which saw revocations go from perhaps a few thousand a day to more than 70,000 earlier this month–can be attributed to CloudFlare replacing all of the certificates for sites that it manages. The company was one of the few organizations that got early warning about the OpenSSL bug before the software’s maintainers revealed the details.
“After learning the full extent of the bug and that it had been live on the Internet for two years, we started an investigation to see whether our private keys and those of our customers were at risk,” Nick Sullivan of CloudFlare wrote in a blog post.
“We started our investigation by attempting to see what sort of information we could get through Heartbleed. We set up a test server on a local machine and bombarded it with Heartbleed attacks, saving the blocks of memory it returned. We scanned that memory for copies of the private key and after extensive scanning, we could not find a trace of it.”
CloudFlare then issued a public challenge, asking researchers to see whether they could get the private key from a vulnerable server the company set up. Within a few hours, someone succeeded. And several other people later won the challenge, as well, retrieving the private key.
“A nagging question is why, when OpenSSL has functions to cleanse memory, are these chunks of keys being found in memory. We are continuing to investigate and if a bug is found will submit a patch for OpenSSL,” Sullivan wrote.
“The more HTTPS traffic the server serves, the more likely some of these intermediate values end up on the heap where Heartbleed can read them. Unfortunately for us, our test server was on our local machine and did not have a large amount of HTTPS traffic. This made it a lot less likely that we would find private keys in our experimental setting. The CloudFlare Challenge site was serving a lot of traffic, making key extraction more likely. There were some other tricks we learned from the winners about efficiently finding keys in memory.”
There’s been some discussion about whether it is practical for an attacker to retrieve the private key of a target server using the heartbleed attack, and Sullivan said he sees it as doable.
“Based on these findings, we believe that within two hours a dedicated attacker could retrieve a private key from a vulnerable server. Since the allocation of temporary key material is done by OpenSSL itself, and is not special to NGINX, we expect these attacks to work on different server software including non-web servers that use OpenSSL,” he wrote.
The Tor Project has begun blacklisting exit nodes vulnerable to the Heartbleed vulnerability in OpenSSL.
Researcher Collin Mulliner, with the Systems Security Lab at Northeastern University in Boston, published the results of an experiment he conducted using a publicly disclosed Heartbleed proof-of-concept exploit against 5,000 Tor nodes. Mulliner said that 1,045 nodes, or a little more than 20 percent, were vulnerable to the bug.
Mulliner said only Tor exit nodes were leaking plaintext user traffic, including host names, credentials and web content. Mulliner conducted his experiment for three days last Friday through Sunday, and his results are a point-in-time snapshot. A post yesterday from Tor Project leader Roger Dingledine on the Tor mailing list said that 380 vulnerable exit keys were being rejected.
Heartbleed was publicly reported on April 7. The vulnerability lies in the heartbeat function in OpenSSL 1.0.1 to 1.0.1f which publicly leaks 64 KB of memory to any client or server pinging a web server running the vulnerable crypto library. The memory leaks can disclose in plaintext anything from user credentials to private server keys if the attack is repeated enough. Several researchers have already managed to retrieve private SSL keys in an online challenge from vendor CloudFlare. Speculation is that intelligence agencies and/or hackers may have been exploiting it since November. Mulliner said he did not try to extract private keys from Tor, nor did he think it was possible.
Tor promises anonymity to its users by using proxies to pass encrypted traffic from source to destination. Mulliner said he used a random list of 5,000 Tor nodes from the Dan.me.uk website for his research; of the 1,045 vulnerable nodes he discovered, he recovered plaintext traffic that included Tor plaintext announcements, but a significant number of nodes leaked user traffic in the clear.”
“I found a significant amount of plaintext user traffic, complete Web traffic, session IDs; everything you would find if you ran Heartbleed against a normal Web server,” Mulliner said.
Heartbleed saves attackers the work of setting up their own exit node and waiting for traffic to pass through it. Using Heartbleed, all a hacker would have to do is query a vulnerable exit node to obtain traffic, Mulliner said.
Dingledine yesterday published the first list of rejected exit nodes and said those nodes will not be allowed back on the network.
“I thought for a while about trying to keep my list of fingerprints up-to-date (i.e. removing the !reject line once they’ve upgraded their openssl), but on the other hand, if they were still vulnerable as of yesterday, I really don’t want this identity key on the Tor network even after they’ve upgraded their OpenSSL,” Dingledine wrote. He added that he hopes others will add to this list as other vulnerable relays are discovered.
