• United States



Contributing writer

Most infosec pros forget to change keys after a breach

Jun 08, 20153 mins
CybercrimeData and Information SecurityData Breach

Most security professionals don't know how to respond if the keys are compromised during a breach

One of the things that hackers look for when they break into an enterprise is encryption keys and security certificates, but most security professionals don’t know how to respond if the keys are compromised during a breach.

That’s the result of a survey released today by security vendor Venafi, which canvassed 850 security professionals at last month’s RSA conference.

“You saw in the Sony breach that there were dozens of keys and certificates exposed as part of the data theft,” said Kevin Bocek, vice president of security strategy and threat intelligence at Venafi.

But only 8 percent of the security professionals surveyed said that they would fully remediate against a Sony-like attack by replacing potentially compromised keys and certificates.

“Not only do you need to get back to a good state, but you need to change the keys, as well,” he said.

Stolen keys and credentials could be used by hackers to gain access again in the future. They can also impersonate a company or monitor its communications. They can decrypt traffic, impersonate websites or administrators, and sign malware to make it look like legitimate applications.

However, many companies don’t have systems in place to track all of the keys and certificates, or to replace them with new ones when needed.

Only 43 percent of survey respondents said that they were using a key management system and 14 percent said they were using a manual process. Of the rest, 16 percent said that they didn’t know, and 22 percent said it was someone else’s responsibility.

In addition, 38 percent of respondents said that they didn’t know how to detect compromised keys or certificates.

“Traditional systems are generally not designed for identifying compromised keys or certificates,” he said.

A majority, 56 percent, said that they were using next-generation firewalls, antivirus, intrusion detection and protection systems or sandboxes to detect these types of attacks.

According to Venafi, however, this still leaves a blind spot, where attackers can use encrypted traffic to bypass these protections.

And the use of encryption is continuing to grow, he said.

“Now you’ve got marketing officers going out and buying security certificates because it affects website rankings and SEO,” he said. “Now you have chief marketing officers making security decisions. That’s a lot to keep up with.”

[ ALSO ON CSO: $154 or 58 cents — what’s the real cost of a breached data record? ]

Information security professionals also said it would take time for them to respond to an attack on their SSH keys, with 64 percent saying it would take them more than 24 hours to respond, and more than half saying it would take at least three days to a week to detect the problem and replace the keys on all hosts.

SSH keys are used to authenticate administrators, servers, and clouds — and never expire.

Bocek said that this was the fourth year Venafi had done a survey at the RSA, but that he couldn’t provide historical comparisons because the company asked different questions each year.