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10/9/2012
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RSA Adds Password-Protection Layer To Fight 'Smash-And-Grab' Attacks

New RSA Labs technology eliminates single point of failure in user-credential database hacks

Pilfered passwords are becoming the norm, especially in large-scale hacks that grab an e-commerce site or organization's database of credentials all in one swoop. RSA today added an extra hurdle that attackers have to clear to actually score the booty: software that scrambles, randomizes, and splits the information so it's not stored in a single point of failure.

The patented RSA Labs technology behind the new Distributed Credential Protection software basically makes it harder for the attackers to actually get any useful information during a breach. "It's another level of defense-in-depth. Salting and hashing is table stakes: Every company should be doing that," says Rachael Stockton, senior manager of data protection product marketing at RSA.

"Adding additional layers makes it much more expensive for the hackers to do the breach. By scrambling [the password data] and randomizing them and then splitting them into two locations, it makes it much harder for them to get useful information," she says.

So if an attacker is able to get to one of the servers, the information would be useless. And if the victim organization detects the breach, it can have the software alter the randomization of the passwords so that even if the attacker were to then get the second server, the data wouldn't match. "Even if no one detects that one server has been compromised, you can schedule [a refreshed randomization] on a weekly or daily basis. So the system is self-healing," says Damon Hopley, a product manager at RSA.

The bottom line is this extra layer increases the cost of the hack for the attacker. The only way an attacker could cheat it? If he or she were compromise two servers at the same time, which would be a difficult feat, experts say.

The technique of scrambling, randomizing, and splitting up the information isn't really new: It's how threshold cryptography works to protect encryption keys, says Scott Crawford, managing research director for Enterprise Management Associates. "The concept itself isn't new. Threshold crypto has been around a while now. But this is a new application of it" for passwords, he says.

And the need for an extra layer of defense boils down to two things: Passwords are here to stay -- for now, anyway -- and data breaches are for the most part inevitable.

"Server-side compromise is a fact of life," RSA's Hopley says.

RSA's Distributed Credential Protection is a virtual appliance, and is priced on a per-application basis -- $150,000 for a single application. RSA also offers a professional services package to go along with the technology, which Hopley says it recommends for help with the software.

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

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