Smart cards no match for online spies

Hackers are using a 'smart card proxy' attack to get around smart cards

The U.S. government has been stepping up its use of smart cards to help lock down its computer networks, but hackers have found ways around them.

Over the past 18 months, security consultancy Mandiant has come across several cases where determined attackers were able to get onto computers or networks that required both smart cards and passwords. In a report set to be released Thursday, Mandiant calls this technique a "smart card proxy."

The attack works in several steps. First, the criminals hack their way onto a PC. Often they'll do this by sending a specially crafted e-mail message to someone at the network they're trying to break into. The message will include an malicious attachment that, when opened, gives the hacker a foothold in the network.

After identifying the computers that have card readers, the bad guys install keystroke logging software on those computers to steal the password that is typically used in concert with the smart card.

Then they wait.

When the victim inserts the smart card into the hacked PC, the criminals then try to log into the server or network that requires the smart card for authentication. When the server asks for a digital token from the smart card, the bad guys simply redirect that request to the hacked system, and return it with the token and the previously stolen password.

This is similar to the techniques criminals have been using for several years now to get around the extra authentication technologies used in online banking.

Mandiant is the kind of company that businesses and government agencies call to clean up the mess after they've been hacked. It has done investigations at about 120 organizations overt the past year and a half. Most of them get hacked via a targeted e-mail. But in many cases, they were actually hacked years earlier, but never managed to remove the malicious software from their network, according to the report.

Companies or government agencies that assume that they are secure just because they use smart cards to authenticate, could be in for a nasty surprise some day, said Rob Lee, a director with Mandiant. "Everything is circumventable in the end," he said.

Robert McMillan covers computer security and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Robert on Twitter at @bobmcmillan. Robert's e-mail address is robert_mcmillan@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags securityMandiant

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Robert McMillan

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?