Friday, October 23, 2015

Hacker Hat-trick at TalkTalk

For the third time this year the UK broadband provider TalkTalk have seen their online defenses fall to cyber attackers.

While the company has been quick to notify their customers of the breach (it was observed on Wednesday this week and reported the following day) and are currently working with law enforcement, details are still relatively sparse. Given the very short period between detection of the attack and public notification, it is unlikely any significant cyber forensics exercise has been conducted… so it’ll likely take those tasked with the investigation a couple of weeks to get a solid understanding of the scope of the breach and what was likely touched or stolen by the attackers.

Regardless, the stories currently being published as to the nature of the breach and what has actually been stolen are confusing and the details often contradictory (see Business Insider, The Telegraph, BBC, and AOL). It would appear that the names, addresses, dates of birth, email addresses, telephone numbers, TalkTalk account information, and credit card and/or bank details of some 4,000,000 subscribers may have been stolen and that the data may not have been (completely?) encrypted… or maybe the encryption keys were similarly stolen.

Claim for the latest hack are also being attributed by some to a Russian Islamist group (referred to as the “Th3 W3b 0f H4r4m”) who has posted a claim online along with samples of the data purporting to have come from the TalkTalk site (see Pastebin -

Some stories refer to there being a DDoS attack or component. A DDoS attack isn’t going to breach an internet service and result in data theft, but it’s not unheard of for attackers to use such a mechanism to divert security teams and investigative resources while a more focused and targeted attack is conducted. It’ll be interesting to see if this actually happened, or whether the DDoS (if there was one) was unrelated… although it would be difficult to tell unless the attackers really messed up and left a trail of breadcrumbs – since DDoS services can be procured easily over the Internet for as little as $50 per hour from dozens of illicit (but professional) providers.

If there are lessons to be learned so far from this hat-trick breach, they include:
  • Hackers are constantly looking for easy prey. If you’re easy pickings and you get a reputation for being a soft target, you should anticipate being targeted and breached multiple times and likely by different attackers.
  • There should be no excuse for not carefully encrypting customer data, and using cryptographic techniques that make it impractical for attackers that do breach an organizations defenses to profit from the encrypted data they stole.
  • Calling an attacker or the tools they use “sophisticated” and expecting the victims of the breach to consul themselves with the knowledge that the organization charged with protecting their data was defeated by a supposedly more advanced adversary is wrong. It simply underlines a failure to understand your adversaries and invest in the appropriate security strategies.
-- Gunter Ollmann

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