A breach on a massive scale, used to steal tens of millions of personal identification information (PII). How did it happen and what can be learned?

Especially of concern is that Anthem report that Social Security numbers have been stolen, along with names, date of birth, email, phone number, employment and address details. This level of information is more than enough to easily perpetrate far-reaching identity theft of the individuals affected, potentially causing years of disruption and inconvenience to those affected.

The breach is being investigated now so a fuller picture will become apparent over the coming days. The forensic investigator – believed to be Mandiant – has stated the attack is ‘sophisticated’ and ‘used advanced, custom tools’.

One detail that has been reported is that the breach was first detected by a DBA seeing a suspicious database query run under his user ID. This implies that valid user credentials have been compromised, potentially providing open access to database systems.

As to how the credentials were stolen, or how the hackers were able to access a secure, internal database system is as yet unknown. Likely attack vectors are malware introduced via a phishing attack, allowing user credentials to be logged and reported back to the hackers, or 3rd party access being hijacked. This was a factor in the Target breach when access credentials provided to a 3rd party HVAC service provider were used to gain remote access to Target systems.

By way of a conclusion, it shows that not all breaches are being used to steal payment card details and that any organizations handling personal information for customers need to assume that they will be subject to a cyber attack in the future. Defending against attacks requires a multi-layered approach, and with as much emphasis on breach detection as defense.

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