Security Breach Hits RSA’s Secret SecurID Information


An Advanced Persistent Threat attack on RSA Security has stolen its SecurID two-factor authentication data

EMC subsidiary RSA Security acknowledged it had been hit by an “extremely sophisticated” attack and that information related to the SecurID two-factor authentication products have been stolen.

Intruders succeeded in breaching RSA’s networks “recently” as part of an Advanced Persistent Threat attack, Art Coviello, executive chairman of RSA Security, wrote in an open letter to customers that appeared on the RSA Website on March 17.

Seeking RSA’s Secret Recipe

While the investigation is ongoing, RSA has determined attackers stole “certain information” including details specific to RSA’s SecurID two-factor authentication products, Coviello said.

“Recently, our security systems identified an extremely sophisticated cyber-attack in progress being mounted against RSA,” said Coviello,

RSA has historically kept the algorithm for its multi-factor authentication products secret.

Neither the letter nor EMC’s filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission identified what exactly was stolen, but it “could potentially be used to reduce the effectiveness of a current two-factor authentication implementation as part of a broader attack”, Coviello said. He was “confident” that the stolen data will not allow the criminals to mount a successful attack directly on RSA’s SecurID customers.

Advanced Persistent Threats often target source code and other information useful in espionage and involve knowledge of the company’s network, employees and policies. APT generally employs some forms of social engineering as well as exploits hidden in email messages to sneak keyloggers and other tools onto the computer. Unlike most attacks, APT intruders are generally not interested in financial and identity data. Instead, once attackers gain access to the network, they move around looking for sensitive data, such as intellectual property, to steal.

Operation Aurora, which compromised systems at Google and a number of other major companies in 2009, was a type of APT.

Other EMC or RSA products were not affected and personally identifiable data on customers and employees were not compromised, Coviello said.

RSA did not elaborate how the attack was carried out, when it occurred, or how long it took the company to discover it. RSA representatives were not available for comment.

RSA was able to say with “some confidence” what was and what was not compromised which allowed it to communicate with customers “accurately”, Steve Shilling, CEO of Solera Networks, told eWEEK. RSA is likely to maintain its credibility with customers, he said.

Widespread use of tokens

As of 2009, RSA had about 40 million tokens and 250 million mobile software versions deployed in over 25,000 organisations across industries, such as banks, government, manufacturing and pharmaceutical. They are used to randomly generate a numeric code that is used in conjunction with a password to allow a user to login. The number is cryptographically generated and changed every 30 seconds.

It is unclear at this time whether attackers stole the “seed” values SecurID tokens use to generate the numeric codes. If they had the seeds for a specific company, they may be able to generate fake number on tokens, allowing them past one layer of security. Attackers may have stolen the source code, which could be analysed to find vulnerabilities to exploit, or private cryptographic keys to trick RSA servers or tokens.

RSA recommended customers increase their focus on security for social media applications and Web sites, enforce strong password and PIN policies, and to remind employees to avoid opening suspicious emails or giving away their login credentials to people or other Web sites. Customers should also pay special attention to securing their active directories, “make full use of their SIEM products”, and use two-factor authentication to control access to active directories, monitor for changes in user privilege levels and access level rights, limit remote and physical access to infrastructure hosting security software, beef up defences against social engineering attacks, and update security software and operating systems.

RSA also recommended adding levels of manual approval to change user privilege levels and access rights, as well as following the rule of “least privilege” when assigning roles. The administrators should have just enough privileges to get work done without anything extra.

EMC acquired RSA Security in 2006 for $2.1 billion in cash.


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