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Cloud Security: Bad Guys and the AC Ducts

PCI Security Compliance PCI Compliance cloud security compliance cloud security breaches Cloud Security  cloud security bad guys Cloud Security: Bad Guys and the AC DuctsWhen did bad guys first fall in love (Valentine’s Day spirit is in the air, after all) with air ducts?  Was it in 1962 when three Alcatraz convicts successfully escaped The Rock through the air vents?  Was it in Men in Black II when alien worms used them to get to the power control of MIB headquarters?

Regardless of the history or Hollywood fascination with glorifying ventilation systems for access . . . as it turns out . . . the bad guys are still getting in through HVAC systems!  We all remember the news that broke just before Christmas of the Target data breach, which compromised the personal data of millions’ of customers.  Now we learned that hackers broke in through the HVAC company.

Investigators from the Secret Service, which is leading the government’s investigation into the Target breach, recently visited the offices of Fazio Mechanical Services, a refrigeration and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems provider based in Sharpsburg, PA. It seem Fazio had access to the Target network in order to control air conditioning and heat levels remotely – in Target branches. The bad guys abused this access to get into Target Point of Sale systems.

And, we are learning, from Avivah Litan, a fraud analyst with Gartner Inc. that Target could be facing losses of up to $420 million as a result of this breach.

So, how can you avoid a third party, HVAC or otherwise, from being an access point to your data?

Follow all the PCI DSS guidelines, obviously; but then also:

  1. Segregate your sensitive systems (i.e. your payment systems) from other systems on your network. This can and should be done through both Network segregation and isolation through encryption.
  2. In modern virtual systems, network segregation can be achieved effectively through ‘Software Defined Networking’ – the technology and practice of defining network segments dynamically so that they segregate projects from each other.
  3. Equally, in modern virtualized and cloud systems, cryptographic isolation should be achieved through Cloud Encryption: encrypt your data.  Use the most stringent technologies to ensure your encryption cannot be penetrated.
  4. Segregate information and encrypt each resource separately – with a separate key.  This way, even if your “outer walls” are breached, you still have your “inner walls” to protect your most sensitive data.
  5. Split the encryption keys and keep at least one key share in a separate, secure location.  This way, you have ultimate control and no one can access your data without the key that only you own.  Read more about split key encryption here.
  6. Use homomorphic key management to encrypt the keys themselves.  This way, even if the bad guys have a look in your RAM memory (which actually happened at Target!), they will not be able to get the most sensitive keys – they are encrypted even while in use.
  7. Of course, patch and update all software regularly.

When testifying in front of Congress, Target CFO, John Mulligan said that his company has invested “hundreds of millions” of dollars in cybersecurity.  Both Target and Fazio HVAC claim to be in full compliance with PCI DSS and all governing regulations.  Time will tell, and the full investigation will uncover, how despite PCI compliance and large investments in cloud security, the bad guys still got in.

Anything we missed?  What do you suggest beyond the top 7 steps?

The post Cloud Security: Bad Guys and the AC Ducts appeared first on Porticor Cloud Security.

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More Stories By Gilad Parann-Nissany

Gilad Parann-Nissany, Founder and CEO at Porticor is a pioneer of Cloud Computing. He has built SaaS Clouds for medium and small enterprises at SAP (CTO Small Business); contributing to several SAP products and reaching more than 8 million users. Recently he has created a consumer Cloud at G.ho.st - a cloud operating system that delighted hundreds of thousands of users while providing browser-based and mobile access to data, people and a variety of cloud-based applications. He is now CEO of Porticor, a leader in Virtual Privacy and Cloud Security.

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