The news these days is full of discussion and concern over data breaches, a trend that’s been continuing for several years. All types of sensitive data and organizations have been impacted, ranging from financial data and payment card information to healthcare records and just about anything else you can imagine. In fact, there are so many intrusion scenarios playing out right now that we’re getting a bit numb to them.
That’s a huge mistake, because we’re making the same mistakes over and over and over again, and many of those mistakes involve misuse of credentials. Let’s face it – passwords are a part of life. They’re horrible, and painful, and no one remembers them, and they get written down, and… the list of reasons goes on and on. And attackers are waiting to take advantage of credentials to gain access to anything they can. This is a fact of life these days – many of the biggest breaches of the last several years have involved hijacked and stolen credentials. In its 2014 Data Breach Investigations Report, Verizon cited almost 2 out of every 3 breaches involving credentials at some point in the attack campaign. In the 2015 DBIR, Verizon noted that every single breached Point-of-Sale (POS) vendor had their credentials breached, allowing attackers to harvest credit card numbers galore. In addition, attackers relied less on default credentials being in place, and placed more emphasis on stolen credentials from users.
The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Stolen credentials and access were seen in the major Target breach at the end of 2013. Home Depot’s massive breach not long afterward involved stolen credentials from a 3rd party vendor. The same thing happened in the OPM breach of 2015 – a privileged 3rd party had their credentials hijacked, and these were used to gain access to the government agency’s network. This sort of thing is likely to keep happening, as credentials offer attackers some significant benefits over other attack methods.
First, credentials are easy to come by. Many organizations and individuals manage them poorly, and attackers can often locate and harvest credentials through social engineering attacks or other exploits. Second, credentials actually trip far fewer alarms than exploit code and malware. For this reason, attackers looking to fly under the radar and remain stealthy while moving laterally through your environment will try to take advantage of credentials whenever possible. This attack model was described by Dell SecureWorks Counter Threat Unit in September 2015, with a warning that attackers were avoiding the use of malware and favoring stolen credentials and other methods instead.
Another problem we have is exposure of credentials due to password “dumps” from compromised sites, as many of these credentials are used over and over again by employees who can’t keep up with too many different passwords, instead using one favorite password in as many places as possible. For obvious reasons, this is a nightmare for security teams who need to secure both local and remote access. There must be a better way!
Join me on April 28th for the webinar – Passwords and Breaches: A Match Made in Heaven – where we’ll delve into some of the breaches and password attack techniques seen in recent years, and also discuss best practices on how to start solving this issue.
Dave Shackleford, Cybersecurity Expert and Founder of Voodoo Security
Dave Shackleford is the owner and principal consultant of Voodoo Security and a SANS analyst, senior instructor, and course author. He has consulted with hundreds of organizations in the areas of security, regulatory compliance, and network architecture and engineering, and is a VMware vExpert with extensive experience designing and configuring secure virtualized infrastructures. He has previously worked as CSO for Configuresoft, CTO for the Center for Internet Security, and as a security architect, analyst, and manager for several Fortune 500 companies.