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Attacks/Breaches

Target Ignored Data Breach Alarms

Target's security team reviewed -- and ignored -- urgent warnings from threat-detection tool about unknown malware spotted on the network.

to delete the malware automatically, although that option was reportedly deactivated. Then again, Edward Kiledjian, chief information security officer (CISO) for aircraft maker Bombardier Aerospace, which is a FireEye customer, told Bloomberg Businessweek that Target's hands-on approach wouldn't have been unusual. "Typically, as a security team, you want to have that last decision point of 'what do I do?'" he said. Of course, not using automation puts a greater onus on security teams to react not just quickly, but correctly.

What might have caused Target's security team to ignore the alert? "In two words: 'actionable intelligence,'" said Seculert's Raff via email. "With today's amount of detection data, just signaling an alarm isn't enough. The operator/analyst should be able to understand the risk as well as the recommendation of each incident, in order to be able to prioritize."

In response to the Bloomberg Businessweek report, FireEye published a blog post saying that it's company policy "to not publically identify our customers and, as such, we cannot validate or comment on the report's claims that Target, the CIA, or any other companies are customers of FireEye." The company also dismissed Bloomberg Businessweek's assertion that FireEye "was initially funded by the CIA." The publication was likely referring to the 2009 investment in FireEye by In-Q-Tel (IQT), which is an independent, not-for-profit investment firm that was launched by the CIA in 1999. FireEye said In-Q-Tel now owns less than 1% of the firm and "has no influence on our roadmap, operations, financials, governance, or any other aspect of our business."

The malware attack against Target came after attackers first breached the retailer's network using credentials stolen from a third-party contractor. According to security reporter Brian Krebs, the contractor was heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning firm Fazio Mechanical Services. Regardless, that attack vector suggests that Target failed to segment its networks properly so that remote third-party access by a contractor couldn't be parlayed into access to the retailer's payment systems.

Target's CIO, Beth Jacobs, resigned March 5, the same day that Target promised to make a number of technology, information security, and compliance changes, including hiring its first-ever CISO. Meanwhile, the retailer said that its breach investigation continues. "Our investigation is ongoing and we are committed to making further investments in our people, processes, and technology with the goal of reinforcing security for our guests," said Target's Snyder.

Next-gen intrusion-prevention systems have fuller visibility into applications and data. But do newer firewalls make IPS redundant? Also in the The IPS Makeover issue of Dark Reading Tech Digest: Find out what our 2013 Strategic Security Survey respondents have to say about IPS and firewalls. (Free registration required.)

Mathew Schwartz served as the InformationWeek information security reporter from 2010 until mid-2014. View Full Bio

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BGREENE292
100%
0%
BGREENE292,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/15/2014 | 5:53:42 PM
Re: These stories all present misleading or incomplete data with sensational titles
.
hhendrickson274 said, "... these stories all present misleading or incomplete data with sensational titles..."
 
 
NOT HARDLY
 
Enough information is already present for an informed judgment about the Target IT team response. To plead unlikely extenuating circumstances such as (1) the team was overwhelmed by the volume of alerts, and was unable to distinguish signal from noise, or (2) the team might have seen similar alarts, which were investigated (despite the overwhelming volume of alerts) and dismissed as probable false positives, or (3) any Russian IP address is not necessarily cause for suspicion, since "(we do not know why) they would feel outbound connections from their POS to a Russian based IP wouldn't be suspicious" is worthy of a press release from Target public relations.

The FireEye system did its job well enough, elevating the alerts to the attention of Target IT, which eliminates the "sheer overload" excuse. Likewise, if the administrator had turned off automated response, it was critical to forge a field-tested policy for dealing with such detections manually, and then follow it to the letter. As for a number of Russian IPs, that in itself carries enough negative freight to merit special consideration-- aside from the principle that any "strange" address merits investigation.

Target did none of these things. What Target did is typical of the "90-day Wonder" policy of generating new managers ex nihilo, an IT person placed in the job for reasons that have little to do with experience or competence. As the survival tactic of one lacking experience, that manager essentially bought a well-respected brand, and then tried to hide behind it-- blaming FireEye for what was a Target responsibility.

Any Target promotion of a favored, specific person over those with more skill and'or experience is also excruciating commentary on the politics of Target management, since it focuses on factors which have little or nothing to do with professionalism. Such "fast track" promotions insidiously kill incentive among staff to demonstrate responsibility and competence. Fast track staffing is also disingenuous to the extreme, a breach of trust between executive management and staff-- especially those who were told promotion is based on demonstrated effort, competence and experience.

