Preparing for the End of SMS Authentication

Over the last several years, wealth management/asset management firms have been integrating their systems with banking, trading and other financial platforms. One of the largest challenges wealth management firms face, from a technology standpoint, is managing multi-factor authentication when connecting to the accounts of their clients. In the coming year to eighteen months, this is likely to get even more challenging as SMS-based authentication is phased out. 

Today, many financial web sites, applications and phone apps require the use of SMS one-time security verification codes to be sent via text to the user. This usually happens once the user has entered their login and password to the system, after which it triggers the credential to be sent to their mobile phone number on record. The user then inputs this code into a form on the system and it is verified, and if correct, allows the user to proceed to access the application. This is called two factor authentication/multi-factor authentication (“MFA”) and is one of the most common mechanisms for performing this type of user authorization.

The problem with this mechanism for regulating sign ins to applications is that the method of sending the code is insecure. Attackers have a variety of means of intercepting SMS text messages and thus defeating this type of authentication. Just do some quick Google searches and you’ll find plenty of examples of this attack being successful. You’ll also find regulatory guidance about ending SMS authentication from a variety of sources like NIST and various financial regulators around the world. 

The likely successor to SMS text message authentication is the authenticator app on user mobile devices and smartphones. These authenticator apps reside in encrypted storage on the user’s phone and when prompted, provide a one-time password (“OTP”) just like the code sent in the text message. The difference is, through a variety of cryptographic techniques, once the application is setup and  the settings configured, it doesn’t need to communicate with the financial platform, and thus is significantly more difficult for attackers to compromise. Indeed, they must actually have the user’s device, or at the very least, access to the data that resides on it. This greatly reduces the risk of interception and mis-use of the codes in question, and increases the security of the user’s account with the financial institution.

This presents a significant problem, and opportunity, for wealth management firms. Transitioning their business processes from integrating with SMS-based authentication to authenticator apps can be a challenge on the technical level. Updates to the user interaction processes, for those firms that handle it manually, usually by calling the user and asking for the code, are also going to be needed. It is especially important, for these manual interactions, that some passphrase or the like is used, as banks, trading platforms and other financial institutions will be training their users to NEVER provide an authenticator app secret to anyone over the phone. Attackers leveraging social engineering are going to be the most prevalent form of danger to this authentication model, so wealth management firms must create controls to help assure their clients that they are who they say they are and train them to resist attackers pretending to be the wealth management firm. 

Technical and manual implementations of this form of authentication will prove to be an ongoing challenge for wealth management firms. We are already working with a variety of our clients, helping them update their processes, policies and controls for these changes. If your organization has been traditionally using SMS message authentication with your own clients, there is even more impetus to get moving on changes to your own processes. 

Let us know if we can be of service. You can reach out and have a no stress, no hassle discussion with our team by completing this web form. You can also give us a call anytime at 614-351-1237. We’d love to help! 

All About Credit Union Credential Stuffing Attacks

Credential stuffing attacks continue to be a grave concern for all organizations worldwide. However, for many Credit Unions and other financial institutions, they represent one of the most significant threats. They are a common cause of data breaches and are involved in some 76% of all security incidents. On average, our honey nets pretending to be Credit Union and other financial services experience targeted credential stuffing attacks several times per week. 

What Is Credential Stuffing?

“Credential stuffing occurs when hackers use stolen information, such as usernames and passwords from database breaches or phishing software from one account, and attempt to gain access to another. The hackers prey on people’s habit of using the same usernames and passwords for multiple sites. Using automated tools, they run large amounts of stolen information across multiple sites looking to find the same usernames and passwords being used elsewhere. Once they find a match, they can monetize the personal and financial information they gather.” (ardentcu.org)

How Common is Credential Stuffing?

