Attacks/Breaches

3/29/2012
01:22 PM
Connect Directly
Google+
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

China Hacked RSA, U.S. Official Says

And RSA official responds to Gen. Keith Alexander's telling Congress this week that Chinese attackers were behind the SecurID breach last year

Until this week, no one has ever confirmed publicly what everyone has suspected all along: that China was behind the advanced attack against RSA's SecurID systems last year. That was the revelation by the head of the U.S. Cyber Command in a Congressional hearing on Tuesday.

Gen. Keith Alexander was asked by the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee for examples he could provide publicly of cyberattacks by China against U.S. interests. Alexander, who is also the director of the National Security Agency, then named RSA as a victim of Chinese cyberespionage. In his prepared testimony earlier in the hearing, he had pointed to the March 2011 targeted attack against RSA (PDF) as an example of intellectual property theft at the hands of cyberattackers, but didn't elaborate on the origin of the attackers until pressed by committee chair Sen. Carl Levin.

RSA all along has been tight-lipped about who may have been behind the attack, noting that the attack had the earmarks of a nation-sponsored adversary.

So what does RSA say about Alexander's revelation? "Our position has always been that we aren't going to speculate on the attackers' identity. There are certain characteristics that are consistent with the notion of a state-sponsored actor," says Eddie Schwartz, CSO at RSA.

Schwartz went on to say: "The notion to keep in mind is that when a government official speaks out about something like a perpetrator of an attack, they are speaking from the position they have, whether it's intelligence or law enforcement, having access to enormous amounts of data -- a perspective that a private company usually doesn't have."

Schwartz says the investigation is still considered ongoing and "in the hands of law enforcement."

Although he wouldn't comment on whether law enforcement has kept RSA up-to-date on its findings in the investigation, he says they do keep in close touch with the authorities. "RSA maintains very close relationships with law enforcement ... certainly, with respect to ongoing investigations, we imagine maintaining close relationships," he says.

NSA's Alexander basically confirmed the worst-kept secret, that Chinese attackers were behind the RSA breach, where information on SecurID two-factor authentication products was stolen in an advanced persistent threat-style attack against the security vendor.

At least one security researchers later found clues that pointed to China as the possible culprit. Joe Stewart, director of malware research for Dell Secureworks, discovered a pattern of APT attackers using a tool called HTran, written 10 years ago by a Chinese hacker, to hide their whereabouts. Stewart located the actual C&C servers used by the attackers involved with the Shady RAT APT cyberespionage campaign -- which, according to McAfee, stole intellectual property from 70 government agencies, international companies, nonprofits, and others in 14 countries -- and narrowed down the main hubs in Beijing and Shanghai.

And two of the APT malware families Stewart studied were used in the RSA breach in March, he said.

Meanwhile, Alexander's comments were the first "official" ones uttered on China as the perpetrator; there has been plenty of speculation and assumption within the security community as such.

"The ability to do it against a company like RSA is such a high-order capability that, if they can do it against RSA, that makes other companies vulnerable," Alexander told Congress, according to a report in InformationWeek.

In his prepared testimony, Alexander mentioned the epidemic in cyberespionage and its fallout. "State-sponsored industrial espionage and theft of intellectual capital now occurs with stunning rapacity and brazenness, and some of that activity links back to foreign intelligence services," he said. "Companies and government agencies around the world are thus being looted of their intellectual property by national intelligence actors, and those victims understandably turn for help to their governments."

Michael Sutton, vice president of security research for Zscaler ThreatLabZ, says U.S. businesses should be on alert for these types of attacks. "The RSA attack has long been considered to be the work of Chinese attackers, but the statements made by General Alexander certainly leave little doubt as to the true origin of the attacks," Sutton said in a statement. "U.S.-based enterprises, especially those with valuable intellectual property related to information technology and national security, should assume that they are being actively targeted on a regular basis."

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
theonlyaether
50%
50%
theonlyaether,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/31/2012 | 4:56:38 AM
re: China Hacked RSA, U.S. Official Says
It's not uncommon to lease servers in China and a lot of their data centers don't ask any questions. Just because the Chinese took the money to host the C&C servers does not a Chinese attack make. It still could be anyone unless the C&C servers can be seized and analyzed. That's the reason to have them in China, as it may be.
Bprince
50%
50%
Bprince,
User Rank: Ninja
3/30/2012 | 3:43:14 AM
re: China Hacked RSA, U.S. Official Says
Companies are going to be reluctant to name names a lot of the time because they do business in certain countries too. It's easier for a government to take that kind of risk.
Brian Prince, InformationWeek/Dark Reading Comment Moderator
h4zzmatt@yahoo.com
50%
50%
[email protected],
User Rank: Apprentice
3/29/2012 | 5:43:13 PM
re: China Hacked RSA, U.S. Official Says
- So RSA is saying the the government has more-information-about the attack then they themselves do? WTF?

- If I read-between-the lines here I see RSA accusing Gen Alexander of making shit up but not wanting to actually say that. -And in the absence of any proof from Gen Alexander I must say I agree.

- Sorry General, but an accusation such as that from someone such as yourself, in these heated cyber cold war times, really needs to have some prof behind it. We can't just go on your say so.

- h4zzmatt
Printers: The Weak Link in Enterprise Security
Kelly Sheridan, Associate Editor, Dark Reading,  10/16/2017
20 Questions to Ask Yourself before Giving a Security Conference Talk
Joshua Goldfarb, Co-founder & Chief Product Officer, IDDRA,  10/16/2017
Why Security Leaders Can't Afford to Be Just 'Left-Brained'
Bill Bradley, SVP, Cyber Engineering and Technical Services, CenturyLink,  10/17/2017
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Current Issue
Security Vulnerabilities: The Next Wave
Just when you thought it was safe, researchers have unveiled a new round of IT security flaws. Is your enterprise ready?
Flash Poll
The State of Ransomware
The State of Ransomware
Ransomware has become one of the most prevalent new cybersecurity threats faced by today's enterprises. This new report from Dark Reading includes feedback from IT and IT security professionals about their organization's ransomware experiences, defense plans, and malware challenges. Find out what they had to say!
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2017-0290
Published: 2017-05-09
NScript in mpengine in Microsoft Malware Protection Engine with Engine Version before 1.1.13704.0, as used in Windows Defender and other products, allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary code or cause a denial of service (type confusion and application crash) via crafted JavaScript code within ...

CVE-2016-10369
Published: 2017-05-08
unixsocket.c in lxterminal through 0.3.0 insecurely uses /tmp for a socket file, allowing a local user to cause a denial of service (preventing terminal launch), or possibly have other impact (bypassing terminal access control).

CVE-2016-8202
Published: 2017-05-08
A privilege escalation vulnerability in Brocade Fibre Channel SAN products running Brocade Fabric OS (FOS) releases earlier than v7.4.1d and v8.0.1b could allow an authenticated attacker to elevate the privileges of user accounts accessing the system via command line interface. With affected version...

CVE-2016-8209
Published: 2017-05-08
Improper checks for unusual or exceptional conditions in Brocade NetIron 05.8.00 and later releases up to and including 06.1.00, when the Management Module is continuously scanned on port 22, may allow attackers to cause a denial of service (crash and reload) of the management module.

CVE-2017-0890
Published: 2017-05-08
Nextcloud Server before 11.0.3 is vulnerable to an inadequate escaping leading to a XSS vulnerability in the search module. To be exploitable a user has to write or paste malicious content into the search dialogue.