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Security Experts Place Blame on China for RSA Hack

According to a report presented to Congress, China was the origin of an attack that targeted RSA security and 760 government agencies and companies in March.

Security blogger Brian Krebbs, citing information he said was presented to congressional staffers, notes that of the more than 300 command-and-control networks used in the attacks, 299 are located in or around Beijing.

He also provides the list of organizations that were apparently compromised by parts of the same control infrastructure used to attack RSA, while noting that there are no details on how many networks in each organization were attacked, how successful any of those attacks were, or whether some of the organizations, such as ISPs, were linked incidentally.

The list includes the General Services Administration, IRS, Homeland Security Department, several universities and major IT companies, such as Cisco Facebook, Google, IBM, Intel, Northrop Grumman, Research in Motion and Verisign.

The hack against RSA netted information about the company’s SecurID two-factor authentication tokens that was used in a failed attempt to hack defense contractor Lockheed Martin.

At the company’s conference in London earlier this month, RSA’s Executive Chairman Art Coviello said the attacks “could only have been perpetrated by a nation-state," because of the level of skill and resources required, but said RSA had not been able to identify the country.

The initial attack was an Advanced Persistent Threat that targeted information about SecurID, the company has said. Attackers used phishing techniques on RSA employees to get them to click on a link that delivered a zero-day exploit.

Coviello said there were two groups of hackers working in tandem.

Until now, there hadn’t been mention of so many other organizations being hit by the same group, although speculation about China’s involvement isn’t new. In August, Joe Stewart, director of malware research for Dell SecureWorks, told Computerworld that he had traced the command-and-control servers used for the RSA attack to networks in Beijing and Shanghai.

However, the location of servers doesn’t necessarily indicate the source of the attacks. As Stewart told Computerworld, “This gives us the where, but not the who."

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is the managing editor of Government Computer News.

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