Beyond our honey nets, which are completely fake environments used to study attackers, credential stuffing and the damage it causes is quite starteling. Here are some quick facts:

  • It is estimated that automated credential-stuffing attempts makes up 90% of enterprise login traffic in the US. (securityboulevard.com)
  • It’s estimated that credential stuffing costs companies more than $5 billion a year and creates havoc with consumers. (ardentcu.org)

  • According to Akamai’s latest State of the Internet report on credential stuffing, its customers alone were deluged by 30 billion malicious login attempts between November 2017 and June this year, an average of 3.75 billion per month. (theregister.com)

  • Significant credential stuffing attacks are a favorite of professional hacking groups from Russia, India, Asia and Africa. They often gather extensive lists of stolen and leaked credentials through advanced Google hacking techniques, by combing social media for password dumps (so called “credential spills”) and by purchasing lists of exposed credentials from other criminals on the dark web. Lists of member information from compromised online banking, online retailers and business association sites are common. This information often includes names, addresses, bank account numbers/credit card numbers, social security numbers, phone numbers and other sensitive data – enabling credential stuffing and social engineering attacks against victims around the world.

What Can Credit Unions Do About Credential Stuffing?

The key to handling this threat is to be able to prevent, or at the very least, identify illicit login attempts and automate actions in response to failed logins. Cybercriminals use a variety of tools, rented botnets (including specifically built credential stuffing bots) and brute force attacks to pick off less than strong passwords all around the Internet. Then, as we discussed above, they use that stolen information to probe your credit union for the same login credentials. 

The first, and easiest step, in reducing these cybercriminals’ success rate is to teach all of your legitimate users not to use the same password across multiple systems, and NEVER use passwords from public sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter for example, as account credentials at work or on other important sites. Instead, suggest that they use a password manager application to make it simple to have different passwords for every site. Not only does this help make their passwords stronger, but it can even reduce support costs by reducing password reset requests. Ongoing security awareness is the key to helping them understand this issue and the significance their password choices have on the security of their own personal information and that of the company.

Next, the Credit Union should have a complete inventory of every remote login service, across their Internet presence. Every web application, email service, VPN or remote access portal and every single place that a cybercriminal could try or use their stolen credentials to gain an account takeover. Once, the Credit Union knows where login credentials can be used, they should go about preventing abuse and cyberattacks against those attack surfaces. 

The key to prevention should start with eliminating any Internet login capability that is not required. It should then progress to reducing the scope of each login surface by restricting the source IP addresses that can access that service, if possible. Often Credit Unions are able to restrict this access down to specific countries or geographic areas. While this is not an absolute defense, it does help to reduce the impacts of brute force attacks and botnet scans on the login surfaces. 

The single best control for any authentication mechanism, however, is multi factor authentication (MFA) (basically a form of secure access code provided to the user). Wheverever possible, this control should be used. While multi factor authentication can be difficult to implement on some services, it is widely available and a variety of products exist to support nearly every application and platform. Financial services should already be aware of MFA, since it has been widely regulated by FFIEC, NCUA and FDIC guidance for some time.

More and more, however, credential stuffing is being used against web mail, Office 365 and other email systems. This has become so common, that a subset of data breaches called Business Email Compromise now exists and is tracked separately by law enforcement. This form of unauthorized access has been wildly popular across the world and especially against the financial services of the United States. Compromised email addresses and the resulting wire transfer fraud and ACH fraud that stems from this form of credential theft/identity theft are among some of the highest financial impacts today. Additionally, they commonly lead to malware spread and ransomware infections, if the attacker can’t find a way to steal money or has already managed to do so.

No matter what login mechanism is being abused, even when MFA is in place, logging of both legitimate access and unauthorized access attempts is needed. In the event that a security breach does occur, this data is nearly invaluable to the forensics and investigation processes. Do keep in mind, that many default configurations of web services and cloud-based environments (like Office 365) have much of this logging disabled by default. 

While Credit Unions remain prime targets, having good prevention and detection are a key part of strong risk management against credential stuffing. Practicing incident response skills and business recovery via tabletop exercises and the like also go a long way to stengthening your security team’s capabilities.

How Can MicroSolved Help?

Our team (the oldest security firm in the midwest) has extensive experience with a variety of risk management and security controls, including helping Credit Unions inventory their attack surfaces, identify the best multi factor authentication system for their environment, create policies and processes for ensuring safe operations and performing assessments, configuration audits of devices/applications/cloud environments. 

We also scope and run custom tabletop exercises and help Credit Unions build better information security programs. Our team has extensive experience with business email compromise, wire/ACH/credit card fraud prevention, cybercriminal tactics and incident response, in the event that you discover that credential theft has occurred. 

