07. February 2014 · Comments Off on Jumping to conclusions about the Target breach · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , ,

On Feb 5, 2014 Brian Krebs published a story which provided more details about the Target breach entitled, Target Hackers Broke in Via HVAC Company. The story connects the Target breach to the fact that Target allowed Fazio Mechanical Services, a provider of refrigeration and HVAC systems to remotely connect to Target stores in the Pennsylvania area. Fazio provides these same services to Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and BJ’s Wholesale Club in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia. Krebs goes on to say that this practice is common and why.

Krebs rightly never jumps to a conclusion about how this remote access resulted in the breach because there are no known facts on which to base such a conclusion. However that did not stop Network World from publishing a story on Feb 6, 2014 that the Target breach happened because of a basic network segmentation error. The problem with the story is that no one has shown, much less stated, that the attackers’ ability to move around the network was due to an error in network segmentation in the Target stores.

In fact, one of the commenters, “LT,” in the Krebs story actually stated:

Target does have separate VLANs for Registers, Security cameras, office computers, registry scanners/kiosks, even a separate VLAN for the coupon printers at the registers. The problem is not lack of VLAN’s, they use them everywhere and each VLAN is configured for exactly the number of devices it needs to support. The problem is somehow lateral movement was allowed that allowed the hackers to enter in through the HVAC system and eventually get to the POS VLAN.

So there are really TWO possible conclusions one can draw from this, not just the one Network World jumped to:

  1. There were in fact VLAN configuration errors that more easily allowed the attackers to move around undetected.
  2. The attackers knew how to circumvent VLAN control. For some reason Network World failed to consider this possibility. To me, this is a reasonable alternative. VLAN hopping is a well-understood attack vector.

So one might ask, why was Target relying on VLANs for network segmentation rather than firewalls? Based on my interpretation of the PCI DSS 3.0 Requirements and Security Assessment Procedures published in November 2013, there is no requirement to deploy firewalls in stores. Requirement 1.3 is fairly clear that firewalls are only relevant when there is an Internet (public) connection present. Based on my experience, retail stores do not have direct Internet access. They communicate on “private” networks to internal datacenters. Therefore, the use of VLANs to segment store traffic is not a violation of PCI DSS requirements.

Finally, even if PCI DSS specified “stateful inspection” firewalls were deployed in stores, they do not provide adequate network security control against attackers, as I wrote previously,