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Matters Requiring Attention: 100 million or so

By Adrian Lane

Brian Krebs posted a detailed investigative piece on the 2011 breach of Fidelity National Information Services (FIS) and subsequent ATM thefts. I warn you that it’s long but worth the read. At least if your prescription for anti-depressants is current. Each paragraph seems to include some jaw-dropping fact about FAIL. A couple choice quotes from the article:

The company came under heavy scrutiny from banking industry regulators in the first quarter of 2011, when hackers who had broken into its networks used that access to orchestrate a carefully-timed, multi-million dollar ATM heist. In that attack, the hackers raised or eliminated the daily withdrawal limits for 22 debit cards they’d obtained from FIS’s prepaid card network. The fraudsters then cloned the cards and distributed them to co-conspirators who used them to pull $13 million in cash from FIS via ATMs in several major cities across Europe, Russia and Ukraine. $13 mil is a lot of money from an ATM network through only 22 debit cards…

The FDIC found that even though FIS has hired a number of incident response firms and has spent more than $100 million responding to the 2011 breach, the company failed to enact some very basic security mechanisms. For example, the FDIC noted that FIS routinely uses blank or default passwords on numerous production systems and network devices, even though these were some of the same weaknesses that “contributed to the speed and ease with which attackers transgressed and exposed FIS systems during the 2011 network intrusion. … “Enterprise vulnerability scans in November 2012, noted over 10,000 instances of default passwords in use within the FIS environment.

So our favorite new acronym du jour is MRA. Matters Requiring Attention. FIS has eight. Eight is a lot or at least that is what the FDIC said. It looks like the top line description of one these MRAs is “roll out a centrally managed scanning methodology to address secure coding vulnerabilities across FIS developed applications”. Hopefully the next MRA reads: “Fix the millions of lines of buggy code and all your crappy development processes. Oh, and some developer training would help”. Problem identification is one thing – fixing them is something else.

With so many years in security between us we seldom read about a breach that shocks us, but if these facts are true this is such a case. If there is a proverbial first step in security, it is don’t leave passwords at the default. Hijacking accounts through default passwords is the easiest attack to perform, very difficult to detect, and costs virtually nothing to prevent. It is common for large firms to miss one or two default application passwords, but 10k is a systemic problem. It should be clear that if you don’t have control over your computer systems you don’t have control over your business. And if you don’t get basic security right, your servers serve whomever.

The other head-scratching facet of Kreb’s post’s claim that FIS spent one hundred million dollars on breach response. If that’s true, and they still failed to get basic security in place, what exactly were they doing? One could guess they spent this money on consultants to tell them how they screwed up and lawyers to minimize further legal exposure. But if you don’t fix the root problem there is a strong likelihood the attackers will repeat their crime – which seems to be what happened with an unnamed United Arab Emirates bank earlier this year. Personally I would carve out a few thousand dollars for vulnerability scanners, password managers and HR staff to hire all new IT staff who have been trained to use passwords!

In an ideal world, we would ask further questions, like who gets notified when thresholds change for something as simple as ATM withdrawal limits? Some understanding of account history would make sense to find patterns of abuse. Fraud detection is not a new business process, but it is hard to trust anything that comes out of a system pre-pwned with default passwords.

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