Target's Weak Points, Examined - InformationWeek

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Target's Weak Points, Examined

The Target breach proved once again that in security, technology is the easy part.

I've been fascinated by the information that keeps coming out about last December's Target data breach. Recent revelations by some of the people who studied the actual malware code have described it as "absolutely unsophisticated and uninteresting -- almost amateurish." Others noted anti-malware software is available that could easily have stopped this attack before any damage was done.

Too bad Target didn't have it, right? But it did! Six months before the attack, Target had installed and tested software from FireEye (which the CIA also uses to protect its networks). In fact, Target had put in place 24-hour monitoring of the system to alert the monitoring team, who in turn would notify Target's Security Operations Center (SOC) in Minnesota.

So what happened? The alarm was raised, the monitors notified the SOC, and the SOC ... did nothing!

The FireEye software also has an option to automatically remove malware when it's detected. According to various reports, Target's security team had turned off that option. Is it any wonder that Target's CIO fell on her sword and resigned in the aftermath of this debacle?

For those of us not directly affected by the breach, the scenario as it played out is just one more example illustrating what I've tried to instill in my audiences for more than a decade: Technology is easy; it's people that are hard.

Read the rest of this article on Dark Reading.

Dave Kearns is a senior analyst for Kuppinger-Cole, Europe's leading analyst company for identity-focused information security and networking. His columns and books have provided a thorough grounding in the basic philosophies of directory technology, networking, and identity ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Ninja
3/27/2014 | 3:53:27 PM
Consumers Lose Again
This is the kind of breach consumers can expect from companies that don't actually hire anyone for the CIO position who holds any kind of knowledge, skills, abilities in security.  Beth Jacob, who resigned as the top dog (who was in charge of security and for noticing red flags) was a Director of Guest Contact Cente and later, VP.  Sadly, such positions that are big on "soft" skills does not translate into security of consumer data.
User Rank: Strategist
3/19/2014 | 9:44:01 AM
Re: Culture of awareness


But if you do decide to lainch "pop quiz" type activity to test people on their training make sure that the powers that be are aware - unlike the army commander in this story....
User Rank: Strategist
3/19/2014 | 9:41:24 AM
Re: Repeating Myself
Perhaps you mis-read how the FireEye system works - by comparing the live site to a known good private site. It flags changes and rates them based on a judgment of how dangerous they can be. The risk of a false positive is extremely small, and well worth that cost in preventing an attack such as took place.
User Rank: Ninja
3/18/2014 | 9:00:07 PM
Repeating Myself
As I said in another post on this site, they turned off the automatic action because it's too risky to have a false positive whack all of your POS systems.  It might be OK for devices that aren't customer facing but call center, POS, ATMs and similar devices cannot be brought down because the vendor updated their product or a definition database that suddenly thinks the POS print driver is a virus.  It's happened numerous times over the years with enteprise AV products and it will happen again.

If Target has a SOC, the alert should be raised there with an automatic ticket.  The SOC should be required to close the ticket with a reason code.  That provides accountability and after that it's a people problem if they ignore it or close it with a nonsense reason code.

If the product is showering the SOC with alerts, then the configuration needs to be reviewed, the product needs to be replaced with one that works better or the alerts need to be routed to someting htat can mine the noise for valuable intel (like Splunk).
User Rank: Ninja
3/18/2014 | 2:00:58 PM
Culture of awareness
As you point out, it takes a mix of technology, education, awareness, etc. to build a true culture of understanding. A culture that pays close attention to risks and takes action when needed.  According to the Ponemon 2013 Cost of Cyber Crime report (, the number of attacks continues to climb -- up 20 percent over the previous year.  And, at the same time, hacker sophostication continues to intensify.  Failing to build and support the culture could ultimately be catestrophic.

Peter Fretty (

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