Publicly available information used to spear phish employees.
Security company RSA has released some information about how hackers gained access to its systems, giving a good insight into how such attacks take place and providing some useful lessons for the industry as a whole.
The first step taken by the hackers was to obtain publicly available information on RSA's employees; unsurprisingly, social media sites were a valuable source of information for the crooks. Using these details, specific employees were spear-phished: they were sent an email with an Excel spreadsheet attached, apparently containing the recruitment plans for 2011. This spreadsheet contained an exploit that made use of a zero-day vulnerability in Adobe's Flash Player and installed a trojan.
The trojan downloaded a tool that gave the hackers remote access to the victim's computer. From there, they managed to escalate their privileges and gain access to high-value targets. They then copied password-protected RAR files via FTP to an external compromised server and, after pulling the files from this server, deleted them to remove traces.
While this still leaves many questions unanswered, and many companies using RSA's SecurID tokens as a second authentication factor may still wonder whether their security is compromised, RSA deserves praise for being open about this attack. It will certainly not be the last high-profile victim of a targeted attack, but other companies may learn valuable lessons from its story and take measures to reduce their risk of becoming the next victim.
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Posted on 05 April 2011 by Virus Bulletin