Equifax Website Breach: Compromised or Collateral Damage?
Oops!...Equifax did it again.
- By Chris Olson
- Oct 16, 2017
Oops!...Equifax did it again. On October 12, 2017, news broke regarding Equifax’s second website breach, hitting headlines around the world. The consumer information services portal set up to help consumers manage their exposure to a previously disclosed website breach presented website visitors with malware. This time, Equifax blamed compromised third-party website performance code. With Equifax quickly passing the buck to the third-party vendor, a question emerges: Was Equifax’s website compromised or is the company just collateral damage?
Let’s get straight to the point: Equifax was both compromised and collateral damage. When third-party web code is breached, there are two possibilities: the vendor is an authorized and known entity whose activity is unchecked or the vendor wasn’t authorized but was still able to execute code on the consumer device. The former demonstrates a general disregard for digital vendor activity while the latter indicates a lack of control. Either way, Equifax did not execute an effective digital vendor risk management program and definitely cannot play the victim.
Second time unlucky: Here’s what went wrong
Considering the significant impact of its first breach, you’d think Equifax would have been more vigilant with website security. It wasn’t. The second breach involved a series of rapid auto-redirects ultimately serving a fake Adobe Flash alert. Upon user-initiated click, malicious files downloaded onto the user device causing unwanted display of advertisements or toolbars. Many researchers believe this to be a malvertising attack, however, no digital ads were involved in delivering the malware. Instead, this is a classic case of website-level malware, where, typically non-advertising code is leveraged to execute an attack.
This particular incident sheds light on a crucial, yet under-appreciated, tenet of cyber attack defense. It’s about the delivery mechanism, not the malware or payload. Centerbluray.info, the malicious domain in this particular incident, began to display suspicious behavior, which was confirmed malicious in September. And, it’s not alone. Over the past several months, it is just one of many domains used to present fake flash updates, media player installs, and user tracking alerts with the intention of infecting user devices with malware.
Once again, this attack proves that secure coding practices and appsec solutions are inadequate protection for the highly-dynamic digital ecosystem. Comprehensive website and mobile app security requires knowing all digital partners, approving their presence and activity, and continuously monitoring all first and third party code for suspicious behavior. If Equifax had done this they would have seen the anomalous code within moments of its presence on the website and, avoided infecting numerous consumers.
Enterprises are susceptible: Time to revisit website security
In today’s digital world, no one is immune to cyber attacks. To avoid becoming the next front-page news story, enterprises can reevaluate website security by asking these questions:
Do we know all the third-party (and fourth and fifth) vendors executing in our digital ecosystem?
What activities do they perform?
Are they executing unexpected code, i.e., redirects, data tracking, etc.?
Have we shared a digital asset policy covering security, data, quality and performance requirements with all the vendors?
How do we monitor for violations of the digital asset policy, and general security and data compliance concerns?
Keep in mind that it doesn’t matter that a third-party hosted the malicious file or that this consumer-facing website is not connected to internal systems or databases. Onus is on the enterprise to control its digital vendors and assets. Website governance is no longer optional and can only be achieved through a robust digital vendor risk management program.