Tor acknowledged some of its components were vulnerable to Heartbleed in a post to its blog on April 7.
Mulliner said it was a fairly straightforward process to write a script to run a Heartbleed proof of concept.
“Anybody who can get the Python script can play around with it,” Mulliner said, adding that there are likely fewer vulnerable Tor nodes now than when he ran his scans last week since some have likely been patched and Tor has begun blacklisting. “The data is dated, but it’s a good picture of that point in time.”
Dennis Fisher talks with Kaspersky Lab security researcher Kurt Baumgartner about the specter of APT attacks in enterprises, what kind of tactics APT attackers are using now and the effect of the Heartbleed openSSL bug on the certificate authority system.http://threatpost.com/files/2014/04/digital_underground_151.mp3
The situation surrounding attempted mobile malware infections is constantly changing, and I’d like to write about one recent trend. Over the last year, Trojan-SMS.AndroidOS.Stealer.a, a mobile Trojan, has become a leader in terms of the number of attempted infections on KL user devices, and now continually occupies the leading positions among active threats. For example, in Q1 2014 it accounted for almost a quarter of all detected attacks.Geographic distribution
This SMS Trojan has actively been pushed by cybercriminals in Russia, and there have also been continual attempts to attack users in Europe and Asia. Infections with this Trojan have occurred virtually everywhere across the globe:
Cybercriminals often like to use a bogus letter to trick people into opening malicious attachments. There are two tricks that make this work: a message from a familiar name (a bank, social network, service provider or other organization that might interest the recipient) and an intriguing or alarming subject. An attack based on fake messages supposedly from coffee chain Starbucks combined the two.
Dennis Fisher talks with Eugene Kaspersky about the need for better critical infrastructure security, the major threats facing enterprises today and the specter of cyberwar.http://threatpost.com/files/2014/04/digital_underground_150.mp3
Phase two of the TrueCrypt audit figures to be a labor-intensive, largely manual cryptanalysis, according to the two experts behind the Open Crypto Audit Project (OCAP).
Matthew Green, crypto expert and professor at Johns Hopkins University, said a small team of experts will have to, by hand, examine the cipher suites, key algorithms and random number generators used in the open source encryption software.
Green said he hopes to crowdsource experts for the second phase of the audit, attracting people skilled in examining cryptography.
“We’re still flushing out the idea, but it will be a group of people who are well respected in the industry who have done this type of thing on a smaller scale,” Green said, adding he was not yet ready to publicly name them. “We would not be doing this if it were not for these people. We’ve created a series of challenges and we’re going to divide them up. I’m sure it will be fairly successful; we’re still in the planning stages.”
ISEC Partners, the consultants who were hired to conduct the first phase of the TrueCrypt audit that looked at the TrueCrypt bootloader and Windows kernel driver, will not be involved in phase two, Green said, adding that the results for the second half of the audit may not be available for a few months.
The movement to audit TrueCrypt began last fall, a few months after the Snowden leaks began going public. TrueCrypt, which provides full disk and file encryption capabilities, has been downloaded close to 30 million times, making it a tempting target for intelligence agencies that have been accused of subverting other commercial and open source software.
ISEC on Monday released its report on the first phase of the audit and said it found no backdoors in the portions of the software it looked at. There were, however, worrisome vulnerabilities around the quality of the code and build processes.
“The good news is that there is nothing devastating in the code,” Green said. “The auditors said there were problems in code quality and pointed out other legitimate issues. These are not reasons to stop using it.”
One of the first concerns leading to suspicions that the Windows binary version of TrueCrypt had been backdoored was a mysterious string of 65,024 encrypted bytes in the header. Experts wondered why these random bytes were there and whether they could be an encrypted password. Adding to the intrigue was that, aside from the fact the Windows package behaves differently than versions built from source code, no one really knew who the developers behind TrueCrypt are.
In October, however, some of those concerns were laid to rest when Green and OCAP co-organizer Kenneth White, senior security engineer at Social & Scientific Systems, were contacted by the anonymous developers who endorsed the audit. Also, an independent audit of TrueCrypt conducted by Xavier de Carne de Carnavalet of Concordia University in Canada, was able to reproduce a deterministic compilation process for the Windows version that matches the binaries. He concluded TrueCrypt was not backdoored.
