Philip Cao

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Lessons from the Reddit Breach

3 min read

Rob ClydeAn attacker gained access in June to Reddit users’ data, including usernames, passwords, email addresses and private messages from 2005-2007. The attacker also gained access to more recent data, including current usernames and emails.

This data allows hackers to try to break into sites where users might still be using the same passwords. Although the compromised passwords were encrypted, they are likely crackable using today’s tools.

Because the email digests also include current usernames and emails, this linkage could allow attackers to determine the actual identity of users. If those users have been receiving content or engaged in posts that could be embarrassing, this may lead to blackmail; hackers might threaten to make private messages public or share them with family or friends.

Reddit users should ensure that, across platforms, they are not still using any passwords from the breached timeframe. Users should also consider passwords that are in line with NIST’s recent guidance.

What your organization can do to prevent a similar breach
Periodic password changes and secure password choices are good practices for Reddit users and non-users alike. Additionally, there are system-wide changes that organizations can make to protect against breaches.

Employees with access to sensitive systems or with powerful privileges, like admin accounts, represent a high-value target for attackers, so organizations should pay particular attention to the security of such accounts.

One way to improve account security is the implementation of strong multifactor authentication. SMS is often used for consumer user account two-factor authentication, but can be compromised with some effort by attackers as occurred with the admin accounts in the Reddit breach.

A  cryptographic token system is a more secure alternative to the SMS two-factor authentication method that was compromised in the Reddit breach. Tokens take more effort to implement than SMS two-factor authentication, but they are also difficult to spoof. Authentication tokens are generated cryptographically and often have limited lifetimes: sometimes, as little as one or two minutes.

Many organizations have been using strong authentication based on physical or software tokens for decades. For particularly sensitive accounts like admin accounts, this has long made sense and is hardly a new idea.

Other detection tools your organization should use for breach prevention
Organizations should also use auditing and intrusion detection tools to quickly alert them to a situation when such an account is engaged in abnormal behavior.

Since admin accounts are very powerful, the information security team and IT auditors should carefully review the protection for these types of accounts, including the use of multifactor authentication, and determine if audit trails and intrusion detection tools can be turned off or tampered with by the admin accounts in question. Otherwise, attackers who breach such admin accounts will have the ability to simply bypass the monitoring. In many cases, the underlying operation system or application does not provide tamper-proof audit trails and intrusion detection; third-party tools will need to be implemented.

Organizations should also discover and find old files that contain personally identifying information, like email addresses, usernames or encrypted passwords. These files should be securely deleted or protected in some fashion. In many cases, it is older files that were not well protected, copied and then forgotten about, often due to employee turnover, that potentially pose regulatory compliance risks.

Proactive data governance measures are more important than ever in today’s landscape, as the Reddit breach and countless others attest.

Rob Clyde, ISACA board chair, executive chair of the board of directors for White Cloud Security and independent board director for Titus

[ISACA Now Blog]

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