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Corporate Hackers Target Weak Link: the Supply Chain
Corporate Hackers Target Weak Link: the Supply Chain

By Jim Spencer
February 16, 2014 3:30PM

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Hackers gained access to Target's computer systems through the stolen credentials of a heating and refrigeration contractor. Even as companies spend millions to bolster the security of their networks, the access that necessary outside vendors are given doesn't get nearly enough attention, several information security professionals say.

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Until now, however, corporate information security efforts have focused more on the insider attack and the traditional outsider hacker, said Greg Brown, chief technology officer of Cloud and Internet of Things at McAfee, a leading computer security company based in Santa Clara, Calif. They generally haven't been applied to the chain of third parties companies do business with, he said.

Fazio President Ross Fazio issued a statement last Thursday saying his company, too, was a "victim of a sophisticated cyberattack operation."

"Fazio Mechanical does not perform remote monitoring of or control of heating, cooling and refrigeration systems for Target," Fazio said.

Citing the ongoing investigations, Target would not discuss its protocol for granting computer access to vendors or what firewalls it built to keep consumers' credit card and personal data secure.

Target Chief Financial Officer John Mulligan testified in Congressional hearings last week that Target has invested "hundreds of millions of dollars" over the past several years in information security, including segmentation, malware detection, intrusion detection and prevention, and data loss prevention.

Not Enough

Still, it wasn't enough.

Point of sale systems are particularly vulnerable, TrustedSec's Kennedy said, because companies typically don't want to make changes to them, such as adding security enhancements. After all, taking systems down for any length of time can directly affect sales.

"These POS networks are usually Swiss cheese," Kennedy said. "They're just terrible."

McAfee's Brown said he doesn't think the industry's safe-practice guidelines, called the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards and referred to as PCI, do much to address the data vulnerabilities in a company's supply chain.

"It doesn't explicitly call out third-party relationships like we're talking about," Brown said.

Bob Russo, general manager of the PCI Security Standards Council, said the guidelines require merchants to use what's called "two-factor authentication" for all third parties using remote network access to a company's network, if the access could lead to the area where cardholder data exists. Such login verification requires two out of three things, he said: something you have (such as a smart card), something you know (a password) or something you are (fingerprint or eye scan, for instance.)

Vendors Need Watching

The PCI standards don't specifically address all vendor connections or require formal vendor risk assessments, Russo said in a written response to questions, but vendor connections should be part of the annual risk assessment companies are required to conduct. (continued...)

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© 2014 Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN) under contract with NewsEdge. All rights reserved.

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