Reports: Two More Military Contractors Hacked


Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin spinoff L-3 Communications may have been hit by cyber-attacks

Another military contractor appears to have been hit by a cyber-attack, and a leaked memo indicates the executives believe attackers used information stolen from RSA Security earlier this year. If true, RSA’s SecurID technology may be irrevocably compromised.

Attackers hit major defence contractor L-3 Communications Holdings by spoofing passcodes from a cloned RSA SecurID token, Reuters reported on 27 May. The attackers may have used a similar method to target another defence contractor, Lockheed Martin, on 21 May. The second largest US defence contractor Northrop Grumman may also have been hacked, as the company shut down remote access to its network without warning on 26 May, according to Fox News.

‘Penetration attacks’

L-3 Communications was formed out of ten business units that had been spun off by Lockheed prior to its merger with Martin Marietta back in 1995. L-3 is a major supplier of communication, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance technology to the US Department of Defence.

“L-3 Communications has been actively targeted with penetration attacks leveraging the compromised information,” an L-3 executive wrote in an internal 6 April memo obtained by Wired Threat Level.

It’s not clear from the internal email whether attackers managed to actually break into L-3 networks, or if they were detected in the midst of the attack. The memo also did not specify exactly why or how L-3 came to the conclusion that the SecurID two-factor authentication system was at fault. A L-3 spokesperson just said the company takes security seriously and that the incident has been resolved.

RSA Security admitted March 17 that cyber-attackers had breached its network and obtained “information relating to the SecurID technology”. The company has steadfastly refused to publicly discuss exactly what was stolen or when the breach actually occurred. RSA later disclosed that it had been hit by a phishing email exploiting a zero-day vulnerability in Adobe Reader.

At the time, RSA executive chairman Art Coviello said the stolen information “could potentially be used to reduce the effectiveness of a current two-factor authentication implementation as part of a broader attack”.

For someone to break into a SecurID-protect network, the attacker would need at least one employee’s username and pass code as well as have some idea of which services that employee had access to.

Keylogger installed?

While the details of these attacks are not “fully known”, it is likely that attackers were able to install a keylogger somewhere within the network, according to Harry Sverdlove, CTO of security firm Bit9. The information captured and knowledge of RSA’s token generation algorithm would give attackers a way to breach the network, Sverdlove said, noting that this would be a “worst case scenario” for SecurID.

“It would mean that a single point of attack can be used to defeat the dual factor authentication provided by the security tokens,” Sverdlove said.

The keylogger may have been installed on a remote system that connected to the network via a VPN (Virtual Private Network). This makes sense, since the “best bet” is to attack vulnerable endpoints, or computers that are connecting remotely and are likely not under the direct control of the organisation’s security policies.

Northrop Grumman does not comment on cyber-attacks against the company, the company spokesperson said. It’s also unclear how Northrop Grumman was hit, as ComputerWorld reported that the defence contractor replaced all its SecurID tokens with tokens from a different vendor “immediately” after the RSA breach.

The network shutdown at Northrop Grumman caught “even senior managers by surprise” and caused chaos, according to the Fox News story. “We went through a domain name and password reset across the entire organisation,” an unnamed source told

Lockheed Martin shut down remote access to its internal network after a “significant and tenacious attack on its information network” on 21 May. Technology blogger Robert Cringley had reported at the time the breach involved RSA SecurID tokens that employees and contractors used to login to the VPN to gain access to the corporate network remotely.

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