Security researchers have analyzed the Target breach backward and forward. Now, a new investigative report indicates that Target ignored the warnings signs of a data breach.
Bloomberg BusinessWeek recently launched an investigation into the malware that opened the door for cybercriminals to steal the personal information of about 70 million consumers at the end of last year. The result of the investigation: Target ignored alerts that its systems were possibly being hacked.
Target did nothing despite the fact that its $1.6 million malware detection tool from FireEye zeroed in on the potential hack and alerted the retailer's security team, according to BusinessWeek. To get this information, the publication's reporters said they spoke to more than 10 former Target employees who were in the know about the retailer’s data security operation, as well as eight people with intimate knowledge of the attack and the fallout.
“If Target’s security team had followed up on the earliest FireEye alerts, it could have been right behind the hackers on their escape path. The malware had user names and passwords for the thieves’ staging servers embedded in the code, according to Jaime Blasco, a researcher for the security firm AlienVault Labs,” BusinessWeek reporters noted. “Target security could have signed in to the servers themselves -- located in Ashburn, Va., Provo, Utah, and Los Angeles -- and seen the stolen data sitting there waiting for the hackers’ daily pickup. But by the time company investigators figured that out, the data were long gone.”
Target Speaks Out
The publication's report elicited a statement from Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel. “Target was certified as meeting the standard for the payment card industry (PCI) in September 2013. Nonetheless, we suffered a data breach. As a result, we are conducting an end-to-end review of our people, processes and technology to understand our opportunities to improve data security and are committed to learning from this experience,” he said in an e-mail to Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
Steinhafel added that although Target is still in the middle of an ongoing investigation, it has already taken "significant steps, including beginning the overhaul of our information security structure and the acceleration of our transition to chip-enabled cards." However, he added that it would not be constructive to engage in speculation until the company completes its investigation into the hack.
The BusinessWeek report outlines Target’s security blunders, which include the revelation offered by security expert Brian Krebs of KebsOnSecurity.com that the source of the costly drama was connected to network credentials stolen from a third-party vendor -- an HVAC subcontractor that has worked at a number of Target locations as well as the locations of other top retailers.
We asked John Shier, a security advisor at Sophos, for his take on the report. He told us security tools have the potential to generate a lot of data. While much of it can be analyzed and acted upon automatically, he noted, we also need humans to make decisions that machines can't.
“With staffing levels and security expertise in some organizations being what they are today, many companies need to triage and prioritize what and how much of this data gets looked at,” Shier said.
“I can't say if this was the case for Target but many organizations face this every day. If an organization finds themselves in this position, they need to ask themselves a couple of questions: How much data are we ignoring and what is the potential impact to the business if we miss something? It's all about acceptable risk," he added.