Sun, May 29, 2011 - Page 1 News List

Hackers breach networks of US defense contractors

COPY CATS:The hackers copied electronic security keys from data stolen in an attack in March and then followed up to track down endusers, a source said

Reuters, BOSTON and WASHINGTON

Unknown hackers have broken into the security networks of Lockheed Martin Corp and several other US military contractors, a source with direct knowledge of the attacks said.

They breached security systems designed to keep out intruders by creating duplicates to “SecurID” electronic keys from EMC Corp’s RSA security division, said the person who was not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.

It was not immediately clear what kind of data, if any, was stolen by the hackers. However, the networks of Lockheed and other military contractors contain sensitive data on future weapons systems, as well as military technology currently used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Weapons makers are the latest companies to be breached through sophisticated attacks that have pierced the defenses of huge corporations including Sony Corp, Google Inc and EMC Corp. Security experts say that it is virtually impossible for any company or government agency to build a security network that hackers will be unable to penetrate.

The Pentagon, which has about 85,000 military personnel and civilians working on cybersecurity issues worldwide, said it also uses a limited number of RSA electronic security keys, but declined to say how many for security reasons.

The hackers learned how to copy the security keys with data stolen from RSA during a sophisticated attack that EMC disclosed in March, according to the source.

EMC declined to comment on the matter, as did executives at major defense contractors.

Rick Moy, president of NSS Labs, an information security company, said the original attack on RSA was likely targeted at its customers, including military, financial, US governmental and other organizations with critical intellectual property.

He said the initial RSA attack was followed by malware and phishing campaigns seeking specific data that would link tokens to endusers, which meant the current attacks may have been carried out by the same hackers.

“Given the military targets and that millions of compromised keys are in circulation, this is not over,” he said.

Defense contractors’ networks contain sensitive data on sophisticated weapons systems, but all classified information is kept on separate, closed networks managed by the US government, said a former senior defense official, who was not authorized to speak on the record.

SecurIDs are widely used electronic keys to computer systems that work using a two-pronged approach to confirming the identity of the person trying to access a computer system. They are designed to thwart hackers who might use key-logging viruses to capture passwords by constantly generating new passwords to enter the system.

The SecurID generates new strings of digits on a minute-by-minute basis that the user must enter along with a secret personal identification number before they can access the network. If the user fails to enter the string before it expires, then access is denied.

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