“We’re not going to say the issue is closed, but we’re a lot less panicked about it,” Green said. “That doesn’t mean there isn’t something there, it’s just not on my list of things to worry about.”
The relief with the initial results is that there isn’t a widespread bug in the software; while TrueCrypt isn’t deployed on a scale of OpenSSL or Apple software, the recent Heartbleed and so-called gotofail iOS bugs have left some in the security community a little shell-shocked. White, for one, is hoping the cryptanalysis turns up equally positive results as in phase one.
“Our confidence in encryption software is driven by the level of expertise afforded proper peer-to-peer review, by deep experts in the field. And there is a very small group of people who are qualified to conduct this kind of analysis, particularly with the encryption components,” White said. “What they find might be gross errors or might be a trivial single character mistake.”
While very few of these types of public audits have been conducted—perhaps the most high-profile security tool subjected to a public audit was open source private chat application Cryptocat—Green and White see the potential for more of these in the future.
“It’s much harder to do than it seems. It’s not just about getting the money and paying people; you have to find people who are interested doing it. Not every firm is interested in doing a public audit,” Green said, adding that the TrueCrypt audit is the first of its kind that was crowd funded. “We have a good technical advisory board who were willing to put in the time to make this happen. You need good organization with people whose job it is to do this; you can’t do this in your spare time.”
White said future projects are under consideration, but for now 100 percent of their efforts and funding is going toward the TrueCrypt audit.
“I think there is a subset of people who had their minds made up before we started, and have no intention of changing. For me, the appeal of this work has been to begin to establish a framework for conducting community-driven security audits and formal cryptanalysis on open source (or, in the case of TrueCrypt, source-available) software,” White said. “I think if after the final report we can say, ‘We marshaled some of the best minds in the field, and they looked at the code, the crypto, and the implementation and we found [X]’ then that’s a victory. As a privacy advocate, I’m obviously hoping for a clean verdict, but as a security engineer, I remain skeptical until the end.”
SAN FRANCISCO — Many of the stories about attacks on banks, payment processors and other portions of the financial services system around the world depict these intrusions as highly sophisticated operations conducted by top-level crews. However, the majority of the attacks these companies see aren’t much more advanced than a typical malware attack, experts say.
“About two thirds of the attacks on our merchant community are low to moderate complexity,” Ellen Richey, executive vice president and chief enterprise risk officer at Visa, said during a panel discussion on threats to the financial services industry at the Kaspersky Lab Cyber Security Summit here Tuesday.
The last couple of years have been tough on banks and other financial services companies when it comes to security. Many of the larger banks in the United States and elsewhere have been the targets of massive DDoS attacks for more than a year now, with many of these attacks being attributed to hacktivist groups. These banks, of course, always are targets for cybercrime gangs looking for some quick money. But Richey and the other panelists said that while they certainly see attacks against their networks from determined, skilled attackers, a great deal of what they see every day is pretty mundane.
That strategy isn’t new, but it’s proven to be effective.
“People aren’t going to go after hard targets, because it exposes them,” said Steve Adegbite, senior vice president of enterprise information security program oversight and strategy organization at Wells Fargo & Co. “They go after the lower level merchants and walk up the chain from there.”
While figuring out who is attacking an organization can be an intriguing exercise, Adegbite said that in a lot of cases it doesn’t matter much who is doing what. The end result of a successful attack is the same: a disruption to the business.
“Within financial services, it’s about customer service and keeping things running and keeping the lights on. When I go in there after the fact and strip everything down, whether it’s a nation state or a kid in his basement, it’s forcing us to deal with an incident.”
Richey said that Visa, with its massive network of merchants and huge profile around the globe, sees all shapes and sizes of attacks, but has seen a big jump in the number of DDoS attacks in recent years.
“The piece we’re seeing in the last two to three years is denial of service attacks. It’s primarily hacktivists,” she said. “The industry has amped up its defenses to deal with it.”
That increase in defenses has occurred across the financial services industry, but as well-funded and sophisticated as the security teams in these companies are, they can’t go it alone. Adegbite said that he and the Wells Fargo security team collaborate with as many people and organizations as they can when it comes to defending their networks.
“Cybersecurity is a team sport. The amount of things we’re dealing with, we can’t handle it all ourselves,” he said. “We form a community of defenders all the way through.”