ASSESSMENT: Target Media and Lawsuit Failures
The Target Hack Media Failures:
From the moment that Brian Krebs first put out his story on the Target hack it’s been mostly a feeding frenzy of reporters trying to out scoop not only Brian but everyone else they could leverage to get a headline. Throughout the whole affair though there has been a lot of speculation on how the hack happened, the timelines and just what if anything Target knew about what was happening to them as it was going on. Since the first report we have come a long way to understanding through confidential sources just how the happened but the reality is that there are many things still unsaid about the hack itself with any certainty.
The biggest hole in the whole story to date has been how did the hackers infiltrate into Target in the first place? After looking at data that Brian had shown me and doing my own research on Rescator and the Lampeduza he and I came to some conclusions on how they most likely got into their systems. Primarily the phish on Fazio allowed the attackers to gain access to Target’s booking/payment systems for doing business with their vendor’s online. It was a supposition on my part that they used an infected Excel sheet, doc file or pdf to gain access to the peripheral system connected to the internet by passing it with the stolen credentials to Target’s online system. Once a user had the file inside they likely opened the document and infected themselves and thus allowed access to the general network. Of course then it become simply an issue of locating a machine that sits on the LAN where the servers and the POS can be accessed.
The media generally though has been harping on the idea that since Fazio is an HVAC company that they had access to ICS or PLC units within the Target network as this is all the rage in the news. There never has been any proof of this happening and in fact Fazio has made a statement saying they never had access to the Target HVAC systems remotely as they don’t do that kind of work for them. This however escaped the media in general as well as some Infosec bloggers that I know as well. Now however we have a new twist on this media festival of failure with the advent of the Target lawsuits recently brought out by banks involved with this mess.
The Target Lawsuit Failures:
The Target lawsuit now not only goes after Target Corp itself but also Trustwave, a security company that allegedly carried out the Target PCI-DSS (Payment Card Industry) assessment at or around the same time as the compromise to Target was happening. It was at this time that Trustwave certified that Target was in fact “PCI Compliant” and that in the industry’s eyes secure. Of course this is a misnomer that many in the security field have been venting about for years and the popular euphemism for it is “Check box Security” because in reality it is just a check mark on a form and not a real means of protecting data.
The lawsuit is filled with ill informed views on what happened to Target as well as how security works and has been roundly regarded in the security community as well as the legal community as a joke. Using dubious sources on cyber security and primarily believing all that the media has written on the subject of the Target breach this lawsuit makes assumptions about the PCI that are common and untenable. One of the more egregious failures in comprehension is that any system of checks and or regulations would make any system or database secure just by the very fact that you have checked off all the boxes in a list of things to do. This is especially the case with PCI due in a larger part because of the way it is audited and by whom.
One of the real issues that seems to be coming out of the lawsuit and the reporting on it centers on encryption of data. The encryption of data at rest (in a database) or in flight (on the network between systems) is the crux of the issue it seems to the legal team for the litigants in the Target affair but I would like to state here and now that it is a moot one. The idea is that if everything is encrypted end to end then it’s all good. This is not the case though as in the case of this particular attack on Target the BlackPOS malware that was used scraped the RAM of the systems which was not encrypted and usually isn’t. This is a key factor in the case and unfortunately I know that the legal teams here as well as the legal system itself are pretty much clueless on how things work in technology today so this will just sail right over their heads.
Here are the facts in as plain a way as I can get across to you all:
- BlackPOS infects the system and scrapes the RAM for the card data
- BlackPOS then copy’s the data and exfiltrates it to an intermediary server to be sent eventually to the RU
- The data is not encrypted at this time and thus all talk of encryption of data or databases is moot unless said data came from database servers and not copied from POS terminals
- Encryption therefore in database or on the fly is a MOOT POINT in this case
There you have it. It’s a pile of fail all the way round and the media and the law are perpetuating half truths and misconceptions on how things really work in the digital world. There are many issues with PCI-DSS and the encryption issue that is cited in the law suit and the Wired piece linked above are just silly because the writers and the lawyers haven’t a clue. While PCI needs to either die a quick death for something better it is not the only reason nor the primary one that the attack on Target worked. There are of course many other reasons due to inaction that have been brought forth recently that do paint quite another picture of ineptitude that are the real culprits here.
Overall the analysis here is that there are many to be blamed for this hack and not all of them are the adversaries that carried it off. The fallout now with the lawsuits and the press coverage of the debacle has only amplified the failures and is making things worse for some and better for others. We have seen an uptick already in finger pointing as well as sales calls laden with snake oil on how their products could have stopped Rescator cold. The fact of the matter is Fireeye and Symantec both tried but the end users failed to allow it to act as well as heed their warnings. Of course one also should look at this and see that even if the tools had been heeded it may not have stopped the attack anyway without a full IR into what was going on.
The people who are any good in this business of security live every day with the assumption that their network is already compromised. This is a truism that we all should take to heart as well as the knowledge that we cannot stop every attack that is carried out against us. We can’t win every battle and we may never win the war but we have to try. Targets failures will hurt for some time within the company as well as to those who were working there at the time. I have no doubts that heads rolled and perhaps that was necessary. It is also entirely possible that people did try to stop this event but were told not to do something because it might affect their production environment. Of course this is all speculative but you people out there reading this from this business know what I am talking about. It’s a universal thing to be shackled in your battle to secure the network because it affects the bottom line.
What I would like you all to take away here though is that PCI is not the only reason for this hack and certainly it isn’t because Target was not encrypting their traffic or their databases. This is just a ridiculous argument to be having. Just as ridiculous as it is to have the cognitive dissonance to believe that checking a box in an audit makes anything more secure.