Remote Access
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Lori MacVittie
Lori MacVittie
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Target Breach Takeaway: Secure Your Remote Access

Yes, attackers could use stolen credentials to get into your systems from a distance. But slamming the door is not the answer.

Fallout from the Target breach continues to rack up as more details are revealed. The latest revelations focus on how the attackers gained the access necessary to plant the malware responsible for capturing millions of consumers' sensitive financial information: remote access using stolen credentials.

The consensus on a local radio station show I recently heard was that Target -- and others -- should reconsider whether they should continue to allow remote access. After all, no remote access, no security breach, right?

Let’s not be too hasty. Certainly, it behooves us to review how we support remote access for employees, partners, and contractors alike, to figure out whether, as with the Target breach, miscreants able to obtain the proper credentials could also be authorized access to internal systems and networks.

The real questions every organization that supports remote access should be asking are not around whether such technologies pose a significant security risk. They’re around whether the policies those technologies act on pose a significant security risk.

An audit of your remote access policies is certainly in order. Such audits should be performed at least annually, if not biannually -- and not on an ad hoc basis as a reaction to someone else’s bad luck.

The percentage of respondents to our 2013 Strategic Security Survey who say controlling remote access is a problem jumped 11 points year-over-year.
The percentage of respondents to our 2013 Strategic Security Survey who say controlling remote access is a problem jumped 11 points year-over-year.

There are three key areas to consider when auditing remote access policies:

1. Set boundaries. Business stakeholders should document exactly which applications and systems are vital to each remote user. A person who needs access to only two or three applications should not be allowed to roam around the network. Limit access to only what is required -- no more, no less. This is one area where you can use the Target example to your advantage, to light a fire under stakeholders.

2. Trust but verify. Evaluate how users are authorized. While login credentials are common, the Target breach shows us they can be compromised. If a username and password are the only means used to verify authenticity of a remote user, disaster awaits. Consider additional means of verifying remote users -- two-factor authentication at minimum.

3. Detect anomalies. Fraud detection has long used device (platform) and location changes as possible indicators of attempted fraudulent access using valid credentials. Investigate the ability of your remote access system to support detection of such anomalies and incorporate that into your authentication and authorization processes. Emerging technologies, such as browser fingerprinting, which aims to uniquely identify a browser from among millions of other browsers, can help identify attempts to fraudulently use valid credentials.

As attackers become more sophisticated, so too must security technology. Incorporating heuristic analysis of user behavior and location is on the cusp of providing better security through more trustworthy means of verifying the authenticity of the user behind the credentials.  

Any service that's made available to the public Internet is going to pose a security risk. The key to avoiding a breach is to ensure that policies driving authorization to those services are able to make decisions in the context that requests are made.

As web-based integration wins, it's dawning on enterprises that they need a more sophisticated API strategy. Find out how to get there. Also in this issue: 3 Techs That Depend On AI. Machine learning and artificial intelligence will be key to building exciting, compelling products and services.

Lori MacVittie is a subject matter expert on cloud computing, cloud and application security, and application delivery and is responsible for education and evangelism across F5's entire product suite. MacVittie has extensive development and technical architecture experience ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Ninja
2/10/2014 | 2:02:28 PM
Re: Lack of security at Target
I work in IT. I know some IT people are lack of security training or simply lazy. They just want to make it work, Always try to take an easy route. The easy way is giving full access to accounts.

Why a HVAC account was allowed to access POS systems? Plus permission to install software? It has no role in that area.

If you work in IT, you have the right to say no. My managers often whine about access. I simply said no. If you have no role in that area why do i give you access?
User Rank: Strategist
2/10/2014 | 1:57:59 PM
Tokenizing individual data
While credit card numbers have been tokenized for encryption, there's now the ability to tokenize inidividual pieces of data far beyond just 16 digits. All the way to files MB and GB in size. This means even if a server is breached, it's mathematically impossible to break the individual MicroTokenized files.
User Rank: Ninja
2/10/2014 | 1:25:01 PM
Re: Lack of security at Target
Fire the IT department????????? The entire IT department did not make the decisions that allowed the access you describe. In fact it may not have been anyone in IT that did. Often business users, managers, over ride the controls that IT wants to put in place.
User Rank: Ninja
2/10/2014 | 12:08:22 PM
Lack of security at Target
You hit it on the head. Target can blame no one but itself. Why a HVAC account allowed to install software? This account should have only read access. Why a HVAC account could access POS? First Target gave to much priviledges to that account and there was no security audit at target. Target simply sux. They should fire their IT dept.
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