With the extremely questionable managerial culture at Target, the only possible defense against a charge of deliberately risky behavior with customer accounts is "mistakes were made"-- an abject confession of incompetence. While every manager is entitled to on-the-job training, that training should ensure millions of customer credit cards and bank accounts are not also at risk.
rradina
50%
50%
rradina,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/16/2014 | 9:19:13 PM
Deactivation of FireEye's Automatic Response
There's a reason this was done.  Over the years protection software has triggered false alarms and quarantined needed programs and libraries rendering either software or subsystems (like printing) inoperable.  The last thing you want is to have thousands of POS lanes die because an automated response, triggered by a false positive, removed an important program or library module.
SaneIT
50%
50%
SaneIT,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/17/2014 | 9:02:21 AM
Re: Deactivation of FireEye's Automatic Response
Do you know what Target's procedure is when they see an alarm in the software, false or otherwise?  I would think that they have a policy in place to investigate the alarm to determine its validity. I know that things can move very slowly in the corporate world but this is the type of issue that most companies prepare for.
hho927
50%
50%
hho927,
User Rank: Guru
3/17/2014 | 2:25:10 PM
Block botnets
Target IT dept fail many ways. 1) If Target blocked all connections to botnet centers, the malware could not send data out. 2) The HVAC vendor said they didn't monitor Target remotely, why did Target give them a corp/network account? 3) Target should not give that account full access to the POS. 4) Security,access auditing was ignored. 5) Ignored alarms. 6) POS should have a seperate network. Target tried to save money here.
rradina
50%
50%
rradina,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/17/2014 | 5:33:00 PM
Re: Deactivation of FireEye's Automatic Response
They should respond manually.  If the product constantly cries wolf, either the alert config needs review or the product needs to be replaced.  If that's not an option then they should push the alerts to Splunk and mine the noise for credible events that correlate with other intrusion events (assumes firewalls and other stuff are pushed to Splunk).  My point was automated responses might be tolerated for devices that aren't customer facing but you do not want call center devices, bank ATMs or POS systems downed by a false alarm that automatically removes a vital component.

As a side note, I still don't understand why a POS system could have ANYTHING new installed on it outside of planned events.  They shoud use white list protection or an OS that won't run unsigned apps (like IOS, Android or Windows RT).
PaulS681
50%
50%
PaulS681,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/17/2014 | 7:16:26 PM
unacceptable
It just keeps getting worse for Target. To now know they had the systems in place that could have stopped this breach if they just used the system correctly is unacceptable. This just goes to show you that the best systems are rendered useless id people don't use them correctly.
SaneIT
50%
50%
SaneIT,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/18/2014 | 8:43:30 AM
Re: Deactivation of FireEye's Automatic Response
You would think that the POS terminals would be locked down as tightly as possible.  It's not like your cashiers should be installing anything on them but not knowing all the details it is possible that the application used the name of a Windows service or application.  
rradina
50%
50%
rradina,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/18/2014 | 11:54:26 AM
Re: Deactivation of FireEye's Automatic Response
Locking them down assumes an OS security exploit was not used to install the malware.  I think it's been established Target's POS uses Windows.  I'll even go further and make an assumption that it's probably XP.

I'm not aware of any XP built-in solution to prevent a security hole being exploited to install malware.  If it's a remote attack vector, it'll typically involve a network service of some kind.  Most services generally have escalated privileges and if compromised, the hacker can almost always use them to gain root access.  

What Windows needs is a helper that monitors via read/write hooks and compares all file-system changes on system/software components with a dictionary made on the original system's image.  If anything is found out of spec, an alert is issued and the processes that use the corrupt image are terminated.  Further, such a helper also needs to scan DLLs and applications IN MEMORY to make sure they too are appropriate.  If not, the processes are terminated.  If an new process begins that's tied to an executable that's not part of the original image, it's terminated before it even finishes loading into memory.

Such products exist for XP and had they been using them, it would have been really tough to infect their POS systems even if a USB thumb drive was inserted.  Hackers would first have to figure out how to disable that software before exploiting the system.  Unfortunately this would require hacking the system so the protection mechanism can be hacked.  It's a chicken and egg scenario.  Certainly not foolproof but arguably difficult enough to perhaps convince them a company using such protection is not low hanging fruit.
pfretty
50%
50%
pfretty,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/19/2014 | 4:04:28 PM
Happens far too often
Unfortunate, but the fact that they ignored the warning signs isn't a surprise. There is a dramatic need for a shift in culture. One would think the cost alone would be enough. On average attacks cost companies $11.6 million according to the 2013 HP Ponemon Cost of Cyber Crime report (http://www.hpenterprisesecurity.com/ponemon-study-2013).

Peter Fretty (j.mp/pfrettyhp)
Duke_Bauer
50%
50%
Duke_Bauer,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/24/2014 | 12:03:15 PM
Re: Deactivation of FireEye's Automatic Response
I believe this solution exists (McAfee Solidcore)
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