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Our Financial System is Under a Coordinated, Sophisticated Attack

By Rich

This is a great day for security researchers, and a bad day for anyone with a bank account.

First up is the release of the 2009 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report. This is now officially my favorite breach metrics source, and it’s chock full of incredibly valuable information. I love the report because it’s not based on bullshit surveys, but on real incident investigations. The results are slowly spreading throughout the blogosphere, and we won’t copy them all here, but a few highlights:

  1. Verizon’s team alone investigated cases that resulted in the loss of 285 million records. That’s just them, never mind all the other incident response teams.
  2. Most organizations do a crap job with security- this is backed up with a series of metrics on which security controls are in place and how incidents are discovered.
  3. Essentially no organizations really complied with all the PCI requirements- but most get certified anyway.

Liquidmatrix has a solid summary of highlights, and I don’t want to repeat their work. As they say,

Read pages 46-49 of the report and do what it says. Seriously. It’s the advice that I would give if you were paying me to be your CISO.

And we’ll add some of our own advice soon.

Next is an article on organized cybercrime by Brian Krebs THAT YOU MUST GO READ NOW. (I realize it might seem like we have a love affair with Brian or something, but he’s not nearly my type). Brian digs beyond the report, and his investigative journalism shows what many of us believe to be true- there is a concerted attack on our financial system that is sophisticated and organized, and based out of Eastern Europe.

I talked with Brain and he told me,

You know all those breaches last year? Most of them are a handful of groups.

Here are a couple great tidbits from the article:

For example, a single organized criminal group based in Eastern Europe is believed to have hacked Web sites and databases belonging to hundreds of banks, payment processors, prepaid card vendors and retailers over the last year. Most of the activity from this group occurred in the first five months of 2008. But some of that activity persisted throughout the year at specific targets, according to experts who helped law enforcement officials respond to the attacks, but asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to speak on the record.

One hacking group, which security experts say is based in Russia, attacked and infiltrated more than 300 companies – mainly financial institutions – in the United States and elsewhere, using a sophisticated Web-based exploitation service that the hackers accessed remotely. In an 18-page alert published to retail and banking partners in November, VISA described this hacker service in intricate detail, listing the names of the Web sites and malicious software used in the attack, as well as the Internet addresses of dozens of sites that were used to offload stolen data.

Steve Santorelli, director of investigations at Team Cymru, a small group of researchers who work to discover who is behind Internet crime, said the hackers behind the Heartland breach and the other break-ins mentioned in this story appear to have been aware of one another and unofficially divided up targets. “There seem, on the face of anecdotal observations, to be at least two main groups behind many of the major database compromises of recent years,” Santorelli said. “Both groups appear to be giving each other a wide berth to not step on each others’ toes.”

Keep in mind that this isn’t the same old news. We’re not talking about the usual increase in attacks, but a sophistication and organizational level that developed materially in 2007-2008.

To top it all off, we have this article over at Wired on PIN cracking. This one also ties in to the Verizon report. Another quote:

“We’re seeing entirely new attacks that a year ago were thought to be only academically possible,” says Sartin. Verizon Business released a report Wednesday that examines trends in security breaches. “What we see now is people going right to the source … and stealing the encrypted PIN blocks and using complex ways to un-encrypt the PIN blocks.”

If you read more deeply, you learn that the bad guys haven’t developed some quantum crypto, but are taking advantage of weak points in the system where the data is unencrypted, even if only in memory.

Really fascinating stuff, and I love that we’re getting real information on real breaches.

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