Lastly, our ClawBack data leak detection platform, can help you watch for leaked credentials, find source code and scripts that might contain reuseable account credentials and even hunt down device configurations that can expose the entire network to easy compromise. 

You can learn more about all of our services, and our 28 years of information security thought leadership here.

Lastly, just reach out to us and get in touch here. We’d love to talk with your Credit Union and help you with any and all of these controls for protecting against credential stuffing attacks or any other cybersecurity issue.

What Is A Trust Map?

For about a year now we have been getting questions from folks about basic trust maps, what they are and how they are used. After answering several times person to person, we thought it might be time for a simple blog post to refer folks to.

The purpose of a trust map is to graphically demonstrate trust between components of your organization or business process. It is a graphic map of how authentication occurs, what systems share accounts and what systems trust what other systems in an environment.

Trust maps are very useful for explaining your organization to new IT folks, helping auditors understand your authentication and security models, and especially for using as reference in incident response. Done properly, they become a powerful tool with a real payoff. For example, when an attack occurs and some mechanism gets compromised in your environment, you can use your trust map to quickly examine how to isolate the affected portions of the authentication model and learn what additional systems the attacker may have been able to trivially leverage given the access they gained. It really makes incident response much more effective and truly helps your teams respond to problems in a more intelligent and effective way.

It might take a little time to map complex organizations. If that proves to be a challenge, try starting with key business processes until you get to a point where you can create a holistic map with drill down process maps. This has proven to be an effective approach for larger/more complex organizations. If you need assistance with gathering the data or getting some additional political alliances to help the project along, our experience has been that the Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity folks usually have good starting data and are often easy to get engaged pushing the project through, especially since, in the long run, they get value from the maps too!

Here is an example map for you to use. It is pretty simple, but should give you the idea.

For more information or help creating your own trust maps, drop us a line or give us a call. We’d be happy to help or even get engaged to make the maps for you as a part of other security testing and projects. As always, thanks for reading and stay safe out there!

Security Alert: RSA Breach and 7 Ways to Secure Your Tokens

Since the compromise of the RSA environment several months ago, much attention has been paid to the potential impact of the attack on RSA customers.

Given the popularity of the RSA products and the sensitivity of the processes that they protect, the situation should be taken very seriously by RSA token users.

Last night, RSA made a public announcement that their breach and information stolen in that breach has now been used in attacks against RSA customers. The primary focus, as far as is known, has been the defense sector, but it is very likely that additional threat-focus has been placed on other critically sensitive verticals such as financial and critical infrastructure.

There are a number of things that RSA customers should do, in the advice of MicroSolved, Inc. Below is a short list of identified strategies and tactics:

  1. Identify all surfaces exposed that include RSA components. Ensure your security team has a complete map of where and how the RSA authentication systems are in use in your organization.
  2. Establish a plan for how you will replace your tokens and how you will evaluate and handle the risks of exposure while you perform replacement.
  3. Increase your vigilance and monitoring of RSA exposed surfaces. This should include additional log, event and intrusion monitoring around the exposed surfaces. You might also consider the deployment of honeypots or other drop-in measures to detect illicit activity against or via compromised systems available with the RSA exposed surfaces.
  4. Develop an incident response plan to handle any incidents that arise around this issue.
  5. Increase the PIN length of your deployments as suggested by RSA, where appropriate, based on identified risk and threat metrics.
  6. Teach your IT team and users about the threats and the issue. Prepare your team to handle questions from users, customers and other folks as this issue gains media attention and grows in visibility. Prepare your technical management team to answer questions from executives and Board-level staff around this issue.
  7. Get in contact with RSA, either via your account executive or via the following phone number for EMC (RSA’s parent company): 1-800-782-4362

In the meantime, if MSI can assist you with any of these steps or work with you to review your plan, please let us know. Our engineers are aware of the issues and the processes customers are using to manage this problem in a variety of verticals. We can help you with planning or additional detection and monitoring techniques should you desire.

We wish our clients the highest amount of safety and security as we, as an industry, work through this challenge. We wish RSA the best of luck and the highest success in their remediation and mitigation efforts. As always, we hope for the best outcome for everyone involved.

Thanks for your time and attention to this issue. It is much appreciated, as is your relationship with MicroSolved, Inc.