SEC staffers slammed for serious security snafus

Took unsecured laptops to Black Hat hacker's soirée


There are red faces at the Securities and Exchange Commission after a report highlighted computer security failings by agency staff that forced it to spend $200,000 to check whether it had lost critical information.

Staff at the Trading and Markets Division were found to have stored highly confidential and market-sensitive information on their laptops without any encryption, even when out and about. Some staff attended the Black Hat hacking convention with these unsecured laptops, an act of lunacy given the predilections of the attendees.

The security failings came to light in a yet-to-be-released report ordered by the SEC's Interim Inspector General Jon Rymer. The report found that the SEC had to hire a third-party computer forensics specialist to go through its data and check to see if anything had been purloined by hackers – it appears that no systems were compromised.

Sources within the SEC said that the staff involved had been disciplined over the security failings following an internal investigation. Rich Adamonis, a spokesman for the New York Stock Exchange, told Reuters that the exchange was "disappointed" at the report's findings.

"From the moment we were informed, we have been actively seeking clarity from the SEC to understand the full extent of the use of improperly secured devices and the information involved, as well as the actions taken by the SEC to ensure that there is proper remediation and a complete audit trail for the information," he said.

What makes this doubly worrying is that the Trading and Markets Division has a responsibility for checking the security, audit, and disaster recovery systems used in the major equity markets. These policies essentially map out each exchange's infrastructure in a level of detail that would be a boon to anyone looking to hack the most lucrative markets in the world.

That the SEC attended Black Hat isn't surprising – but that they didn't secure their hardware is.

All attendees are warned in the conference materials to lock down their systems before attending, to run full-disk encryption, never use non-conference Wi-Fi, and to change all their passwords after the show is finished.

At this year's show, for example, a first-time press visitor from a national newspaper was sat down by the Black Hat flacks and had the rules explained to him in such frightening terms that he nearly reverted to note-taking with pencil and paper.

Hacking attendees' systems is actually frowned upon at Black Hat. The conference is keen to stress that it has grown up and that such behavior is seen as a breach of etiquette – but it goes on nevertheless.

But what's really worrying is whether the SEC staffers stayed on after Black Hat to attend the Defcon event that's held afterwards.

Every Defcon runs the Wall of Sheep, where teams of volunteers passively scan systems that log onto the conference network for insecurities. The publicly-displayed list shows the names, passwords (partially blacked out), domains, and applications of hacked systems, and those caught out receive some very humbling ridicule and helpful reminder to be smarter. ®


Other stories you might like

  • Makers of ad blockers and browser privacy extensions fear the end is near
    Overhaul of Chrome add-ons set for January, Google says it's for all our own good

    Special report Seven months from now, assuming all goes as planned, Google Chrome will drop support for its legacy extension platform, known as Manifest v2 (Mv2). This is significant if you use a browser extension to, for instance, filter out certain kinds of content and safeguard your privacy.

    Google's Chrome Web Store is supposed to stop accepting Mv2 extension submissions sometime this month. As of January 2023, Chrome will stop running extensions created using Mv2, with limited exceptions for enterprise versions of Chrome operating under corporate policy. And by June 2023, even enterprise versions of Chrome will prevent Mv2 extensions from running.

    The anticipated result will be fewer extensions and less innovation, according to several extension developers.

    Continue reading
  • Threat and risk specialists signal post-COVID conference season is back on
    Well, we'll see in a week or so

    RSA Conference For the first time in over two years the streets of San Francisco have been filled by attendees at the RSA Conference and it seems that the days of physical cons are back on.

    The security conference trade has been more cautious than most when it comes to getting conferences back up to speed in the COVID years. Almost all cons were virtual with a very limited hybrid-conference season last year, including DEF CON, where masks were taken seriously. People still wanted to mingle and ShmooCon too went ahead, albeit later than usual in March.

    The RSA conference has been going for over 30 years and many security folks love going. There are usually some good talks, it's a chance to meet old friends, and certain pubs host meetups where more constructive work gets done on hard security ideas than a month or so of Zoom calls.

    Continue reading
  • Apple gets lawsuit over Meltdown and Spectre dismissed
    Judge finds security is not a central feature of iDevices

    A California District Court judge has dismissed a proposed class action complaint against Apple for allegedly selling iPhones and iPads containing Arm-based chips with known flaws.

    The lawsuit was initially filed on January 8, 2018, six days after The Register revealed the Intel CPU architecture vulnerabilities that would later come to be known as Meltdown and Spectre and would affect Arm and AMD chips, among others, to varying degrees.

    Amended in June, 2018 the complaint [PDF] charges that the Arm-based Apple processors in Cupertino's devices at the time suffered from a design defect that exposed sensitive data and that customers "paid more for their iDevices than they were worth because Apple knowingly omitted the defect."

    Continue reading
  • If you're using older, vulnerable Cisco small biz routers, throw them out
    Severe security flaw won't be fixed – as patches released this week for other bugs

    If you thought you were over the hump with Patch Tuesday then perhaps think again: Cisco has just released fixes for a bunch of flaws, two of which are not great.

    First on the priority list should be a critical vulnerability in its enterprise security appliances, and the second concerns another critical bug in some of its outdated small business routers that it's not going to fix. In other words, junk your kit or somehow mitigate the risk.

    Both of these received a CVSS score of 9.8 out of 10 in severity. The IT giant urged customers to patch affected security appliances ASAP if possible, and upgrade to newer hardware if you're still using an end-of-life, buggy router. We note that miscreants aren't actively exploiting either of these vulnerabilities — yet.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022